The US patent system is under fire again this week (this time by an article in Wired) for putting the rights of patent holders above the research and security implications thereof. In this particular case, the issue is HID Global (ironically self-tagged as "The Trusted Brand") going after a security researcher who has come up with a way to clone RFID proximity cards. This follows on the heels (actually, it precedes in time by 4 days) an NPR's Talk of the Nation Science Friday program about gene patents and the effect that they have on research into disease.
The issue at stake is that patents can be not only infringed by those who attempt to make use for direct financial gain by directly using the patented process or method in a product, but can be infringed by those who use the information in the patent in an attempt to build a competing product or even to financially gain from researching into problems with the product.
Although it's not clear that the court will agree with this interpretation, but if nothing else these kinds of ideas aren't being thrown out wholesale before going to court, and are thus enough of a threat to get people like the cited speaker to stop talking publicly about research.
In the case of the wired article, the problem is security that isn't as secure as it claims to be an the implications thereof. In the case of the Science Friday program, the issue is the investigation of diseases that might be caused by patented genes. Both of these issues should be of deep concern to people who are interested in the future. The founding fathers adopted the patent and trademark system "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." Note that the encouragement was "to promote the progress of Science and the useful Arts," not "to ensure a prolonged corporate monopoly for the good of the shareholders."
Now, I have been granted 2 patents (one of which I own and cost me a huge amount of money to get), but as much as I like the protections given to me by virtue of the monopoly powers that I may now wield over my invention, I'm not about to think that this should prevent people from looking at those documents to figure out how to do something similar but better. That's promoting the progress of science and the useful arts, just as the founders envisioned.
Think this through. If you think there's something wrong with this kind of rampant protection expansion, perhaps you should join those of us who write to our elected representatives to express our displeasure on this issue. Or at least drop a comment on this article.