Via Joe Mullin, we learn the rather unfortunate news that, when asked about Paul Allen’s decision to sue lots of big tech companies over questionable patents, Wozniak comes out in favor of “patent trolls” and patent holders suing companies who actually innovate. For someone so beloved by the tech community, these statements seem really unfortunate. He starts out by repeating the myth that patents somehow help out the small guy (ignoring that we’re talking about Paul Allen, one of the richest guys on the planet):
I think this lawsuit represents the idea that hey, patents, individual inventors, they don’t have the funds to go up against big companies. So he’s sorta representing some original investors. And I’m not at all against the idea of patent trolls.
The interviewer, from Bloomberg TV, pushes back pretty quickly, pointing out that Paul Allen is not the inventor and there’s no indication that the inventors on these patents would actually get any of the money should Allen succeed. Woz’s response is again disappointing, saying that Allen “represents inventors.” Nearly everything that Woz talks about comes off as really uninformed about the patent world today. For example, the interviewer notes that dealing with patents has become a “cost of doing business” and Woz seems to think that’s a good thing:
Every tech company is very aware that patents are really the heart of our innovation and invention system and (a) that you have to have your own patent position and you gotta be aware that there might be others. And, yes, you might be infringing. It’s very awkward, because some patents are so general. It’s hard to say how they’ll be interpreted. There’s a lot of ambiguity in the system.
So, wait, patents are the heart of the system, but there’s a ton of ambiguity. Can someone ship Woz a copy of Bessen and Meurer’s Patent Failure quickly, so he can learn about the stacks upon stacks of research that have shown that “ambiguity in the system” now costs society a hell of a lot more than any innovation created by it?
Of course, back in Wozniak’s autobiography, he talked about how much of a success Apple was without relying patents at the very beginning. Too bad he’s now forgotten that.
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