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> the author should have patented the idea, then freely licensed it

This is the brutal truth of how crappy our current patent mechanisms are. The definition of what constitutes a patentable extension to practice of ideas that are well known or explicitly in the public domain is very weak. So, until something is patented and actively protected by bulldog lawyers, there is a risk of someone else trying to umbrella it in their own patent. Google's move can even be justified on defensive grounds that some other jerks could do the same. But the core problem is an arms race to the bottom of what trivial distinctions can be claimed.

Having a patent doesn’t guarantee someone else will not patent the work as part of some other patent. Patent examiners miss things sometimes.

Publicly disclosing the idea in a way that can be verified after the fact establishes prior art just like filing a patent does.

I’m not a lawyer, but I do know there are services that inexpensively publish inventions and vouch for the publication date after the fact.

Also note that the vast majority of patent litigation never makes it to trial, so whether a patent is “valid” or not is a gray area in practice.

The problem is defending that disclosure as prior art when someone bigger claims a patent that improves or puts it into practice, which is exactly what this article is about. Even if you take a few steps to make patenting harder, if you invent something valuable it's eventually a game of chicken about preventing others from claiming the space.

> This is the brutal truth of how crappy our current patent mechanisms are.

Being granted a patent by the USPTO doesn't guarantee that the patent is actually valid. It's technically possible for them to grant identical patents to two separate people by mistake, and then the courts have to determine which one is valid.

The only solution to put an end to the current patent system is to overload it. The equivalent of a DDos attack. Companies should file as many frivolous patent as they possibly can. Eventually, we'll have all the IP lawyers at 100% CPU and the world will be a much better place.

100% CPU -> 100% billable hours -> IP law is now an incredibly attractive profession -> more capacity for patents / lawsuits... and that's essentially how we got here.

Exactly. They'll scale up horizontally by adding more and more instances until supply == demand, at which case we'll be really, really sad we followed this road.

Then we all stop at the same time, the market collapses and IP lawyers go extinct.

You'll have better luck herding cats.

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