Like I did last month, Marco vowed not to file any patents. “I fundamentally disagree that software patents (and many other types of patents) are a net gain for society, and I can’t participate in that system in good conscience.”
After all, if you only use them defensively, why do you need patents at all? Publish your work and establish prior art.
Sadly, prior art only works in an ideal world. As we’ve seen, the U.S. patent office routinely grants patents even when prior art exists. The recently passed reforms to the patent system, switching from a first-to-invent to a first-to-file system, make this more likely than ever.
For the moment, avoiding patents entirely isn’t a realistic legal strategy for large companies. Maintaining a patent arsenal won’t ward off shell company-style patent trolls, but it can protect you from competitors by allowing cross-licensing settlements. But all of that feeds into the “cold war” mentality of stockpiling patents you never hope to use.
Until we have real reform or abolition, ethical tech companies are forced to play the patent game, but at least engineers and designers now have a way to rewrite the rules in their favor.
This will eventually be a big topic in open-source hardware.