My partner Brad Burnham wrote a post today explaining why he disagrees with Nathan Myhrvold's recent Harvard Business Review piece in defense his patent holding company,Intellectual Ventures.
In the post, Brad talks about the power of "permissionless innovation" and says:
The real reason the independent software industry emerged is that operating systems and APIs made it possible for independent software vendors to develop applications independently. They no longer had to ask permission of the hardware vendors. This same characteristic of permissionless innovation led to the explosion of independently created services on the internet. The rampant abuse of the patent system has created the opposite condition for the creators of software and web services today.
Brad ends the post with the following observation:
We have all benefited from the extraordinary innovation delivered first by the independent software industry and more recently by the web services industry. In both cases, this innovation was a direct result of the ability to innovate without permission. Nathan proposes to replace this world of decentralized innovation on open platforms with one dominated by a new gatekeeper, "intellectual property market makers". In this world, young companies, may not need to ask permission of Dell, Microsoft, or Verizon, before they launch a new web service, but they will have to negotiate with Nathan's firm to as he puts it "get all the patents they need to roll out an innovative product faster and at the same time reduce the risk that they'll miss a necessary license and get blindsided by an infringement suit"
I agree 100% with Brad that software and business method patents are a major inhibitor of innovation. If you'd like to engage in a discussion this topic, I'd encourage you to do so on Brad's post on the USV blog.