Based on a true story

May 22nd, 2013

A few years ago, in a company whose name doesn’t really matter there sat a programmer working on fixing a few bugs and adding a few features. And as he was sitting there, an idea struck him. An idea for a feature which was kind of related to what he was doing. And he leaned over to his cube mate and outlined the idea. And the cube mate told him that it’s a nice one. And that he should see if the idea can be turned into a patent. Not because that idea would actually be turned into a feature. But because everybody else tries to patent ideas, no matter how small or big they are. Or no matter what actual connection they have to what you’re doing in the office. Play the game. Send an email. Let the process begin. Sit in a couple of meetings. And then a few years later, if it turns out to be an actual patent, get some extra money. Just for having had that idea.

And the programmer sent that email. And got a conference talk scheduled for the next week. A talk with a patent attorney. And with every day that passed, the programmer’s excitement has declined. And declined. And declined.

It started with patting self on the back and kind of marveling at self for coming up with the idea. And hey, extra money doesn’t hurt. Not that it’s a lot of money. But not loose change either. But with every day, the realization of how ridiculous and pathetic it is to think that an idea for a pure software-side flow is patentable started to sink in. Growing claws. Clawing at the inside, reducing the self-built pedestal to a heap of quick sand.

And then the time came to sit with the attorney. And the programmer was so dejected at that point that he just wanted to make it all go away. And the attorney sat there and said that he was going to just read this paragraph. And he started reading from the piece of paper. And, sentence by sentence, in six or eight short sentences it described the exact flow that the programmer had in mind. And then he asked whether it was in any way similar to what the programmer had in mind. And the programmer said that it was exactly the same. And the time to sit with the attorney was over.

And ever since then, the programmer has hoped to never be in such a situation again. To never bear the burden of self-inflicted aggrandizement of self. To never think that a mere idea in the realm of pure software is worth the notion of being patentable. To remain humble. To stand on the shoulders of others. To push himself to hone his craft and become better at it every single day. To hope that one day some of his ideas and code will be useful to others. And to never presume to claim that they were original in any shape or form.

As long as I have you here, a personal note. The system is rewarding predatory behavior, and there’s little chance to turn it around from the bottom up. But if you can, consider not attaching your name to any patent application. Something as simple as a one-liner email “Please remove my name from this patent application” should work.