8 August 2011 by Ian Davis
As I mentioned in my last post on disrupting the patent system, I did have one new idea: a share-alike patent. This is a pretty simple idea for anyone familiar with the GPL or Creative Commons Share-Alike licenses.
A share-alike patent is a standard patent but it embeds a default licensing agreement. Anyone may freely use the invention described in the patent but any subsequent refinement or innovation based on that patent must also be licensed using the share-alike license. Alternatively, if the licensee doesn’t want to put their invention under the share-alike terms then they can license the invention under a standard commercial license agreement as they do today.
This is the mild form of share-alike patent license. A stronger form would assert that any invention that is combined with the share-alike invention must also be licensed in the same way. This is analog of the viral combination terms in the GPL.
The net effect of this kind of patent would be to create an ever-growing a pool of inventions that are free to use for any purpose at no cost. Any inventor filing a patent in this way has the potential to earn royalties from their inventions as they do today. However they get the additional benefit of being able to quickly and freely combine their invention with any other share-alike patent removing a huge amount of go-to-market friction. Additionally the patent itself retains value so can still be classed as an IP asset when valuing a business. That should be pretty attractive to any entrepreneurial inventor.
At the same time it opens up the knowledge of the inventor as a public good just like the original patent system was intended to. Anyone can freely reuse the knowledge of the inventor. Licensees only pay if they want to close off knowledge, not if they want to open it.
Has anyone seen anything like this in use or being proposed before?