Quantity over quality: How patents are creating global inequality in the digital market
The Five American Giants, commonly known as FAANG, consist of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google. These Big Tech companies that started as the pioneers of creative innovations are known today for exploiting and conquering the majority of the digital market. To be precise, 10 percent of companies in the American economy receive 80 percent of the profits (How Big Tech Threatens the Global Economy, 2017). There are numerous ways in which Big Tech companies create such an extensive global divide. This article explores the exploitation of small scale innovators, through the creation of meaningless patents.
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The initial purpose of investing in patents was to protect innovation from the malicious practice of duplication. However, recently, Big Tech companies are using patents as weapons to destroy the market available for new innovators to flourish. For instance, large companies are involved in a despicable trend of developing patents for products that they don’t intend on developing (Eveleth, 2019). They hire employees to brainstorm numerous ideas and later use lawyers to design patents for them. Even if these ideas do not turn into actual products, other companies in the market cannot develop similar products without violating patent protection (Eveleth, 2019). But one might wonder why small innovators do not do the same? It is because the process of buying patents is unbelievably expensive, and hence, it is used as an instrument to assert the supremacy and power of Big Tech.
What are the incentives for these big companies to create several pointless patents? Technology is burgeoning at an alarming rate, and new products are continually entering the market every day. Hence, during negotiations, two companies attempting to strike a deal will be differentiated based on the number of patents they own, instead of carefully analysing the worth of their patents (Eveleth, 2019). Therefore, a company that has wisely accumulated the maximum number of patents will generally win the bargain. Such a practice is extremely harmful, since it is frequently used to threaten small firms that do not stand a chance of defending themselves against these dominant giants.
Additionally, the big companies are in a position to cater to political parties and change the course of decision-making in their favour. For example, by forming careful alliances with the Republicans and Democrats, Google weakened the US patent system (Shore, 2018). The Big Tech companies that were earlier known for their specialisation in Research and Development are now spending more money on winning legal battles.
Such unfavourable situations have been improving lately. The International Trade Commission recently decided that Google violated five patents owned by home audio company Sonos, and ordered a ban on Google’s imports of infringed technology into the United States (Johnson, 2022). Moreover, even political leaders are becoming more socially responsible and calling out Big Tech for their unethical practices. With the tech giants continuing to manipulate the patenting standards, it’s becoming increasingly important that a fair digital market is created with improved and more stringent regulation.
Eveleth, R. (2019, August 20). Why Are There So Many Weird Tech Patents? Retrieved February 21, 2022, from Slate: https://slate.com/technology/2019/08/amazon-sony-facebook-strange-patents.html
How Big Tech Threatens the Global Economy. (2017). Retrieved February 21, 2022, from Asia Society: https://asiasociety.org/new-york/how-big-tech-threatens-global-economy
Johnson, D. (2022, January 17). It’s time for Big Tech to play fair on IP. Retrieved February 21, 2022, from Fortune: https://fortune.com/2022/01/17/its-time-for-big-tech-to-play-fair-on-ip-copyright-technology-law drew-johnson/
Shore, M. (2018, March 21). How Google and Big Tech Killed the U.S. Patent System. Retrieved February 21, 2022, from https://www.ipwatchdog.com/2018/03/21/how-google-and-big-tech-killed-the-u-s-patent system/id=95080/