The company proposes a new way forward in fixing the mess that is software patents.
There is something very, very rotten in the kingdom of patents -- in particular, software patents. As venture capitalist and Twitter investor Chris Sacca explained in an episode of This American Life, "We're at a point in the state of intellectual property where existing patents probably cover every single behavior that's happening on the internet and our mobile phones today." Such patents -- for tiny, basic actions such as swipe-to-unlock or one-click shopping -- make it difficult for new companies to innovate and build new products, because they risk expensive lawsuits from patent-holders, which are often giant shell companies who profit from buying up patents and suing infringers, but not actually innovating or using the patents themselves, as this fantastic This American Life episode examined. (NB: If you have not listened to that episode, you're missing out.) There are so many software patents -- hundreds of thousands, with 40,000 new ones each year -- covering so many inane operations, that entrepreneurs can't reasonably avoid infringing. The system meant to foster and encourage innovation is now working against that very goal.
The legal regime that "governs" this mess has been resistant to change, in part because of the aggressive lobbying efforts of the pharmaceutical industry. Under the WTO's TRIPS agreement, member states "cannot discriminate between different fields of technology in their patent regimes," meaning that software and pharmaceuticals are all together in this handbasket.