|This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.|
The patent system was originally intended to provide motivation for inventors, both to create innovation, and to formally explain how their inventions work. At this point in history however, the system is breaking down. The current landscape of intellectual "property" seems more and more, actually to be stifling creativity and rewarding the legal hoarding of key pieces of culture. Currently, someone can follow a strategy of registering "ownership" of ideas while only minimally developing them, for purposes of profiting from someone else's future work; or a strategy of patenting a bottleneck process, in order to gain unfair market advantage over competitors.
One solution would be to keep a large registry of ideas, just like the one at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, but for purposes of making the ideas free, rather than for erecting tollbooths. The ideas need not be merchantable, or even particularly feasible; they only need a creator who wants them to be free. Ideally, the registry would be most effective if it's part of the PTO, but it doesn't have to be. The process for obtaining a patent should be rigorous and costly; the process for creating an un-patent should be easy and cheap.
An wikipatent would simply be an explicit statement that an idea is in the public domain, and is therefore non-patentable for private control. An un-patent registry could be as simple as a public collection of descriptions of potential inventions, that requires no prototype to be built, no fee to be filed, no attorney to be hired, and no prior art search to be performed. It can be at least as challenging to sort through as the current body of patents, but probably would grow much, much faster. In short it can be a mess, unless interested parties do what it takes to clean it up.
The value of such a system can be as a counterbalance to our current, broken system of patents. Those who articulate a new idea, but are unable to implement it, can give the gift of their idea to the world, with less fear that an unscrupulous party will attempt to enclose the idea for private profit. If someone attempts to patent a slight alteration on a public idea, they will be taking a gamble that someone won't un-patent the idea before the patent application is processed. Meanwhile, if a patent "owner" attempts to take someone to court for making a product, the plaintiff will need to negotiate an ever-growing minefield of un-patents, in order to prevail. (To insure the usefulness of the un-patent registry, prior to entering an un-patent in the registry, inventors should check for pre-existing published patents using a patent search engine.)
Some long term effects of such a system would likely be, that only truly novel and advanced ideas will tend to seek patents, abusive patent litigation would be more risky for the plaintiff, inventors could build in greater peace, and ideas would become more plentiful, and free-flowing.
Here is where the above idea first appeared