Patents were introduced to encourage inventors to come out in public and get the due credit for the invention. It also granted exclusive rights to the inventor for a certain period to enjoy the fruits of the invention. Though patents are a great way to protect inventor’s effort the laws and enforcements are generally tricky. Some countries have chosen to ignore the Pharma company patents to protect the health of the public as patents were monopolizing life saving drugs.
Paul Graham mentions in his book Hackers and Painters about the copyrights & patents in software and how the laws enforcing them are beginning to threaten intellectual freedom in the field of computers. Laws can be so tight that it can prevent an individual from dismantling something and looking at how it was built. Many people I have met are of the opinion that patents do not have a place in software.
Assume that we work hard and create something, secure it with a patent and prevent a large corporation from copying it. They can still ignore the patent go ahead with money power to face the lawsuit. So patents for inventors might not guarantee immunity. Then how can we be sure that someone cannot copy our work?
Paul Graham’s answer is to run up the stairs. His analogy was interesting, assume in the computing world the giants are usually large, burly people and startups or individuals are slim and agile; if they are trying to chase us out of existence then it is fairly easy when running downstairs or on the corridors but it is extremely difficult for them to chase when we run upstairs.
The examples are in the profession of sports, arts and music. What a top musician does is so easy to imitate, but she/he can keep coming in with more performances that others find it hard to emulate the success. Innovation is the key skill, the skill cannot be copied. What we need is to find what is tough for others to do and do exactly that. To run up the stairs we need to be strong and healthy, similarly to be ahead at work we need to be strong at what we do.
If we run upstairs chances are high that the competition is always left behind. Here is Paul Graham’s essay which covers the topic of running up the stairs.