First of all I applaud the general idea that every individual is responsible for acting morally, regardless of the environment they live in. I see far too many people who use the broken system as an excuse to behave badly themselves. eg. lots of people are polluting it doesn't matter how much I hurt the environment, the tax system is broken it doesn't matter how much I cheat, the patent system sucks so I have to be a part of it, etc. I believe this attitude is a facile rationalization for selfish behavior.
In any case, let's get back to the specific topic of patents.
In my youth I used to be the lone pro-patent voice in a sea of anti-patent peers. Obviously I was against the reality of the patent system, which consists of absurd over-general patents on things that aren't actually innovations, and the fact that expert review of technical issues before a court is an absurd farce in which money usually wins. But I was pro the basic idea of patents, partly for purely selfish reasons, because I had these technical inventions I had made and was hoping I could somehow get rich from them, as I saw others do. As a young individual inventor, I believed that getting a patent was my only way to get a fair price for my work.
Now I have a different view for a few reasons :
1. Policy should be made based on the reality of an issue, not your theoretical ideal.
The reality is that patents (and particularly software patents) are ridiculously broken. The court system does not have the means to tell when patents are reasonable or not, and it is unrealistic to think that that can be fixed.
2. The purpose of laws should be to ensure the greatest good for society.
Even if you think software patents are good for the lonely independent developer, that in itself is not reason enough to have them. You have to consider the net benefit to society. I believe that the world would be better off without software patents, but this is a little tricky.
What are the pro-patent arguments ?
One is that they encourage research funding, that companies wouldn't spend money on major research if they didn't have the patent system to ensure a monopoly for their invention.
I find this argument generally absurd. Do you think that IBM or Microsoft really wouldn't fund research that they believe will improve their business if they couldn't patent the result? Companies will fund research any time it is likely profitable; a long-term monopoly from a patent doesn't really change the research equation from "not profitable" to "profitable", it changes it to "ridiculously profitable".
Furthermore, in reality, most of the major tech companies don't actually use their patents to keep monopolies on technology, rather they engage in massive cross-license agreements to get open access to technologies. Patents wind up being a huge friction and cost for these companies, and you have to maintain a big war chest of your own patents to ensure that you can participate in the cross-licensing. The end result of this is yet another oligarchy. The big tech companies form cross-license agreements, and smaller players are frozen out. This is a huge friction to free market innovation.
Now, I believe one legitimate point is that in a world without patents, companies might be more motivated to keep their innovations secret. One pro-patent argument is that it allows companies to patent their work and then publish without fear of losing it. Of course, that is a bit of a false promise, because the value to the public of getting a publication which describes a patented algorithm is dubious. (yes obviously there is some value because you get to read about it, but you don't actually get to use it!).
Finally it is absolutely offensive to me that researchers who receive public funding are patenting their works, or that university professors patent their works. If you receive any public funding, your work should be in the public domain (and it should not be published in the pay-for-access journals of the ACM or IEEE).
But this is an issue that goes beyond software. Are any patents good for society? Certainly medical patents have encouraged lots of expensive research in recent years, and this is often used as a pro-patent argument. But lots of those new expensive drugs have been shown to be no better than their cheap predecessors. Certainly patents provide a massive incentive for drug companies to push the new expensive monopolized product on you, which is a bad effect for society. Would you actually have significantly less useful research if there were no patents? Well, 30-40% of medical research is publicly funded, so that wouldn't go away, and without patents that publicly funded research would be much more efficient, because they could be open and not worry about infringement, and furthermore it would be more focused on research that provides tangible benefits as opposed to research that leads to profits. It's a complicated issue, but it's definitely not obvious that the existance patents actually improve the net quality of medical treatment.
In summary, I believe that patents do accomplish some good, but you have to weigh that against the gains you would get if you had no patents. I believe the good from no patents is greater than the good from patents.
In any case, hoping for patents to go away is probably a pipe dream.
Smaller goals are these :
1. I find it absolutely sick that public universities are patenting things. That needs to stop. Professors/researchers need to take the lead by refusing to patent their inventions.
Any corporation that receives the bullshit "R&D" tax break should be required to make all their patents public domain. Anyone that gets a DoD or NSF research grant should be required to make the results of their work public domain. How can you justify taking public money for R&D and then locking out the public from using the results?
2. Some rich charity dude should create the "public patent foundation" whose goal is to supports the freedom of ideas, and has the big money to fight bullshit patents in court. The PPF could also actively work to publish prior art and even in some cases to apply for patents, which would then be officially released into the public domain.
A more extreme idea would be to make the PPF "viral" like the GPL - build up a big war chest of patents, and then release them all for free use - but only to other people who release their own patents under the same license. All the PPF has to do is get a few important patents and it can force the opening of them all.
(deja vu , I just realized I wrote this before )