Patents matter tremendously because of the high value of things they protect. Patents also matter because not everything is patentable. Once a patent is granted, it provides a powerful legal right to its owner. A right that includes the ability to collect damages based on the value of the protected invention.
What are Things Worth ?
Based on the value of things, it is clear why patents are important. For example, silver is worth about $0.90 per gram, gold is worth about $51 per gram, and platinum is worth about $50 per gram. Compare those numbers to a coated cardiac stent, which is worth about $93,000 per gram! Other high worth inventions include microprocessors, integrated circuits, and drugs. Indeed, the relatively high worth of these inventions is due to the protection that patents provide. Without patent protection, such inventions could be copied without any investment in research and development.
Not Everything is Patentable !
Patents also matter because not everything is patentable. In fact, many things are not patentable. Laws of nature are not patentable. For example, Newton’s second law of nature states Force equals Mass times Acceleration (F=ma). This law of nature is not patentable because it was a discovery, as opposed to an invention by man. Abstract ideas such as mathematical algorithms are not patentable because there is no transformation of physical matter. An example of a mathematical algorithm that does not transform physical matter is the conversion of a number from one format (e.g., binary coded decimal) to another (e.g., pure binary). Similarly, mental processes are not patentable. For example, a method of selecting a winning bid in a real estate auction based on whether groups of bids or individual bids maximize value to a seller is not patentable. Once again, there is no physical transformation of matter.
While the boundaries of what is or is not patentable are continually in flux, obtaining a patent still matters. It matters a lot.