Good geeks disdain patent law. Geoff Goodfellow is a such a geek.
According to the New York Times, Mr. Goodfellow had a light-bulb moment in 1982, when he came up with the idea of sending electronic mail messages wirelessly to a portable device — like a BlackBerry. Only back then, there was no BlackBerry; his vision centered on pagers. He eventually did get financial backing to start a wireless e-mail service in the early 1990’s, but it failed. So, in 1998, he moved to Prague and bought a bar.
Mr. Goodfellow, an early participant in Silicon Valley’s grass-roots computer culture, disdained the notion of protecting his ideas with patents. Thomas J. Campana Jr., a Chicago inventor with no such qualms, patented the idea of wireless electronic mail almost a decade after Mr. Goodfellow’s original work.
Mr. Campana, who died in 2004, was a founder of NTP, and his patent push yielded a bonanza for the company, which will receive $612.5 million in a settlement reached last month in its patent infringement suit against Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry.
Mr. Goodfellow says he has no regrets. His scorn for patents is widely shared by many innovators in Silicon Valley, especially open-source software developers, whose technology competes with products from companies like Microsoft. But it remains a deeply divisive viewpoint.
“You don’t patent the obvious,” he said during a recent interview. “The way you compete is to build something that is faster, better, cheaper. You don’t lock your ideas up in a patent and rest on your laurels.”