Here’s a great piece by Maciej Ceglowski celebrating the scientific achievements of the Wright brothers but decrying the intellectual bankruptcy of the patent system that so obsessed them:
"The whole point of patents is supposed to be to encourage innovation, reward entrepreneurship, and make sure useful inventions get widely disseminated. But in this case (and in countless others, in other fields), the practical effect of patents turned out to be to hinder innovation - a patent war erupts, and ends up hamstringing truly innovative technologies, all without doing much for the inventors, who weren’t motivated by money in the first place.
It’s illuminating to point out that all three transformative technologies of the twentieth century - aviation, the automobile, and the digital computer - started off in patent battles and required a voluntary suspension of hostilities (a collective decision to ignore patents) before the technology could truly take hold."
If you want to see how badly the situation has deteriorated since the Wright brothers’ day, take a look at this mockup of a typical web page that infringes no less than twenty different patents.