Since I've done some legal consulting, I've become interested in intellectual property (IP) issues, and the question of whether IP issues should affect my research agenda has recently occurred to me.
Let me explain. As an algorithmist, a major interest for me is designing algorithms that people will actually use -- perhaps not in the original form that I describe them in, of course, but that the ideas make it out into the real world. And while it is not my aim that every project I'm involved in should have a clear potential practical impact, it is the case that this goal guides my overall research agenda quite significantly.
IP issues have the potential to limit the practical impact of an algorithm I design. For example, suppose someone has a patent on SuperHashSchemeX (SHSX). (If you want something more specific, suppose Bloom filters were patented.) I might come up to an improvement to SHSX, or a better analysis of SHSX, but if the patent is written well, the patent owner may have rights controlling who could use SHSX, including my improvement. There may really be no hope that anyone else will actually be able to make use of my ideas, until the patent runs out, or unless the user is willing to buy a license. Indeed, unless I go through the process of obtaining a patent, it's possible that my work might simply add value for the initial patent-holder, and I've actually rewarded those who are keeping my work from being used.
Perhaps this wouldn't bother me if my theory blood ran pure, but I like being an "applied theorist". In my mind, this affects the calculus I use in thinking about what I should work on.
Should it? Has anyone actually run into this problem?