During my postdoc I work at a large company.
This year I came up with an algorithm, and they wanted to patent it. Europe doesn't allow software patents, so they made one of these "it's a hardware device that [insert software patent here]" patents, which is essentially a software patent that they've tried to sneak by the examiners. After it was submitted, I found a publication from before the patent was submitted, which describes a highly similar algorithm and should invalidate the patent (as "obvious").
When I told my employer (even though I get a bonus and a percent of revenue from products using the patent, I wanted to be ethical, and not to put my pride above being a good employee), they said that they didn't care, and that getting a patent awarded was the most important thing, even if it wasn't enforceable, because it would still make competitors afraid to working in that area. But I was surprised when they also said that they would try to use an invalid patent as leverage for little start ups and academics to work exclusively with us and not with any competitors. When I asked who would continue that line of research if I was ever fired or left the job to move back home, they said they didn't care as long as it wasn't used by competitors. I see where they're coming from, but unfortunately, no one else at the company is remotely knowledgeable in the area.
First question: Is it good for me / good for the world to withdraw the patent? Should I just add it to my C.V., take the bonus and not worry that it was a (sort of) waste of money for my employer / bad for the world? There may be a chance that I can convince my employer to withdraw the patent, and if I am given this choice, my choice would be to withdraw it. But I would like to hear if you think I am being naive. After all, it is acknowledged by patent experts that we've employed that the patent wouldn't hold up under litigation (there are a couple of reasons it's invalid: it is a "dressed-up" software patent and not an actual "device", prior art/obviousness); so if it isn't withdrawn, I could still list it on my C.V. and receive the bonuses without worrying that it would inhibit my ability to continue my academic research if I were to leave my job. I realize how absurd this is, but I can't help but wonder if I am naive to try to avoid working within the broken patent system.
Second question: Do I have (ethical) options to withdraw it / remove my name from it? The European patent examiner left an email address where he/she could be reached if we become aware of any additional prior art. To the best of your knowledge, am I allowed to write to the patent examiner from home to confidentially disclose this prior art? On one hand, my intuition says that I should be allowed to email the examiner myself because the patent has my name on it and I am disclosing nothing confidential; however, I worry that this may be unethical / that I could get into trouble from this. And to be fair, the examiner emailed me (through the submitting attorney) to ask questions regarding prior art, questions that led me to find the invalidating prior research.
After finding prior art, I immediately showed the lawyers, at the cost of my own bonus. In my opinion, a dubious patent only hurts the world (does not protect employer, but prevents future innovation by others, including myself); I only ask whether there is an ethical mechanism to withdraw it since it has my name on it. If it was a valid patent, I wouldn't ask. I am concerned with 1) not being part of the patent trolling machine and 2) having other people (inside the company or out) steward and work on the idea in the future (in addition to myself). It is an elegant idea, and it would be a pity for others to be afraid simply because of a useless patent. If the patent was useful for litigation I would completely understand and respect the company's control of the idea; in that case they would profit and it would even look good on my C.V.