Re: Patents: Sought by the Wright brothers while Europe built planes
"First to file" is so much better than "first to invent". Saves so much potential for dodgy court cases.
Successful product on the market for years suddenly gets sued by someone with "proof", sort of that they invented the same concept before the other guys. The proof is all perfectly legit m'lud, honest!
The current system can be abused but its still saves a hell of a lot of arguments later. If it is shown that there is already an existing product on the market you just don't (shouldn't!) get your patent granted.
And I say that as I have just had to drop a patent application because a MSc thesis that had been mouldering away in a university's library just got published online invalidating my application. It was considered "prior art" because it was still originally "published" and in the "public domain" even though the only way of finding out about it was to go to the actual american university library in question.