Thinking about ethics is an important part of running a business to me. Balancing survival with ethics is an interesting and important topic.
Making a product has caused us to have a lot of interesting discussions on ethics and intellectual property and ways to survive within this system.
When discussing ethics, we need to be careful to inspect what our premises and constraints are to make sure they're reasonable, make sure we are considering the full impact a company has, and consider that companies may need to take certain paths to survive within the system.
To cite an example, a person who didn't own software patents as an individual but who works at a large corporation that owns thousands of software patents itself claimed that it is unethical for me to consider patents. Let's take it as a premise that patents are unethical and let's even ignore the hypocritical nature of this claim. Even if they are unethical, I'd argue that I'm still making an ethical decision to use patents if we take the following as true: 1) I need to to survive 2) my small business is doing a lot of good and a whole lot less harm than many in this system (including that big corporation), therefore striving to exist within this system is an overall ethical thing to do. If I'm doing something unnecessarily unethical, then that's not okay. But if I'm doing something necessary to survive that isn't ethical, we then need to weigh the ethics of that decision against the ethics of my company existing in this ecosystem at all.
This is why I don't respect many claims about intellectual property concerns that focus on ethics. I'm happy to discuss whether or not I need certain intellectual property protections to survive-- I'm not happy with sidestepping this concern and jumping straight to ethics, because of the above reasoning.
The ironic part of these claims is that most of the reasons cited for not using various intellectual property protections have been examples of large corporations abusing them.
I agree that large corporations have abused many things, not just intellectual property (in fact, large corporations' abuses make intellectual property abuses seem like a low priority thing to be concerned about)! This does not take away from, and may even support, that small businesses like myself need to use what we can within this system to protect ourselves. It's not perfect. It's not ideal. In fact, law and social systems in general are often far from ideal.
We work within them and create new systems when we can. We're trying our best to do this while trying to have the best social impact possible, both inside and far outside the realm of making a software product.