Thursday, August 18, 2011

Patents: What's wrong with the current regime?

Nilay Patel has a good primer (possibly triggered by this recent NPR story on Intellectual Ventures and other such patent trolls):

... Patents publicly disclose some of the most advanced work ever done by some of the most creative and resourceful people in history, and it’ll all be free for the taking in several years. Stop offering patent protection and there’s no more required disclosure — all this stuff stays locked up as trade secrets as long as it offers a competitive advantage, after which point it may well be forgotten.

Western civilization has dealt with fiercely secretive industries going to insane lengths to protect their proprietary advantages in the absence of patents before: craft guilds like the Masons maintained an air of mystery and prohibited teaching outsiders their trades, and medieval Venetian glassblowers were assassinated if they tried to leave the city to set up shop elsewhere. And you think Facebook and Google are going to extremes trying to prevent employee defections now.


  1. Vijay said...

    Abi, thanks for the link to Nilay Patel. I had not appreciated the level of detail in 'software' patents.
    In general, the regime is broke, (even) the Economist says. Here its recipe for what needs fixing. I am not an expert, but the idea of different tracks for apples and oranges sounds sensible,
    Cheers, Vijay
    Intellectual property
    Patent medicine
    Why America’s patent system needs to be reformed, and how to do it
    Aug 20th 2011 | from the Economist print edition

    "A blueprint to improve the machinery

    A patent-reform act is about to be passed in America, but it has been so watered down that it will fail to make much difference. Three much bolder reforms are needed.

    First, patents in fields where innovation moves fast and is relatively cheap—like computing—should have shorter terms than those in areas where it is slower and more expensive—like pharmaceuticals. The divergent interests of patent-holders in different industries have held up reform, but there is no reason why they should not be treated differently: such distinctions are made in other areas of intellectual-property law. Second, the bar for obtaining a patent, particularly for software or business methods, should be much higher (as it is in other countries), and the process of re-evaluating bad patents should be more open and efficient. Finally, there should be greater disclosure requirements of the ownership of patent portfolios, and patent cases should be heard by specialised courts (as happens in other areas of law), rather than non-expert juries in advantageous jurisdictions in Texas. That would make life harder for trolls. These fixes would help America’s patent system encourage innovation rather than litigation."