The arguments put forth by Greg Blonder in Business Week about why the patent system is harming innovation, shouldn't surprise any regular readers here. They're nearly identical to the arguments we've made for years. The nice thing, though, is that Blonder is a convert. He owns 70 patents and was a long term supporter of the patent system from a very young age (his father was involved in an early Supreme Court patent case). He goes through all the arguments we've made here, focusing plenty of attention on the problem that we agree is the biggest: patents being granted on ideas that are "obvious to those skilled in the art." As an example, he talks of a story from his days at AT&T where he ran some research labs. He gathered together two separate groups of people and had them generate ideas -- and both came up with similar ideas. This certainly would suggest that the idea is "obvious" to those skilled in the art, but AT&T was still granted a patent. So beyond just a better test for obviousness, he supports another idea we've found intriguing: letting experts in the field weigh in early on a patent application after a patent is applied for -- allowing them to make it clear to the patent examiner why a patent shouldn't be granted at all. Blonder also highlights another of our favorite arguments: making fun of VCs who look at the patent portfolio of a startup in trying to invest. He lists off all the reasons why those patent portfolios are mostly meaningless (and certainly not a competitive advantage) before focusing in on the key point: "a company's most valuable IP almost always results from later insights, gleaned by developing its early products and interacting with customers, not from the IP it originally filed." This is what we've tried to highlight ourselves as the difference between innovation and invention. It's great to see someone like Blonder make these types of statements publicly like this. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that anyone important is listening -- and, instead, we will get patent reform that is only designed to make the system worse.
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