The more people look at our existing patent system, the more screwed up they realize it is. Now, two economists are coming out with a new book that not only discusses how bad our patent system is, but also proposes a way to fix it (thanks to John for submitting the link). The book is called Innovation and Its Discontents : How Our Broken Patent System is Endangering Innovation and Progress, and What to Do About It and sounds quite interesting. Their proposal, it appears, is just to make the patent process much more open, allowing outsiders to contest a patent much more easily. The plan is to actually have most patent applications reviewed less carefully, while letting anyone point out problems with specific patents that would require a more serious review by patent examiners. The system would also make it easier to contest a patent that had already been approved. Of course, the risk with such a system is that they're basically outsourcing the patent review process to, well, anyone with enough time to watch over the patent process. Though, this could create a new breed of patent researchers whose only job is to review the patents being reviewed to see if they can or should be contested. As an aside, the article notes that in the nineteenth century the Netherlands outlawed patents, after they realized they were simply granting too many patents, causing too many problems. What the article leaves out is that during this time in the Netherlands and in Switzerland (which similarly, did not have patents during that period) innovation and business thrived, helping both economies grow, while opening opportunities for some new businesses. For more info on how successful those nations were in making use of the lack of patents to help their industrial growth, see Industrialization without national patents: the Netherlands, 1869-1912; Switzerland, 1850-1907.
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