Patents And Misaligned Incentives
from the what-are-you-encouraging? dept
One of the problems with the patent system, is that too many people seem to think that a “patent” is the final output. If that’s the case, then we’re failing in living up to the Constitution’s mandate for progress in science and useful arts. Part of the problem is the incorrect belief that innovation is a one-off process, as opposed to an ongoing process of bringing things to market and improving on them to increase the utility. However, when people end up getting millions of dollars for failing in the market, but still holding an invalid patent, the incentives get shifted. Over at Forbes, they have a typical “about the patent process” article that basically just says patents are a good thing for business. However, at the end, in talking about how to get your company’s engineers to help you get more patents, it talks about one company that has its engineers spend 10% of their time on patents, and rewards them for each patent they get (which, of course, the company keeps). There are plenty of other companies that have similar programs in place — but shouldn’t the emphasis be more about spending their time on actually bringing products to market? When the incentive is set to focus on patents being the end-products, then people just spend their time trying to come up with ideas they can patent rather than actual innovation. The two are increasingly less aligned — especially as the US patent office refuses to use any test of obviousness. This is part of the reason why we’re seeing all these obvious patents. If you’re an engineer, and your company will reward you solely for the patent, you focus on what’s patentable, not what’s actually innovative. Since obvious ideas increasingly are perfectly patentable, and they take a lot less effort to come up with, of course the trend is going to be for all these engineers to put together as many obvious patents as possible.