Microsoft Employee Admits That Patent Disclosure Is A Myth
from the and-here-we-go-again dept
Defenders of the patent system quite frequently point out that one of the main benefits (some claim the only benefit) of the patent system is “disclosure.” That is, because the patent system requires you to disclose your patent, the patent system is quite helpful in spreading ideas. This is a myth that’s easily debunked on a few points. First, it only really makes sense to get patent protection if you know the idea will get disclosed or figured out anyway. In those cases, the disclosure via the patent system is meaningless, since the info would have gotten out anyway. Second, these days, thanks to “willful infringement” tripling the damages you pay, many corporations tell employees not to look at relevant patents, as it only opens up more liability. Third, many patent lawyers are taught to write claims that are as broad and vague as possible while still getting approved. This way, the patent can be construed to cover much more than the actual invention.
When using existing libraries, services, tools, and methods from outside Microsoft, we must be respectful of licenses, copyrights, and patents. Generally, you want to carefully research licenses and copyrights (your contact in Legal and Corporate Affairs can help), and never search, view, or speculate about patents. I was confused by this guidance till I wrote and reviewed one of my own patents. The legal claims section — the only section that counts — was indecipherable by anyone but a patent attorney. Ignorance is bliss and strongly recommended when it comes to patents.
Of course, technically, a patent is supposed to be written so that someone skilled in the art can replicate the invention from the patent alone. But, when even patent holders can’t understand their own patents, it’s quite clear that reality doesn’t match up with the theory here. So, the next time you hear a patent system defender claiming the importance of disclosure, it might be worth pointing out that one of the biggest patent holding companies in the world instructs its own employees to ignore patents, because you can’t actually learn anything from them in the first place.