Is The US IP System Really 'The Envy Of The World'?

from the no dept

Outgoing director of the US Patent and Trademark Office famously likes to claim that the US patent, trademark and copyright systems are the “envy of the world.” Here’s just one recent example:

The fact is, the explosion of innovation—and follow-on litigation—that we see across consumer electronics hardware and software is a direct reflection of how our patent system wires us for innovation. It’s both natural and reasonable that in a fast-growing, competitive market, innovators would seek to protect their breakthroughs using our patent system. While our IP system is not perfect, it is the envy of the world. It’s the strongest in the world, by far. That strength encourages investment and provides assurances to entrepreneurs as they enter the U.S. and global markets. At the same time, our focus on quality in the patent examination process overall ensures that patents are granted for true innovation, and not otherwise.

There are all sorts of fallacies or outright questionable statements in that one paragraph, but the popular IP blog, IPKat, decided to put that “envy of the world” argument to the test… and found that its readers don’t agree. At all.

Do you envy the US its patent system? (300 responses)

Yes, it’s brilliant 19 (6%)
Maybe, if the America Invents Act works out 28 (9%)
No way! 253 (84%)

Do you envy the US its trade mark system? (170 responses)

Sure, it’s great for owners, competitors and consumers 23 (13%)
I might if I could only understand the Lanham Act 41 (24%)
Never! It’s convoluted, complex and contradictory 106 (62%)

Do you envy the US its copyright system? (162 responses)

You bet! Google could not have been created anywhere else 18 (11%)
I might if there was some consensus as to what it actually is 56 (34%)
Not in this life or for many years beyond it! 88 (54%)

Yes, this is an internet poll, so reasonably-sized grains of salt should be applied. However, it was taken on a popular IP focused blog, so you would think that if the US’s system was really envied, the IP practitioners who read the blog would speak up positively.

It makes you wonder: are the US systems for copyright, patents and trademarks actually envied anywhere around the world, except, perhaps, by lawyers who might profit off them?

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Comments on “Is The US IP System Really 'The Envy Of The World'?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That hits it pretty much in the 10! Erosion of patentability has happened all over the world, but USA has made it a sport to cover everything in patents. If EU wanted as many patents as USA it would be easy to allow broad software patents, business model patents and patents on philosophy and math, not to mention cranking up the damages awarded by a factor 100 in civil cases. Then I assure you that EU would out-patent the rest of the world and us two or what ever would be a distant number 2!

Robert (profile) says:


Google could not exist if it were not for the pirates uploading their pirated versions of copyrighted works! That’s all people have ever searched for and that’s what Google was built for.

Nevermind all the data that shows pornography as the main driver of Google’s popularity (and the interest of the public in the web), it’s all because of Google’s ability to locate pirated content, for free, while artists starve and Google prospers!

Ugh, writing this trash is boring, how does the Trichordist keep it up? How do their trolls keep it up? Seriously, it’s so damn boring!

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

I really don’t understand why anyone would think that patents are a driver of innovation/invention. When I was in school, I was taught that necessity is the mother of invention, and as far as I can tell it still is.

People create things to satisfy a need. If you take financial compensation out of the equation, people will still have the need and still try to satisfy it.

Patents are however, a very good measure of greed.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I really don’t understand why anyone would think that patents are a driver of innovation/invention

This is how patents can encourage (not drive) innovation: by sharing knowledge. Before patents, everything was trade secrets. One inventor learned how to do something, but the knowledge would stop there. With patents, the inventor shares the details of their knowledge and other inventors can then study that knowledge and build on it, even in areas unrelated to the original patent.

Patents don’t add incentive for people to invent things. Patents widen the knowledge base that everyone can draw from when they’re inventing things.

(I say all this assuming a rational patent system. In other words, not the patent system we actually have.)

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Heh heh… cute.

You seem rather knowledgeable, and I have had a question about this hovering in the back of my mind. Why would someone not just take apart their competitors widget and figure it out for themselves without patent law?

I’m familiar with the idea you put out, but I have never really been educated as to how it would work, or if there is even perhaps an example of it working in the past.

shane (profile) says:

Red Meat for the True Believers

Love it…

What I would add of substance though is the mention he made of investment. The connection to the banking system should not be overlooked. Much of the commentary I see in the copyleft world concerning how investment is not really an issue misses the point that, for entertainers themselves and for the distributors who have a vested interest in the current model, nothing is really possible under copyleft that let’s them borrow directly from the bank with anywhere near the regularity that they can, now, under a strict IP regime.

The banks require something close to a sure thing to lend. This money is new money into the economy, as opposed to people giving money or investing directly. This gives any person or entity who has credit worthy of a bank loan an advantage when seeking market share.

That’s why, to me, the ultimate solution is minimal or no IP, with the usual caveats that attribution be increased in importance so that the creators and artists themselves get appropriate recognition in the hopes of being able to sell their talents to a willing sponsor.

Color me a fanatic, but down with copyright.

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Red Meat for the True Believers

ALL money is debt. The debt from the bank is fresh. It increases the total amount, and when lent in bulk, again, gives the recipient an advantage over competitors, especially in terms of competing for market share.

So I’m with you, but you are not seeing how this debt is actually beneficial to those who desire to see a continuation of central control.

Or well, maybe you do get it. You weren’t particularly communicative about your own personal take on the IP angle.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Red Meat for the True Believers

Debt that is always openly moving is a better debt than one that is static, whioch is infinitely better than one that is moving silently, I think your point is.

Money is far more a trust-based commodity than pretty much anything else ever. This is satirized (along with the Gold Standard) in Terry Pratchett’s Making Money.

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Red Meat for the True Believers

That’s an interesting point YOU make, but no, that was not really my point. My point is that the way money works is tied to the way business works.

Certain people hold that patent could be reduced or eliminated as things stand now. I tend to doubt that. I nevertheless see at least the possibility of a necessity for some sort of centralizing economic force, whether that be a central bank, a centralized fiat monetary system controlled by the government, or (my personal favorite) a well regulated system of local, regional, and national “clearing houses” for lack of a better term where people’s goods and services would be traded openly, and where some reasonable facsimile of a generic “credit” might be formulated.

But back to the topic of patents and the banking system, my objection to the idea that we can significantly reform it is that it is doing precisely what it is designed to do – it is creating a commodity out of an idea so that a large, centrally controlled organization (a company) can monetize it through the usual channels (a bank loan to help seize market share.)

I don’t know if that is at all clearer, but that’s the point I am trying to make.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Red Meat for the True Believers

ALL money is debt.

Strictly speaking, this is not so. All money is symbolic, but not all money has to symbolize debt. It could symbolize wealth. The money == debt equation is actually a fairly recent one.

But, yes, all US money (and most of the money from other nations) is symbolic of debt. There are advantages and disadvantages to this, which has been endlessly debated since we changed how our money works.

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Red Meat for the True Believers

And I would add that not all money is purely symbolic. Metal coins represent a commodity that has been standardized specifically to be used as an intermediate trade good.

This is why I like the idea of clearing house based trade. The real trade is in actual goods and services. The convenience of fiat or “symbolic” money could then evolve though through the continually updated relative trade values of actual goods. One could get credit with the clearing house, and store it to be used later on other things. The clearing house would make money on fees and perhaps on exceptionally beneficial trades they can make by being in constant control of products people have traded for their credit, and thus being able to take advantage of the ups and downs of supply and demand to maximize their own profits on the eventual actual trade of goods.

If you follow…

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Red Meat for the True Believers

Metal coins represent a commodity that has been standardized specifically to be used as an intermediate trade good.

I get your point, but I would maintain that even in this case the money is symbolic. Even if our money was gold coins and the value of the coin is literally the value of the gold in it, that money would still be symbolic. Few people want the gold coins themselves, they want the purchasing power the gold represents. Your use of “represent” in the quote above is indicative of this.

Your clearing house idea may have worthy aspects, but it seems to me that essentially what it would do is create a defacto monopoly over pretty much everything. or, to put it into other terms, it’s really no different than a central bank.

This aspect become even worse if you include in it the ability for the clearing house to generate any sort of revenue from their clearing house activities. Such a clearing house should be prohibited from doing anything of the sort. It should be funded entirely from taxes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Red Meat for the True Believers

Right, I want to be the company to own and control this global clearing house “for the good of the world” (what company wouldn’t)?

exceptionally beneficial trades sounds like a more polite way of saying ‘gouge the little guy because we can’….

I’m sure it’s exceptionally beneficial to someone, but it ain’t the little guy…

Robert (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Actually that’s an IP blog who focuses on IP issues not IP hate.

But what do I know, I just read their statement (Mission Statement?) at the top of their blog.

Of course, since Mike Masnick commented on it, it must be total bullshit right?

That pole is more balanced that the bullshit poles taken by IP maximalists by people who were screwed over by IP holders, but convinced the problem is IP piracy.

maclypse (profile) says:

“It makes you wonder: are the US systems for copyright, patents and trademarks actually envied anywhere around the world, except, perhaps, by lawyers who might profit off them?”

Oh sure! We love the systems in the US! Just look at how us Europeans embraced the increased protections and more american way ACTA was giving us!

Sure, admittedly the politicians were all for it (until the shit hit really the fan and no politician dared touch it with a ten foot pole. Even De Gucht slipped silently into the night in the end), but the public wasn’t exactly thrilled…

The Old Man in The Sea says:

IP, Ideas, Innovation and Implementation.

Since I have had an interest in ideas, innovation and implementation for well over 30 years. I have the following observations to make.

Australia is the country that comes up with the most new ideas across all fields. Our biggest problem is that we don’t share our ideas with others because we have such a massive inferiority complex (the tall poppy syndrome). In terms of ideas, we make the USA seems like unintelligent buffoons. This is born out by the strange efforts made by the USA government to stop people from all nations from being involved in development of their own ideas in the USA.

The USA does come up with some ideas. Their major characteristic is that there are many business men who are able to see the profitability of new ideas (no matter who brings them to the fore) that they will back these ideas with money to develop them, but they want control.

Asia (it was initially the Japanese but now the Chinese have taken over the role) see an idea and then sees how to apply said idea in oh so many ways. Applications that the USA and Australians never thought possible.

The saving grace for the USA is that you have so many imports (foreign nationals) from other nations that bring in their ideas.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again. If we truly experienced new patentable ideas on the level that the USPTO issues, we should be already colonising the galaxy.

On the basis of the discussions here, technology seems to be in the thrall of puff patents and lawyers.

Anonymous Coward says:

I fucking hate politicians

The reason you may or may not be leading the pack, and thats debatable, is that you legally attack anyone else even remotely attempting to provide a competitor to your product service, intead of letting the consumers participating in a free market, where the superior product/services, is elavated above your own, and that scares the shit out of you, because you know that improving your product/service will be new uncharted waters, your to bloddy comfortable. Not improving product/service is what will slow progress, instead of the constant drive to do a better job to your competitor, in an ideal world, many competitors and friendly helpfull way………..THATS PROGRESS

Patent/copyright is a monopoly maker, nothing more

staff (user link) says:

what do you know about patents?

Will Masnick and all other invention thieves and their paid puppets please leave this forum?


Just because they call it “reform” doesn’t mean it is.

“patent reform”…America Invents Act, vers 2.0, 3.0…

?This is not a patent reform bill? Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) complained, despite other democrats praising the overhaul. ?This is a big corporation patent giveaway that tramples on the right of small inventors.?

Senator Cantwell is right. All these bills do is legalize theft. Just because they call it ?reform? doesn?t mean it is. The paid puppets of banks, huge multinationals, and China continue to brain wash and bankrupt America.

They should have called these bills the America STOPS Inventing Act or ASIA, because that?s where they?re sending all our jobs.

The patent bill (vers 2, 3, etc) is nothing less than another monumental federal giveaway for banks, huge multinationals, and China and an off shoring job killing nightmare for America. Even the leading patent expert in China has stated the bill will help them steal our inventions. Congress passed it and Obama signed it. Who are they working for??

Patent reform is a fraud on America. Congress and Obama are both to blame. This bill will not do what they claim it will. What it will do is help large multinational corporations maintain their monopolies by robbing and destroying their small entity and startup competitors (so it will do exactly what the large multinationals paid for) and with them the jobs they would have created. The bill will make it harder and more expensive for small firms to get and enforce their patents. Without patents we cant get funded. In this way large firms are able to play king of the hill and keep their small competitors from reaching the top as they have. Yet small entities create the lion’s share of new jobs. According to recent studies by the Kauffman Foundation and economists at the U.S. Census Bureau, ?startups aren?t everything when it comes to job growth. They?re the only thing.? This bill is a wholesale destroyer of US jobs. Those wishing to help fight this bill should contact us as below.

Small entities and inventors have been given far too little voice on this bill when one considers that they rely far more heavily on the patent system than do large firms who can control their markets by their size alone. The smaller the firm, the more they rely on patents -especially startups and individual inventors. Congress and Obama tinkering with patent law while gagging inventors is like a surgeon operating before examining the patient.

Those wishing to help fight big business giveaways and set America on a course for sustainable prosperity, not large corporation lobbied poverty, should contact us as below and join the fight as we are building a network of inventors and other stakeholders to lobby Congress to restore property rights for all patent owners -large and small.

Please see for a different/opposing view on patent reform.

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