Missing The Point In The Debate Over Patents

from the fair-and-balanced dept

Over the past few years, the debate over patent reform has gotten louder, as there have been more and more cases demonstrating that the existing patent system is fundamentally broken. News.com has a "special report" up today that tries to look at the issue of patent holding companies who do nothing but try to license patents. In trying to present a "balanced" view, though, the article completely misses the point. It quotes the various supporters of patent holding companies (often referred to as "patent trolls") talking about how they're helping protect "the little guy" from big international companies that otherwise would profit off of their intellectual property. It sounds nice, but that's not what the problem really is all about. The patent system isn't designed to "protect the little guy." It's designed to promote innovation -- and that's what it needs to be judged on. Patents may make some sense in cases where a concept is truly unique and non-obvious -- but if others are coming up with the idea independently and are better able to bring it to market, then the patent holder is holding back innovation. The other companies didn't "steal" the idea, because they came up with it independently (suggesting that it wasn't unique enough to deserve patent protection anyway). And, as we've pointed out in the past, it's not the "invention" that's really that important, but the ability to successfully bring it to market that helps the economy grow. Unfortunately, the patent system is more designed to protect that "invention," but to impede the real innovations that help make a product successful in the market place. All of the points these patent holding firms are making would be a lot more valid if the patents they were holding onto and forcing everyone to license actually were unique, non-obvious ideas that others were really building off of. Instead, they're taking ideas that plenty of others are coming up with independently and making the real innovation more expensive.

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  1. identicon
    Lawrence B. Ebert, 4 Aug 2005 @ 5:09pm

    Re: Patent reform

    The whole deal with the patent system is to encourage an inventor to reveal information in return for a promise that the inventor can exclude others from practicing that information for a limited period of time.
    The Patent Office checks to see that the invention "works" (it is enabled), that it is useful, that it is new, and that it is not obvious over prior work. The Patent Office does not check to see that the invention can be commercialized. That is a job for businessmen. We don't want government involved in economic decisions in a free economy. We don't want the Patent Office to be involved in making decisions about commercialization.
    Yes, commercialization of ideas moves the economy forward. And we want businessmen, not the government, to do that.
    The current patent "reform" bill (H.R. 2795) attempts to weaken the position of inventors. Stripping the power of the injunction hurts the bargaining position of inventors trying to market their idea. Creating an opposition proceeding (in addition to the already present options of re-examination and litigation) makes it harder to enforce patents. Generally, the reform bill strengthens those who have developed patents on sustaining technology, and will not help those presenting breakthrough technology, which, if commercialized, will move the economy forward.

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