Say That Again

by Mike Masnick

Former Patent Supporter Says Patents Hurt Innovation

from the slowly,-but-surely dept

The arguments put forth by Greg Blonder in Business Week about why the patent system is harming innovation, shouldn't surprise any regular readers here. They're nearly identical to the arguments we've made for years. The nice thing, though, is that Blonder is a convert. He owns 70 patents and was a long term supporter of the patent system from a very young age (his father was involved in an early Supreme Court patent case). He goes through all the arguments we've made here, focusing plenty of attention on the problem that we agree is the biggest: patents being granted on ideas that are "obvious to those skilled in the art." As an example, he talks of a story from his days at AT&T where he ran some research labs. He gathered together two separate groups of people and had them generate ideas -- and both came up with similar ideas. This certainly would suggest that the idea is "obvious" to those skilled in the art, but AT&T was still granted a patent. So beyond just a better test for obviousness, he supports another idea we've found intriguing: letting experts in the field weigh in early on a patent application after a patent is applied for -- allowing them to make it clear to the patent examiner why a patent shouldn't be granted at all. Blonder also highlights another of our favorite arguments: making fun of VCs who look at the patent portfolio of a startup in trying to invest. He lists off all the reasons why those patent portfolios are mostly meaningless (and certainly not a competitive advantage) before focusing in on the key point: "a company's most valuable IP almost always results from later insights, gleaned by developing its early products and interacting with customers, not from the IP it originally filed." This is what we've tried to highlight ourselves as the difference between innovation and invention. It's great to see someone like Blonder make these types of statements publicly like this. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that anyone important is listening -- and, instead, we will get patent reform that is only designed to make the system worse.

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  • identicon
    Mousky, 20 Dec 2005 @ 8:17am

    Excellent article

    His analysis and recommendations are dead on. The current system creates little to no value in registering a patent and this is supported by the fact that the majority of patents are never used. A system where patents undergo a vigorous examination process and only those patents that make the cut are registered will enhance the economic value of the patent when it is approved. And that is a good thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    patent troll, 20 Dec 2005 @ 8:44am

    fewer and stronger patents are better

    Good article.
    The main point of the article is that stronger, higher-quality patents are better than weaker junk patents we have today.
    Thus, the article is clearly pro-patent, not anti-patent as Mike suggested...
    I am all for raising the patent standards.
    This would also mean that a company like MicroShit
    would not be able to obtain 1000's of junk patents a year - at best maybe 20-30 patents.
    Guess what they would choose: to raise the bar for everybody while getting rid of most of the frivolous lawsuits OR to keep the current status quo while getting sued all the time by "patent trolls" ?
    My guess is the latter rather than the former.
    Those big corporate guys are hypocrites: they want to have their cake and eat it too...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Steve R., 20 Dec 2005 @ 12:17pm

    Patent MeltdownTrends

    Very good article from the technical end, especially from one who has worked in the field. Based on my observations of trends in patent law, there are several additional concepts that can be added.
    First, patents are only supposed to be granted for products that actually work, we are apparently now granting patents for foggy "concepts". I believe that Mr.Blonder was referring to this as =>'ideas that are "in the air."'
    Second, is the issue of "reverse engineering". The business community, especially those pushing DRM, are attempting to outlaw reverse engineering as a time honored method of formulating innovation. Prohibiting reverse engineering will significantly stiffel technological innovation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      patent troll, 20 Dec 2005 @ 1:38pm

      Patents are NOT for products

      Patents are NOT granted for "products", they
      are granted for INVENTIONS.
      To make the difference more clear to the average
      clueless folks writing Techdirt comments,
      just one product,e.g. "cell phone", includes dozens of highly non-trivial and therefore patentable "inventions", e.g. vocoder implementations, CDMA modulation technique etc.
      PTO used to have a requirement for a working prototype of the invention (which is usually just
      a part of a product, not the product itself)
      but they dropped it some time ago.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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