It's pretty clear that Microsoft's patent boss, Horacio Gutierrez, and I don't agree on much
, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that I find nothing to like in Gutierrez's new call for "global patents."
I can understand where the complaint comes from. It surely is a pain to have to apply for a patent in many different countries around the world, and to deal with different local systems and responses. And, yes, there is a big backlog at the patent office, which could be alleviated if many patent offices weren't all reviewing the same patents. But, having different patent systems actually serves an important function in better understanding the levers of innovation: which is that we get to compare different approaches and that different countries can try out different ideas to see what works and what doesn't. Unfortunately, we've already lost some of that uniqueness around the world due to the TRIPS agreement, which harmonized many patent systems on certain points, and took away some of the unique features of patent systems.
We've already seen that in "harmonizing" copyrights thanks to the Berne Convention that it's been made much more difficult for countries to correct mistakes
(or even admit mistakes) with overly aggressive copyright laws. In fact, it's created a situation where the only direction copyright law seems to go is towards stronger protection -- almost always under claims of a need to "live up to international treaties
." If we created a single global patent system, you'd have that problem on steroids. Rather than being able to experiment and cut back on the excesses and problems of the patent system, the entire world would be stuck with a single system, and any changes to the regulations would be driven by those who benefit most from being able to abuse such monopoly rights.