from the those-who-cannot-remember-the-past-are-condemned-to-repeat-it dept
Techdirt has been following for some years China's embrace of patents, loudly applauded by Western companies who believe this will give them more power there. The country has just passed a notable milestone in this area:
China is driving Asian-led growth in innovation worldwide, becoming the first country to file 1 million patent applications in a single year, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) said on Wednesday.
Reuters gives its story the headline "China top innovator with one million patent requests in year: U.N." But as Techdirt has pointed out again and again and again, more patents do not lead to more innovation, just to more patents. And it seems that is precisely what China wants. A report on Bloomberg notes that China is planning to make it even easier to get patents for both software and business methods:
Chinese innovators filed most of their 2015 applications in electrical engineering, which includes telecoms, followed by computer technology and semiconductors, and measurement instruments, including medical technology, the U.N. agency said.
[Proposed patent examination guidelines] seek to address concerns that some examiners have been too cautious in treating all references to business models or computers as red flags that signal unpatentability. A sentence in the draft explains that claims relating to a business method are not excluded from patentability if they contain sufficient technical features.
China's move to embrace software patents and business methods comes at a time when both have become less patentable in the US thanks to the Alice decision, which is well on the way to killing software patents in the US. Of course, patent maximalists are drawing exactly the wrong conclusion here:
Meanwhile, another change clarifies that apparatus claims relating to software can contain both hardware and "program" components. And the draft changed language that some examiners have interpreted as barring nearly all computer program references. The guidelines clarify that inventions relating to "computer programs per se" are not patentable because those are rules and methods for mental activities.
Critics in the U.S. have long argued that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International has made many genuine software-related inventions unpatentable. At the same time, they say an improving environment in China means that patent holders should consider going there to enforce and monetize their IP.
Good luck with that. As the book "Patent Failure: How Judges, Bureaucrats, and Lawyers Put Innovators at Risk" by James Bessen and Michael J. Meurer chronicles, software patents and their associated lawsuits have imposed a huge net cost on the US technology ecosystem. It's mostly patent trolls and lawyers who have benefited from the thicket of intellectual monopolies that has threatened to strangle innovation. The same is likely to happen in China as it foolishly follows the US down the path of allowing patents on everything under the sun.
That may be good news for the West in the long term, as the Chinese tech industry descends into an orgy of patent infringement suits that saps its resources and energy. But in the short term, many of the Western companies that are operating in China are likely to get caught up in this expensive, pointless mess too.