The problems with the patent office began years ago when it was determined that the patent office should pay for itself through fees alone. Patents benefit the country at large by providing a method for bringing new ideas and innovations into the market place. The notion that this activity should be paid for solely by the patent applicants is horribly flawed because it assumes that the only beneficaries of this activity are the patent holders. This restraint has led to underfunding, gross overwork and sloppy work by the patent office. Add to that fundamental flaw the idea that something found is equivalent to something created, DNA sequences for example, and you have a system which will render idiotic decisions. Lastly, the trend in recent years has been to favor more and more those entities with huge sources of funding over the lone inventor and you end up with the situation we have today in which only very large companies can afford to apply for and then successfully defend patents in the market place. I agree that the patent system needs reform, but the reforms which I would like to see in place are very very different from those which are now in the works. Here is a partial list of those ideas. Partially fund the patent office with tax money and use those funds to hire more and better qualified patent examiners. Do not change to a "First Filed" system rather than a "first invented" system, the first filed system only benefits those companies which can afford large staffs of patent attorneys. Create a system of patent courts to hear cases of patent infringement. Do not reveal anything about a patent until that patent is issued. Finally, if maintainence fees must be charged, and in my opinion they should not be, then allow the fees to be paid in full when the patent if issued rather then requiring the patent holder to keep submitting payments on a schedule stretching out for years. It really seems to me that the current system is more and more favoring large companies which can maintain a battery of lawyers who can swoop down and grab a patent when an inventor slips up in some way. That was not the intent of the patent system and it should not be allowed to evolve to that state.
Yes, patents can be a very good thing or they can be very bad, the patent office is often at the crux of the problem. Some years back, faced with declining income, and increasing workloads, the patent office decided to often do a quick look for like patents and not finding any glaring patents staring them in the face, award a patent. This did two things, it increased income to the patent office and it threw patent litigation into high gear because they weren't doing their job of digging for similar or prior art (you are supposed to be doing that any way). This has filled the courts with often ridiculous law suits over conflicting patents which never should have been granted in the first place.
I have seen patents granted within the last 20 years for vacuum (electron) tube circuits which were already patented decades earlier. The circuits were virtually identical copies of the original patents, yet even though these old patents are not difficult to find, the patent office granted new patents....the patent office's response, it's not our problem, go duke it out in the courts (i.e. we got our money, it's your problem now). There are numerous examples of other patents being awarded when there is existing prior art already patented, this is not only shameful on the part of the patent office but they are not doing the job they are supposed to be doing.
In a small defense of the patent office, they are also finding it more difficult to employ the necessary experts needed to decide if a patent is warranted. It is a mess that needs fixing badly.
The only ones winning in this mess are the lawyers!
If you aren't rich enough to defend a patent it is useless. All kinds of things that shouldn't have patents are patented and protected by companies with the money to enforce even the worst ones. We would be better off with no patent system than the existing one.
I know what U mean; a company for which I have worked (which will remain nameless) would have a hard time surviving without patents which could probably be challenged by prior art in similar functions in other industries. They are able to fend off competition in the NAM market because they keep "tweaking" these challengeable patents.
Software patents are one of the worst aspects of the current U.S. patent system. The system is supposed to encourage the development of the "useful arts;" were there no software patents, $10 000.00 U.S. would buy a dynamite computer with which to write code (that could have the potential to become the next Apple, Microsoft, or Oracle). With software patents, U can buy the same computer, but U will be completely defenseless against patent attacks unless U have another $500 000.00 U.S. (or more) to get a patent (including the requisite patent search before U waste your time writing software somebody else has already patented - and lots of luck with that). How does making a programmer search out somebody with money advance the "useful arts?" It has been said that the problem is the quality of the patents, but somehow IBM, Unisys, et.al., were able to survive for 30 years, making hundreds of millions of dollars on software (if not billions of dollars), without a single software patent.
If U look deeper, software is at heart mathematics (lamda calculus). One of the things which the Courts have determined should not be patentable is math, but those who have no understanding of math or programming are the ones who have decided that math is patentable, even though it is not patentable. As with most paradoxes, a lack of understanding and poor definitions in the law is the cause of the problem. And before any attorneys out there get offended, keep in mind what U would think of me, a programmer with a physics degree, were I to start making legal decisions.
I would tell a patent attorney to contrast the patents on physical systems, where U often have a handful of patents with which to contend, with those on a software product. What do I call a "handful" of patents? Let's say less than 100. With a typical software package, U usually have to worry about *thousands* of patents U might be violating. Again, this has to do with quality, but as a programmer, I can't afford to pay to search out every possible patent violation; instead, I have to write the code and hope that I make enough money fast enough to be able to hire a law firm after the fact.
The only people who will benefit from software patents are those who don't have to suffer under them. Look to countries like China and Russia, with no traditions of respect for patents, let alone patents themselves, to be the next leaders of software innovation. And of course, criminals will be on the cutting edge. If U want to be legal, don't take up programming, unless U want to work for somebody else. Yeah, let's "help" the little guy; he can get a job working for the Big Guys, because we all know that innovation only comes from Big Guys.
Patents can be tricky. Companies can move from being a manufacturer to a patnet troll without realizing it. Once you own a patent, you will do all you can to protect it, and sometimes this sacrifices your original business model.
That being said. Patents are a very important basis of US manufacturing. While worldwide there is little enforcement. They do allow manufacturers to make money from their idea before allowing others to profit.
The whole business has become insane. Patent trolls and their ilk are just the ambulance chaser mentalities of the 21st century.
Cut the patent protection in half or to one third. Modern CEOs don't have attention spans any longer than that anyhow.
Maybe patent ownership should reside with the actual person(s) doing the inventing. The company might treat them a little better, eh.
Stop patenting software; as far as I can tell those patents only stifle creativeness and end-user productivity.
Stop patenting living organisms.
Stop assigning patents well after the product is in use. Recently a widely-used medicine for women was price-strangled because someone's lawyers finally con[nned]vinced some poor yokel over at the patent office to sign off on a patent application. Countless women were suddenly thrown off their meds as the price went from a few dollars to thousands of dollars. Did the cost of making the drug go up? No, just the abiilty to gouge like there is no tomorrow. Sadly, for some, now there might not be.
The whole drug price thing is a joke to start with. The exact same drug is sold at wildly varying prices around the globe because drug prices are not predicated on the cost to develop and manufacture the drug but rather on the deepness of the pockets in that market. That is essentially the definition of gouging and yet it is perfectly legal. To my knowledge, only India has had the common sense to say, "We have sick people and we won't tolerate gouging. If you try it here, we'll just authorize a generic. People come first." Lo and behold, the cost of drugs in India is quite reasonable. Doh!
Here's a thought, fix the maximum rate of return on products based on a patent.
I don't have the answer but if enough start throwing out ideas, we might come by a solution.
Here's another couple: patents cannot be sold or assigned outside of the entity that recived the patent. In otherwords, when you're done with a patent, it essentially becomes public property. This does away with the patent farms / trolls / etc etc etc.
For perspective, if all of the patents based on research and ideas that came out of NASA's work for the past 50 years had been retained and controlled by the NASA, I'm betting it would be self-sustaining and we'd be vacationing on our own moon and exploring Mars and Jupiter's moons in person by now! Hmmm ...
Well said, Rob. Yes, the U.S. Patent Office is loaded with dumb ideas, but it's also a repository of brilliant ideas that could otherwise be stolen from inventors without giving them a shred of credit.
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