The patent system today is a joke. Its badly broken, and we suffer for it.
Both in our work as IxDs and as private consumers. The most ridiculous and
overly broad patents are granted left and right for claims that are
obviously bogus to anyone with any domain knowledge. Companies are "gaming
the system" as long as the Patent Offices grants monopoly rents to patent
holders that have not, in the end, invented a novel product.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Britain's
Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and the European Patent Office has an
initiative to help this sad situation.
Well worth checking out for anyone interested: http://dotank.nyls.edu/communitypatent/index.php
(Now, for the record: I'm strongly in favor of protecting intellectual
property. Had my own IP been possible to protect, I would probably been a
rich man today.)
Frankly, I think IxDA should take a stand on this issue, but that may be
wishful thinking. Most of us work at companies that want to, or does exploit
the system. Don't bite the hand that feeds you, etc.
PATENT examiners, who scrutinise applications for patents and determine
whether they ought to be granted or not, are used to poring over diagrams of
complicated contraptions. But now the patent system itself, just as complex
in its own way, is under increasing scrutiny.
The number of applications has soared in recent years, but patent offices
have been unable to keep up—resulting in huge backlogs and lengthy delays.
Standards have slipped and in America the number of lawsuits over contested
patents has shot up (see chart). In an attempt to fix these problems, the
United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Britain's Intellectual
Property Office (IPO) and the European Patent Office are evaluating a
radical change: opening the process up to internet-based collaboration.
The scheme, known as "Peer to Patent", was created by Beth Simone Noveck, a
professor at New York Law School. It applies an unusual form of peer review
to a process which traditionally involves only a patent applicant and an
examiner. Anybody who is interested may comment on a patent application via
the internet. The scheme was launched as a one-year pilot programme in
America on June 15th. Sean Dennehey of Britain's IPO, who sits on the
project's advisory board, says his organisation will follow suit by the end
of the year. The project is being supported by big technology firms
including IBM, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard.
An efficient patent system is essential for the promotion of innovation.
Patents give inventors a temporary monopoly on a new idea in return for
disclosing how it works, so that others can subsequently build upon it. But
if a patent is granted for something that is not novel (people are already
doing it), or is obvious (any Tom, Dick, or Harry in the field could think
it up), it can hamper innovation by turning a widely used invention or
process into one person's monopoly. The trouble is that examiners cannot
always tell when a patent is unwarranted.