Nov, 27 2012

If you think the United States Patent and Trademark Office is anything short of a complete mess in regards to tech patents, than you’re sorely mistaken. If you think everyone besides your favorite OEM is the culprit behind eroding tech innovation, than you should take off your fanboy hat. But I think the vast majority of tech enthusiasts can agree that the patent war movement – where thousands of very general protective patents are submitted, awarded, and litigated upon – is suffocating innovation.

But how can we change the patent system? We’ll always have huge corporations with tens of millions to spend on legal fees and patent submissions. The USPTO will always have a mile high stack of dozen page long patent applications to process, so complicated you would need an Adderall prescription to even understand the claims. And then of course there is the already long-running list of approved patents for which combing through would be a nightmare.

I’m no government policy expert, but I think it’s fair to say that something needs to change. Half of the patents being approved are nothing short of embarrassing. But identifying and diagnosing the problem are much different than finding and prescribing a remedy. That’s the hard part.

Any regular Joe can create a petition on, but the petition by Mike Winmill in regards to Apple and the USPTO caught my eye when it came across my news desk. Is the patent war topic finally hitting more mainstream consumer irritation, or has it simply become the focal point of tech fanboys beating the drum of their master? Let’s be honest, Phandroids, Apple isn’t the only company whose patents catch our eye (and again, can we blame them?).

In some regards, it’s hard to blame the manufacturers themselves. The tech landscape is incredibly competitive and to get ahead, you do what works. They’re investing hundreds of million in R&D so to spend some of those millions on patent protection seems reasonable. On the legal side, if your job is to protect intellectual property than you apply for anything and everything you could possibly be awarded: that’s what a good business person would do. So the sheer volume of patents coming in creates quite the labor for the USPTO whose job is to govern and make fair the competitive landscape. And based on the results, it doesn’t seem as if they’re doing a very good job.

I admit, I feel guilty pointing a finger when I’m:

  1. Not 100% sure of the entire process and system the USPTO employs
  2. Don’t have any direct input on how to improve said mysterious system

My only input comes from seeing some of the many approved patents and immediately thinking to myself, “How can someone patent that? That’s ridiculous! Stupid [insert company here]. Stupid USPTO.” I think that’s the same flow every tech fan finds themselves going through lately.

So let’s put the obvious aside:

  • We know companies are applying for patents by the thousands, often more general than anyone would like.
  • We know the USPTO is approving patents by the thousands, often more general than anyone would like.

But what specific measures, restrictions, laws, or systems would you put in place to directly improve the fairness of the US patent system while balancing the rights to protect intellectual property and still promote innovation and competition? This is your chance to sound off… make it count!

As suggested by Kevin Krause… a related video worth watching (series link):

local_offer    patent wars  patents  USPTO  

stars Further Reading