Patent Reform is Desperately Needed
The Patent System is Broken (Some Might Say Very Broken)
The fringes of mainstream journalism have had a lot to say on technology patents lately. It seems that everyone that makes cell phones is in the midst of multiple lawsuits with other cell phone manufacturers. Google bought up 1000 patents from IBM in what they have termed a defensive maneuver.
We all know patents protect inventors, but do they protect the public? Should there be different rules for rapidly-advancing fields like technology? Wouldn’t the world benefit from a shorter term for mobile and computing technologies?
Patents usually hold for 20 years, which would count as multiple lifetimes in the world of technology. Twenty years ago we didn’t have the Internet and almost no one had a cell phone. Why, then, does the USPTO approve these patents when things change so quickly?
In short, the system is broken. The U.S. Patent and Trade Office was founded in 1790 to handle a very different climate of innovation. Today, the office is not prepared to handle the rapid progression of some industries, including technology.
The applications are often reviewed by people who have little knowledge of the subject material. This has led to approval of patents that are invalidated by prior work and even patents that cover very generic ideas—such as a lawsuit a few years ago where Apple was accused of infringing on another’s patent—because their computers booted up too fast.
How does this affect us? Settlements from the lawsuits add a significant amount of money to the technology products we buy. For example, all Samsung Android phones carry an estimated $15 fee that is sent to Microsoft.
These patents stifle innovation and increase costs, which hinders both job growth and technology advancement. There are already movements under way to reform the process, especially with regard to software. I hope they succeed soon.