Patent sanity

Brad has a nice series running on patents which I’ve enjoyed a lot (I think the existing patent system is completely hosed, totally ineffective and open to blatant abuses of power – see this post from Jason for the perfect example).

Well today, there’s a glimmer of hope that change may be on the way as the administration and it’s head patent policeman Jon Dudas announced the intent (note the gap between intent and action, but at least it’s a first step) to reform the patent system. While I generally like the idea of requiring patent filers to include more information on why their invention is ‘novel’ the gem for me in today’s announcement is the idea of opening up patents to more of a peer review. What a novel idea – have people who are actually in a particular field help determine whether an idea is truly novel and therefore patentable. In a system where the average patent is looked at by an examiner for about 7 hours before being approved (and where the default behavior seems to be “assume this is novel until proven definitively otherwise) far too many patents which are both obvious and not particularly original are being issued.

While I don’t think software patents will ever be outlawed, perhaps the PTO will someday go the next logical steps and more significantly tighten up the requirements for issuing a patent (and issue far fewer patents) and completely abolish method patents all together (ok – I’m deluding myself on that last one). I’m hoping today’s announcement is a step in that direction.

If you have a minute and are looking for a laugh, check out this list of patents actually issued by the PTO – I particularly like the electrified table cloth (to keep bugs off your table, of course). Why didn’t I think of that one?!?

Thanks to Brad for pointing me to the article – I’m sure he’ll have his own post up about this move in the right direction when he gets back from a few days unplugged.

  • If There Was Any Doubt the Patent System is Broken…

    You simply must read this laugh out loud funny list of crazy patents that have actually been awarded by the USPTO. I picked up on it from a post by Seth Levine where he reports on (potentially) good news about

  • Dad

    Everyone talks about not liking the patent system or the patenting process (two different things; one is in the Constitution; the other is administrative). But when you look into why, the reasons depend on the complainer’s perspective. That’s why the patent law changes that are moving through Congress now are cheered by the PC and semiconductor industries and opposed by pharma (all involving big companies, so it isn’t big vs. little). I guess if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And BTW, software patents recently (2005 is the latest data I found) are about 6% of the USPTO’s issuances. No matter how valid your concerns about software patents, they will be the tail wagged by the dog on this one. And the dog doing the wagging is not some industry; it’s the USPTO itself, which is desperate to reduce the huge patent backlog. Everything they do with rules is geared to that, which makes things easer to understand (though not easier to stomach). So whether you like peer review or not (I don’t, mostly), it’s not altruistic: they think it will help reduce their backlog. Same with limiting continuances and other things they may change.