Saturday, June 05, 2004

Patent problems

I have yet to write a post concerning patent law, but this article on the BBC website piqued my interest. I then noticed this similar article in Wired.

The issue the articles address is the ease of patenting ridiculous and obvious "innovations" and then using them to restrict competition. Clearly no one should be able to patent the double-clicking or holding down of a button on electronic devices, and yet Microsoft has done just that for PDAs. You do not need to be a legal expert to see how this is anti-competitive. The idea is simple and needs to be available for others to use on thier products without facing the threat of legal action. Companies shouldn't have to pay to license such an obvious idea, and MS could always deny such a license to competitors, severly damaging the usability of competing products.

The FTC may be ready to change the practice of granting what many contend are frivolous patents.

Mad cap patents ranging from protecting a method of painting by dipping a baby's bottom into paint or a system for keeping track of people queuing for the bathroom may soon be a thing of the past if the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has its way.
"The intellectual property system was designed to create incentives for people to innovate by giving them, for want of a better word, a monopoly on their ideas for a certain period of time," FTC commissioner Mozelle Thompson told BBC News Online.
"But we have seen instances where companies use that monopoly in an anti-competitive way, sometimes to prevent other products from getting to market, to prevent people from sharing ideas and to prevent the kind of innovation that the patent system is really trying to spur on."

Essentially, the bar will be raised for what will be a patentable invention. The BBC article points out that a major problem for the PTO (Patent and Trademark Office) is that they are badly underfunded and therefore cannot thoroughly check most applications.

The National Academy of Sciences is calling for more funding for the patent office where 3,000 examiners handle 350,000 applications a year with an average of 17 to 25 hours to check on the validity of a patent application.

My belief is that this situation need be addressed as to not only patent, but also copyright and trademark. It is necesary to toughen the review process in order to renew faith in the US's intellectual property practices generally. My understanding is that courts typically give slight consideration to a work's registration status when considering the validity of its protected status, even where a registration is supposed to be prima facie evidence that the work deserves protection. When even the courts consider the registration process to be a sham then something should be done.

Via BBC and Wired.


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