When the Americans wrote their constitution they made provision for patents. Patents had two purposes:
- To encourage people to invent by giving them a short monopoly.
- To encourage inventors to fully disclose how their new technology worked so it could stimulate others.
The idea was to allow patents on novel and significant innovation. However, in modern times patents have been severely abused.
- Monsanto has been permitted to patent plants, which they simply took from third world farmers without doing any development on them.
- Most of the human genome has been patented. Most of these companies did not even do the work of sequencing. They just made a land claim on a random chunk of our common DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid).
- Apple managed to patent rounded cellphones.
- There are hundreds of computer patents for techniques that are completely obvious and part of the standard repertoire of programmer techniques. Some corporate lawyer managed to trick the patent office not to notice they were prior art.
- Large corporations cross licence their portfolios of patents. This is how the create a monopoly to squeeze out the smaller players.
I had a talk with a clerk in the Swiss patent office (no it wasn’t Einstein). He said he had four days to decide if a patent should be granted. A typical patent application is 5 cm (1.97 in) thick. It takes a day just to skim it. It is written in opaque language to make the invention sound much more important than it really is. It also attempts to disguise the prior art. The clerk is not necessarily an expert in the field.
I call for the following reforms:
~ Roedy (1948-02-04 age:69)
- Pending final approval, a patent application should be posted on the Internet. The public and competitors then get to comment on why the patent should or should not be granted. The clerk would then review those comments before making his final decision.
- There are so many patents, it is a minefield for developers to avoid accidentally using one by coming up independently with an existing patented invention.
- Computer patents should be shortened from 17 years to 6 years. Everything changes so quickly in computers that a single bogus patent can wreck havoc for what is a like a century. The length of the patent should depend on how long a product takes to bring to market and how costly it is to bring to market. Drugs need a long patent time. Computer software needs perhaps only 4 years.
- The patent application needs to prove it differs significantly from existing technology.
- Part of the patent approval process would be to hand the problem the patent claims to solve to a team of experts in the field and see if they come up with the same solution in under 3 hours. If they do, the patent is rejected as insufficiently novel.
- You should not be able to patent something that essentially just one of a number of obvious choices e.g. colour, shape, e.g. red keyboards, a particular shade of red shoe sole, oval lamp bases, Apple’s phones with round corners. There is no innovation here. Possibly trademark or copyright law might apply, but not patents.
- There needs to be an AI (Artificial Intelligence) system to check which existing patents a proposed project might violate.
- The cost of a patent application should be variable, and sufficient to do a thorough investigation, including consulting experts.