In its newest issue, the Economist is coming out strongly against the patent system – based upon the argument that “patent-lawyers are masters of obfuscation” and that patents are being used both by established incumbents and patent trolls to stifle further innovation.
The system has created a parasitic ecology of trolls and defensive patent-holders, who aim to block innovation, or at least to stand in its way unless they can grab a share of the spoils. An early study found that newcomers to the semiconductor business had to buy licences from incumbents for as much as $200m. Patents should spur bursts of innovation; instead, they are used to lock in incumbents’ advantages.
The patent system is expensive. A decade-old study reckons that in 2005, without the temporary monopoly patents bestow, America might have saved three-quarters of its $210 billion bill for prescription drugs. The expense would be worth it if patents brought innovation and prosperity. They don’t.
The Economist has a longstanding pro-competition anti-patent bent. In the 1800’s The Economist proposed full abolition of the patent system. The paper’s stance is no longer opposition, but does come with the interesting statement that “government should force the owners of intellectual property to share.”
1) Patent Use Requirement – the patent should only be enforceable if the patentee uses it in the marketplace.
2) Patent Opposition – patents should be easier to challenge without going to court and the burden of proof should be lower.
3) The standard for non-obviousness should be raised so that patents are only granted to those “who work hard on big, fresh ideas, rather than those who file the paperwork on a tiddler.”
4) Patent term should be reduced – especially in fast-moving technology areas.