20 September 2011

On Patent Reform

The Smith Patent Reform Bill has become law:

President Obama today signed into law the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (H.R. 1249) a bipartisan, bicameral bill that updates our patent system to encourage innovation, job creation and economic growth.  Both Houses of Congress overwhelmingly supported the proposal, which was sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas).  The House of Representatives passed H.R. 1249 by a vote of 304-117 earlier this year. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 89-9.  Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) partnered with Chairman Smith on the legislation.  Congressman Smith led the House efforts on patent reform for more than six years.
Much-needed reforms to our patent system are long overdue.  The last major patent reform was nearly 60 years ago. The House patent reform bill implements a first-inventor-to-file standard for patent approval, creates a post-grant review system to weed out bad patents, and helps the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) address the backlog of patent applications. This bill is supported by local companies as well as many national organizations and businesses.

I’m not sure what to think of this.

On the one hand, this streamlines the patent system, which I begrudgingly support.  The first-to-file standard makes resolving multiple claims dead simple:  Who got to the patent office first.  And weeding out bad patents is also good, especially in light of the standards (distinct, non-obvious, etc.).

However, this legislation could very well increase the occurrences of patent-trolling.  This would actually discourage invention and innovation in the long run because inventors would more than likely seek to avoid paying royalties to produce their own inventions, so they would have to create modifications to their own product in order to sell them.  I imagine this effect would be more prominent among large corporations than among individual inventors because corporations tend to be more susceptible to industrial/commercial espionage.

At the end of the day, though, the simplest and most effective reform is to simply abolish the patent system altogether.  There’s little evidence that the costs of the patent system outweigh the benefits thereof.

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