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Patent Chief Decries Continued Downward Spiral of Patent Quality 179

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the dudas-just-wants-his-rug-back dept.
Techdirt is reporting that Jon Dudas, head of the US Patent Office, is lamenting the continuing quality drop in patent submissions. Unfortunately, while this problem is finally getting the attention it deserves, the changes being implemented don't seem to be offering the correct solution. "When you set up a system that rewards people for not actually innovating in the market (but just speculating on paper), then of course, you're going to get more of that activity. When you set up a system that rewards those people to massive levels, well out of proportion with their contribution to any product, then of course you're going to get more of that activity. When you set up a system that gives people a full monopoly right that can be used to set up a toll booth on the natural path of innovation, then of course you're going to get more of that activity. When the cost of getting a patent is so much smaller than the potential payoff of suing others with it, then of course you're going to get more of that activity. The fact that Dudas is just noticing this now, while still pushing for changes that will make the problem worse, is a real problem. Patents were only supposed to be used in special cases. The fact that they've become the norm, rather than the exception, is a problem, and it doesn't seem like anyone is seriously looking into fixing that."
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Patent Chief Decries Continued Downward Spiral of Patent Quality

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  • from the dudas-just-wants-his-rug-back dept.
    He doesn't want it back, he wants it replaced. He still has the original but it has Asian-American urine all over it which is too bad because that rug really tied the room together.
    • Well, no, not exactly. It's a complicated case, eldavojohn. Lotta ins. Lotta outs. And a lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder's--

      He wanted compensation for the first rug. He wanted the second one back. The one that held sentimental value for Maude.

      -Peter
      • Huh? No, what the fuck are you... I'm not... We're talking about unchecked aggression here, dude.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Adambomb (118938)
          Calmer than you are.

          • Re: Your sig

            My dad used to say that all the time. Something about a code phrase he used in the Navy. What is it from?
            • by Adambomb (118938)
              Easily could have been a code phrase, its a really really OLLLD line and theres about a bajillion paraphrases i've run into. Personally, i got it from The Tick where it was effectively nonsense =).
  • Jon Dudas? (Score:4, Funny)

    by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Monday April 21, 2008 @12:30PM (#23146072) Journal
    At first I accidentally read that as Don Judas. Now that would be an interesting name for the head of the USPTO!
    • by Steve1952 (651150) on Monday April 21, 2008 @01:25PM (#23147268)
      If you like the DMCA (and all the RIAA abuses) then you will love Jon Dudas. According to his official USPTO biography:

      "He guided enactment of major patent, trademark, and copyright policy, including the 1999 American Inventors Protection Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act."

      Most patent attorneys consider him unqualified because he had no previous patent experience prior to becoming head of the USPTO.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Especially with a Master's in Divinity, some opera training, and a leather-clad metal band to back him up.
      I've done my share / of workin' out...
  • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday April 21, 2008 @12:38PM (#23146240)
    I patented the means of patenting "quality patents".
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by pha7boy (1242512)
      you'll make no money that way. I'm filling a patent for "un-innovating patents." I'll be rich!
  • by MisterSquirrel (1023517) on Monday April 21, 2008 @12:38PM (#23146252)
    Not only is innovation stifled, but it serves to further concentrate wealth, and the power over future wealth, into the hands of fewer and bigger corporations. How about we change it so that only an individual can hold the rights to a patent, without allowing the benefits to accrue to the employer of that individual? And that individual must be the actual creator of the patented idea in question?
    • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Monday April 21, 2008 @12:46PM (#23146452)
      I thought the express purpose of our government was to concentrate wealth into the hands of the fewer and bigger corporations that own it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Sponge Bath (413667)

        ...corporations that own it.

        Government is like beer.
        You can only rent it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Z34107 (925136)

        I understand that you're trying to be bitterly dark and sarcastic, maybe even a little but humorous, but the "express" purpose of our government is spelled out in that little Constitution thing we like to bandy about during election years.

        You can argue that for the purpose of practical discussion we've fallen to a plutocracy; however, it is unfair to say that "fewer and bigger corporation own" the government - corporate lobbyists are a minority on K street. You're forgetting unions (AFL-CIO), old people

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by ShieldW0lf (601553)
          Money greases the cogs of governance, to be sure. But, more people than ever have money nowadays. Maybe political scientists can recognize the new breed of "democracy" we've formed in the Washingtonian super collider of... bad metaphors. You get my point.

          That is a problem for sure. Can't have too many people owning too much money or everything gets screwed up. But there is a solution. The solution is to have the Federal Reserve print off a whole bunch more, then dole it out through the old boys network
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Z34107 (925136)

            The Fed "old boys network" is a system of banks. When the Fed wants to lower the interest rates, they reduce the money supply by instructing their brokers to sell government bonds. Anybody can purchase these - the point is that there's less money in circulation (the Fed has it now and is sitting on it, while people have bonds.)

            Likewise, when they want to "print more money" (that's what the Bureau of Engraving and Printing does, actually) they instruct their brokers to buy bonds. Anyone is free to sell

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 21, 2008 @01:10PM (#23146920)
      By limiting patents to individuals it doesn't necessarily follow that society benefits. Even with non-transferrable patents individuals could still file specious, absurd and obvious patents on things like software and mathematical formulas under that system.

      It would also simply concentrate patents into the hands of wealthy individuals. As someone who's reasonably well educated and creative I have happened upon at least three or four ideas in my life that are worth a patent. Not silly stuff, I mean solid ideas with practical industrial benefit. Of course I cannot afford the $10,000+ to patent such ideas, and since publishing is no longer a protection against having these ideas misappropriated by persons in the USA I choose to keep them to myself. Those ideas will probably be thought of by someone else soon enough, I am nothing special, but for the time being they stay in my mind and may die with me. I have no desire to make money from them, but I cannot publish if I want the legitimate currency of recognition, nor can I patent them because it's not affordable. Does this sound like a system that is working to the benefit of mankind in promoting the arts and sciences?

      After 10 or 15 years of following this subject I have reached the conclusion that patents are profoundly anti-science, beyond reform and there is no course of action left but their complete abolition. The same is possibly true of intellectual property generally, but there are certain aspects that might still be rescued and turned to the benefit of humanity.

      If things carry on the way the are there will be a de facto abolition of patents anyway. WIPO will cease to be legitimately recognised as it loses credibility backing an unconsciable and broken process. The world will fragment (more than it is already) into camps which do not recognise one anothers intellectual property claims and trade agreements will collapse. We already have the situation where US and European companies cannot trade in each others respective territories. Like the RIAA/MPAA many IP organisations are unwilling to adapt, they are playing for broke and will ultimately lose the farm. Ultimately internet publication with verifiable timestamped accountability brought about by extensive traffic logging will replace all IP claims and the old institutions, but for those of us with ideas who are caught in this transition period it's not a happy state of affairs and I suspect many valuable ideas are simply being lost or held back.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 21, 2008 @01:10PM (#23146922)
      I like your idea. It seems as though engineers get zero to little for patenting an idea while their company accrues all of the benefits of the patent. (e.g., here is $200 dollars for the rights to your patent!) However, companies do take on the risk that the patent will be worthless and pay for the patent prosecution costs -- they also provide much of the resources for the engineers to be able to come up with the ideas. Also, patents are a form of property and it would not be good for individual inventors to not be able to sell patents to companies ... who would buy and in most cases enforce them? Perhaps the ultimate (but perhaps very rare) best solution would be a corporate policy that allows their engineers to negotiate a percentage of any future revenue generated with the patent ... although this may lead to issues with determining the value of the patent especially when placed in a massive portfolio (e.g., IBM -- is any single patent of theirs worth anything -- or is it the entire portfolio of patents that is worth something as a whole ...)

      However, in the United States, the inventor must be listed on the patent as the inventor. If they are not, or if someone else is listed on the patent as an inventor (and they are not an inventor) then the patent is invalid.

      [Aside: There is case law on what constitutes an inventor -- the basic concept is someone who actually came up with the patentable portions of the idea ... not someone who simply implemented the idea.]
    • I think that was the original intent of the patent law, however, a corporation is legally and individual from what I understand.
    • by Z00L00K (682162)
      In that case you will get front figures that takes care of business and downfall while the company behind goes into the clear if the patent is considered invalid. Maybe a more extreme pricing of patents would keep the amount of bad patents down. Say that the one filing the patent will have to guarantee at least one million dollars or 20% of the fortune - whatever is the largest figure - before the filing will be accepted.
    • by sm62704 (957197)
      You just touched on what I see as the biggest problem. You have to be a rich person or a rich corporatuin to get a patent in the first place.

      When I had to have my head down after my Vitrectomy (it's journaled) I thought of a device that would have mede my life for that week and a half a lot less hellish. If patents were like copyrights and all I had to do was fill out a form with twenty bucks, I'd have applied for a petent on it and the world's vitrectomy sufferers would be spared some grief.

      But I can't aff
      • This is why I believe people should declare the licensing cost for the patent when they file, and filing should be proportional to that fee. If you file a patent that anyone can use for free, then it costs nothing (or a nominal amount to cover someone entering it into the system). If you file a patent that you are going to make a lot of money from, then it should cost more.

    • by sgt_doom (655561)
      Well said, MisterSquirrel, well said.

      With the ongoing super-concentration of wealth - which severely limits the spread of existing resources and thusly creates a regression - or end to progress - and with the consistent defunding of education, and the exponentially increase in the offshoring of tech jobs and tech research and tech futures, who would have ever guessed that the quality of patents would plummet.....

      Newsflash: Pennsylvania, Wednesday AM....Obama takes majority of votes in democratic primary

  • by thermian (1267986) on Monday April 21, 2008 @12:38PM (#23146260)
    it doesn't seem like anyone is seriously looking into fixing that

    Well, when the benefits of owning dodgy patents can be into the tens of millions, it would be well worth sinking a few million into the right peoples pockets to make sure no change goes unchallanged.

    All the while keeping any revision of the system on hold long enough for the rest of the world to overtake the US.

    Yeah, there are places in the world where innovate is still a word with a real and exciting meaning, not just a tired and overused technology business buzzword. I do wish this would be realised by the people who are in a position to change this bizarre patent mess.
  • Patent fees? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wfstanle (1188751)
    I think that we might want to look at the fees we are charging for registering a patent. Perhaps we could implement a fee structure where small inventors pay less than large corporations that can afford more. Also we might want the fees to be based on how unique and original the idea is. Granted, this would be a rather subjective way to assess fees but this is an area where we might want to consider.
    • Re:Patent fees? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Corpuscavernosa (996139) on Monday April 21, 2008 @12:47PM (#23146484)

      Perhaps we could implement a fee structure where small inventors pay less than large corporations that can afford more

      Already done. Usually about half price for the little guys.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by theantipop (803016)
      Well, it would be that easy if it were not for the USPTO's role in the system. They are meant to act as simply the hand of enforcement, not the source of significant change in US code or its interpretation. That is the job of Congress and the court system. You can see this in the recent attempt to limit the claim structure and continued examination process that was shot down by the courts. That was peanuts compared to a radical change in the statutory bar for patents.
    • Re:Patent fees? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Belial6 (794905) on Monday April 21, 2008 @03:43PM (#23149522)
      Actually, they should have the sliding scale based on the number of patents you have. Huge corporations would get increasingly more expensive patents. They could mitigate this cost by releasing older, less valuable patents into the public domain. The small inventor would be able to afford the very low cost initial patents. If any of their patents paid off, they could then afford more. If they don't pay off, they could release them into the public domain, and not have to worry that some corporation will patent it behind them, and cut off their idea from the rest of the world.
  • by wile_e_wonka (934864) on Monday April 21, 2008 @12:40PM (#23146314)
    Couldn't this problem be easily solved by telling all the patent examiners

    "Memo: Hey, As of this morning we're going to raise the bar a bit as to what counts as 'novel.' So, clerk x, could you please deny the patent on your desk for Claratin E. Thanx, xoxo, your noble leader."
    • by jedidiah (1196) on Monday April 21, 2008 @01:02PM (#23146782) Homepage
      I think they just did that and someone successfully sued to prevent it.
    • In principle, yes (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Lonewolf666 (259450)
      But the bar needs to be raised a bit more than "a bit".

      I think patents are far too easy to get, for far too little technical contribution in return. Some prerequisites that need to be (re-)introduced:

      -Patent must significantly improve the state of the art. Must also be non-obvious (on the latter, the US Supreme court shows some encouraging tendencies - more of that please))

      -Patent applications must contain instructions on how to build the item, at a level where an average engineer can do it.

      -No patents for
      • by Dutch Gun (899105)
        I wonder if a sliding scale could work? That is, you could apply for differing patent lengths. The longer the patent, the more scrutiny the patent application is put under (the cost might scale as well). Less innovative patents could last just a few years, with the more impressive and innovative ones having a timespan between tend and twenty years.

        The idea is to drastically cut down on the number of top-tier patent applications, while at the same time ensuring the bar isn't set too high for small compani
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Andy Dodd (701)
      The root problem with the USPTO is that while they make a LOT of money for the government in terms of patent fees, that money goes to a "generic" budget pool, from which the USPTO has to fight for a chunk just like everyone else.

      Guess what? They usually get shafted.

      The end result is that patent examiners are overworked due to understaffing and they are also vastly underpaid. There's a huge amount of churn at the USPTO (I know of two people that started there with a desire to become IP lawyers eventually a
    • Actually, the problem would get fixed by assessing performance of patent clerks by how many patents they deny, and how many of those patent denials stay up under revision. As it is, patent clerks have as a performance metric how many patents they approve. Of course a patent clerk making is therefore going to approve anything that hasn't been patented before.

      If the head of the USPTO wants to fix the quality of patents, he can start by fixing the idiotic ways by which he measures the performance of his employ
  • by jeske (7383) on Monday April 21, 2008 @12:44PM (#23146396) Homepage
    Patent fees have simply not kept pace with the value of IP and innovation. If they put them on a pricing schedule that goes up over time, and start them at $300k today, we'll see a dramatic reduction in frivilous patents.

    Even more radical would be to place limits on the collectible licensing fees based on the original filing fee. This would encourage some companies to pay more for their patents, in order to create a greater enforcement cap, but would cause them to do so only because they believed the patents to be defensible.
    • by everphilski (877346) on Monday April 21, 2008 @12:53PM (#23146618) Journal
      If they put them on a pricing schedule that goes up over time, and start them at $300k today, we'll see a dramatic reduction in frivilous patents.

      This only screws the little guy over and ensures that bigger corporations will keep patenting. 300k to a Microsoft, IBM or pharmaceutical company is small fries. To a small business owner or full-time dreamer like me, it breaks the bank. It's an artificial barrier to entry that does not address the real problems.

      The threshold should not be financial, it should be by virtue of technical merit. Set the bar higher, the terms shorter, etc. Have a maximum duration over which a patent owner must implement said patent, or forfeit it, similar to enforcement of trademarks (see trademark dilution). It's not precisely the same concept, but I think it's a virtuous idea.
      • How about "When people fight tooth and nail instead of co-operating, everything gets all fucked up."

        The problem is the capitalist structure.

        Patents were originally created to overcome an inherent and nasty flaw in the capitalist structure.

        They were a band-aid, trying to fix the fact that the structure creates an inherent motivation to be the biggest fish in the pond by killing other fish rather than trying to be the best fish you can be and celebrating the success of your neighbour as he enriches your commu
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Speare (84249)
        How about charging proportionally to the full liquid (salary) and equity (stock) income of the CEO, when the patent is to be held by the corporation? Any time the patent is transferred to a new holder, the full fee should be calculated and paid again. I think this stone could kill a few birds. Outrageous executive pay would be penalized, and many small companies and individuals could hold onto more patents.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        This only screws the little guy over and ensures that bigger corporations will keep patenting. 300k to a Microsoft, IBM or pharmaceutical company is small fries. To a small business owner or full-time dreamer like me, it breaks the bank.

        Should we even care about small time dreamers anymore? Should the entire process of patent reform have to grind to a halt in order to allow "Joe Inventor", if he exists or indeed ever existed, to still play the patent lottery game? $300,000 dollars per patent seems just fine

        • Should we even care about small time dreamers anymore?

          Because essentially you are saying that only people with financial connections should have the protection a patent offers. You are saying patents should be tied to wealth, not ideas. I can't agree with that.

          Better yet, simply implement a patent tax. It's intellectual "property" after all, so why not tax it?

          As soon as you start taxing MMORPG's and website owners for their content. It is property after all. Why not tax it.
        • by bar-agent (698856)
          Should we even care about small time dreamers anymore? Should the entire process of patent reform have to grind to a halt in order to allow "Joe Inventor", if he exists or indeed ever existed, to still play the patent lottery game? $300,000 dollars per patent seems just fine by me.

          Yes, there are still useful patents and techniques put out by the little guys and lone inventors, especially ones that can be used in the third world. Here a two I found from a quick Google search, and I remember another one that
    • How in in the bloody hell is the guy who invented a process of, say, turning rocks into edible food, who only can work part time at a McDonalds because he was hit by a drunk driver, going to affod $300k to patent it?

      A steeper price is NOT the answer. As a matter of fact, all of a sudden, you pretty much just made it so only rich types CAN get a patent.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jedidiah (1196)
        If the poor guy can't bring the idea to market, he shouldn't be in a position to prevent others.

        Patents are for OUR benefit, not "the little guy" and not "the faceless corporation".

        Patents are meant to keep the really good ideas from forever remaining trade secrets.
        They aren't meant to make anyone rich. They aren't meant to create any petty monopolies.
        • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday April 21, 2008 @01:19PM (#23147138)
          Actually, they are for "the little guy" and they do create "petty monopolies".

          They were designed to create an environment where an inventor could create something and market it for a set number of years with our government providing protection from competition. In exchange for that, the invention would be free to be copied when the patent expired.

          Now, patents are used to BLOCK development. Because you can get a broad patent on ANYTHING, just about EVERYTHING is being patented.

          So Company-A is working on a new invention. Company-B hears about the work and rushes out to get a patent on a broad "process" that covers (but does not specify) the invention that Company-A is working on.

          Now Company-A owes money to Company-B for an invention that Company-B never produced.

          Fuck that. Just have the patent office require a WORKING, PHYSICAL model of the invention PRIOR to accepting the patent application. That's how is used to be.

          Of course, this would kill all the software "patents" and "practices" patents and so forth. Which I think is a good thing(tm).
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by ShieldW0lf (601553)
            Dude, they're not "for the little guy". The parent was right.

            Patents were crafted by people who accept capitalism and competition as inviolate principles, and wish to prevent the sort of secret hoarding that defined the guilds of the Mercantile age.

            There was once a time where if you wanted to learn secret knowledge, you had to join a secret society. If you were in the secret society, you couldn't leave and practice or share, because the law prevented you from doing so.

            The point of patents was to force sec
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Danse (1026)

          If the poor guy can't bring the idea to market, he shouldn't be in a position to prevent others.

          If he comes up with the idea, he should still be able to patent it, and then he could sell it to someone that can implement it. Pricing him out of being able to patent it just ensure that he won't bother even publishing the idea in the first place, or even telling anyone about it since they'll probably just screw him over on it. Now I do think that if you own a patent, then you should have to bring a working implementation to market within a reasonable amount of time in order to keep that patent. If not

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by jedidiah (1196)
            So in order to avoid a highly unlikely boundary condition, you want to screw every
            thing up for the typical case. It's thinking like this that creates such f*cked up
            laws and policies in general. People fixate on some "important" boundary condition,
            rush off to mutilate policies in order to address that and then end up hit in the
            face with heinous unintended consequences.

            It's probably well worth the risk and the likely consquences of ignoring the oddball
            possibility like this to ensure that the system in general
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Danse (1026)

              It's probably well worth the risk and the likely consquences of ignoring the oddball
              possibility like this to ensure that the system in general isn't tragically broken.
              What "oddball possibility" are you referring to? The possibility that someone other than a multinational corporation might have a good idea? The possibility that a corporation would screw someone over and take their unpatented idea? What exactly are you saying?
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                What he is saying is typical elitism disguised in a red cape. Imagine you had one of these guys in your IT department, and tired of the spam, he comes up with a ingenious way of filtering out a lot of the crap... a perl script that uses regex to validate that the email address in the from field before being delivered. His logic being "If the script rejects it, they must be shady anyway, so I don't even care". But an intelligent person can pick out the fallacy a mile away. If the script is makes wrong assump
          • If the poor guy can't bring the idea to market, he shouldn't be in a position to prevent others.

            If he comes up with the idea, he should still be able to patent it, and then he could sell it to someone that can implement it. Pricing him out of being able to patent it just ensure that he won't bother even publishing the idea in the first place, or even telling anyone about it since they'll probably just screw him over on it. Now I do think that if you own a patent, then you should have to bring a working implementation to market within a reasonable amount of time in order to keep that patent. If not, you're just obstructing progress.

            Ideas are worthless, and letting someone claim a monopoly on an idea is rather dumb. Working out all the details (the stuff needed to be able to provide a working model, plus the stuff needed to be make it mass producable) is the hard part, and is what's important.

            • by Danse (1026)

              Ideas are worthless, and letting someone claim a monopoly on an idea is rather dumb. Working out all the details (the stuff needed to be able to provide a working model, plus the stuff needed to be make it mass producable) is the hard part, and is what's important.

              Ideas are not worthless. Most innovations begin as ideas (although some begin as accidents). Modern innovations often require a large capital investment in order to produce anything that could be brought to market. If we didn't allow people to patent ideas, then the only ones capable of patenting these sorts of innovations would be large corporations. So how do the ideas get from the inventor to the organization with the capital to invest without the protection of a patent?

              Shutting out small inventors

              • Ideas are not worthless.

                I mean, in the sense that air is worthless. Ideas may be necessary, but they're also everywhere. The problem is not finding ideas, it's putting in the work to develop the ideas enough to tell the good from the bad.

                Shutting out small inventors and those who lack the funding to fully develop an idea into a marketable product is not the answer.

                There is a rather large difference between a working prototype and a marketable product. Models don't have to be pretty, or durable, or easily mass-producable. They just have to work.

                • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by Danse (1026)
                  I'm inclined to agree with the prototype requirement. That's the way it used to be, and I don't think it would be terrible to return to that state. If that would also involve the banning of "business method" patents, all the better. I think that software patents should probably also be done away with, as they can be covered by copyright, and the PTO has shown a complete lack of competence in determining what is novel in reviewing such patents.
        • by berashith (222128)

          What if there is the odd instance of someone with only $300k to spend. They can get a patent and not go to market, or go to market and get screwed by someone able to quickly copy the idea.

          A lower value to the application and higher barriers to getting the patent approved solves this issue much better than a high price and low quality in the application.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SlickNic (1097097)
      I agree with the above although there should be an exception to allow an individual to gain a patent relatively inexpensively but it can't be used by a company without paying the full patent price and being subject to licensing fees if they want to keep the patent beyond a set number of years (say 3 years). There also needs to be a stipulation requiring someone that has created a patent to have a product within a set amount of time. If someone creates the actual product before the person with the origina
    • by sm62704 (957197)
      " (Score:5, Interesting)"

      Yeah, like a car wreck is interesting. The problem isn't that patents aren't expensive enough, your big corporations that can afford patents can afford any sum. The problems are severalfold, and making patents more expensive will only make the problem worse, not better.

      Who gave Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and Donald Trump mod points anyway? I thought this was a nerd site, not a neocon economics site!

      Never fear, the metamods will correct the problem.
      • I thought this was a nerd site, not a neocon economics site!
        A lot of regular Slashdot readers seem to get their economics from Libertarian ideas, or magical pixie land as it is known to most economists.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by sm62704 (957197)
          That's true, and I may be wrong but I think most of the "Libertarians" here are more socail libertarians rather than economic libertarins. Anyone middle class or below who thinks government regulation of corporations is a bad thing is ignorantly brainwashed.

          As to the actual subject, it already costs way too much for a patent. The world lost yet another device a couple of weeks ago when I had to keep my head down after a vitrectomy. If a patent was twenty bucks and fill in a form, the device would be on the
    • by leabre (304234)
      Patent fees have simply not kept pace with the value of IP and innovation. If they put them on a pricing schedule that goes up over time, and start them at $300k today, we'll see a dramatic reduction in frivilous patents.

      You'll also see a dramatic decrease of perfectly valid patents, also, especially by the little guy that the Slashdotters are so poised to point out the system was originally supposed to protect. If the little guy needed $500k to get 6 patents and hasn't the money, investors, or means to pa
  • No Silver Bullet (Score:2, Insightful)

    by xfmr_expert (853170)
    There are a lot of problems with today's patent system, but there is no single "silver bullet" solution to solve them all. Disbanding the patent system altogether will never happen. It does have a noble purpose when applied properly. However, it has become a cash cow whereby companies patent every single thought of their employees in order to build a "patent portfolio". The first obvious fix is to define business method patents and ban them. They are ridiculous. How that is done, I don't know. Anothe
    • Re:No Silver Bullet (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Corpuscavernosa (996139) on Monday April 21, 2008 @12:53PM (#23146614)
      I agree that there is no silver bullet but the quality of examiner IMHO is the biggest hurdle. You can become an examiner directly out of college. You then become overworked, pressured, and required to turn out a caselaod of applications. The USPTO has horrible turnover with the average being approximately 3 years (I have a few friends who became examiners and they said that was the average). 3 years doesn't allow anyone to become a real subject matter expert.

      You've got kids dealing with really high-level stuff in a lot of cases. Optics, physics, biotech. No wonder it's easier for companies to push shitty applications through.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        I understand that corporations tend to submit overwhelmingly large applications that require two lawyers and a forklift to process (the lwayers are dunnage for the pallet, of course).

        I've experienced a similar phenomenon in contracting relationships where documentation is dumped in large quantities at the last minute with the intent of overwhelming the reviewing system. Apparently it works at the USPTO as well.

    • "... there is no single "silver bullet" solution..."

      There is a fundamental improvement that could be made, however. The U.S. government is as corrupt as 8 years of selling favors to private interests can make it. We could stop the corruption.

      Corrupt big companies with little creative ability want to make the patent system as complicated as possible for smaller companies. That's why not enough money is available for the patent office to do its job correctly; the corrupters have been deliberately starvi
    • Erroneously or not, companies will continue to expand their IP portfolios and yes, try to patent everything they can. Since the licensing boom of the 1970s, all of a sudden all these companies (IBM, HP, etc) suddenly were able to take their patent portfolios and make some huge cash from licensing.

      Fast forward. Now a huge asset to a company besides the products they sell is their IP portfolio. Whether or not their patents are making licensing revenue, a large portfolio makes a company more attratcive, e

  • Patents were only supposed to be used in special cases. The fact that they've become the norm, rather than the exception is a problem[1], and it doesn't seem like anyone is seriously looking into fixing that. [1]Citation Needed.
  • by Bombula (670389) on Monday April 21, 2008 @12:52PM (#23146610)
    It's fine to condemn frivolous patent trolling, but one important part of the reality is that it is often enormously expensive to implement a genuinely innovative idea. Innovation therefore only goes into production when huge sums of money support the organization behind it, and this is profoundly stifling of individual invention and creativity. Individuals with good ideas often cannot realize any rewards for their ideas except through patenting and litigation, since it is notoriously difficult for a individual inventor or innovator to secure a licensing agreement with a producer ahead of the fact. In absence of that option, post-facto licensing in the form of patent lawsuits is the only alternative. It sucks, but that's the way it is. If large companies were more willing to honestly license good ideas rather than attempt to circvumvent them or win wars of attrition against individuals through protracted litigation, there would be far less need of patent trolling.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jedidiah (1196)
      A patent STOPS innovation for 17 years.

      Any granted patent should be at least as valuable as the social
      cost of that disruption.

      They're not supposed to be about how expensive it was
      to invent something but whether or not the invention
      is suitably novel. It's not meant to be a cash cow or
      a means to make up for R&D expenditures.

      BS patents do far more harm than "lost R&D costs".

      Ideally a patent isn't just the end of a marathon,
      it's the end of a marathon where none of the other
      contestants were able to even
    • but one important part of the reality is that it is often enormously expensive to implement a genuinely innovative idea.

      And your proof of this assertion is...what, exactly?

      Certain ideas, innovative or not, will be intrinsically expensive due to their context. An innovative design for a nuclear power plant, for example, will be "enormously expensive to implement", not because the idea is innovative, but because nuclear power plants are "enormously expensive to implement".

      However, there is nothing intri

      • by Bombula (670389)
        You're doing a lot of barking up the wrong trees. Also, I'm guessing from your comments that you've not got any experience with manufacturing start-ups.

        Starting a business based on a patentable idea largely means you're making something, i.e. you're not providing a service (since services lack the attribute of property to make them protectable). Starting a new, non-service-based business is very expensive relative to the median income of a 4-person family in the United States. It is not completely imposs

  • I tried to apply for a patent for a emergency CD ejector, made from a straightened paper clip. They turned me down.
  • Like all of the other government agencies they're woefully underfunded. All they can really do is grant the patents and let the courts work out the differences.

    So long as corporations are using patents as monopoly door-stops then this is probably the only way it will work, unless something changes. A single multinational corporation has more legal brainpower than the patent office, how can the US Patent Office possibly deal with ALL of them at once?

  • by dtmos (447842) * on Monday April 21, 2008 @01:00PM (#23146758)
    As we have discussed before [slashdot.org], there is an equally significant problem with patent applications that are improperly rejected [eetimes.com]. Since issued patents enable one to obtain funding to bring new technology to market, this is as least as serious a problem for our society as the more well-known "junk patent" problem.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by theantipop (803016)
      This eetimes editorial is humorous on a couple of accounts. First, the my patent is being rejected but of course it's not my fault act is cute, but I thought I stopped playing that routine when I got to grade school. Second, it is impossible to take someone's word on something like this when you are boiling down subject matter to legal terms in the claims of an application. You can have the most ground-breaking invention, but if your claims are so broad that you would be infringing on a toaster a good ex
  • The "IP Industry" is built strong upon the problems with current IP policies and procedures among other problems. Now that the problems have been identified and commercially exploited on an extremely wide scale, entire business operations and business models have been formed to exploit them. So now these extremely profitable activities are paying legislators to keep the laws which enable them in place and to create even more exploitable laws to boost their profits.

    Does anyone think that these problems wit
  • by nguy (1207026) on Monday April 21, 2008 @01:14PM (#23147022)
    Techdirt is reporting that Jon Dudas, head of the US Patent Office, is lamenting the continuing quality drop in patent submissions.

    Here's an idea: reject them. Eventually, people will get the message.

    If you keep accepting them, you'll keep getting more.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by zQuo (1050152)
      I agree, and I have a simple change to make it happen. Just make it so the Patent Office is rewarded more for rejecting patents than accepting patents.
      Patent applicants put up a larger fee that assumes that the patent will be rejected. If the patent is accepted, the applicant gets a refund. If the patent is rejected, the applicant gets no refund, but they do get a review of how the patent is deficient or unclear and needs to be revised.

      Two of my friends who are examiners in the PTO. They tell me it t
  • As long as the patent office views itself as a revenue generating arm of the United States government, these problems will at best persist, and at worse intensify.
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Monday April 21, 2008 @01:20PM (#23147158) Journal

    Unfortunately, while this problem is finally getting the attention it deserves, the changes being implemented don't seem to be offering the correct solution.
    - emphasis mine

    Who the hell thinks it's really getting the attention it deserves? Not me. When 'what is your position on patent reform?' becomes a more important question than what color toilet paper Obama uses, or who wears a flag pin, or what happened on some reality tv show, THEN it's getting the attention it deserves.

    The USPTO is broken. It's a system that worked quite well back when the phonograph was considered an expensive laboratory toy that would never be of use on the commercial market.

    If only they would go to some kind of system like a social news aggregation site, whose patrons were engineers, scientists etc. and other professions and titles that exclude anyone selling ID as science. Then as a last step before granting the patent it would get sort of peer reviewed. IMO that would stop BS patents and trolls can be stopped by changing requirements of patent holders to something like radio spectrum licenses. If you don't use it, you lose it. If you sue someone with the patent and cannot show that you have done anything with it yourself: automatic jail time.

    Redefine non-obvious to exclude anything that is a natural extension of another technology, and anything that is specifically in the public interest. (thinking of MS's patents on using a computer to connect to emergency services over a phone line)

    sigh
  • by shimage (954282) on Monday April 21, 2008 @01:21PM (#23147180)

    Patent comes from the latin patens, meaning "open" (notice our usage of the adverb, "patently": patently absurd, patently obvious). A patent is supposed to be you "opening" your product up so that other people can understand how it works. In return for increasing the greater good (by not making it difficult to reverse engineer) you got a brief monopoly. Using this metric, if something is obvious upon inspection, it doesn't deserve a patent, regardless of how innovative or original it is.

    The key difference is that, today, patents are seen as a carrot to promote innovation. As originally conceived, the system assumed (correctly in my opinion) that innovation will always happen, and that what we really needed was a carrot to promote the "opening" of the technology (in the same sense that opensource is open).

  • One of the problems of the current system is that you don't have to actually have a product either in development or in production to be able to enforce a patent. If patent owners were required to have a working product within 2 years of getting the patent granted, much of this would go away. Additionally, patents by themselves would not be tradeable - they would have to have a product to protect. Also, this would get rid of business methods and things like Amazon's one-click since these don't protect produ
  • Never would the ASCII O'Rly Bird have been more appropriate ...
  • Patents are a vicious cycle. The more patents your competitors have, the more patents you need.

    Why? Because one of the best and cheapest way through the patent thicket is to trade licenses. In other word, "I'll let you use my patents if you let me use yours." Such strategies are explicitly recommended by IP professionals. It allows groups of companies to form cabals, where outsiders are effectively barred from competing because they don't have access to critical licenses.

    It's no wonder there are 500,0
  • Any honest person, and yes that is a blanket statement, would agree that the patent system in the U.S. is terrible.

    Are there any examples of countries that you (Slashdotters) believe gets it right?

    I read a few interesting reform ideas on this thread, but has anyone/any country implemented a system that actually doesn't suck?

    Patents are not a BadThing. Patent trolls are. But they will always exist, just as spam will always exist because of the financial benefit. The trick is to get the system to where patent
  • by naasking (94116) <naasking&gmail,com> on Monday April 21, 2008 @01:49PM (#23147658) Homepage
    All patent submissions must be accompanied by a physical prototype. The requirement for a physical device has fallen by the wayside, and reintroducing it would probably eliminate 99% of these silly applications.

    Increasing patent fees is not the way forward, as this penalizes the real innovators: the little guys working out of their garage.
  • "Patents were only supposed to be used in special cases."

    That is true of software patents, but not patents in general. Is that what he meant?

    The regular patent system in the United States has always been open to the general public, and was intended to be that way. If you don't know that, then you haven't read your history.
  • Here's a concept: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Craig Maloney (1104) * on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:35PM (#23148444) Homepage
    Head of USPTO grows some nads and tells his employees to stop approving said applications. After all, he's the head of the USPTO. Isn't it his leadership responsibility to put a stop to this sort of thing?

    Be a leader, quit whining and do your job.
  • Oh, quit bitching about patents. Most of the people whining about this on Slashdot have never solved a significant tough problem that has stumped others.

    There are some real problems with the patent system, but they're not the ones most Slashdot readers think of. There's the interaction of standards and patents, where a narrow patent become valuable because it's the standard, but that's really an antitrust problem. There are problems in the pharmaceutical area, where the industry has convinced Congress

    • by russotto (537200)

      Oh, quit bitching about patents. Most of the people whining about this on Slashdot have never solved a significant tough problem that has stumped others.


      Neither have most successful patent applicants.
  • This guy complaining about the current patent mess is like a skunk asking, "Who farted?"

  • I was just daydreaming about how to properly price patents, and the following idea came to mind. What if the return on a patent was limited by a multiplier of how much the patenter is willing to pay for his patent? For example, let's say that patents allow for 1000x multiplier on the application cost. If a patenter is willing to pay $1,000 for the patent, they are not allowed to gain more than $1,000,000 in value from the patent. If they are willing to pay more, they get more protection; pay less, and g
  • by xenocide2 (231786) on Monday April 21, 2008 @05:55PM (#23151444) Homepage
    I listened to a lecture given by Eben Moglen on the subject of Patents, with emphasis on software. When he came to the subject of undoing the current system, he mentioned what I thought to be an interesting market approach. Professional engineers are currently expected to develop patents on their creations, and are rewarded for their efforts with bonuses, promotions, etc. The suggestion is to ask companies to reward engineers for every patent they overturn in the process of bringing a product to market. With that, there's now equal market incentive to overturn patents as there is to create new ones, and a company is forced to recognize that the patent system that gives them IP is as a whole a barrier to their future.

    I'm sure there's holes in that simple proposal, but I'd be interested to see if that idea can be made workable.

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