Thursday, November 11, 2004

THE ECONOMIST COMES OUT AGAINST SOFTWARE PATENTS (WELL, SORT OF): In today's Economist, there are two articles published that basically bemoan that the US Patent System is "broken". They cite the usual litany of complaints: too many filings in the USPTO, "absurd" Internet patents, and litigious patent holders. Oddly, nowhere in these articles do they mention the fact that the USPTO has hundreds of millions of dollars siphoned off by Congress each year, thus limiting the means that the USPTO can rely on to address many of the complaints.

One thing the press has failed to do is to cite exactly HOW the current patent system is "stifling innovation." Apparently, the Economist has taken the position that granting patents, regardless of the technology, is a bad thing. Hogwash. Before they go around wagging their finger at the USPTO, they need to get their arguments straight first. For example:

The number of patent applications to the PTO is growing at around 6% a year. The wait for a decision is on average 27 months—and much longer for complex applications in advanced sciences.

Now, the backlog is certainly a problem. However, the reason many companies are filing patents is because they recognize a potential commercial benefit from filing those patents. Unfortunately, the article doesn't address the numerous benefits that were afforded to companies that were smart enough to patent their research and development. The article then includes this seemingly contradictory statement:

Similar growth is occurring elsewhere, including in countries that previously showed little interest in intellectual property. Applications to China's patent office increased fivefold from 1991 to 2001. As countries such as China, South Korea and India spend more on research and development, they are filing more patents.

If companies worldwide are spending more on R&D and patenting the results, how is that a bad thing? But the Economist shows its true colors when it addresses the software initiative being considered in Europe:

Were further proof needed that this may not be an entirely positive development, look no further than the mighty software monopolist, Microsoft, whose chairman, Bill Gates, has called on employees to increase the number of patents that the company files.

Oh yeah, I forgot - if Bill Gates is doing it, it must be evil . . .

[NOTE - if you need access to the Economist articles, feel free to use the link on the RHS of the screen]

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