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May 10, 2005
A Patent System Gone Awry
Nice article last week from Jonathan Krim in the Washington Post on the current "land grab" going on in the USPTO as it seems Congress might actually get around to doing something with the Office, instead of just talking about it. Whether any of the proposed "reforms" will address fundamental issues of poor patent quality, examiner workload, or other core items remains uncertain. What is certain is that the only voices currently being heard are those of patent holders - companies, individuals, universities. Other stakeholders, such as free/open software developers and even the patent examiners themselves, are not even invited to comment.
As Krim notes in plain language:
more controversial notions aimed at deeper change to the patent system [...] were snuffed out long ago, in a process effectively hijacked by large companies and powerful patent-lawyer groups.
Proposals that should be uncontroversial - such as enforcing the requirements that patents be unique and non-obvious, and that relevant prior art must be cited - seem to be beyond consideration even when they are recommended by nonpartisan organizations such as the National Academies of Science. This makes me feel particularly hopeless about software patents.
Update: Brenda Sandburg has a spotlight story on Law.com focusing on the software industry's efforts (primarily through the BSA) to limit the ability of a holder to get an injunction against an alleged infringer. The primary target is so-called patent trolls - companies formed solely to hold and litigate intellectual property.
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