PublishedFebruary 19, 2010

The broken patent system: No laughing matter

We couldn’t help but chuckle at The Huffington Post’s post on ridiculous patents the PTO has granted recently. It’s just good old-fashioned fun to vote on whether the “apparatus for waking a sleeping driver by electric shock” or “doll urn” is the more absurd idea for a patent (although in our view, the “tricycle mower” is an inspired concept—teaching your kids how to ride a bike while mowing your lawn? (Where do we sign up?!)

Still, it’s important to remember that for every ridiculous but harmless patent the PTO grants, two or three dangerous ones slip through the cracks as well. These are the types of overly broad patents that lead to years of litigation, destroy small businesses, and crush the spirit of our next generation of innovators.

We have put forward the argument that the broken patent system does more than suppress innovation; it’s draining our economy as well. And who better than one of the most respected financial/business publications in the industry to back us up on this point?

The Economist recently came out with an editorial blasting the current patent system, labeling it as an out-of-date model that has discouraged big ideas and brought any momentum towards economic progress to a screeching halt. It particularly condemned the PTO’s lax standards for patent applications:

“To be eligible for a patent, an invention must not just be novel, but also useful and non-obvious. Anything that relies on natural phenomena, abstract ideas or the laws of nature does not qualify. The USPTO has taken to requiring a working prototype of anything that purportedly breaches the laws of physics. […] An end to frivolous patents for business processes will be a blessing to online commerce.”

Now we just need Congress to offer that blessing. It’s up to legislators and the PTO to take these suggestions to heart and put an end to the downward spiral our patent system is mired in. And if it means we have to mow the lawn after we teach our kids to ride a bike—well, that’s a sacrifice we’re willing to live with.

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