Patent Madness

As Nathan Myhrvold unleashes the mother of all patent-troll battles Kevin Drum surveys the overall madness:

[I]n general, it’s been a massive abdication of responsibility for Congress not to spend some time reforming patent law. Far too many patents are granted, they’re granted for inventions that are far too trivial and far too narrow, the patent office is far too poorly staffed to deal with them properly, and patent trolls like Myhrvold are allowed to sit back and do nothing for years and then suddenly start harassing corporations long after they’ve built up major businesses around supposedly infringing patents. It’s a disgrace, and it’s bad for innovation and bad for business.

Yes. This is a badly under-discussed policy fiasco in the United States. The idea of patent law is to spur innovation by ensuring adequate rewards for inventors, which is fine. But when the system is allowed to run amok and essentially be controlled by a patent bar with an interest in maximizing the overall quantity of litigation you get a disaster that does more to stymie innovation than to reward it. I was interested to learn a couple of days ago from Markus Beckedahl that in Europe they quite rightly simply refuse to accept the concept of a “software patent” altogether.

At any rate, this is not only an important issue, but since it’s not a particularly “ideological” or “partisan” one in a classic sense, it’s definitely something well-meaning members of the 112th Congress should try to take a look at. The prospects for major reform of anything in the US system are never very good, but this isn’t a topic on which partisan gridlock as such would be an obstacle to progress.