Thursday, May 11, 2006

Patently Mad

I'm currently spending my days dealing with the utter madness that is the patenting system.

Don't get me wrong, I believe that a strong and sensible patenting system is essential for any capitalist economy, but the way that it manifests itself at present is crazy.

The basic problem lies in the fact that you are not registering an invention but an idea, although in intellectual property jargon it is an 'invention', ie a way of doing something.

Oh, and when you've told anyone, or implemented the idea at all, your chances of being covered disappear. So, you can't actually register an invention that works in the marketplace, just an idea before you get to the market.

So, you can happily send your life dreaming up all kinds of plausible and implausible scenarios and register them in the hope that you will then 'own' that idea for the next fifteen to seventy years... You don't have to build a prototype to prove that it works, and you get no credit for implementing an idea. In fact, all you can expect is a law suite.

Which brings me to the second bugbear. There is now a multi-billion dollar industry based on policing existing patents, largely led by, surprise, surprise, US law firms. Blueberry manufacturers, RIM had to shell out hundreds of millions recently and there are more and more examples of wide ranging claims being used in areas where they patently do not apply.

The biggest issue is how wide ranging patent claims can be - expect registration for 'a way to get to Mars' any day now and a lawsuit on NASA's desk when they spend billions trying to make this a reality.

It's time for some serious reform.

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