Public Knowledge White Paper Highlights The Problems Within the Patent System


Many people have heard the term patent troll. And if you’re interested in patents or the world of intellectual property, then you may have noticed the growing trend of trolls asserting overly broad patents.

When Public Knowledge got involved in the patent discussion last summer, we wanted to bring a consumer voice to the conversation that would explain how patent trolls and abusive litigation practice can impact the people that actually use the products in question.

Yesterday, Charles Duan, Director of Public Knowledge’s Patent Reform Project, released a white paper that details our goals for patent reform. It’s clear that the patent system is an important motivator for new technologies. But there are many loopholes in the system, making it a hot spot for exploitation and abuse. This harms new technologies rather than promoting them. In the paper, Duan presents five areas that people should look to when talking about potential reforms.

Accounting for all inventors: When most people look at the patent system, they think of large companies that use patents as a means to protect their products. However, the system was created to protect and encourage smaller inventors to create new things. We need a patent system that equally accounts for both parties, and incentivizes innovation regardless of whether the inventor seeks a patent.  

Clarity of patents: One of the purposes of a patent is to disseminate knowledge about new technologies or inventions. Patent documents should be written in a way that clearly explains the patent.  It’s far too often that the descriptive language of a patent is too complicated and is not easily understood by the reader. This can result in wrong or broad interpretations.

Targeting the right parties: The overarching threat of complicated and expensive patent litigation hamstrings consumers, small companies, and many non-technology businesses. This is a major issue when patent owners target end users of technologies like Wi-Fi routers and other common technologies. There must be protections for consumers or small businesses that simply buy products off the shelf. Or we could take it a step forward and exempt customers in appropriate circumstances from patent lawsuits.

Avoid gamesmanship in litigation: Patent lawsuits are heavily slanted in favor of the entity with the most money. Often times this discourages small startups and inventors from fighting to protect their work or their inventions. Licensing and enforcement of patents should be about the merits of the patent, not the party’s ability to run opponents into the ground with litigation costs.

Maintaining competition in the innovation economy: Patent owners should use their patents in ways consistent with long standing principles favoring a competitive marketplace. They shouldn’t be used to stymie innovation to protect old and outdated business models.

A bill traversing the Senate addresses many of the problems within the patent system. We urge you to call your U.S. Senator and express your support for much-needed patent reform now. Our friends at Engine Advocacy have developed an awesome tool to help you get in touch with your state leaders.

So the next time you think about patents and the many ways that they are controlled by big business, remember that Public Knowledge is fighting to make sure that your voices are heard and taken into account. Because at the end of the day, only a balanced patent system benefits the public. 

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