America’s patent law situation is not perfect. The America Invents Act signed by Barack Obama was an attempt at a jobs program for patent lawyers. We do have a problem of ‘patent trolls:’ firms that exist not to invent things, but to sue inventors.
However industry lobbyists tried to hijack patent troll reform, into a greater grab bag of comprehensive patent reform. Conservatives began to push back, and now comprehensive patent reform is dead, for now.
Unlike copyright law*, patents have not grown to be a monster. The founders had patents lasting 14 years, and they now last 20. That’s even down from the past! The Patent Act of 1836 made patents last 21 years.
So while I’ve generally taken to this space to support copyright reform that reduced its duration and strength, I’m opposed to similar efforts for patents. Patents are reasonable, they’re Constitutional, and they deserve protection for the length that they exist.
The problem with patents, the number one issue, is that USPTO gets to use the fees it receives to increase its budget. That gives the bureaucrats there an incentive to issue bad patents, to make money off of them. Those bad patents are then used by patent trolls to make trouble for real innovators.
Stop the bad patents and you stop the patent problem. Don’t just weaken all patents. The good patents don’t deserve to be put through the wringer after they’re approved. Tighten up on patents that are so vague as to be merely ideas, or that are in fact obvious ideas for experts in the industry.
These sorts of reforms, or other alternatives, could be passed with narrowly-tailored, specific legislation. That’s how bills should be. Once you go down the road of a comprehensive bill that changes 50 million things, with a gaggle of lobbyists all shouting to get their piece, you invariably end up with a bad bill that favors big business over everyone else.
That’s why I oppose comprehensive patent reform, even though I would favor narrow patent reform. I’m glad the bills are dead. They were fundamentally the wrong approach.
* The founders set copyright to 14 years, with a single 14 year renewal for a total of 28 years. That has now increased by 328% to a 120 year duration. Copyright has also constantly grown, unlike the fine tuning process of growth and decline seen in patent law.