back to article Obama to overhaul heinous US patent system

The Obama administration is launching an effort to reform the slow-motion train wreck that is the US Patent and Trademark Office. "We've got the greatest inventors in the world, and it's time we give them the help they need to bring this country where it needs to be," said Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the Obama administration' …


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  1. Paul 103

    Software and Business Process patents

    Fix USPTO and many other problems by reversing the decision to allow software and 'business process' patents. Things started clogging up when they were allowed in the 80s and they've only led to patent mills, blood sucking IP houses and massive delays.

    1. Real Ale is Best


      I wonder how much of a backlog there would be if they stopped accepting software patents.

    2. amehaye


      Limit software patents protection to 3 years.

      Each industry moves in a different pace. 20 years might be good for the medicine industry (or not..) but for the fast-pacing software industry 3 is more than enough.

      1. Liam Johnson

        Limit software patents protection to 3 years.

        But that would be just as much time and cost for less actual benefit.

        Even better would be to have variable lengths for your patent depending on how truly innovative it is. Unfortunately, such a system is going to be even more complicated. So it is probably easier to go with not having software patents at all.

      2. Whitter

        3 year software patent?

        An initially attractive idea: but as a patent takes at least 3 years (and much longer im my experience) to get through the system, the coverage is gone before it is granted.

      3. Aremmes

        "Limit software patents protection to 3 years"

        Software gets copyright protection - why should it have patent protection at the same time? It's the only human invention to be covered by both copyright law and patent law, and it's not even a tangible product.

    3. BillG Silver badge

      Business Process Patents

      Absolutely right. I still don't understand how a business process patent is patentable under the original USPTO Charter.

      BTW, Obama got it wrong, Antonio Meucci invented the telephone. Bell couldn't even explain his own invention in court. in 2002, the U.S. Congress recognized Antonio Meucci as the inventor of the telephone.

      1. Dave Fox


        So, some politicians "recognised" Meucci as the inventor of the telephone.

        Well that proves it conclusively doesn't it? Not! :)

    4. Jean-Luc Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Totallly agree but...

      The easiest path to reform is to stop granting these useless software and business patents.

      But a big part of some (non-leech) companies' assets might consist of patents. Sure, you have the usual bloodsuckers, but you might also be a small-ish company that makes money from its IP, by following the current rules in an honest manner. If that IP now disappears...

      This goes to show one reason why governments should NOT grant subsidies and special privileges to companies or individuals - sudden rule changes can hurt honest people as well as leeches. In this case, it's still worth it.

  2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Big Brother

    "Obama to overhaul"

    Like he "overhauled" the collapsing economy, the moneyprinting at the Fed, the Keynesian bowel movement, the Iraq war, the Af/Pak war, the UAW, healthcare, the Israeli settlement trainwreck, the skyrocketing military expenditures, Gitmo, the TSA, the war on terror, the war on drugs, the PATRIOT act, Big Insurance, Big Pharma and Big Phinance.

    In the end someone will thus still be able to patent the circular closing movement of your rear-end sphincter. It will just go faster.

  3. peter 45

    A fine example of the workings of the American Patent System

    "He notes that it took Alexander Graham Bell only a month to get a patent for the telephone". This would have been a fine example......if only it had not been proved that he did not invent the telephone and stole another patent filing as his own (there are even suggestions that Patent Office staff took bribes to pass patents to him).

    1. Magnus_Pym
      Thumb Up


      ... kept the legal process going so long that the other guy died so Bell won by default. And they say the Americans don't do Irony.

  4. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    Curse you, Obama!!

    I was planning on making a good living off of patenting beanie weenies!!!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Software patents?

    I'll start off by declaring an interest - I currently have a number of software patents going through the USPTO. But how exactly can there be something intrinsically wrong with a software patent? Many of the things we patent in software today are only the things that we would have patented in hardware 10 or 20 years ago. It's simply the case that the world of microelectronics has moved on, and now it's often far more cost-effective to throw a processor and some software at a problem rather than a bunch of custom hardware. That doesn't invalidate the basic invention though, and shouldn't deprive it of patent protection.

    What the USPTO should be cracking down on is trivial patents. One of the supposed requirements for being granted a patent is that the invention be "non-obvious". Unfortunately, patent examiners these days have a very low obviousness threshold - the previously-referred-to peanut butter sandwich being just a case in point. Take the Amazon "one click" patent - exactly how non-obvious is it that a particular function (in this case, the purchase of an item) be completed by clicking a button? That's what buttons, as opposed to check boxes and the like, are for and have always been for - the completion of an action in a single click. I would agree too that business processes should be beyond the scope of patent law. An invention should be a tangible "thing" (even a piece of software running on a processor is arguably tangible at some level), but a business process just isn't.

    1. attoman

      "Obviousness", Software Patents and the Real World of Examiners

      You must live a unique world where patent examiners do not declare things obvious at a drop of a pin. Wish I could join you. In my Software Patents and in Hardware I find examiners taking the basic idea put forward then search for each of the components of my invention among existing patents and publications and then asserting that the combination would have been obvious to any practitioner of the art. In one case an examiner took pieces from five separate disciplines in five distant classes to make his argument. In the latter case the people actually paid to come up with new solutions had tried for 28 years before I showed up with the solution set.

      So count your blessings and let Bezos be Bezos.

      Finally whatever makes you so special? Why is moving electrons different from moving freight, or water or beef patties or whatever? Business patents if truly new deserve patent protection just like your code does.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        People often use the word "deserve" when arguing about patents, but "deserve" has nothing to do with it. The rules should be adjusted so as to give maximum benefit to society. As it happens, there is empirical evidence that the economy does better without patents than with them. Of course, there might be a way of setting up the patent system so that the economy does better with that kind of patent system than with no patents, but personally I doubt it.

        If you really are worried about inventors not getting rewarded in the way they "deserve", then there are ways of achieving that without creating monopolies that punish everyone.

      2. Magnus_Pym

        I thought for a moment... where going to end that last paragraph with 'because...' and actual have some reasoned argument. but no. You just give an unspecified example (I know you can't tell us if you're still trying to patent it) and ignore the counter-example in the original post.

        If your experience shows anything it is inconsistency and that could be worse that than plain incompetence.

      3. despairing citizen

        Re: "Obviousness", Software Patents and the Real World of Examiners

        "In one case an examiner took pieces from five separate disciplines in five distant classes to make his argument. In the latter case the people actually paid to come up with new solutions had tried for 28 years before I showed up with the solution set."

        could this be the exception that proves the rule?, or is it that the US patent office just rubber stamp anything from large companies with large legal teams and a history of litigation?

    2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      No mathematical equation can be patented

      This is an exception written down in most if not all patent laws. As any algorithm can be expressed as a (sufficiently complex) lambda-calculus expression, no algorithm should be patentable, by this logic.

      This is not my argument, by the way, but one put forward in an editorial in IEEE Computer Magazine. It does have logical merit, but I do see the point tat some algorithms might be patentable, because they are sufficiently innovative. The problem is that far too many obvious ones slip through (making a cursor blink by performing repeated XORs with the content of video memory is one). I also found that when implementing LZW efficiently, several optimizations I cooked up in a single afternoon violated patents (7 in all). Now I might be a brilliant programmer, if I can think of 7 patentable things in a single afternoon, but it may also be that some of these patents are indeed obvious.

      1. David_H
        Thumb Down

        Far too obvious

        Michael H.F. Wilkinson my hat is off to you - 7 solutions that violated patents on one afternoon.

        I've managed 4 in a day twice. Nowdays, I don't even bother looking - I take the view that if I can think of a solution, then it must have been obvious! and the lawyers can argue about it later (but first they've got to find the infringement!)

        BTW. A.G Bell stole the telephone from Antonio Meuicci

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Eliminate Software and Business Process Patents

    These should never have been allowed in the first place. If I had a dime for every software or business process patent I've seen that was an old idea, I'd be rich. If I had a dime for every software or business process patent I've seen that was trivial and not novel in any way, I'd have more money than Bill gates.

    1. despairing citizen
      Thumb Up

      Ref: Eliminate Software and Business Process Patents


      Personally I would have thought that copyright was more than suffcient protection for software, and business processes should only be covered if it relates to producing a specific end product. (e.g. how to make a better widget)

  7. mraak


    If you watch Fox "News", brace for two days of:

    "This is just another proof that Obama is nazi, socialist, mooslem terririst, raised in Kenya by a drunk murderer, doesn't _know_ football, wants to turn US into socialist sharia republic, and basically take the world to an end. "

    1. John Gamble

      Re: Fox

      Heh. I don't have to wait two days for Fox, I can just read the crazy conspiracists here, babbling about "Keynesian bowel movement" and other fantasies.

  8. Chad H.


    Can we expect a new open and shut article explaining why the last one is wrong?

    We hate government, but we love government sponsored monopolies!

  9. J 3

    the patent office doesn't even cost money – it raises money

    And that's part of the problem, isn't it? If you get paid by patent granted, and not by the quality of your work, then what is the biggest incentive?

    1. Tom 13

      They don't get paid by the application granted, they get paid by the

      application submitted. Then Congress grabs half the money that comes in and diverts to their slushie funds.

      1. Old Handle

        I wish

        Because that would be an easy thing to fix. But apparently they haven't actually been funneling money away from the patent office for several years: (Wikipedia)

        So officially ending the practice for good would be laudable, but it's going to take much more radical changes to fix this mess.

  10. '); DROP TABLE comments; --

    It's easy... overhaul the patent system.

    Just ban Apple, Google, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Sony and their affiliated/subsidiary companies from filing patent applications. There goes 9/10 of your patent trolling right there. The remaining patents should then be easy to validate and process.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge


      ...there is no guarantee that the overhaul that Obama wants is the one that most of the commenters here want. He just make it easier for Big Business to get their patents through. It depends on whether the problem he perceives is that the patents are not working, or whether they take too long to grant.

      I suspect the latter (him being lobbied by the people with the deep pockets), which will probably make things worse from our perspective, not better.

  11. asdf Silver badge

    wait a minute

    This will never see the day of light if it impacts negatively the way too big piece of the pie innovation tax scum sucking lawyers already get. Hard to see how you can improve the system much without doing so. Sadly history will say western civilization largely declined due to the greed of two professions, lawyers and bankers.

  12. Quxy
    Thumb Down

    "Draining the swamp"?

    It hardly sounds as if draining the swamp is the objective of this effort: more like providing airboats to their best (corporate) buddies to allow them to navigate the swamp more quickly.

  13. attoman


    Any proposed change in the very special rules and needs of inventors, start-ups and patents should be an area heavily reviewed and openly and directly subject to comment and committee interaction with the Inventors and Start-ups themselves. Big business is only concerned with acquiring new ideas once they are hatched and getting them as cheaply as possible.

    This means the congress should have heard from Inventors and Start-ups right? The administration should be insuring that these Inventors and Start-ups are heard right?

    NOT ONE INVENTOR OR START-UP has testified or been asked to testify!

    Not one administration voice has been raised in our support instead a group of business people who could not invent their way out of the proverbial wet paper bag, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, Eric Schmidt have been the focus of the administration. Congress has been broader minded and included many, many lobbyists and big businesses to give voice as long they give campaign contributions too.

  14. staffer

    apparent typo

    "Obama to overhaul heinous US patent system"

    You must have meant "Obama plans heinous overhaul of US patent system"

    Just because they call it “reform” doesn’t mean it is. Patent reform is a fraud on America. What it will do is help large corporations maintain their monopolies and kill their small entity and startup competitors (which is exactly what they intended it to do) and with them the jobs they would have created. According to recent studies by the Kauffman Foundation and economists at the U.S. Census Bureau, “startups aren’t everything when it comes to job growth. They’re the only thing.” This bill is a wholesale slaughter of US jobs.

    Please see for a different/opposing view on patent reform.

  15. A handle is required

    Go ahead and laugh about the crust-less sandwich patent. But,

    just know that mothers around the world are being sued for cutting the crust off of sandwiches for their children!

  16. Mage Silver badge

    simple process

    Just reject 99.9% as

    Not inventive or Novel

    Prior art

    Simply applied Engineering, Software or process

    Design or Art not Invention (most of Apple)

  17. Combat Wombat
    Black Helicopters

    My bullshit meter just went off....

    I can't see this being good for anyone except patent lawyers and their bastard ilk.

    Just ads more reasons for businesses to move to china where they can safely ignore the US system.

  18. Richard Porter

    "We've got the greatest inventors in the world "

    Oh yeah? Like they invented the motor car, railways, the diesel engine, the jet engine, the Worldwide Web, ... OK I'll give them IP.

    1. attoman

      WEB an invention?

      HTML was actually invented in the US and many apps were put together to use it on the internet otherwise known as darpa-net or arpa-net invented here in the US. One of the apps was a great success which is the precursor to the WEB an app not an invention. A great app but still just an app you know like Facebook and Myspace just apps.

      1. Tim99 Silver badge


        You can thank (the British) Tim Berners-Lee for HTML which he developed whilst working at the (European) CERN organization.

        Berners-Lee has said that HTML is an application of SGML, which itself is a descendent of IBM's Generalized Markup Language; which was developed in the 1960s. D/ARPANET used different protocols described in the BBN Report 1822, and came later.

  19. InsaneGeek
    Thumb Down

    Problem isn't speed... it's quality of patents

    The problem isn't that the US is generating patents too slowly, it's that the patents they are awarding are too broad and of poor quality. I can only assume that since Obama's intent is to make the system work faster, the accepted patents will be poorer and poorer as speed is the enemy of quality.

    1. Tom 13

      The problem with the US Patent system (and Copyright)

      is that there is more than 1 problem with it.

  20. Tzael


    Fast-track process = additional administration fees allowing big businesses to get theirs approved quicker? Probably administration fees outside the budgetary range of small businesses.

    No mention of changing the patent system to prevent the patenting of life, common sense, and other things that really shouldn't be patentable.

    1. Chris Hance

      Prevent the patenting of what?

      Surely there's no prior art for common sense. But I think it's already impossible to patent. It'll never be a business method.

  21. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Good luck

    So having so successfully battled the entrenched special interests of doctors, insurance companies and pharma to overhaul America's health service.

    He is now going for the softer target of lawyers, VCs, and large corporations !

    What next - peace in the middle east before building upto settling the Vi / Emacs wars?

  22. Oldfogey

    Feeling crusty

    If accused of breaching the patent on the crustless sandwich, just cut off all but one corner, announce this is a new invention to provide a firm handle by which to hold the sandwich, and re-patent.

    Goes well with a pint.

    1. Dave Parry

      Crusty Prior Art

      Ah; that would be the (now protected) Cornish Pasty handle - the only thing I'd be concerned about is the Buck House caterers being accused of licence evasion by cutting the crusts off before serving the sarnies....

  23. Dick Head

    The courts are the final arbiters...

    ...and in the USA I can't believe that increasing the credibility of the USPTO will do anything to reduce the dependency on the legal system to sort out the validity and real ownership of patents.

    Perhaps better just to accept the fact and ackowledge that the Patent Office merely serves as a simple registrar of (claimed) first instance. The whole job can be performed by a roomful of clerks, or perhaps even a web site.

    Sorting out the farcical patent tourism industry might be a better thing to concentrate on.

  24. copsewood

    patent == monopoly, generally evil

    In an efficient economy, monopolies would not be sold by the state without much better reason.

    The theoretical justification for granting patents is that this brings knowledge about inventions otherwise likely to stay secret and die with the inventor into the public domain. If most patents were any good, reading these would be compulsory education for an engineer working in this field. But engineers don't normally read patents, partly because the inventive steps these claim are obvious to anyone who works in the field, partly because the legalese these are written in is deliberately obscure and partly because prior knowledge of a patent which you are later claimed to be in infringement of leads to higher awards being made against you.

    Nearly all of the millions of patents granted are bad, partly because the system is so heavily controlled by lawyers who make money by making the obvious unreadable to anyone who isn't an experienced patent lawyer. As far as patent officers are concerned, if you were one of these would you prefer a system which pays for empires to be built in your chosen career, or one which grants monopolies only where there is a genuine public benefit in doing so, resulting in the employment of very few patent examiners ?

    So neither of these gatekeeper professions can be trusted. Both groups, the lawyers and the patent officers, have vested interests in this system going from bad to worse. Any reform which doesn't destroy the financial incentives these leeches have in the current crooked system is rearranging the deckchairs on a sinking ship.

    1. Richard Gadsden 1

      Replicable patents

      Patents should be replicable. If, in order to grant a patent, the applicant had to be able to demonstrate that an expert in the field could build the patented invention, using only the patent, and with no requirement for legal (as distinct from technical) expertise in understanding the patent, then patents would be much less of a problem.


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