back to article Even Uncle Sam admits: US patent law is whack

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is calling on the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to overhaul its rules on licensing intellectual property. In an open letter [PDF] to the PTO, the FTC called on its fellow organization to simplify patent law. "Clearer patent notice can encourage market participants to collaborate, …

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    1. asdf Silver badge


      At least on paper the EU doesn't allow industry to patent math (software) or even genes in your body right now unlike the USPTO.

  2. Youngone Silver badge

    Intelligent Design

    The FTC is either being disingenuous or really doesn't understand what the US's patent legislation is for.

    Pretending that patent rules are about "efficient marketplaces" is cute and charming, but as any fule no the patent rules are to prevent competition in any and all marketplaces, until the dominant players have taken their cut.

    1. asdf Silver badge

      Re: Intelligent Design

      That is what they have devolved into along as a jobs program for lawyers but originally the founders intended for patents to encourage innovation and people building on each other's ideas. Yeah that didn't last.

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Intelligent Design

        "originally the founders intended for patents to encourage innovation and people building on each other's ideas"

        I have a very hard time trying to imagine how any such disclosure is supposed to encourage people building on it, considering all it tells you is "this is how you're NOT ALLOWED to do this - unless you're willing to pay me" - which, as we well know, nobody ever is prepared to unless there's absolutely positively no other way to do "this".

        All a patent does is artificially exclude everyone but the first to arrive from the low-hanging fruit, regardless of whether or not any number of them would have been quite able to reach it on their own. Forcing them to either pay up simply for not being the first or try for the higher-hanging fruit is certainly not "efficient" either way, not to mention that fruit might not even be there at all - rest assured, if it is, and it's so damn incredibly compelling, it will be reached without artificial prodding.too.

        This has nothing to do with innovation, it has everything to do with a mad dash to stuff as much fruit in your pocket as fast as you can to scurry it away from everyone else. I feel no obligation to assist you with that - I'd rather eat some of it myself instead, especially considering that without a patent me eating that fruit still leaves it there for everyone else.

        Just kill it with fire. From orbit.

        1. Intractable Potsherd

          Re: Intelligent Design

          From a presentation I gave yesterday:

          There is virtually no evidence that patents have stimulated innovation. There is a hoary myth that the Industrial Revolution was encouraged by IP, but his does not stand up to scrutiny. Of the names that stand out from the Industrial Revolution, many of them never took out a patent. Charles Babbage 1830, denounced patent law as a "system of vicious and fraudulent legislation" which deprived the inventor of the fruits of his genius, and "a fraudulent lottery which gives its blanks to genius and its prizes to knaves".

          Many of the important inventors of the Industrial Revolution did not like the patent system, and chose not to use it. Papin, Davy, Hales, Faraday, Priestley, and Rumford refused to take out patents as a matter of principle. "When one loves science," wrote Claude Berthollet to James Watt (one who did patent things), "one has little need for fortune which would only risk one's happiness". Isambard Kingdom Brunel never took out a patent, and was actively opposed to the whole idea of patenting.

          A researcher called Petra Moser looked at all British exhibits selected to be displayed at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851: only 11% were patented, and of award winners (the crème de la crème of all exhibits) less than 16% were patented. The proportion of American exhibits that were patented was not much different (14.2 %).

          Economic historians have found some examples of what Robert C. Allen (1983) called "collective invention"; the main actors in technological innovation freely shared information and claimed no ownership to it (see also Alessandro Nuvolari 2004). Within the technical committees of the Society of Arts, people shared ideas and "sharpened minds" with others engaged in similar occupations. In the Netherlands between 1869 and 1912 there were no patent laws, and there was a huge growth of innovation during that time.

          It is long overdue that the entire IP system is overhauled, and the influence of China, India and South American countries will accelerate this need. Making consumers liable to IP by restricting what they can do with goods they bought will also lead to revolution. Attempts at tightening the Western view of IP will lead to alternatives being set up, until it becomes irrelevant.

          1. Cliff

            Re: Intelligent Design

            ^^^ Most interesting about the Victorians. Maybe IP laws of the time didn't work as intended, have they been revisited much since?

            I worry that patent law will take cues from the insanely lobbied copyright camp that means that bloomin' mouse will never enter public domain because protecting it for 95 years means the original artist is going to be more creative than a mere 20/40/50/75 years, which is blatantly bollocks.

    2. silent_count

      Re: Intelligent Design

      US patient law really is about efficiency. The aim is to grant ridiculously broad patients to US companies and then use said patients to extort everyone else. See! Perfectly efficient.

      1. Cliff

        Re: Intelligent Design

        Patenting creates a temporary monopoly in exchange for publishing your research in the public domain. It's a hugely valuable system for innovation (before it, people would hide research as the only way to prevent copying) which necessarily stifled innovation. Copyright provision was similarly conceived as a temporary monopoly in exchange for putting creative works into the public domain.

        Both systems are laudable, but the greedy cunts got in there wanting the monopoly, going on a land grab, but trying to slam the door behind them. I use the term cunts with sincerity, by the way. If I knew another term with more vitriol, I'd consider that instead - my apologies to ladyparts, this isn't about you.

  3. asdf Silver badge


    The USPTO is one of the most efficient mechanisms ever created for creating the only thing that matters to law makers, billable hours. When you let the lawyers write the laws you are pretty much guaranteed to get a patent office FUBAR.

    1. Thorne

      Re: wat?

      From personal experience with patents, I found them a total waste of time. Three inches of potting resin was far cheaper and did a better job.

      1. Cliff

        Re: wat?

        Potting resin, and we're back to the pre-patent world. This is why the system is broken, your innovation is now not a part of the sum of human knowledge to build upon because the system that would have given you an exploitable monopoly has been abused and broken quite willingly by lawyers and money.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: wat?

        Ohh I don't know. Having worked extensively as an expert witness challenging silly claims at the EPO it has done wonders for my income over the last ten years :-) anon obviously

        1. asdf Silver badge

          Re: wat?

          And you prove my point as the billable hours doesn't have to be just for the lawyers. Overly broad, poorly worded patents create opportunities for everyone but small entrepreneurs (you know who invent or facilitate much of the stuff that changes the world) oh and the general public.

  4. Philius

    Here's a free one, if someone hasn't already grabbed it so it's not free for everyone

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The FTC is lazy and dysfunctional

    The FTC does almost nothing to protect consumers. They don't want to be bothered having to investigate and prosecute criminal corporations. They get on the six o'clock news every few months to make it appear that they are actually working in the public's interest when as history has shown, they are not.

    U.S. patent law is not as "whack" as some uninformed types may believe. IP should be protected but the patent office needs to understand what should be patentable and what should not. Patent law is complicated because of the very nature of what is trying to be regulated. While there may be ways to improve current patent law, there is no simple solution to make it uncomplicated.

    1. asdf Silver badge

      Re: The FTC is lazy and dysfunctional

      Patent law is broke in the IT realm but you get away without an down vote from me because yes the FTC is garbage (cable companies aren't common carrier like a decade ago at least, dafuq?). Almost as much as the FCC allowing a few megacorps to buy all the media including news.

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