Disrupting the Patent System

Last week I wrote asking for suggestions for ways to disrupt the patent system. I got lots of great comments on this blog and on Hacker News. Cefn Hoile pointed me to his project Enigmaker where he prototypes a new public domain invention every week and you have to guess the final product. In his comment he wrote:

My hope is that an evidence base which shows that well-run companies can make more money without the patent system, taken alongside the substantial argument that there is a greater public good from freely licensed ideas, could agitate for the patent system to be shrunk, rather than grown.
That’s a fantastic and noble goal and is the spirit in which I hope to see more invention in the future but I think the public good argument is not going to persuade inventors to abandon the patent system. Even though expanding the public domain with inventions was one of the original goals of the patent system we’re way past that motivation now unfortunately.

Another interesting idea was PeerPatent which is a socially enforced patent system. The creators of PeerPatent see it as a stepping stone to something that may disrupt the patent system one day:

When an idea is defensively published on Peer Patent the user will also be able to define what is novel about their idea as a set of claims.  Other users then review and comment on the claims to determine whether they are truly novel, and depending on the results the claims may be awarded a PeerPatent.  This PeerPatent grants the user no legal rights to the idea, but allows them social recognition for originating the idea.  This system does not rise to the level of a patent alternative, but acts as a seed that may eventually grow into an alternative.
There was also many comments that suggested excellent reforms to the existing patent system such as reduced terms or forced licensing. However, I don’t think those reforms are going to get traction because there are huge vested interests working to preserve the status quo. Legislators should still pursue reforms but I don’t see any significant movement there for the next 3-4 decades. In fact the current economic climate is pushing governments towards increased protectionism and isolationism. For example in his speech on patent reform this June, President Obama stated he wanted to make it easier to file many more patents saying “we can’t give innovators in other countries a big leg up when it comes to opening new businesses and creating new jobs”. Of course as the leader of a nation he’s going to take the nationalistic us vs them stance, but it reinforces the flawed view that inventions are solely for competitive advantage, not for the advancement of knowledge and humanity.

I did have one new idea for disrupting the patent system over the weekend as I pondered the comments and suggestions people were sending: a share-alike patent which is the subject of my next post.


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