May 18, 2011
As I understand it, the intent of a patent is to protect the value of the invention to the inventor by giving them exclusive control of the rights to use said invention. In return, they are asked to encourage future innovation by sharing that information with the world instead of keeping it a proprietary secret. Pretty simple and straightforward, and I really have a hard time disagreeing with that being a desirable goal.
Most of the complaints about the patent system being “broken” come down to a few points:
- The patent is not novel; it’s an obvious method to anyone spending any mental effort on the problem space.
- The patent is too broad; It could cover any number of possible techniques without taking a stand on one (or a handful). This usually seems to be done to get around the requirement of sharing the information, keeping aspects proprietary. One might also consider this related to “not novel.”
- The inventor (or, usually, reassigned rights holder commonly referred to as “patent troll”) has done nothing with their rights to the patent on their own. On its own, there is nothing wrong with this–it would be perfectly legitimate to have a sole licensee. When combined with items 1 or 2, though, most people agree that it’s is predatory and stifles innovation rather than encouraging it.
My Proposal: Within a defined grace period after patent status is granted (I’m envisioning 5 years, maybe 7), the patent holder must show measurable revenue due to a concrete implementation of the patent, or that it is a recognizable part of another product which generates recognizable revenue. This revenue may be recognized directly by the inventor, or by licensees of the patent. If such evidence is not given within the grace period, the patent is considered fallow and control rights are revoked.
A patent that does not result in a concrete implementation within a reasonable period of time is hard to consider as “benefitting society” and thus unworthy of the rights exclusivity granted by the society in exchange.