Patent wars are not new, he [Director David Kappos of the United States Patent and Trademark Office] explained with a summary of historical patent battles pertaining to inventions like the sewing machine, the telegraph, and even airplanes. As companies and patent owners continue to battle out their rights in court, the patent system seems reminiscent of the “wild west.” As long as the tension between first innovators (who seek to protect their inventions) and follow-on innovators (who try to capitalize on improvements and developments) exists, the litigation incentives are likely to remain.
(“Patents: Home on the Range or Wild Frontier?
” by Laura Schneider
The above is an excerpt from the Silicon Flatirons
conference on the role of patents in our economy. Director Kappos was the keynote speaker for Patents: Home on the Range or Wild Frontier?
. The conference, which took place in April, brought together leading thinkers on patent policy to examine the arguments and metaphors about the future of patent policy.
Following Director Kappos's talk, discussants focused on how companies view patents. The panelists examined recent Supreme Court decisions, such as Bilski and Prometheus; debated whether patents support or hinder innovation; and delved into the reasons companies buy patents.
The second panel focused on the changing patent landscape. How non-practicing entities (NPEs) and practicing entities, those who actually use the invention, abuse the system was a prime topic. Additionally panelists discussed the increase in patent suits over the last ten years, and the many reasons that companies buy patents: risk avoidance and fear of competitors being top on the list.
The third and final panel, moderated by Professor Paul Ohm, considered the similarities and differences between the mineral law prospector system and patent law. Here is an excerpt from the conference report about this panel:
Patty Limerick, Professor at the University of Colorado, noted that today’s patent system is very similar to the westward mining expansion, which played a great role in the growth of the United States. Individual profit-seekers benefit from their efforts, just as patents allow today’s inventors to do. However, today’s system evokes a feeling of wasted effort that many unsuccessful minors felt in the days of mining expansion because few patent holders profit from the work of the many. She was also greatly concerned that the significant transfer of wealth seen in major acquisitions “smacks of speculation.” She reminded the group that although the resources of the west were greatly exploited, there were also many victims.
Written by Laura Schneider, J.D. Candidate 2014, the conference report provides a thorough overview of the differing analysis from thought-leaders on the current and future of patent policy.