Nathan Myhrvold’s Evil Genius

Nathan Myhrvold

Nathan Myhrvold

Last year I wrote that Intellectual Ventures is a kind of reductio ad absurdum of our flawed patent system. It’s a firm that literally does nothing useful, its only business is the acquisition and licensing of patents. Not only does it have no intention of commercializing the technologies it “invents,” its business model is based on minimizing the amount of research performed per patent obtained. In Malcolm Gladwell’s brilliant (if inadvertent) exposé of IV, he describes how IV hires smart people to participate in brainstorming sessions and then has patent lawyers immediately file patent applications for every idea that comes up during the discussion, without bothering to actually implement any of them, or even devoting much effort to verifying that they actually work. IV then approaches firms that are doing the hard work of implementing “their” ideas and demands a cut of their profits.

Myhrvold’s firm illustrates in a way that no law review article could the extent to which the patent system punishes firms that actually produce useful products. Firms whose business models involve actual innovation have to show restraint in exploiting their patent portfolios. If they don’t, there’s a high probability that some of their adversaries will countersue and both firms will be dragged into a legal quagmire. But if litigation is your only business, then you’re not vulnerable to retaliatory infringement lawsuits, so you can exploit your patent portfolio much more aggressively. Many small “patent troll” firms have exploited this flaw in the past, but Myhrvold is the first person to recognize that it can be exploited in a systematic, large-scale fashion.

Until recently, one of the few points Myhrvold could make in his own favor is that he hadn’t started suing firms that declined to license his patent portfolio. I say “until recently” because we’re now learning that the lawsuits have started. IV has begun selling off chunks of its patent portfolio to people like Raymond Niro with well-deserved reputations for being “patent trolls.” Threatening to sell patents to a third party who will sue you is more subtle than threatening to sue you directly, but the threat is just as potent. Myhrvold’s “sales pitch” to prospective licensees just got a lot more convincing.

The fundamental question we should be asking about this business strategy is how it benefits anyone other than Myhrvold and the patent bar. Remember that the standard policy argument for patents is that they incentivize beneficial research and development. Yet IV’s business model is based on the opposite premise: produce no innovative products, spend minimal amounts on research and development, and make a profit by compelling firms that are producing products and investing in R&D to pay up. Not only does this enrich Myhrvold at everyone else’s expense, but it also reduces the incentive to innovate, because anyone who produces an innovative product is forced to share his profits with Intellectual Ventures. Patents are supposed to make innovation more profitable. Myhrvold is using the patent system in a way that does just the opposite. In thinking about how to reform the patent system, a good yardstick would be to look for policy changes that would tend to put Myhrvold and his firm out of business.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

54 Responses to Nathan Myhrvold’s Evil Genius

  1. James Bowery says:

    The following 1992 white paper on a Net Asset Tax is summarized in the following excerpts:
    The government should tax net assets, in excess of levels
    typically protected under personal bankruptcy, at a rate equal to
    the rate of interest on the national debt, thereby eliminating
    other forms of taxation. Creator-owned intellectual property
    should be exempt.

    The levels typically protected by personal bankruptcy can be
    approximated by the median price of housing an individual added
    to the median capitalization of a job in the economy. Together,
    these exemptions add up to between $50,000 and $100,000.
    Additional but smaller exemptions may be added to represent the
    lower levels of bankruptcy protection typically extended to
    children within families.

    The NAT is a self-adjusting system that seeks an equilibrium
    between government debt levels, current tax rates and private
    wealth distribution, without attempting to achieve an outright
    balanced budget or direct intervention in the economy.

    Under current (1992) asset distribution and government debt the
    NAT would generate between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion in
    revenue, thus totally displacing other forms of taxation.

    only assets whose existence is legally recorded in titles, insurance
    documents, etc., or that are currently reported for capital gains
    and losses would be individually assessed. Since most households
    own few major assets changing little from year to year, the NAT
    would greatly simplify tax computation.


    With the exception of basic functions of government and the pay
    down of debt, the government budget should be dispersed to
    citizens as cash, rather than being spent in government programs
    or even limited in the form of vouchers. This is “market
    democracy” in which the citizens and their markets, rather than
    central planning and politics, influence the selection of goods
    and services to be capitalized and provided.

  2. Rhayader says:

    Tim, do you have any suggestions for “policy changes that would tend to put Myhrvold and his firm out of business”? So often the only discussed alternative to our current system is a hypothetical “wild west”, where there is no such thing as patent law. Attractive as it may be, it’s not a scenario that sheds much light on where we should go from this point forward.

    So what’s the answer? Tighter restrictions regarding what “innovations” are worthy of patents? A requirement for actual development of ideas instead of IV-style poaching? Some sort of forum for on-going patent disputes that doesn’t involve a legal suit?

    Being what is generally referred to as a libertarian, my guess is that there is government intervention at the heart of this mess — complete with the requisite perverse incentives — and that further regulation will only hurt. Is that the case? What would a libertarian like to see happen with the software patent system?

  3. Rhayader,

    So what’s the answer? Tighter restrictions regarding what “innovations” are worthy of patents? A requirement for actual development of ideas instead of IV-style poaching?

    Yes and yes. 🙂 I’d like to see patents excluded from categories of innovation where they do more harm than good. Software and “business methods” are two good categories to start with. And stronger “enablement” requirements–that is requirements that patent applicants disclose more implementation details–would make it harder for firms like IV to do their job. Also, I’d like to see a robust independent invention defense created, although I recognize some people regard that as a radical step in itself. Here are some other reform ideas proposed by Jim Bessen and Michael Meurer, all of which would, I think, be steps in the right direction:

    They urge courts to give greater deference to the Patent Office’s interpretation of patent claims, and for appeals courts to give greater deference to district courts’ claim interpretations. They suggest that the Patent Office be more aggressive about rejecting vague patent claims. And they propose the Patent Office offer the service, for a fee, of examining a patent and producing an opinion letter on whether a particular technology is covered by that patent. If the Patent Office concluded that the technology was non-infringing, the letter would carry some weight in court if the recipient was subsequently sued for patent infringement. And to curb the flood of low-quality patents, they advocate dramatic increases in patent fees.

    There are also some procedural reforms that I think could make a difference. I’d like to bring appellate competition back to patent law. I’d like to require appeals court judges to give greater deference to lower court judges on claim construction, which I think would reduce the uncertainty of patent boundaries. I’d also like to see limits on forum shopping–patent plaintiffs shouldn’t be allowed to file all of their lawsuits in the patent-friendly Eastern District of Texas.

  4. marksibly says:


    Nice article, does a very good job of describing the absurdity of the patent system as it stands.

    My personal ‘fixes’:

    * Get rid of software/business (‘method’) etc patents.

    * Require patenter to actually build a working bloody model! Being able to patent something that ‘might work’ is BS.

    * ‘Use it or lose it’ timeout to eliminate patent squatting in general.


  5. Robb Shecter says:

    I’m undecided. A couple of counter-arguments occur to me:

    * A firm that simply buys and licenses patents is equivalent to a Wall St. “market maker”: valuable because they introduce liquidity into the system.

    * One answer to “[t]he fundamental question we should be asking about this business strategy is how it benefits anyone other than Myhrvold…” is that the strategy benefits the inventors who sold their patents to Myhrvold. A simplistic analysis might be that they were indeed benefitted, otherwise they wouldn’t have sold to them. I.e., if there were other routes with higher payoffs available, the inventors would have taken them.

    How would you respond to these arguments?

  6. el io says:

    counterpoints to Robb Shecter.

    Regarding ‘market maker’ – if such a new market is made, but does not foster innovation, it is against the principles of intellectual property laws. there isn’t an intrinsic right for such new markets to exist – patent protection was created to encourage innovation.

    Your second counter-argument doesn’t address the apparent brainstorming/patenting sessions.

  7. Abba Bryant says:

    Someone (I am sure it has been done already) should file for and patent the business model they are using. Then sue them, or sell said patent to a patent troll / litigation farm.

  8. John Fenderson says:

    @Robb Shecter:

    1) Why is introducing liquidity into the system desirable? The point of patents is not to create a market. The point is to encourage actual innovation. It is not clear to me how creating a patent market accomplishes that goal.

    2) Again, the point of patents isn’t to benefit the patent-holder, but society. Patents themselves should have no transferable monetary value — it shouldn’t be possible to buy and sell them at all.

    Remember that, like copyright, a patent is nothing but a deal between society and an individual: we’ll give you a temporary monopoly in exchange for giving us (collectively) the product at the end of the monopoly period. The patent is not intended to be a directly profitable instrument.

    If monetizing patents will further the goal of furthering innovation, then I have no objection. But so far, I’ve only seen the opposite effect. And if that’s the road we’re going, as it appears to be, then the basic goal is better served by simply doing away with patents altogether. (I don’t advocate that, I think there’s a better solution, but if it’s a choice between what we have now and nothing, the purported goal is better served by nothing.)

  9. Robert O'Callahan says:

    The “inventors” didn’t really invent anything most people would recognize as an invention. They just sat around a table for a few hours tossing around ideas. “Maybe we could stop hurricanes with a fleet of ships pumping seawater up from the depths!” Any real inventor will tell you that generating ideas for things that might work is really, really easy. The hard part is making them work. (FWIW I have a PhD in computer science and a few patents to my name.)

    The patent system grants IV and its “inventors” a monopoly over huge swathes of technology in exchange for nothing of value. How IV compensates its “inventors” is irrelevant to that.

  10. No one of consequence says:

    An alternative view is to improve speed and transparency in the patent process. If Myhrvold does actually put eggheads together in a room to think up patentable things (that term used without intent to cause argument. I’m hoping Re: Bilski stands) then those ideas may indeed have value. So are we really talking about a business that leaches off of innovators? Shouldn’t the innovators have checked the patent applications before pursuing their research? We should also consider the market effects — a vaporware patent I would think has much lower value than one fully implemented and proven.

    All of that said, I think the greatest weakness in the patent system is constantly lowering (or ignored) thresholds for “novel”, “non-obvious” and “specific”.

  11. Robb Shecter says:

    @el io, @John Fenderson:

    You can see the value of liquidity in the current economic crisis, which is actually a liquidity crisis. The problem is that everyone I know would agree that my house is “worth” $200K. But because of the tight credit, none of them is able to raise that much money. And so, if my house is “marked down to market”, it’s now “worth” $100K, because all the liquidity that’s available. And people stop making houses.

  12. Robb,

    The problem is that there’s no particular connection between doing useful R&D and getting a patent. If you check out that Malcolm Gladwell article, you’ll see that a lot of the patents they got from just having lawyers file applications on every idea that pops into their head, without bothering to actually implement them. This isn’t obvious if you look at a company like IBM, because they get a lot of patents but they also do a lot of useful R&D. IV illustrates just how easy it is to get patents *without* actually producing anything useful.

    In addition to filing for their own patents, they also buy others’ patents. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing this, and as you say it may help finance some useful inventions in some circumstances. But the fundamental problem is with the underlying patent system. Myhrvold is just a symptom.

  13. Tom Buckner says:

    In “Against Intellectual Property,” author Brian Martin does a good job of demolishing the whole idea that ideas even should be owned, much as Tom Paine, in “Common Sense,” once demolished the idea that heredity was a good way to choose leaders:

  14. Tom Buckner says:

    Oh, don’t forget: Myhrvold learned IP dirtbaggery at Microsoft.

  15. John Doe says:

    To Rob Schechter “You can see the value of liquidity in the current economic crisis” – no you can’t. The current crisis is not from a lack of liquidity but an inflationary excess of debt. Per-capita wages have gone 600% since 1970, per-capita mortgages have gone up 2500%. The house is not worth 200,000. The point of a patent is not to be able to easily sell one’s ideas to but to provide one with a *state-enforced monopoly* on an invention. Most of what we see today is homesteading and not innovation. The patent system was never intended as a mechanism for legally savvy individuals to “stake a claim” in the intellectual commons.

  16. dimitris says:

    Some points in response to Shecter:

    – First of all, on your example, which I can’t resist: Why do you assume that the previous level of liquidity was “right” and it’s the current one that’s “wrong”? That’s not a rhetorical question; the Fed’s loose monetary/liquidity policy in the early-mid 2000s led to historically extraordinary housing price rises:

    By implying that in spite of the spectacular price curve it is the previous, bubble-time 200K price that’s “right”, you’re making an extraordinary statement. Absent appropriately extraordinary proof (“everyone I know says so” doesn’t count), the new liquidity (and, therefore, price) has to be seen as closer to “normal”.

    – OK, enough thread creep: Innovation doesn’t “happen” when a patent attorney files a patent. Innovation happens when an invention is *made*. What “made” means obviously depends on the domain, but I’d argue that it has to be at least implemented. For example on business patents, it’s a business that has been demonstrably viable for some (small) number of years. For software, it’s source code. The requirement for a meaningful implementation should be worked into the patent application granting process. It doesn’t have to mean that you have to have met it at the time of filing, but you must have a time limit by which to make a suitable implementation (or more than one, perhaps?) publically available. That, IMO, is a necessary condition for separating real inventions from troll implements.

    Patent “liquidity” is completely orthogonal to this. There’s no reason why patents, or even pre-approval patent *applications*, can’t be bought or sold. However, if the implementation criterion isn’t met by the required time limit, poof.

  17. gmoke says:

    This is exactly what Jerome Lemelson did and he held over 600 patents and donated a lot of money to MIT, including a prize for student inventions. You guys are waking up to this now? Lemelson’s been dead since 1997.

  18. Some Guy says:

    “Myhrvold learned IP dirtbaggery at Microsoft.”

    Myhrvold was instrumental in CREATING MS’s culture of IP dirtbaggery.

  19. gtt says:

    In response to 10 No one of consequence: There’s an incentive for inventors to not look up patents up front before going into an area of research–damages for patent infringement triple for willful and/or knowing infringement of a patent.

  20. ferris says:

    Patents applications need to have an implementation requirement in order to avoid some but not all of the problems created by people like Myhrvold (who belongs in jail with Madoff)

  21. Josh says:

    someone needs to patent Intellectual Venture’s business model and sue their pants off for using it.

  22. Robert O'Callahan says:

    “No one of consequence”: Even apart from the issue of triple damages for “prior knowledge” making patent searches counter-productive, consider the enormous cost of searching millions of patents for the ones that might affect your business, and consider the likelihood that you’ll miss something in that haystack. Then what if you find a patent that may or may not bear on your work? What if you think it’s obvious or otherwise invalid?

    People who make actual products can’t win this game. Only lawyers and trolls win.

  23. Kristen says:

    It seems the simplest answer would be a starting point.
    – Patents must exist in tangible form, eg a product that does exactly what the patent specified. Eg ‘Device that plays Nintendo Games’ could be the Wii or the original NES, but be used against people who pirate and distribute games with emulators, in any form, even where copyright fails. There are many counterfeit NES devices available outside of North America.

    (Counter-point, software, must demonstrate exactly what it does, in source code, and the software product produced must demonstrate that there are no other (public) implementations of the same.)

    – Patents must be attributable only to people, not companies. Companies, Universities, Governments may not own the patents at all. If their employee’s job is to invent, that employee must also fill out the patent and arrange licensing with the employee. At no point may a non-person entity claim ownership or irrevocable licensing of a patent.

    – Patents can not be “sold”, only licensed.

  24. Avi says:

    The original intent of the US patent system was to exchange a limited monopoly for a significant public benefit — the full disclosure of new technology leading to general advancement, i.e., education.

    Patents today often do not disclose anything of value, but merely plant a flag on some intellectual continent (which is occasionally already occupied as well).

    The easiest fix, without even touching proper classes of “invention” or better dispute resolution, is to require that patents fully disclose how to recreate the patented technology, assuming only skill and knowledge in the relevant discipline(s).

    In other words, patents should be written in engineering language, not legalese and be fully self-describing. For any patent, new or existing, to be upheld, an independent third party must be able to confirm that the patent is reproducible (i.e., it actually works) from the patent and common knowledge alone.

    This would create a giant hurdle and challenge opportunity for the kinds of patents that trolls love. It would also tend to level the playing field for companies that do actually productize IP, who have this information ready to go (whereas IV won’t, since their stuff is basically science fiction).

    If companies want to patent IP and also keep it a secret, then they’re SOL. If you want the limited monopoly, then you have to give something back to the public in exchange.

  25. ivucica says:

    Re: some of the comments

    Greatest problem in US system are patent trolls. While opposement to software patents is widespread, I believe there certainly are software-based, non-trivial and non-obvious technologies that should be patentable. ‘Click on form’ or ‘plugin embedded in web page’ isn’t that, but some advanced p2p technology (such as BitTorrent or Skype’s p2p backend) might qualify – they’re innovative, useful and non-trivial.

    – a Croat

  26. Pablos says:

    I work at the Intellectual Ventures Lab where we work on some of these inventions. While the patent system isn’t ideal, we’re certainly not the paragon of evil you make us out to be. The invention we’ve invested the most in is a reactor powered by nuclear waste. We have over 30 scientists working on that now. We are developing many inventions to help eradicate malaria and have a team devoted to epidemiological modeling for that. You can read about some of these projects here:

    Intellectual Ventures has already paid over $330MM to inventors from its licensing work. We’re inventors & we love invention. We’re trying to create more ways for inventors to succeed at what they’re good at. – Pablos.

  27. Richard says:

    The patent system is now doing more harm than good. Perhaps it always has. The solution would be to abolish it. However government is not about finding solutions.

  28. hola pablos says:

    Pablos, let’s be clear:

    Intellectual Ventures has already siphoned off $330M+ from firms that actually were producing useful goods and services, some of which Intellectual Ventures uses to keep you in a job.

    I can see why you’re pleased with that. Given the complete lack of useful goods and services IV has produced up-to-date I think you can see why we’d rather IV not have siphoned those resources away from actual producers.

  29. how2 says:

    for a fictional and fun take on this patent bizness
    check author charles stross’ work accelerando
    here is a link to a free download
    (i prefer his book halting state even more highly recommend it)

    in accelerando there is a character manfred that is takes patent on ideas but then gives the rights to organizations in need of support
    a sort of corporate sponsorship if you will
    amazing idea
    and something these super wealthy gentleman from IV could do and be a boon rather than a tick


  30. Chris says:

    Maybe the answer is that in an infringement claim, the claims must be argued by comparing the actual implementations of both parties and not by comparing the patent to the alleged infringed implementation. The patent holder’s implementation must first be determined to be true to their patent and then both parties’ implementations are compared with one another, not to the patent or design specs.

    This provides several protections: first the patent must be proven by an actual implementation; the patent is true and accurate because it is reflected by an implementation, and, being that designs remain simply theories until implemented, an infringement claim can be much more accurately determined when only the proven details are considered.

  31. Timothy, you are incorrect that Intellectual Ventures does nothing useful. Intellectual Ventures and other so-called patent trolls are really the beginning of a secondary market in patents. Most of these companies got their start in the failed companies of the bust. These patent recycling companies bought the patens of failed companies. This reduces the cost and the risk associated with R&D. The VC’s I knew were going to let these patents expire, resulting in zero return to the investors. Patent investing companies like Intellectual Ventures should not be vilified, but appreciated for the valuable secondary market they are creating. Like all new markets, the pioneers took enormous risks but also paid very little for the assets they acquired. Their success will encourage other entrepreneurs driving up the costs of buying patents (excess R&D). This will reduce the cost and risk associated with R&D, which will result in more investment in high technology start-up companies.

    Vilifying Intellectual Ventures is like vilifying investors in the physical assets of failed enterprises. These investors recycle assets and make them part of the productive economy again. While it is sad to see a business fail, failure is part of the innovation process. Putting the assets of a failed enterprise back to work as soon as possible would be considered a humanitarian effort if performed by a non-profit. However it is really just as valuable or more valuable to the economy when do by a for-profit enterprise.

  32. Dale,

    Patents aren’t a productive asset like a factory or a truck. Putting a physical asset back to work makes society richer by producing new goods or services. Putting a patent “back to work” doesn’t make society richer, it simply transfers money from firms doing productive work to the firm holding the patent. Secondary markets in patents are not ends in themselves. They are desirable only to the extent that the underlying patent regime rewards firms doing useful innovation. The existence of a firm like IV makes clear the extent to which the patent system fails to do this.

  33. dimitris says:

    Once again, the existence or desirability of secondary markets is not the issue here.

    Spurious patent “innovation” drives out real invention, by sucking capital away from the real thing. To take the example of software patents, writing a legalese patent is less capital intensive than implementing a real novel software system, so of course the rate of “innovation” can be (and is) faster than the rate of true invention, hence the crowding out effect. Gresham’s Law for IP?

    Whether there is a secondary market that trades these fake goods is irrelevant; the problem is with the fakes’ existence in the first place.

    The (beginning of?) a secondary market only shows that there is enough fake goods around to support a secondary market. That is a bad thing.

  34. To hola pablos says:

    Just because IV has received $330M in licensing fees does not mean they have “siphoned off” that much money from productive companies. In order to be given a patent, you have to come up with the idea first. If some other company is already making a product based on your idea, you don’t get the patent.

    If someone is willing to pay you a million dollars to license your idea, it means they are going to make something they never made before and make more than a million dollars doing it. So it very well may be that the companies paying IV $330M turned around and produced products worth $1B that otherwise would never have been made.

  35. Attenuated Genius says:

    @#28: IV didn’t “siphon off” anything; the inventors made a decision to sell their IP to IV rather than license or develop it themselves. Nor can you state these were “firms that actually were producing useful goods and services”. Every entity I know that’s dealt with IV were individuals or small LLCs who hadn’t productized their ideas.

    Product development is expensive. IV provides an alternative for these inventors; it absolutely provides liquidity and frees them to work on their next innovation. Nobody forced them to sell. Dale Halling has it right.

  36. SM says:

    “These investors recycle assets and make them part of the productive economy again. While it is sad to see a business fail, failure is part of the innovation process. Putting the assets of a failed enterprise back to work as soon as possible would be considered a humanitarian effort if performed by a non-profit.”

    I think we all agree that we want the ‘assets’ back in the economy again. Having the patent expire or not exist is what allows for this to occur. It lowers the barriers of entry. To have a Troll sit on a asset does nothing of value. It adds much negative friction.

  37. Chris says:

    Pablos – you don’t get patent protection on “ideas”; that is simply naive. Patent protection is on methods; the design of a particular implementation of an idea.

  38. Steve says:

    A thought just occurred to me as to why some good changes are not going to be made. Because right now patents are property, the government cannot just take them away. These trolls will dmand compensation from the government because of eminent domain rights. That is the sad part of all of this.

  39. bud says:

    I looked at the paper this morning and realised – Scott Adams reads this website:

  40. e says:

    A few thoughts:

    This is what patents are for in the US: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries” (US Constitution, Article 1, Section 8).

    One reason that an invention should not have to be physically reduced to practice in order to be patented is that a brilliant inventor may not have the resources to implement the idea. Suppose a physicist invented a whistle, analogous to those mounted on car bumpers to ward off deer, that worked to keep birds away from airplanes. By “invented” I mean that he designed a whistle that he calculated (using known, verifiable formulas) would give off a certain sound when air moved through it at a certain speed, and he also has gathered evidence that this particular sound would scare off birds. But he has no way to test it on a plane. To test it on planes will cost a few hundreds of thousands of dollars. To justify the cost of the test, an investor will want to know they have an exclusive right to sell the technology (for a limited time). This is accomplished through filing a patent. Should an inventor not be entitled to profit from his or her useful, realizable invention because they can’t afford to be the one to realize it?

  41. JB says:

    Patents should be completely eliminated, nobody can argue that there are industries that innovate without the incentive of patents just because that is our nature, at this time an age it is only an insoportable drag to innovators and businessmen which ultimately will kill the system.

    The invisible hand of capitalism will speed up innovation and optimize the proces to be the first to go to market rather in order to get marketshare.

    This is the perfect example of how distorted the system is now and how unnecessary everything related patents is.

  42. e says:

    JB says “Patents should be completely eliminated”
    I’m going to go out on a limb and assume JB, or at least some of the others viewing this page, would say the same about trademarks and copyrights. Would those with this view agree that Scott Adams should have no legal recourse if someone took all his Dilbert cartoons, posted them at “”, “”, “”, etc. (which all looked identical to, and collected all the ad revenue? Why are inventions so different? The Constitution lumped “Authors and Inventors” together, after all.

  43. Chris says:

    I don’t know of any copyright or trademark trolls…

  44. e says:

    Did Michael Jackson become a copyright troll when he bought the rights to Beatles music? He didn’t create their music; he just bought the exclusive rights to publish it.

  45. Chris says:

    That’s not a troll. A troll is a company that comes up with a set of methods (obvious methods in many software patents) for the implementation of an idea or concept, patents it, and sits back waiting for their unsuspecting prey to stumble on the same (again, obvious) methods. The prey having actually established a business model around the idea and providing a useful product to consumers.

  46. Mark Jones says:

    If software and Business method patents were eliminated, that would close up his shop, because mechanical patents require tinkering to get to them work.

    Then sitting around blue skying wouldn’t patent out so well. A mechanical/electrical device that actually works isn’t something you can design very well at 50,000 feet.

  47. Adam Kaiser says:

    Eliminating patents is extreme and actually would hurt the society as it would discourage expensive research. How about this “simple” solution: Charge say $1,000,000 per patent application. This would:

    1. Allow the patent office to actually to do proper research, hire real experts in the field to examine whether an actual invention occurred

    2. Eliminate companies filing for patents by the thousands. In some large companies engineers have quotas of patents to be filed per year.

    3. Eliminate the backlog of patent applications – companies would not have to worry that what they are doing now may in fact be already in some application in the multi-year backlog at the patent office

    4. It would eliminate the IV business model (too expensive to patent anything which comes to your head)

    5. It would still protect ideas which took a lot of money to research (such as medical research into drugs, etc) – protection needed for things expensive to develop but easy to copy.

    The only drawback would be that Joe Citizen in his garage could not seek patent protection. I agree. But who are we kidding? When was the last time the lonely inventor was protected by his patent? The lonely inventor may be able to afford a patent but not to fight it anyways. We should give up that notion and be done with it. Maybe there is another way we could protect the lonely inventor, but patents are not it.

  48. bud says:

    40 e.,

    I would say that your example of a bird whistle is not dispositive.

    Said whistle could be built, a high speed fan blown over it and the recording of the produced sound could be played to flock of starlings, repelling them. This parametric-level testing would be sufficient proof of implementaion for a patent. This could probably be done for a cost of the same order of magnitude as the legal fees.

    If the intent is to eliminate patent trolls, anything that makes the mere generation of large amounts of paper (or computer files) profitable will do the job.

  49. As previous readers have pointed out, there is minimal value in lambasting the patent system unless you can come up with an alternative.
    For years I have tried to tell people that the only alternative is trade secrets. I then normally launch into a discussion of the invention of forceps which is one of the few examples of one family keeping an idea secret for about 100 years, no doubt resulting in the death of untold women during child birth (google Chamberlen & Forceps). One day I will write a learned article on this….

    This case alone convinces me of the value of the patent system (but then I am a patent attorney).

    Peter T.

  50. Richard says:

    Trade secrets I don’t mind at all. Almost anything worthwhile will eventually be rediscovered, reverse engineered or leaked in any case. In the meantime, the inventor fully deserves to make use of their secret.

    It seems that patent law is now a weapon that can be used to expose any trade secret, see Facebook Ordered (Again) To Turn Over Source Code. So now holding a typical vague all-reaching patent “associating a piece of data with multiple categories” is enough to get access to a well-known company’s entire body of source code – WTF?

    I said earlier that I think the patent system should be abolished because it does more harm than good. Actually I’m not even convinced that it does any good at all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.