You know the patent system has gotten bad when a company holding 4,500 patents is calling for patent reform.
According to the piece in InfoWorld, Microsoft is calling for patent reform in the United States. Microsoft's idea of reform is a bit different from mine, and I don't think they'd really address the problem in whole. In a nutshell, Microsoft's ideas are to end filing fees for individuals, small companies, nonprofits and universities. The company also wants to stop diverting patent fees to the general budget, giving the USPTO more money to work with to evaluate the 350,000 plus applications it receives every year.
Microsoft is obviously feeling the sting of being on the losing end of patent lawsuits, and that's a good thing. But its proposals won't fix the system. First off, I still have a problem with the idea of software patents at all. But even if I thought software patents were a good idea, I'd argue that granting the same term to software patents as other devices is ridiculous. The software industry moves far too quickly to allow one company a lock on an idea for 20 years. Microsoft's proposals don't address this at all.
Microsoft's General Counsel, Brad Smith, wants a limit on patent lawsuits (no wonder) saying that "It is too easy for a litigant to manipulate the U.S. system and look to a patent lawsuit as the ultimate lottery ticket." That's only half the problem, however. The other side of the patent problem is established businesses, like Microsoft, that use patents to discourage competition from the small businesses and individual inventors that they purport to help by ending fees for the little guy.
Ending patent fees for the little guy won't do much to level the playing field. Even if the price of filing is zero, the cost of defending a patent or pursuing patent suits is prohibitive for small companies or individual inventors. Making it cheaper to file and obtain patents isn't the answer, not by a long shot.
What do you think? Is there anything that can be done to reform the U.S. Patent system, or do you think it's just fine the way it is?