We must fix the deplorable tech patent situation, and soon

The patent situation in the technology sector is terrible, and we must fix it. Let business get back to making tech people can use, and not going to court to defend the natural evolution of tech.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

We are getting used to hearing about new lawsuits claiming tech patent infringement almost every day. Courts all over the world are incurring huge costs and tying up thousands of people who could be doing something that actually makes a difference. There are too many tech patents to allow this mess to continue. We need to change the system, and pretty darn quickly.

The latest word today that shipments of HTC phones are being held up in customs just to make sure they don't infringe on an injunction issued by some court is the straw that broke the camel's back. We have the legal system bending over backwards just in case an infringement might occur. Business comes to a screeching halt, and consumers are the ones who lose.

The patent situation has sunk to such a low point because it is no longer serving the function it needs to serve. It has changed over time to allow minor changes and improvements in existing technology to become protected by patents. While patents should be granted for profound new technology, it's now largely serving to recognize minor improvements in existing technology. What is the natural evolution of technology, and what everyone should want to occur, is now being patented.

Patents should be restricted to new technology that does things nothing has done before. They shouldn't be awarded to evolution of existing technology that simply allows things to be done differently than before. It should only recognize new things that do totally new functions in completely new ways.

This business of granting patents for things like how the user touches a screen, or slightly different ways of interacting with existing technology is just insane. Protecting investment in technology is important I admit, but there will always be a natural evolution of existing technology that must happen. Courts should not play a role in that evolution.

If we change the patent system to only reward profound new technology, everything will be better off. The incentive will remain for investing in such new technology. Critics might claim that restricting patents to profound new technology will hamper investment for improvement to existing technology. I say poppycock, that is standard business practice and companies will do it to survive.

Companies must continue to improve existing technology to stay in business and retain customers. That is the incentive that ensures investment will happen. That is a much better incentive than awarding a patent for minor improvement and then letting courts determine the reward for that natural investment.

I am not a lawyer and cannot address all the legal implications of changing the patent system as I suggest. But after years of following the tech sector, I am convinced this change is needed and soon. Stop giving patents for minor improvements of existing technology, and only give them for profound new tech. Let companies get back to the business of making tech people can use, not defending what is natural evolution of the tech.

Image credit: CNET


Editorial standards