WSJ: “Broken U.S. Patent System”

2 Mar ’06

From a WSJ editorial today:

The bitter legal fight over BlackBerry patents may soon inconvenience millions of users of that handheld email device. But that’s nothing compared to the damage that a broken U.S. patent system is doing to the larger American economy.

Patents are supposed to protect intellectual property and spur innovation, and once upon a time in America they did. But like everything else the legal system touches nowadays, U.S. patent law has been hijacked so that it now operates nearly in reverse, deterring research and penalizing innovation. In the last year, Microsoft, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM), and much of the wireless phone industry have been hit with adverse rulings in long-running patent cases, and they’re hardly alone. Online auctioneer eBay will soon argue a patent case of its own before the Supreme Court.

Testifying before Congress last June, Josh Lerner, a Harvard Business School professor, summed up the problem: “In the past two decades, the U.S. has strengthened patent rights, while weakening the standards for granting patents.” The result is that the patent system is fast becoming a detriment to U.S. competitiveness, not to mention basic fairness. So if your BlackBerry ever does go dark, don’t curse the company. Blame the lawyers.

Update: the article is attracting considerable controversy among patent law bloggers. Dennis Crouch has a summary and links.

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