Thursday, April 12, 2012

Importance of U.S. Patents: Evolving Views?

The Commerce Department released an economic report:  Intellectual Property and the US Economy: Industries in Focus in March 2012. A related USPTO news release says the report indicates that industries with intensive intellectual property (IP) contributed 40 Million Jobs and $5 trillion to the US Economy. Patent scholar Harold Wegner states it shows the importance of patents in creating jobs in the USA.

Harold Wegner states it is interesting to see the evolution of PTO Chief Economist Stuart Graham's thinking from the recent report to what he wrote in 2010: The Commerce Department White Paper (Patent Reform) and the High Technology Entrepreneurs and the Patent System: Results of the 2008 Berkeley Survey (Berkeley Patent Study).

More than an evolution Professor Rai's views influenced Mr. Graham in Patent Reform. Professor Rai is an eloquent writer who tends to influence others views. If you read Patent Reform it is classic Professor Rai setting forth these are our problems with the US patent system (e..g, application backlog), and here's how patent reform will fix them (e.g., grant PTO fee making authority).

UC Berkeley law professors Merges and Samuelson also influenced Mr. Graham in the Berkeley Patent Study. While Professor Merges does have an above the fray approach, Professor Samuelson has written negatively about software patents over the years. A large tech executive survey that indicated software patents are not that important would tend to influence all of the author's views.

As a patent attorney working with software and tech companies, the Berkeley Patent Study didn't greatly influence my thinking. Sure it was interesting hearing what tech executives think. But as Larry Ellison has pointed out in business "following a group" will not make you rich. The Berkeley paper did not prove software patents are not that important; it merely indicated some thought them not so important in 2008. And it didn't prove the group's thinking was right. It certainly offered no insight how a company can deal with the patents in the IT industry. If anything the Berkeley Patent Study lulled some into thinking software patents are not that important before the mobile patent war started in earnest. I guess when you don't have many patents it's easier to say they aren't so important.

Copyright © 2012 Robert Moll. All rights reserved.