A Change in U.S. Patent Direction?

The Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, James Rogan, is stepping down. This news was greeted positively in many quarters, including by some folks over at Marketing Wonk who had this to say:

    His two-year tenure marked a high-point in patent office whimsy, allowing for many process patents that enabled Internet companies and others to legally prevent other people from using what many would consider obvious non-innovations. In stepping down, he said he would like to work on his autobiography (may we suggest “I Can’t Believe They Granted It”), which will surely be available via one-click shopping at, well, just at Amazon.com.

A growing number of corporate and government officials is warning that the U.S. patent system is broken, threatening to stunt technological innovation. They claim that the Patent Office is approving overly broad patents for software and Internet technologies, jeopardizing the viability of the Internet. MSNBC writes this:

    Critics hope that the impending departure of [patent office] Director James E. Rogan…might lead to consideration of a new approach.

    Overall, the number of patents has nearly doubled since 1990, fueled in large measure by the high-tech boom. The patent office now has a backlog of 450,000 applications pending for all types of inventions; software and Internet-related patents account for more than 15 percent of all patents granted. In recent months, several of those patents have spawned court disputes, involving such high-profile technology as Microsoft Corp.’s Internet browser, the BlackBerry e-mail device, and eBay Inc.’s online shopping system.

    In a lengthy report released in October, the Federal Trade Commission bluntly questioned the rapid proliferation of patents, especially those covering high-technology advances.

Overly broad patents hurt businesses of all sizes, especially small businesses. Overly broad patents increase the costs of doing business and impede online commerce. Small businesses are forced into added expense when they (a) have to change technologies upon discovering that a technology is subject to a patent, or (b) are forced to pay royalties — even if they and millions of others have been using the technology for years.

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Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

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