Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying “The Patent system adds the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.” It was the intent of the American Patent system to provide protection for the inventor to profit from his invention. In the 200 years that the US Patent Office has been operating the basic intent has not changed, even if many of the legal details have.
Elon Musk has been quoted as saying that owning an issued Patent is like owning “a lottery ticket to a lawsuit”. This is quite a statement. The fact is that in order for an inventor to protect a Patent, he has to sue anyone that infringes it. This is an expensive and time consuming task.
Depending on the legal system to defend a Patent brings the inevitable imbalance that the party with the most money has the advantage. If you can’t afford the cost of a lawsuit, it might not be prudent to spend the money on a Patent. This is a sad truth to consider and does not represent the intent of the Patent system.
As technology progresses and man’s creative gifts are applied to solving a wider variety of problems, the expertise necessary to evaluate any new Patent filing is becoming more and more difficult. Combined with the need to be able to research applications all over the world, demonstrating prior art is not a small task. This puts gigantic pressure on the examiners in the Patent office to get it right the first time.
Patenting through a law firm that specializes in intellectual property is an expensive proposition, so few people file frivolous applications. Unfortunately the legal expertise is sometimes lacking the technical expertise required in given area of technology. Most IP firms engage attorneys with background in both Patent law and the technology. Few, however, are subject matter experts.
The fact is that there are numerous Patents issued that have little value and are never pursued. There are Patents that have claims granted that are spurious, and should be revoked. There are Patent owners who use their IP as a weapon to compete unfairly and threaten lawsuits to companies that may be customers or suppliers based on perceived infringement.
It is crucial to understand where Patents apply and in these days, where they don’t apply. When conflicts arise we use the legal system to work out problems, but it’s very cumbersome and expensive.
We need to come together as men of good will.