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Patent Politics

Just a quick note on today’s WSJ piece on patent reform.  I thought their coverage of KSR v. Teleflex very good, and today’s piece on “Patent Reform’s Battle Royale” gives a good sense of the complexity of the issues on the legislative agenda:

Drug makers have jealously guarded their technology against challenges by Congress and the courts, arguing that their patents make up the bulk of their real assets, and that any weakening of patent protections would discourage expensive research into next-generation cures.

Critics, however, have pushed long and hard for an overhaul of the system, which still follows the basic framework of the Patent Act of 1952, enacted well before the computer age sparked a whole new level — and style — of innovation. But the issues involved in the debate are complex, and Congress until recently had left it largely to the courts to sort them out.

I just find it strange that we have to have the same set of rules for drugs, where one patent may be the basis of a multi-billion-dollar product, and electronics, where devices may need to include thousands of different patents.  Talk about uniformity costs! 

By the way, a prescient take on the current debate, Ben Klemens’s Math You Can’t Use, can be found here.  Here’s one of his insights:

[W]hile patent laws are intended to apply to physical machines, software is something quite different. Software is not just another machine, and it is not Hamlet with numbers. It is a functional hybrid that can be duplicated at no cost, it is legible by computers in some forms and by humans in others, and it has a unique mathematical structure. All of these facts have to be taken into consideration in designing an appropriate intellectual property regime.

This is a very readable book, and I’m glad to see Brookings’ innovation shop is focusing on these issues.