The Patent Office Professionals Association is reporting that "an international coalition of patent examiners' unions — including representatives from the U.S., Europe, Canada, Germany, and Austria — signed and delivered a joint letter … urging serious measures to maintain meaningful protection of intellectual property."
We saw this letter a few days ago, and it's part of a growing cry for help from the patent examiners as the patent system collapses under a flood of junk patent applications.
The law firm of Pinsent Masons, usually a strong pro-software patent advocate, also discusses the open letter, and highlights these gems from the letter:
- "… poor-quality patents can become a hindrance to, rather than a stimulus of, innovation and economic growth"
- "… unless serious measures are taken, meaningful protection of intellectual property throughout the world may, itself, become history"
- "… a build up of outstanding applications and a focus by patent office managers on quantity, not quality, of examinations means that the whole system is in danger of suffering irreparable damage."
All of which should come as no surprise to any objective observer of the system. At the IPSummit in Brussels last year, I said exactly the same thing, and was gently mocked by some patent practitioners.
The patent system will explode for a very simple reason: software patents, combined with the greying of West's industries. The collapse of product-driven innovation makes US and European big industry desperate to turn their temporary lead in some areas into a longer-term hegemony. Ok, so we can't make our own products any more, but we can damn sure tax those Chinese on every product they make for the next twenty years.
Software patents are that tool, and the patent offices have been the compliant partners in hacking the patent system to allow these.
And having opened Pandora's box, there is no way to close it without radical changes. There is no quality filter that will stop the explosion in software patents. "Quality" is a buzzword but it'll become a curse in a year or two, as the backlog of patents continues to grow without respite. it's not just bad-quality patents that are spamming the EPO and other patent offices. Even good software patents (given any conceivable definiton of 'good' that the patent offices can define) are so numerous and complex that they will snarl the system to death.
It now takes 7-8 years to get an EPO patent examined. When the backlog hits the symbolic 10 year mark, things are going to get really crazy.
The only fix to the patent system's woes is a global ban software patents, and if policy makers still need some form of reward for documentation and publication of engineers' secrets, something like the Ethical Patent.
As the Campaign for Ethical Patents put it: Less is more.