Our anonymous blogger reflects on the development of the patent system, and wonders whether it’s still fit for purpose
I was recently talking to a friend of mine, a Mr T M and (being one of the few in our profession to know my true identity) he said “I know what you can write a piece about!” He then suggested that the patent system as we know it is no longer fit for purpose, laying out how he agreed with Tesla’s views on such matters. As we discussed it I have to say that I could not help but lean towards his point of view. Please note that for the sake of this short informal piece I am going to include all forms of IP protection within the catch-all title of “patent.”
Diving into the “I think its correct but can’t guarantee it” world of on-line research I can tell you that the patenting system was set up in 1450 in Venice with a major evolution taking place in the 1790’s. This continued through the industrial revolution and then essentially stabilised into what we have today. Although I am enamoured of the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” school of philosophy I do wonder if something set up so long ago in such a dynamic area of human endeavour can ever remain relevant? China, as with a lot of things, leads the way to shining a light on the failings. Firstly there is the core intent of protection. One need only look to the Chinese manufactured Land Wind to see that a level playing field across the globe is still nowhere near being established and, without this, the protection provided by patents is incomplete to say the least. For those who don’t know, the Land Wind is a car whose design is inspired by the Range Rover Evoque – as in “inspired to the point where one wonders if the body panels are interchangeable?” Secondly Chinese companies are speculatively creating new ideas and patenting them. To patent an idea to deny your competition the chance of using it is nothing new but as far as I’m aware this is the first time that it is being done as a focussed stand alone activity. You have to admire the foresight to pursue such a strategy; who knows, it could even be used as a secondary revenue stream.
Given the number of patents that have been issued and the points above the question must be “is the patent system fit for purpose, relevant and sustainable?” If the answer to any of these is “no” then should the system be adapted or even dissolved? To keep clinging on for the sake of it under such conditions would surely only hamper those who abide by it to the advantage of those who don’t.