The Patent Office Lies

(via Boing Boing) So apparently the guy in charge of the Patent office, thinks he's doing an awesome job.  He recently gave a speech defending the policies of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, arguing among other things that the ridiculous amount of patent litigation going on at the moment is evidence that patents are working -- that it's good that they spark so many lawsuits, because it means companies care about defending their patents.

Ars Technica tears this argument apart:

This argument ducks the central question in the software patent debate: do patents, in fact, provide a net incentive for innovation in the software industry? Many entrepreneurs say that just the opposite is true: that the disincentive to innovation created by the threat of patent litigation dwarfs any positive incentive effects created by the ability for a firm to get patents of its own.

Empirical evidence backs this up. For example, in a 2008 book, the researchers James Bessen and Michael Meurer found that for nonchemical patents, the costs of patent litigation began to exceed the benefits of holding patents in the 1990s. Software and business patents were particularly prone to litigation.

Earlier in their article, Ars quotes David Kappos, the aforementioned boss, saying "Our patent system is the envy of the world."  Which isn't true.  And it's symptomatic of the problems all over America right now -- we're not the worst country.  But we're not the best, and we're slipping further and further behind in every category trying to hang onto the belief that we're #1.

America is great at pioneering -- we had one of the first post-industrial economies.  We invented the assembly line.  We invented the nuke.  We invented the internet.  We're awesome at that stuff.  But we're really, really bad at being the best at stuff after it catches on everywhere else.  The rest of the world takes our ideas and improves and perfects them, and we rest on the laurels of whatever thing we last invented.