Jonathon Krim explores some of the problems with patents and the US Patent Office in this long Washington Post article.
Regular readers already know that I take a very dim view of some of the patents being approved. For instance, see here, here and here.
Krim tells us that
Patents are granted for inventions deemed unique, useful and non-obvious, and the system has periodically yielded curious inventions, such as a diaper for pet birds.
There are some types of patents that have only sprung up in the last 20-30 years:
Software patents, for instance, can protect a single line of code that tells a computer to do a specific task.
Internet method patents, meanwhile, allow companies to protect broad ways of doing business on the Internet, rather than a specific product or its underlying technology. These controversial patents include Amazon.com’s method of “one-click” shopping and the use of online shopping carts.
Most of these types of patents should never have been issued.
Apparently the Patent Office has a huge backlog of applications and argues that they need more money and more staff to get them processed. There is an easy way to reduce the flow of applications and thus get a handle on the backlog: simply stop issuing these types of patents.