Book Review: Innovation and Its Discontents : How Our Broken Patent System is Endangering Innovation and Progress, and What to Do About It by Adam B. Jaffe, Josh Lerner
This book presents a clear, concise and convincing argument that subtle changes in U.S. laws starting in 1982 have broken a patent system that was working reasonably well until then. It will be more effective at convincing the average person than most other attempts have been, both because of its style and because it shows that the changes which broke the system shouldn’t have been expected to help anyone other than patent lawyers. Their analysis will be useful in helping to avoid the takeover of other agencies by special interests.
Their description of how the system should be fixed is less impressive. Their summary of proposed changes strangely fails to include undoing the change in appeals court jurisdiction which they suggest was a primary cause of the problems. Their argument in favor of patenting software, business practices, etc. is more radical than they seem to realize, as it appears to imply that patents should also be extended to mathematical theorems, yet they act as if the burden of proof should be on their critics.
It is hard to believe their proposals go far enough. One suggestion I have is that, in return for higher salaries, patent examiners should be unable to work as patent lawyers for a year or two after leaving their job. This would reduce the number of examiners who can expect to be rewarded for patents that create disputes.
Their confidence that a traditional patent system is better than no patents is unconvincing (but they do a good job of explaining why it is hard to know what the best system is). They support their position by a few examples such as Xerox, whose copier wouldn’t have been invented as it was without patent protection. But it’s much harder than they imply to determine that a copier wouldn’t have been invented some other way a few years later.