Richard Posner Calls for Patent Reform
Recently, while sitting as a trial judge, I dismissed a case in which Apple and Motorola had sued each other for alleged infringement of patents for components of smartphones. My decision undoubtedly will be appealed, and since the case is not yet over with it would be inappropriate for me to comment publicly on it.
But what I am free to discuss are the general problems posed by the structure and administration of our current patent laws, a system that warrants reconsideration by our public officials.
U.S. patent law confers a monopoly (in the sense of a right to exclude competitors), generally for 20 years, on an invention that is patented, provided the patent is valid -- that is, that it is genuinely novel, useful, and not obvious. Patents are granted by the Patent and Trademark Office and are presumed valid. But their validity can be challenged in court, normally by way of defense by a company sued by a patentee for patent infringement.
With some exceptions, U.S. patent law does not discriminate among types of inventions or particular industries. This is, or should be, the most controversial feature of that law. The reason is that the need for patent protection in order to provide incentives for innovation varies greatly across industries.