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Broad Patents: Balancing protection and the diffusion of knowledge.

Jim Ruttler, Patent Attorney

Posted Wednesday, December 30, 2009 by Jim Ruttler

The USPTO continues to confront the challenge of finding a balance between patent protection and diffusion of knowledge. Information and knowledge drive innovation; however, broad patent protection may limit access to those tools needed to guide novelty and improvement. The holder of a patent obtains exclusive rights to their own invention as well as other inventions which are found to be functionally equivalent. “Patents that are too broad allow their holders to “pre-empt the future”, while patents that are too narrow discourage research that feeds into follow-on inventions.” Increased globalization and the ability to diffuse information at a rapid pace via the Internet are prompting innovative companies and individuals to seek improved patent protection. The USTPO has responded to these needs over the past two decades by offering broader protection, especially in newer areas such as software and bio-technology. These broader “patent claims often cover far more than what the inventor actually discovered or invented.” Additionally, patent filing has become more flexible as a means to promote innovation. However, these changes have prompted some to question the quality of issued patents. Patent protection that is too broad or that protect inventions of limited novelty may be perceived as low-quality. These types of patents can be costly to society; “their proliferation not only swells the number of patents and patent applications that must be reviewed by potential innovators and patent offices, but also creates uncertainty about the validity and enforcement of patents more generally.” As technology continues to advance and new areas of patentability are discovered, the USPTO will face greater challengers with regards to balancing patent protection and innovation.

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/48/12/24508541.pdf

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