Fact-checking US patent-boss's defense of his job

This week, David Kappos, head of the US Patent and Trademark Office, gave a speech at the Center for American Progress where he dismissed critics of the patent system, telling them to "give it a rest already." He insisted that his office was doing a great job, and was the center of American innovation, citing various stats to back up his claim.

On Ars Technica, Timothy Lee does a masterful job of fact-checking the patent boss's claims, driving a Mack truck through the logical flaws in his argument:

"Our patent system is the envy of the world," Kappos said. In his view, the key question in the patent debate is "do we demand today's innovation on the cheap via a weaker patent system that excludes subject matter, or do we moderate today's consumption with a strong patent system so our children enjoy greater innovations?"

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.

More recent research has estimated that litigation by patent trolls costs the economy at least $29 billion per year, and that figure may be as high as $83 billion.

US patent chief to software patent critics: "Give it a rest already"


  1. Please note, he has a law degree so in his mind the system is working perfectly keeping lawyers employed.

    1. That’s been my take on the patent system for a long time. Its purpose is to keep patent lawyers employed.

      My name is on a couple patents, but I haven’t made a dime from them. In each case, someone I know spent several thousand dollars to lawyers to file the patents.

        1. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kappos would reply that: without the burden of fire, innovators would be incentivized to create sustainable fusion!  And once that’s patented, innovators would then move on to matter-antimatter annihilation powered heating systems.

          I have no idea what comes after that though.  Maybe extracting energy out of the CMB, much like a dried up raisin of a person chewing on a dry sponge in the desert.

        2. Well, fire is not a machine, and it’s energy, so it’s not a composition of matter.

          I suppose you could argue it’s an article of manufacture, but that’s iffy since fire can also occur naturally from lightning and volcanoes and so forth.

          Your best bet is to patent the methods of setting fires. So rubbing two sticks together, that’s a patent. Electrical sparks, that’s a patent. Etc., etc.

          1. Can’t we just run the electricity through this idiot and get someone in charge who will end the madness?

    2. Quoth the article:

      “Indeed, Kappos suggested that the volume of patent litigation in the smartphone industry was a sign that the patent system was working as intended. “The explosion of litigation we are seeing is a reflection of how the patent system wires us for innovation,” Kappos said. “It’s natural and reasonable that innovators would seek to protect their breakthroughs using the patent system.””

      So yes, he does seem to see it that way.

      Next: Why war among the nobility, mostly killing peasants, means feudalism is working for everyone!

      1. Rounded rectangles a breakthrough…  he needs to be taken out and beaten for saying this with a straight face.

    1. Someone gave him the job and keeps him there. Basically if it hasn’t been patented allow it and let the courts sort it out woohoo.

  2. Time to give David Kappos a rest and retire the rest of the patent office bozos who can’t see prior art if it slaps them in the face.

  3. “Our patent system is the envy of the world,”
    I like that in the US everything is the best, greatest, highest, fastest thing in the world … or thats what most USians like to tell us “foreigners”. They like to tell you AND themselves that they have the most freedom, the best justice system, health care, largest hamburger etc. even when it’s evidently not true (just a few examples regarding freedom and justice: torture, drone kills, detention without trial, spying on citizens, death penalty etc.). 
    Is this some sort of mass delusion? Propanda? Ignorance? Do they really believe such phrases like “envy of the world”? This baffles me every time I read such utterances.

  4. Patents are elitist and expensive — the opposite of what they should be. They are supposed to protect an inventor from the economic power of larger companies. You should be allowed to create a great invention and profit from it, regardless of the depth of your pocket. But the whole process is actually expensive, and trully protecting your invention requires filings all over the world. How to create a system where a true innovation can be patented at a reasonable cost, while at the same time avoiding the patent of the “swing”?

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