The USPTO now takes an average of 6 years to grant a patent (hat tip to Techmeme). In the long run, you’ll likely get your patent since almost anything is patentable these days, however outlandish it may be. But in the long run, we’re all dead, and six years is forever to a small innovator hoping the patent will protect it from some big interloper. OTOH, the asymmetrical nature of costs for plaintiffs (lower costs) versus defendants (very high costs) makes it easy to stop innovation dead in its tracks with a few overly broad patents in the hands of unscrupulous patent trolls.
Software patents should be abolished. They’ve gotten to be a travesty of what they pretend to be, and much as we might like to try to protect the “little guy” innovator, they do no good for that purpose at all. Largely, they fatten the pocketbooks of patent trolls and tax innovation to death. If not abolished, then at the very least they should be “use it or lose it.” If they’re not part of an ongoing business of some minimum scale (small enough for the little guy but large enough not to be abused), they go to the public domain. Given that it takes 6 years to get the silly patent in the first place, the minimum scale ought to be at least half a million dollars in revenue for the preceeding 12 months. If you can’t get it to half a million in revenue after 6 years, it’s dead, Jim.
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(Cross-posted @ SmoothSpan Blog)