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Campaigning for patent reform

Posted: 10 Feb 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:reform patent PTO?

Vital role
There's little doubt patents play an increasingly important role as coin of the realm in global business. Even the relatively conservative IEEE is floating a plan to set up a handful of patent pools to make it easier for companies to adopt its communications standards.

For example, OEMs need to sign tens of licensing agreements to clear the rights needed to make a cellphone, an IEEE representative explained. That fact is spawning a growing number of new companies inventing fresh business models for how to efficiently conduct trade in intellectual property.

"I would challenge anyone to dramatically improve [the patent system]," said John Amster, CEO of RPX Corp., one of the newest of the patent licensing startups. "There will be change because there always is, but none of it will be dramatic and sweeping as some people might hope."

The PTO has been hiring as many as 1,200 examiners a year, but losing as many as 600 annually. (Click to view full image.)

Nevertheless, "patent reform is critical," said Q. Todd Dickinson, executive director of the American Intellectual Property Law Association. "We're at an inflection point in how the patent system is delivering on its promise," said Dickinson who led the patent office under the Clinton administration and is one of several candidates for the job in the Obama administration.

While the conflicting industry claims play out, consensus about how to address the issues seems to be emerging from top thinkers in the field. The courts have handled many of the major issues with recent decisions that need to settle out, they say. Congress may be able to play a small role, attacking a handful of issues the courts have not addressed.

But most of the attention, according to a handful of intellectual property experts, needs to be focused on what one judge referred to as "the practically-dysfunctional PTO."

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