Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Supreme Court Supports Innovation

WASHINGTON: The U.S. Supreme Court, in its most important patent ruling in years, has raised the bar for obtaining patents on new products that combine elements of pre-existing inventions.

If the combination results from nothing more than "ordinary innovation" and "does no more than yield predictable results," the court said Monday in a unanimous opinion, it is not entitled to the exclusive rights that patent protection conveys. "Were it otherwise," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the opinion, "patents might stifle, rather than promote, the progress of useful arts."

This ruling by the Supreme Court should start to put an end to the patent trolls who stifle innovation by accumumlating dubious patents and then litigating, or threatening to litigate, against anyone who even comes close to violating their "patent". These trolls are typified by companies like NTP which sued Research in Motion (maker of the Blackberry) and forced a $600 million settlement. In most of these cases the patent trolls merely add obvious enhancements to existing products and claim a new patent. This stifles innovation and slows development of new products.

Many libertarians are against patents in general, but I tend to think that granting patents in cases of truly novel inventions does stimulate the creative process. The patent period of 20 years may be too long, but there seems little doubt that the incentive of a monopoly for a granted patent has produced positive results. How many would take the risks of invention if as soon as it is produced, others could just replicate the product? Then all products become merely a matter of becoming the most efficient producer.

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