I was on a panel on that topic at the MIT Emerging Technologies Conference today. The panel was nicely balanced with multiple perspectives from large and small companies, the EFF, investors, lawyers and the press. The audience asked great questions. I have gotten several emails about two references to other people’s work I made.
The first person I mentioned was Ronald Coase, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1991. Anyone who cares to understand issues around patent rights should read his 1960 paper “The Problem of Social Cost”. It’s every bit as relevant today as it was then. Coase’s work grew from research on how spectrum rights should be assigned and is also the theoretical foundation of pollution rights/credits and other schemes for handling environmental externalities.
The second reference was to Jay Walker, founder of Walker Digital and Priceline. Yesterday, Jay said that “a patent is a bargain between [some] individuals and society where the individuals get some rights in exchange for teaching society something”. This is a great, simple way to look at patents. Using that frame, my definition of a bad patent is one where the rights granted are disproportionate to the teaching delivered. An example would be a patent of something obvious, e.g., the famous method for swinging on a swing, or a patent that was granted with too broad claims.