The Broken Patent System

The patent system has been in discussion throughout this year, and just last week the Senate announced a bipartisan proposal to reform the patent system ( Downes).  This new proposal is aimed at making life more difficult for abusive lawsuits by so-called patent trolls.  Many companies are now being referred to as “patent trolls” — companies that stockpile patents, then use them to get money out of other companies rather than actually make things with them (Peterson). These trolls are not just causing problems to big companies like Samsung, but are also filing lawsuits against innovators with small capital.  Many of the patents that are being questioned at the moment are so called Design patents unlike the Utility patent which describes the actual uses of a product, unlike the Design patent which describes the ornamental features (Downes). This is part of the problem that too many Design patents are being issued, these patent trolls sometimes collect patents for years and wait until a company creates a product to then step in and claim patent infringement. Many innovators hope that this new innovation act will pass because it will not only place restrictions on patent approvals, but also “reduce the drag on the U.S. economy, which the Consumer Electronics Association, pegs at $1.5 billion a week” (Downes).

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Current Samsung Logo

However, its not just the patent trolls who are taking advantage at the broken system, major companies like Samsung and Apple have also filed for patent infringement against one another. With Apple claiming they have Design patents for things such as “obvious features as the rectangular shape, rounded corners, translucent screen, and colorful icons of Apple’s devices” ( Downes). What seems more ridiculous is the amounts that Apple is demanding from the infringement, such as the entire profit Samsung made by selling some of the smart phones and tablets with such designs.

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Current Apple Logo

A preeminent patent scholar, rejects Apple’s approach and in a brief signed by Stanford law professor Mark Lemly, and nearly 30 other scholars, the authors note that as many as 250,000 active patents cover various aspects of today’s complex devices. Attributing all of their value to their rectangular shape, the brief argues, follows neither the law nor common sense.  “People don’t buy iPhones simply because they look cool; they buy them because they function” (Downes).

This section of the article was the section that many people could agree on, especially the Senate who need to change the way the system works. Just like Lemley claims, people do not buy products just based off looks, but how the product functions which can be said for all products. The problem with many cases that Design patents cause is an issue of Asymmetric information, but sometimes innovators who are actually creating this working product, don’t know that someone else has a patent on the idea they have decided to actually produce. The problem is not necessarily that Design patents exist it’s that the people who are buying these patents are using them against other companies to make a profit, instead of actually going through the process to establish a functioning product.

Works Cited

“Apple”. August 27, 1999. Archived from the original on August 27, 1999. Retrieved January 1, 2014.Web. 04 May 2015.

Downes, Larry. “Everyone Hates Patent Trolls, but Here’s the Root Problem with Our Broken System.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 4 May 2015. Web. 04 May 2015

Peterson, Andrea. “Is 2015 the Year Congress Finally Takes on Patent Trolls?”Washington Post. The Washington Post, 29 Apr. 2015. Web. 04 May 2015. <;.

“Samsung 1993”. (2007-05-19). Retrieved on 2013-03-19. Web. 04 May 2015.


2 thoughts on “The Broken Patent System

  1. I really like your article, and the phrase “patent troll” just gives me a laugh every time. It’s not surprising to me that companies are trying to exploit patents and seek loopholes in order to use them to their advantage. This reminds me of another article that I read recently about the pharmaceutical industry, and I believe it came up in class discussion as well. Often times pharmaceutical companies will patent chemical compositions they discover simply to have the rights and royalties if those compounds become useful. While this may make sense if a compound shows potential, it also appears rather slimy and conniving that these companies are doing this left and right. I hope that companies will be penalized for abusing patents, because they are a valuable policy in our economy.


  2. Is the American Dream dead?!?! This whole patent deal could have a profound effect on it. It sounds like this is a terrible time to be an inventor. Anything you come up with could theoretically already be patented by some company that is just holding its rights until you come along to sue you. That seems incredibly unfair. Do patents expire? I just wonder if there could be some rules and regulations to owning a patent. Like for instance, the company must use it within 2 months of receiving it. There needs to be some way to eliminate this whole “Patent troll” epedemic.
    I also think that it is ridiculous that companies are going to start suing over such small things in design. Like whether a corner is rounded or rectangular? That is just going to far. They didn’t invent the rectangle so why should they be able to own its rights?


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