“Pity the poor folks over at the U.S. Patent and Trademark
Office. Over the past year, this once — respected government
agency has grown increasingly incompetent, pushing the U.S.
intellectual property system into a major crisis even as the people
responsible continue to deny that there’s a problem.
The patent crisis has played out in two ways. Some companies
have filed patents for ill-defined, impossibly broad business
processes, such as Amazon’s ‘one-click’ e-commerce option and
Priceline’s ‘name your price’ business model. Others, such as
Microsoft and Intermind, have filed patents in areas such as Web
style sheets and online privacy standards, in spite of clear
evidence that their patents are based on existing technology.
All too often, Web standards are getting caught in the legal
crossfire – most companies can’t afford the cost of a
successful court battle, much less a losing one. As a result,
the companies behind these patents often win through
intimidation what they wouldn’t win in a fair trial.
Unfortunately, the problem will probably get worse before it
gets better. The USPTO has spent a lot of time denying the problem
and not enough time scrutinizing its inadequate evaluation