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The patent system is due for drastic change

30 Nov 2012

Patents on electronic innovations is a relatively new game but the current patent system needs to start adapting to the changing times. It needs faster patent approval times, shorter patent control periods, and to begin examining how technology has changed how we view innovation.

A major issue in the world of patents is that software gets treated just like hardware. But an algorithm is not a flying machine. Software innovation moves excessively fast and works completely differently to hardware.

To offer innovators in today's climate a chance to patent their wares effectively, the system needs to reduce the time it takes to receive a patent.

As an example of the painful wait times experienced in the current patent system, take Google's search algorithm, one of the most influential patents of the last 20 years.

Google co-founder Larry Page created PageRank as an algorithm for ranking items on the internet. He later used that patent to create Google search and the rest is history.

Page petitioned to get his algorithm patented in 1999 but didn't receive his patent until 2001. Two years in the software industry is a lifetime. During those years Google could have crumbled while waiting for the red tape to clear at a patent office.

Luckily for US innovators, change recently came in the way of the America Invents Act. The Act was passed last year to reduce patent approval time to less than 12 months. Unfortunately, it only helps US innovators.

European inventors are still stuck in bureaucratic malaise. By the UK patent office's own admission getting a patent can take as long as four years.

If it's not the speed at which a patent gets issued, it's how long they get issued for. Software can still be patented for up to 20 years. Such lifespans have potential to create chaos for patents awarded to innovations that become commonplace in their field.

Take, for example, the slide-to-unlock patent that Apple has been fighting to guard for the last two years. Apple was awarded that patent in 2010. The company now owns that patent and can uses it to unleash "thermonuclear war" on its competitors for 20 years.

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James Dohnert

James is a freelance writer and editor. In addition to ClickZ, his work has appeared in publications like V3, The Commonwealth Club,, and Shonen Jump magazine. He studied Journalism at Weber State University.

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