Patents (and the State of the Union Address)

There has been a lot of bandwidth wasted (my update of the old “ink wasted”) in reaction to the State of the Union. But here is an interesting side comment worth highlighting. Over at the IAM Blog, Joff Wild takes the President to task for claiming that the US issues the most patent. Joff notes that China issues far many more patents, but there are unexamined design and utility patents.
Now here is where it gets interesting. Joff does on to say:

However, the numbers are not really that important. It would be a huge mistake for the Americans to think that they are and to try to gauge how they are doing based on such a misleading measure. Instead, what matters is that patents being granted enhance the competitive position of their owners, and/or help them raise finance, and/or build new products, and/or enable expansion, and so on. A patent is just a piece of paper until it enables the patentee to do something it would not otherwise have been able to do. If the patents being granted by an office are not enablers then that office is merely spending time and money on handing out worthless pieces of paper. [Emphasis added]

That part I’ve put in bold is especially important — and something we often forget. It is not that patent that has value — but what the patent helps you do. And to push the point even further, remember that a patent is not a right to do something — it is a right to stop others from doing something. And that is a right that can be abused when it does not “enhance the competitive position of their owners, and/or help them raise finance, and/or build new products, and/or enable expansion, and so on.”
So, as we talk about innovation policy — and its subset innovation metrics, let us please try to keep this fundamental point in mind. And thanks to Joff for reminding us.

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