Patents @ Public Policy Forum

Yesterday's blog by Michael Geist comments an article in Embassy Magazine about the recent PPF symposium, and the various government ministers and opposition critics comments on the copyright legislative process.

The article also touches upon patent law and paraphrases Michel Gerin of the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada, as saying we need to "promote awareness and clear up confusion among small and medium-sized businesses about the importance of intellectual property, especially around trademarks and patents. He said that without such protection, it is becoming increasingly difficult for companies to attract investors."

What he said is is of course on the surface quite true. It is a common sentiment which was also echoed by my own MP when she asked in Parliament why Canada was not granting more patents.

Any patent at all will help attract investors, even ridiculously bad patents. But bad patents which may be good for the company who owns it can be very very bad for the industry and the economy as a whole and it would be far better if people like Michel Gerin and Belinda Stronach instead focused on weeding out the bad patents which unjustifiably restrict competition and greatly harm industry.

I know this first hand, as until recently I worked for a company which has been restricted by these patents and has been pressured to get its own for defensive purposes.

These bad patents were granted in the United States and cover extremely obvious solutions. The result was that we could not sell our products there without making extreme marketing and technological changes affecting the marketability of our product. Also not having patents of our own, and knowingly infringing other patents made it very difficult for the company to attract investment. I was asked to write and submit my own patent for the iota of innovation that we added to the technology, thereby giving us a piece of IP real estate that we could use to bargain with. I had a very hard time doing this because of my strong moral objections to the entire process. In the end I did not, and I have since resigned.

It is true that patents attract money, and it does not matter the quality of the patent. But bad patents skew the marketplace and limit competition where it should not be limited. The result is very detrimental for industry and society. Fighting instead to improve the quality of the patent system will make it easier for small companies that cannot afford large patent portfolios to attract investment based on their true innovation.

Our government should view the highly dysfunctional US patent system as a trade barrier and rather than participate in a race to the bottom to make our system as completely dysfunctional as theirs, we should be applying to impose economic penalties on the Americans. I know our company might have had a real chance in the US market if not for their awful patent system.