In order to usher the patent system "into the 21st Century", Deputy General Counsel for Microsoft Horacio Gutierrez believes that "global patent harmonization" must happen. In a recent CNET article Andrew Donoghue lists a number of opponents to Microsoft's ever-growing patent power. The Redmond giant has been widely criticized for anti-competitive tactics and has been investigated in a number of antitrust cases. Unsurprisingly, Gutierrez's statements for standardized patent applications and processing have struck a chord with free culture supporters.

In anticipation of WIPO's September IP Symposium Gutierrez writes, "By facing the challenges, realizing a vision, overcoming political barriers, and removing procedural obstacles we can build a global patent system that will promote innovation, enrich public knowledge, encourage competition and drive economic growth and employment. " Contrary to this statement of patent utopia many believe that patents stifle innovation.

On Competition and Procedural Obstacles

Years ago Lawrence Lessig wrote, "A patent is a form of regulation. It is a government-granted monopoly - an exclusive right backed by the power of the state...A government employee decides whether an idea is novel, useful and nonobvious [then] guarantees the inventor an exclusive right to the idea for 20 years." Meanwhile, antitrust law is the state's effort to prohibit monopolies and anti-competitive actions. So would we see a universal patent process simply negate antitrust law? Or would we see an increase in political jockeying and legal action in the not-so-distant future?

Of course, these questions are only valid to a potential market leader like Microsoft - a company with the manpower, resources and intention to actually develop its ideas.

On Innovation and Employment

As I write this article, thousands of patent trolls scan technology blogs and computer science papers in the hopes of licensing their next jackpot. These people have no intention of furthering innovation or improving the economy. While it's unethical to license the inevitable, it's entirely legal. In many cases, patents are no longer considered a self-defense mechanism, but rather a business model. While it might create incentive for actual innovators, global patent standardization would also make it easier for patent trolls to sue for universal damages (damages that had never actually been incurred). The debate as to whether or not patents help or hinder innovation is an old one. It'll be interesting to see what cases are made at WIPO's upcoming symposium.


Next Steps: WIPO Symposium


WIPO's Symposium to Address Operational Deficiencies in Global IP Systems will set a precedent for a wide range of IP issues. Access to music, movies, art, inventions and processes will be affected regardless of whether or not a global patent standard is entertained. For more information on the event, visit the WIPO program page.