Bonum Certa Men Certa

Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) Sees Decline in Patent Applications and It May Actually be a Good Thing

Whenever you apply for a dubious patent a kitten (or teddy bear) dies

Canadian teddy bears



Summary: Challenging the false belief that the more patents society has the better off it will be, citing examples and news from north America

PATENT maximalism is a mindset if not a cult, promoted and spread mostly by those who profit from patent bureaucracy without creating anything (they don't risk getting sued themselves). We often emphasise that in order for patent systems to maintain legitimacy (corporate and public support) they must ensure that patent quality is preserved (or attained/restored when lost). The interests of the wider public, or the externality, must be taken into account when defining boundaries for patents (patentability criteria). The same goes for copyrights and suffice to say copyright reformers now enjoy public support, which is why political parties like the Pirate Party almost gained control of Iceland last month.



"What is your take-away?"

That's what a patent maximalist asked at the start of this month when he presented a new graph of his, showing "Provisional Patent Application Filings". I responded by saying that "getting utility patents in the US is getting easier, as quality in this domain is reduced..."

An increase in the number of patents should never be considered good news (good luck explaining this to a lunatic like Battistelli!)... unless these patents are somehow truly indicative of increase in innovation. Otherwise these may simply be indicative of declining quality control (or broadened scope/domains). The same goes for examination in schools and colleges; it's often said here in Britain that if more students pass or excel at exams (with average grades going up), then it simply means that the exams got too easy/predictable and thus a poor/inadequate measure/yardstick of skills, intelligence, etc. (incapable of distinguishing good students from lesser good students).

According to this new report from MIP, "2016 Canada IP Report reveals fall in patent applications". Here is the gist of it:

2016 Canada IP Report reveals fall in patent applications



A report co-authored by CIPO reveals statistics on patent and trade mark filing and granting in Canada since 2016

The Canadian IP system remains strong and that trends of the past several years mostly continued into 2015, according to a report released by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO).

The 2016 Canada IP Report provides filing data and analysis of Canadian IP rights domestically and abroad. It focuses on comparisons of last year’s statistics to those since 2006.


Is that really a bad thing?

Maybe there are alternative paradigms for interpreting this data. Later on (probably this weekend) we shall show what a mess the Chinese patent system is becoming due to SIPO's terrible policy (we've already alluded to this in our previous post).

The patent maximalist now conveniently conflates patents with "property" ("Patent Law vs Property Law" -- along the lines of the misleading term "Intellectual Property"), as if the more you have of it, the better. Pieces of paper that can be photocopied or whatever are hardly equivalent or equitable w.r.t. physical things. Moreover, with software patents, many of these papers describe things that are not physical, either. This kind of lunacy which is calling patents "property" needs to end in order to us to recognise what patents really are: a temporary, government-granted monopoly, given in exchange for publication (or dissemination) of ideas. I am not against patents, but I recognise their limitations and I believe that patents need to be few and defensible (in the broader societal interest/context).

Consider this new paper from a patent reformer/ist, Professor Mark A. Lemley. Watch what happens when patent maximalism goes out of hand. "Inventor Sued for Infringing His Own Patent. You Won't Believe What Happened Next" is the title of the paper and here is the abstract (with our emphasis added):



The Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit have repeatedly emphasized the public interest in testing the validity of patents, weeding out patents that should not have been issued. But there is one important group of people the law systematically prevents from challenging bad patents. Curiously, it is the very group patent law is supposed to support: inventors themselves. The century-old doctrine of assignor estoppel precludes inventors who file patent applications from later challenging the validity or enforceability of the patents they receive. The stated rationale for assignor estoppel is that it would be unfair to allow the inventor to benefit from obtaining a patent and later change her tune and attack the patent when it benefits her to do so. The Supreme Court has traditionally disfavored the doctrine, reading it narrowly. But the Federal Circuit has expanded the doctrine in a variety of dimensions, and applied it even when the benefit to the inventor is illusory. Further, the doctrine misunderstands the role of inventor-employees in the modern world.

More important, the expansive modern form of assignor estoppel interferes substantially with employee mobility. Inventors as a class are put under burdens that we apply to no other employee. If they start a company, or even go to work for an existing company in the same field, they will not be able to defend a patent suit from their old employer. The result is a sort of partial noncompete clause, one imposed without even the fiction of agreement and one that binds anyone the inventor comes in contact with after leaving the job. Abundant evidence suggests that noncompetes in general retard innovation and economic growth, and several states prohibit them outright, while all others limit them. But assignor estoppel is a federal law doctrine that overrides those state choices.

It is time to rethink the doctrine of assignor estoppel. I describe the doctrine, its rationale, and how it has expanded dramatically in the past 25 years. I argue that the doctrine is out of touch with the realities of both modern inventing and modern patent law, and that it interferes with both the invalidation of bad patents and the goal of employee mobility. Should the Supreme Court take up the doctrine, it is unlikely to survive in its current form. Rather, it should – and will – return to its much more limited roots.


Stop patent maximalism at the EPO, the USPTO, and everywhere else. It has become an impediment to progress (or "innovation" -- being the more popular buzzword among law firms) and thus antithetical to the whole basis of patent systems.

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