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CONTACT: Patrick Ross
March 10, 2005
(202) 289-8928
U.S. Patent System Needs Reform
DeLong Says Bad Patents Don't Justify System's Destruction

WASHINGTON D.C. - Patents -- including software patents -- are vital to technological innovation and economic progress, said Progress & Freedom Foundation Senior Fellow James DeLong, speaking at a patent forum hosted by the American Enterprise Institute.

"However," he added, "it is precisely our dedication to property rights and markets that leads us to support current efforts at patent reform, efforts designed to weed out unjustified grants. The historic criteria of patentability are fine, but their application seems to have become a bit lax, and needs to be sharpened."

DeLong and his fellow panelists reacted to comments by Brad Smith, Microsoft's Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary; who leads the company's Department of Law and Corporate Affairs. DeLong agreed with Smith's point that the U.S. must get its own patent house in order to promote innovation and offer robust yet balanced protections that are equally available to all innovators, regardless of nationality, size or financial resources. He also strongly seconded Smith's point that uncertainty and ambiguity in the patent system are particularly burdensome for small inventors, who don't have Microsoft-sized legal departments.

Patents can work well in an environment in which numerous high-tech companies must both cooperate and compete with each other, DeLong said. "People fear that a patent will give its holder monopoly power to set high prices or discriminate against competitors," he said. "But some very creative things are taking place in this space, with companies and licensing organizations developing the idea of 'reasonable and non discriminatory' ( RAND ) terms to prevent any abuses."

"It is," he added, "a wonderful example of bottom-up institution building by the business community. It reminds me of the way the pioneers of the 19th century developed new institutions of property rights to meet their needs."

There is growing support for reforms in the U.S. patent system, including within the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, and PFF looks forward to being part of that debate.

Patent reform, standard-setting and interoperability were key themes of PFF's First Annual Digital Europe. DeLong was one of several PFF fellows participating in panels and speeches in Milan and Brussels on what are important topics of scholarship for The Progress & Freedom Foundation.

The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.



The Progress & Freedom Foundation