re: Apple-Samsung Case Hurts You, Me, The Economy
"It's easy to claim ownership for real property. Not so much when it involves an abstract idea or invention. It's especially tricky when it comes to software. For one thing, the U.S. Patent Office has shown a penchant for approving patents with vague and sweeping claims--doozies like "information manufacturing machinery" and "commodities on a network."
You can't blame entirely the patent office for this. Instead, you'll have to heap plenty of blame on lawmakers who wrote the laws and the courts who interpreted them. The patent office can only work with the tools its given.
For instance, the PTO used to reject most software claims under 35 USC 101. However, a controversial federal circuit ruling, State Street v. Signature Financial Group opened the door to many questionable patents including business method patents. The supreme court further had a chance to reign in software or abstract method patents with cases such as Bilski v. Kappos and Mayo v. Prometheus, but only expanded the power of 35 USC 101 slightly. Lawmakers had a chance to rein it in with the American Invents Act (patent reform act) of 2011, but didn't. If the courts tell the office that they cannot reject these patents based on current law, there's nothing the office can do but allow them.
"Vague" patents are another example of this. The patent office is given one tool: 35 U.S.C. 112, to reject claims based on definitiveness. However, the courts have also reigned in the power of 112, so now the office usually doesn't make a rejection under 112, second paragraph, unless the claim meets the threshold of being indefinite. The language you provided as an example might not meet that threshold.
Design patents are a whole different beast altogether, and aren't subjected to the same requirements as utility patents.
So while the patent office may shoulder some of the blame for a few bad patents that slip through the cracks, I would say most of the blame is rested with congress and the courts.