Patent Debate Spawns Stanford Study

Stanford's Hoover Institution launches a five-year effort to determine whether the US patent system helps or hinders innovation.

This is the second in an ongoing series of stories exploring the debate about the US patent system.

The debate over patents has spawned a gathering of some of the nation's top intellectual property thinkers at Stanford's Hoover Institution. Their recent symposium here is expected to generate a series of events and studies over the next five years on whether the US patent system helps or hinders innovation.

"There are many strong positions but a weakness of empirical evidence," said Stephan Haber, a Hoover Institution fellow who kicked off the event. "The goal is to bring evidence and reason to bear, regardless of which way it points us. We are in the business of advocating for the truth."

On one side, big product companies often argue they are being hit by a rising tide of often-spurious infringement suits from so-called "trolls" who do nothing but buy and assert patents. On the other side, startups and individual inventors claim such trolls -- also known as non-practicing entities -- serve important roles such as helping them make money on their work. Parties on both sides sometimes argue the patent system is flooded with applications and is not able to keep up with the pace of technology.

"We really don't have enough evidence to support the idea there's a fundamental problem with the US patent system," said B. Zorina Khan, a leading historian of the patent system who presented the first paper at the Hoover event.

Khan criticized President Barack Obama's call for patent reform in his last State of the Union speech. "We do not have enough information about the costs, benefits, and alternatives to the patent system to advocate for or against reform," said Khan, a professor of economics at Bowdoin College.

Read the rest of this article on EE Times.