Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

Ill-Conceived, Even If Competently Administered: Software Patents, Litigation, and Innovation—A Comment on Graham and Vishnubhakat

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The number of patents has increased dramatically in the past three decades, as has the number of patent-related lawsuits, particularly in the field of software. Industry and academic experts have expressed concern that many of the patents being issued are of low quality. Writing in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Stuart Graham and Saurabh Vishnubhakat have defended the United States Patent and Trademark Office, arguing that the PTO has acted responsibly in issuing patents that are legally valid and that it is handling problems constructively. We accept some of Graham and Vishnubhakat’s defense of the PTO, but argue that the most important issue is not whether the law is being competently administered but whether patent law, particularly as applied to software, is creating patents that are overly broad and ambiguous. We maintain that it is, and that the results are less innovation and more costly and unproductive litigation.