Patent Director: “Patent Filings Do Not Equal Innovation,” U.S. Needs New Measure

U.S. patent director David Kappos gives a forward-leaning look of patent policy at SXSW.

Patent Director: “Patent Filings Do Not Equal Innovation,” U.S. Needs New Measure

In the spirit of SXSW, the U.S. patent office gives Fast Company a forward-leaning perspective on intellectual property and the steps it’s taking to address a beleaguered system that President Obama called “embarrassing.”


David Kappos, director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, says the United States needs new ways to measure innovation and also to give fast-track status to green technologies.

First, Kappos says his office is looking at new ways of measuring innovation. After all, open-source software, which explicitly rejects traditional intellectual property rights, powers large parts of the technology industry, such as the Android mobile operating system. Additionally, corporations often take out huge pre-emptive patents to prevent competition from forming.

“Patent filings do not equal innovation, by any stretch,” says Kappos. While his solution to the problem may not completely satisfy those eager to see the United States move beyond the patent paradigm, Kappos is pressing experts and universities to come up with new measures of innovation, such as job creation and job growth that arise from a particular idea.

This is an especially timely idea, as China has been exerting pressure on its universities to churn out record numbers of patents, in a move that is clearly aimed at making itself look like the most innovative country on earth. In this way, “winning the future” against the rising powers in the Eastern Hemisphere is as much a game of invention as it is statistics. In a world where patents are the measure of innovation, the United States might easily lose to China’s sheer volume. The potential stigma of becoming second in the world is a PR war that the United States is no not interested in losing.

Additionally, Kappos is looking into the problem of the music and film industry asking for enormous sums of money in lawsuits against software pirates. There is no clear evidence of just how much money a pirated album costs a publisher. Thus, they wrangled in chief economist, Stuart Graham, to help these decisions the cost of piracy to become more “fact-based.” That said, free-information advocates should not get too excited over Kappos’s admission: He still thinks it’s a big problem and plans on helping the industry tackle pirating.

Feeling inventive? Kappos points out that patents in the clean technology space now enjoy fast-track processing. Additionally, small businesses and nascent entrepreneurs enjoy free expertise to help them navigate the labyrinth that is US patent law.

President Obama is banking on the green economy being a major driving force in the 21st century, and their office is committed to helping new players be apart of that effort.


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