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White House Unveils Patent Protections, Including Crowdsourcing, To Help Find Prior Claims

Publication Date: 
February 20, 2014
Gregory Ferenstein

Tech Crunch quotes Professor Mark Lemley on how overly broad patents can slow innovation. 

The White House isn’t waiting for Congress to enact new intellectual property laws. President Obama has made good on his promise to go after so-called “patent trolls,” businesses that hoard legal ownership over inventions but don’t actually produce products. The latest series of executive orders is aimed at helping small businesses fight patent lawsuits, give expanded resources to the US Patent and Trademark Office, and help limit the scope of what can actually be patented.

Perhaps the most novel announcement today is a proposal to crowdsource the search for prior patents. As civil liberties organization the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains, “Right now, it is very difficult to find prior art — previous inventions and published ideas that cover a claim — especially for vaguely worded software patents.”


Stanford Law’s Mark Lemly has argued the Wright Brother’s aggressively broad patent over flying technology prevented the emergence of the airline industry. “It was not until the government stepped in in 1917 and required the Wrights to license their patents that airplane innovation really took off,” he writes [PDF].