Partially in response to the latest manifestation of patent litigation that is now threatening to derail sales of Microsoft Word, the Deputy General Counsel for Microsoft is calling for the creation of a global patent system.
In a blog post, Microsoft corporate vice president Horacio Gutierrez says that at a time when products and technologies are routinely sold around the globe, the shortcomings of patent offices in hundreds of countries are retarding technology development and unnecessarily driving up costs.
This argument is not much different than the rationale for creating a Commerce Department in the Federal Government to make sure that business is not hampered by conflicting regulations from across 50 different states. The difference now is that instead of 50 different states, we have hundreds of countries.
Of course, many people will see the emergence of a global patent system as an infringement of their national sovereignty. And given the source of the proposal, many people will view the concept of a global patent system as a veiled attempt by Microsoft to weaken patent claims. But in all honesty, Microsoft has a much to lose as it does to gain. While it is often the defendant in patent dispute cases, it is not above using its own patent portfolio to try to intimidate others, particularly the open source community.
The simple fact of the matter is that managing the patent process in the 21st century is beyond the resources of any one country. Most of the processes that are used in most patent offices around the world are antiquated. What's needed is a global approach that not only better serves the people who provide the innovations, but also mitigates the threat that "patent trolls" represent to the system.
A global patent system is not going to eliminate all patent problems. But it would be by definition more efficient that than the mess we have today. Set up correctly under the auspices of an international body, no country's current patent system would be dominate. In addition, a certain amount of care would need to taken in terms of managing how open source innovations are recognized and valued.
Finally, this international organization would also have to reconcile some the differences that exist in terms of how patents are valued on the one hand, and copyrights on another.
Like it or not, the economy has gone global. We can't continue to collectively manage our approach to recognizing the value of intellectual capital using disjointed systems that hark back to a time when the number of patents be applied for were measured in tens instead of thousands. It's time for a much needed change not only here in the U.S., but everywhere -- all at once.