The U.S. Patent System is Broken. One Wonders About China

The War Room
Silicon Hutong Plaza

In an outstanding article in IEEE Spectrum in December, Adam Jaffe, Dean of Arts and Sciences at Brandeis University, and Josh Lerner, a professor at Harvard Business School, explained in pithy, easy-to-understand terms why something is horribly wrong with the U.S. Patent System. So sick is this system, it appears, that we are on the verge of enabling the tort bar to all but strangle a hell of a lot of day to day business in America, and an even larger chunk of innovation.

Having just finished the article, I am navigating with great haste to Amazon to order their book Innovation and Its Discontents: How Our Broken Patent System is Endangering Innovation and Progress, and What To Do About It.

What is bothering me so much is NOT that the world’s largest and most respected system of intellectual property protection is broken – stuff breaks all the time, and the Master of the Universe has given us the wherewithal to fix things like this.

What is deeply disturbing when you read this is: if this is how messed up the best system in the world is, how much worse is the system here in China? I mean, every abuse of the system taking place in the U.S., where small companies are being bullied by giant firms with lots of lawyers and some patents, could happen here – and worse. Not only is there no decent system of enforcing patent judgements, there is no independent judiciary to try cases of patent abuse and to protect small innovators.

People look around China and they see big companies like Lenovo and they think “look, China has a robust tech sector.”

Ugly truth #45: until China has a system that enforces intellectual property rights and an independent judiciary to ensure that those rights are used in an effort to sustain a system that encourages innovation, China’s tech sector will continue to be about knock-offs, copycats, and other such derivative effort that simply seeks to steal somebody else’s idea and sell it for less money.

There are, and will always be, exceptions to this, but they will be notable in that they buck – not represent – the broader national trend.


About David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.
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