Patently Obvious Overview
When most people consider the patent system, they often think of a structure in which large corporations make money selling products based on proprietary knowledge, licensing the technology to others, or suing others who infringe on the patent rights behind their most cutting-edge products. In recent years, the importance of patents and intellectual property rights as an important variable in the marketplace has come to the forefront of the public consciousness as world leaders declare their country’s lead in the innovation race. In the market, knowledge is power. Patently Obvious® increases visibility and introduces other information into the market and public discourse that can be important in making decisions in the innovation spaces discussed. This information includes innovations precedent and concurrent with the patents being discussed. In some cases, potentially interesting innovations may actually lie in the public domain.
A vast amount of precedent innovation is unconsidered by patent-granting authorities in the creation of new IP rights. Patent granting authorities including the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), European Patent Office (EPO), Japanese Patent Office (JPO), Chinese State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO), Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) and many others are constrained by the use of patent classification systems which are routinely circumvented by patent applicants.
There is a two-way social contract underlying the patent system. In the United States, patent terms are generally limited to 20 years from the date of application. A social contract is implicit in the granting of intellectual property rights; the public good is served when there is complete disclosure of the information or knowledge necessary to practice an invention or granted innovation. In return, the public has been willing to allow the grant of time-limited exclusionary zones, which have anti-competitive effects, to those who have fully disclosed their innovations. By statutory intention, once a patent has expired, the patent holder loses the right to exclude others from fully utilizing any innovation described in the patent.
A large number of patents enter the public domain when they are “abandoned” – when owners discontinue paying patent maintenance fees. Patents also only provide an exclusionary right in the country for which the patent is filed. As demonstrated by the Global Innovation Commons (G.I.C.), using intellectual property available in the public domain eliminates the need to pay licensing fees on those innovations in countries where the patent was never registered, or worldwide, if abandoned.