The current patent system is broken. There’s really no other way to say it. If I were to come up with an innovative new tech service and it catches on, chances are I would be hit with a dozen cease-and-desist notices from various patent holders. Probably they would be patent trolls, companies that exist solely to scoop up patents and enforce them, or perhaps it would be a huge company with an ammo belt of patents used to shoot down competition.
There are several problems here.
Another is along similar lines, conceptual patents that are also obvious, like “showing a map on a smartphone”. These are often broad obvious concepts that discourage innovation.
How to fix it? Well besides the obvious step of reevaluating how the whole patent system works, how about this: a public scrutiny period. During that period, rather than a single patent clerk examining the patent and deciding on its validity, why not crowdsource it, let the public at large try and come up with examples of prior art? Perhaps have a badge system, cash awards, or other incentive to encourage people to join in.
Along those lines, why not have a patent validity dispute process that is similarly publicly crowdsourced? Many patents would probably not hold up to scrutiny, but it usually doesn’t come to that because the threat of an expensive lawsuit usually leads to a company settling out-of-court with a patent holder, rather than risk the expense. This would allow stupid patents to be revoked.
Currently, patents are mostly a rich man’s game, only companies big enough to own a patent portfolio, survive a lawsuit, or afford an out-of-court settlement gets to play in the tech innovation game. It’s time we level the playing field at least a little with the power of nerd rage.