Thursday, 13 April 2017

Should economic competitiveness be off-limits for patent-granting offices?

Patent Offices handle their bureaucratic
tasks well, but does that qualify them to
pitch in on economic issues too?
OxFirst is running a free webinar next week (Thursday, 20 April 2017) on "The approach of the European Patent Office to digitalization and the Internet of Things". The presenter is Professor Yann Meniere, Chief Economist at the European Patent Office. The marketing material for this webinar contains the following paragraph, which is worth thinking about:
"With the Internet of Things promising significant job creation and growth rates, the question arises what patent offices can do to promote competitiveness in the digital space ..."
In the second half of the last century, the role of patent-granting institutions began to evolve. Originally the classical national Patent Office had a purely administrative role in receiving, examining and granting (or refusing) patents, maintaining a register, collecting fees and performing a number of rudimentary judicial tasks.  To these roles were added further ones, such as the assembly of libraries of literary material and published patent records for public use and the publicising of official functions through participation in exhibitions, conferences and seminars. Matters quite unrelated to the administrative function of the Patent Office were also addressed, such as offering information and guidance on prototyping, raising of capital and licensing. However, the role of the intellectual property office in helping to formulate and implement economic policy is relatively recent.

This evolution, and its consequences, appears to have been largely unnoticed.

It may be worth asking ourselves whether it is truly appropriate for the role of any patent-granting body -- whether at national level or regionally, as in the case of the European Patent Office -- to include the promotion of competitiveness, in the digital space or elsewhere.  What if the institutional view of what constitutes competitiveness, or which is the best way of achieving it, is at odds with the position of national governments or bodies such as the European Commission? It is not beyond the wit of mankind to propound theories of competitiveness that require either the broadening of patent protection or its narrowing.  And one can also make a case for the best thing any patent-granting office can do for competitors in the marketplace is to examine, grant or reject patent applications as speedily, accurately and cheaply as man and machine can muster.

You can register for the OxFirst webinar by clicking here.

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