Jan 04 AT 3:03 PM Anthony Domanico 41 Comments

The Problem with Patents [Infographic]


By now, you’ve probably grown tired of the seemingly endless lawsuits that have been launched in the mobile industry. We have even lamented that companies on both sides of the fence would rather spend time litigating than truly innovating and bringing new products to the table.

It seems many people are sick of the patent system in the United States. The folks over at Frugal Dad have put together a nifty little infographic on the current state of the patent system in the United States.

Whether or not the infographic is relevant to you or not, it certainly highlights several key issues plaguing the patent system today, and we felt it was a fun enough read to share with our readers. What do you guys think of the state of the U.S. patent system today? Sound off in the comments. (Thanks, Kirsten!)

patents infographic

Source: Frugal Dad

Anthony loves all things technology, from hardware to apps and games. You can connect with him via Google+ or Twitter by clicking one of the fancy doo-dads above.

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  • AsakuraZero

    im starting to love the lego lawyer ehem

    the infographic is right into the spot now how we get that info in to the congress? because its just getting beyond retarded

  • YMS123

    Wow. Nice diagram, in short, patents are good, but the system is broken, abused, and needs to be fixed

    • Thomas Biard

      Agreed. Patents are supposed to prevent obvious copying of material or ideas, not innovation.

      Thinking outside the box is good; thinking and doing the same thing everyone else is and blocking everyone else with a patent is not.

      • epps720

        I agree, the fact that all these “shell companies” exist, without producing a thing except owning an idea is astounding. They probably just sit in a room throw ideas against a wall to see what sticks.

    • http://theinternet-allofit.blogspot.com Jorge Branco

      The diagram nailed it. It’s almost simple enough for politicians to understand and do something about it. Almost…

  • AndroidExclusive.com

    Completely agree that patents have gone out of control USPTO needs reform

  • http://pixelswim.com Steve Heinrich

    This intellectual property thing is obviously out of hand. The patent system has lost its way and all this is doing is stunting innovation and ultimately hurting consumers.

    (This comment patent pending)

    • R.S

      Dear Mr. Heinrich,

      The format in which you not only joined letters to make words but then grouped words to make a paragraph infringes on my client’s patent. Though my client did not invent letters nor words, he does hold a patent on them being grouped together in a rectangular fashion from left to right. The same applies when grouping the words.

      If you plan to continue using letters and words together, you must do so in a way that does not infringe on my client’s intellectual property.

      Some suggestions for you:

      When grouping the letters together to make words, do not write them out from left to right.

      When grouping the letters together to make words, do not allow them to form a rectangular shape.

      When grouping the words together to make a paragraph, do not write them from left to right.

      When grouping the words together to make a paragraph, do not allow the grouped words to form what could be considered a rectangular shape.

      Please understand that my client is not against innovators or new ideas but when using said ideas. However, they can not allow someone such as yourself to use methods, that they hold a patent on, to be used freely.

      Thank you for time.

      (My bad attempt of sounding like Apple in reference to the Samsung ordeal) :-D

      • http://pixelswim.com Steve Heinrich

        .yletairporppa tif ot elyts gnipyt ym egnahc lliw I .ezigolopa od I

        • david

          I’m sorry but that comment infringes on all the patents I own on right-to-left based languages, such as Hebrew and Arabic. As such I must ask you to refrain from typing left to right, or right to left,or in fact, in any pattern except placing each letter on top of the previous one. This will also give a more aesthetically pleasing page, with far less clutter on it.

          • johnnycsx


            And spaces.

      • http://www.focuszonedevelopment.com Homncruse

        You, sir, win the non-patented Internet.

  • SigInTheHead

    This infographic vilifies NPEs, but i can’t see the problem with an inventor coming up with an idea that they have no means of exploiting other than to sell it / license it, they still had the idea! If it makes another company’s product better why shouldn’t they have to pay for it.

    Maybe the real problem is that some of the patents being granted are not worthy / too generic. I’m also not sure about the buying of large patent portfolios, but then why shouldn’t an inventor be able to sell a patent

    • bruce080

      Yes, I think the issue is that the patents are not worthy / too generic. Apple’s patent over a rectangular black cell phone with a flat front is too generic. Those patents were not for ground breaking ideas.

    • Chris

      I agree that some inventors may not have the means of developing an idea, but if inventors do nothing but churn out ideas they sell off to companies who are more focused on litigation than actually making products I think it hurts society. Perhaps patents should have a maximum implementation date (say 5 years) before which inventors must have either created a product using their patent or licensed their patent to one or more companies who use their patent in commercially available products, otherwise the patent would expire. It could lead to some companies simply waiting for a patent to expire, but if the idea was revolutionary enough many companies would probably shell out the cash for the competitive advantage. And once it was used, it would have the same expiration that patents currently have. It would create an economy where inventors are motivated to bring products to market in order to hold onto their patents, ultimately ensuring they benefit society. Expired patents would also help to clear out all the junk patents stuck in the system, and best of all this could be applied retroactively (all existing patents would have 5 years to prove that they were used in a product or be expired). This would also help to make the patents more clear, as they’d all have one or more example products demonstrating their usage.

      Maybe I should patent my idea ;-)

      • SigInTheHead

        The idea of putting in place a time limit has also occurred to me. As you say if the patent is very good it would probably be worth the licencing of it. However i would imagine that different industries have different product life cycles, so 5 years might be fine for high-end tech, a patent relating to vehicles might need longer.

        It’s a very complicated issue good luck to whoever has to reform the system, should that ever happen.

        • alee

          In the U.S., utility patents (for inventions) require you to pay maintenance fees two or three times during the life of the patent. These are roughly comparable to the original application fees. If a patent holder doesn’t pay the maintenance fees, then the patent expires early.

          Design patents (like some of Apple’s famous examples) probably have something similar, but I really don’t know.

    • aranea

      The problem is not that some other company buys the patent and manufactures the product. What NPEs do is that they buy the patent wait until somebody else comes with the idea and then either ask for licencing fees or sue them for patent infringement. This prevents new products from coming to the public or they come at a higher price then they should.

      Of course generic patents is whole another problem. I think the people in the patent office grant you a patent as long as you pay them the fees.

  • stenzor

    Very nice diagram and summarizes the issue well

  • http://www.infotainmentempire.com pekosROB

    Thanks for sharing, great infographic. Basically, it looks like you should have to use the idea behind the patent and not just patent the idea, that should cut out some BS.

    But yes, the patent system is broken. The $1.7 billion on patents that already exist blows my mind though.

  • GeauxLSU

    This didn’t even mention the use of patents as tax shelters. Lets say that Apple creates a company in a country that has a low tax rate. That company then patents the “rectangular black cell phone with a flat front” which receives royalties for every iphone sold. That moves taxable income out of the US into a country with a lower tax rate.

  • http://www.focuszonedevelopment.com Homncruse

    I’d say this infographic stretches the definition of what “infographics” are supposed to be, given its length and general wordiness. It’s more like a Powerpoint presentation — oops, I mean slideshow — but I like the facts it brought up.

    The sad thing is, patents themselves aren’t evil. If I come up with a groundbreaking idea that changes the world, I SHOULD be able to receive credit and reward for it. I don’t have a problem with royalties and licensing when it applies to truly innovative things like that, but even then, there should be limits. It’s the stupid generalized patents for mundane things that break the system, and it’s the USPTO’s fault in the first place for even granting those patents.

  • zyphbear

    Patent law has gotten so out of hand, i think just because something is similar (a handheld device used to control an object on a display, which could be a TV remote, a mouse, a game controller, etc), doesn’t mean that it should be able to file lawsuits in such a manner against those items.
    It’s just getting so out of control.

  • lokidokie

    Interesting, and yes, the patent system sucks.
    But seriously, does anyone have a better solution? Is one being worked on? Or are we just going to keep driving this thing into the ground???

    • Kelly

      No need to drive it into the ground. The part that sucks isn’t the patent system itself. It’s there to provide a way for people who come up with great ideas to be rewarded for them. The part that sucks is the USPTO granting patents to anyone who can come up with a creative way to articulate an existing idea so it sounds new. Companies then “invent” innovative things (like “put items in a list”, or “show a progress indicator while a page is loading”), get awarded a patent, and then go out and bludgeon everyone who makes use of “their” idea in a product. The patent system is being abused, and the USPTO is enabling it.

    • Nick Taylor

      I’ve got a better solution: Scrap the lot.

      To do that though… we need a higher-level meta-solution… and that is:

      1) sack all politicians who take bribes from corporations
      2) make corporate lobbying illegal, on pain of imprisonment.
      3) make CEOs liable for the crimes of their corporations.

      Sounds insane? It isn’t – this used to be US law back in the 1800s. We’ve done it before, and we badly need to do it again.

  • Billy

    I love it and seems everyone but the power that be agree that the system is broken. i am getting tired of it for sure.

  • vid500

    Wow. Really nice diagram. The US patent sistem really needs to be overworked. The idea of it is great, but it has gone to far. this is seriously hindering the progress and inovaton. If a chemist can’t experiment with a formula becouse it’s patented by a company and therefor can’t make inovation in medicine for exa. or you can’t put a button on a webside, or in the known mobile industry have to make a round tablet to satisfy a company. That’s just wrong. There are some lines of common sense that here certainly do not work any more. Hopefully this will change in the near future.

  • BlueJayofEvil
  • mustybooks

    Great diagram. Very simple and informative.

  • http://sean-the-electrofreak.blogspot.com/ Sean the Electrofreak

    I agree with the infographic 100%. I’m going to be sharing this on Facebook and Google Plus; some people just don’t seem to understand why there’s been such a hue and cry for patent reform recently.

  • http://k-selezneva.blogspot.com/ KatSelezneva

    Thanks for the informative infographic! I hope very much that there will be less patent wars in 2012. Some lawsuits in 2011 were really ridiculous.
    An ideal Samsung phone from Appleā€™s point of view http://k-selezneva.blogspot.com.

  • rjz

    It’s an info graphic. So that graphics ought to be accurate. Yet they are misleading, sometime egregiously so.

    Take, for example, the 1% dot vs. the 99% circle. By radius this *might* be true. By area, it’s horribly wrong. This fact appears to be true for nearly all of the circle comparisons in the graphic; they can’t be by area, but they appear to imply they are, by comparing the relative weight of these dots to give us an idea. Your point is a valid and interesting one. Over selling it with the graphics is hardly necessary.

  • James


  • Nathan D.

    Thanks! I really needed this =)

  • kinkfisher

    Here’s a comment I posted on the original site:

    Hooo boy, there’s a lot of FUD about patents out there, but this is one of the most concentrated aggregation of FUD I’ve seen in one post. Let me attempt to tackle this…

    * There’s so much FUD simply because people don’t bother to understand how patents work. Here’s a one-liner guide: Read The Fucking Claims. The titles of patents, which you have liberally quoted, mean *absolutely nothing*. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that nothing in a patent legally matters except the claims. Yet nobody reads the claims before denouncing a patent and the patent system, and hence everybody spouts uninformed crap that other people read, believe and parrot, spreading more FUD.

    * That “That American Life” episode had the worst reporting on patents I’ve read in a long time, and I’ve read the crap Techdirt puts out. While their reporting about IV is hit-or-miss, the rest is complete trash. There’s no such thing as a “patent on toast”. The guy who described it as such runs a company that “estimates patent risks” for you. Hmmm!

    * There’s no study showing how many patents cover things that already existed. In fact, such a study would be very, very difficult to carry out, seeing that you’d have to study the *claims* of all 8M+ patents and compare it with all the prior art out there. That 30% figure is a completely made up number, probably by the same guy who thought he’d found a patent on toast.

    * That $500 billion / $332 billion figure is another baseless number. Here’s one post taking that number apart (note, it’s by an IP attorney): http://gametimeip.com/2011/09/20/did-serial-infringers-commission-academic-patent-study-to-support-widespread-infringement/

    * 80% of software engineers don’t even *know* what patents are, let alone have an opinion on software patents. Those that do have an opinion, do not understand how patents work; they are simply parroting the uninformed FUD they read online on the same forums and blogs that you got this data from. This is eminently obvious the moment you engage them in a discussion and it turns out they have no idea what claims even are. Like just about every other number in this infographic, that 80% number is completely made up.

    Most of this FUD is completely unsubstantiated. However, people have been trying to estimate the effects of patents; there actually are studies and papers trying using economics methods to study the beneficial and harmful effects of patents, even software patents. I’ve read papers from both sides, and there’s no clear answer. However, nobody else – especially the tech media – seems to have bothered to do that before spreading the FUD.

    But then, of course, the tech media is more interested in generating pageviews rather than discussing real issues, and nothing generates pageviews like outrage. Not very surprising, then, that there is so much outrage out there and almost zero comprehension of the true issues at hand.

  • RevSpaminator

    Infographic huh? I’d better hurry up an patent them. :)

  • aykutb

    do you think anyone can break this chain of patent profiters? I do, but it takes more than one or five. It takes everyone to protest this.

  • Chuxter

    Well put

  • raj

    First, patenting *an idea* is a bad idea itself ;) and should not be allowed.
    In most European countries, you can only patent *an actual device* built on some innovative idea, not the idea itself.
    If someone other builds a device that does the same thing, but is constructed in totally different way than yours, he/sha can also get a patent for his/her device and does not infringe your patent.
    In other words, only *implementation* of an idea is patentable, the idea isn’t.

  • Brian Teague

    Interesting! One of the problems is that software has leveled the playing field. You don’t have to have property, plant, equipment, people or even money to replicate another person’s idea. All you need is free, open source software and viola. If the barrier to entry was higher (say it cost $1M for development software) then you would have less of a problem, but you would also have less innovation. Patents are fundamental to commerce. It lets the little guy compete with the big guy.