I haven’t fully fleshed these out, and I’m nothing close to a patent attorney, but I was thinking a bit about the patent mess we find ourselves in and came up with two quick thoughts. They are:
1. Perhaps a timeframe should be established within which a patent must be converted to an actual product in order to remain active. That would protect the most productive companies while discouraging patent trolls.
2. Perhaps companies should be required to pursue all patent infringement or lose patent protection, much like trademark holders must pursue all incidents of trademark infringement. This would discourage the use of patents merely to combat particular competitors rather than protecting valid intellectual property.
Again, these are initial thoughts, and by posting them I’m not trying to minimize the importance of protecting intellectual property. I do believe there’s a real problem with patents today, particularly software patents, and that something must be done before the very concept of intellectual property itself is destroyed.
Update: I recognize that, as property, intellectual property should be controllable by its owner. So, idea #2 does brush up against the very concept of private property itself. There’s a precedent with trademarks, of course, which must be protected consistently to retain validity, but then again trademarks might be a different animal altogether. Trademarks are as much about avoiding confusion in the market, which requires that they be consistently defended else they be diluted. I’ll have to give this some additional thought. I don’t feel that #1 is a violation of rights, however, because patents are not supposed to protect mere “ideas,” but rather their implementation as actual products.