This morning, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is holding a conclave of economists who study innovation. (For those of you who don't know it, NBER is the premier economic research organization -- it is an NBER committee that determines when recessions officially began and ended).
While the conclave is by-invitation-only, unlike the Papal conclave we don't have to watch the color of the smoke to know what is happening. The papers are posted on the NBER website at NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH, INC
One of the most interesting papers is by Adam Jaffe of Brandeis University and Josh Lerner of Harvard University. The paper "Innovation and its Discontents" is an extension of the 2004 book by the same title: Innovation and Its Discontents: How Our Broken Patent System is Endangering Innovation and Progress, and What To Do About It.
Their thesis is simple:
In the last two decades, however, the role of patents in the U.S. innovation system has changed from fuel for the engine to sand in the gears. Two apparently mundane changes in patent law and policy have subtly but inexorably transformed the patent system from a shield that innovators could use to protect themselves, to a grenade that firms lob indiscriminately at their competitors, thereby increasing the cost and risk of innovation rather than decreasing it.
Some of their recommendation, especially concerning business methods, software and biotechnology patents, will likely generate debate. Others, such as pre-grant opposition and re-examinations of granted patents, seem to be part of the building consensus on patent reform.
This paper/book is just the latest in a series of reports on the need for patent reform. Last year, the National Academy of Science published its set of recommendations: A Patent System for the 21st Century (Report of the Committee on Intellectual Property Rights in the Knowledge-Based Economy). The year before the Federal Trade Commission came out with To Promote Innovation, The Proper Balance of Competition and Patent Law and Policy.
And interestingly enough, at the same time as the NBER meeting was taking place, a few blocks away the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue was holding its own day-long session on patent reform "Patents for Poets and Policy Wonks."
Let us hope that Congress is paying attention.