Vague patent claims, especially in software patents, are causing enormous harm. Lack of adequate notice means innovators work in the shadow of unavoidable risk. And when creators can’t adequately evaluate their risk, the patent system acts as a disincentive to innovation and creation.
Today, EFF filed comments with the U.S Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) regarding proposals for improving patent clarity. We welcome the PTO’s efforts to make patent claims easier to understand. We are particularly encouraged by the proposal to require applicants to indicate which parts of the specification (this is the description of the invention) relate to claim elements (the supposed boundaries of the patent). We think this will make it easier to narrowly limit patents to what applicants actually invent and disclose.
The PTO is also considering requiring applicants to enter patent claims in a standard template. This presents an excellent opportunity for the PTO to create a text-searchable, structured database of pending and issued patent claims. We urge the PTO to do this without using proprietary software. Instead, it should follow best practices and create an open database with a user-friendly interface (something that cannot be found on the PTO’s current website).
Of course, these are just small changes to a deeply flawed system. At EFF, we have proposed more reforms at Defend Innovation—please check out those ideas and give us feedback.