This blog entry points to a paper on patents and draws out a few paragraphs. One of them I strongly disagree with:
Second, the number of citations received by the average patent has increased over the last couple of decades, suggesting that the social value of the average patent has increased.
I have no doubt that the increasing number of citations is due to two causes. The patent bar’s empowerment by technology. It’s just a lot easier for the patent lawyer to find related work and by citing that work he demonstrates he’s doing his job.
The second reason is the way that the patent bar has sold a bill of goods to universities. The patent bar has convinced the universities that there be gold in them thar proffessors and all you gotta due Mr. Adminstrator is get your self a half dozen members of the patent bar and pretty soon you’d be rich just like Yoyodyne University with their DNA transcription pattent.
Meanwhile no practicing engineer, in my experiance, reads patents as a source of ideas. Why? Because he’s afraid he will be tainted by the experiance. I have, multiple times, sat in meetings where members of the audience have strongly objected to one participant’s offer to explain some patent in the area where they are working.
Generally there are so many ways to skin a cat. Mr Engineer is confident he can just figure it out. But once he’s read the patents in an area he’s at risk that he will skin the cat using a patented method and then his product’s margins will be taken hostage by the patent holder.
The only people who would be tempted to read pattents for ideas would be those that believe that ideas are scarce and that the patents are of high quality. Those people haven’t done much engineering, and they certainly haven’t read any patents.