Kent Walker: Embrace the Future, Fix a Broken Patent System

The future of America’s economy depends on policymakers embracing and fostering technology, according to Google’s Chief Counsel Kent Walker, who spoke at an open forum about the intersection of technology and policy earlier this week. Around 200 attendees gathered in Aspen, Colorado for an annual gathering of the Technology Policy Institute -- a Washington, DC-based policy think tank -- to discuss the most pressing policy issues the innovation economy currently faces.

Near the top of that list is how we think about software patents. As many startups have discovered in the course of building innovative products, our current system is largely broken. Walker, who has a long history of serving with some of the leading names in American innovation, from Netscape to AOL, identified three areas of policy development that would better serve the innovation community.

First, we should re-engineer the patent system to support, rather than attack innovation. Google made some news on that front last week by unveiling its Prior Art Finder database, a tool that examiners and applicants alike can use to search earlier patent applications and avoid duplicative applications. Walker asserted that further steps would be necessary, including re-thinking the utility and viability of the software patent overall, but resetting the system to be one of support is a good first step.

Walker also suggests extending a provision in The America Invents Act that weeds out counterproductive financial business model patents, to include software patents. This measure, along with working directly with the Patent and Trademark Office to discontinue issuing these types of patents in the first place, could ease the burden on examiners and applicants alike.

Finally, Walker warned that innovators must work against the expansion of the current system of litigation that is driving much of the conversation on patents. As a community that has been besieged by a broken patent system, we can and should fight to make serious public policy inroads to better serve the needs of our industry. As Walker says, we must embrace the future, and heed the Samuel Morse telegraph case of the 1800s, by seeking not to define and codify law according to what we know today, but to take care not to impede progress in areas which we haven’t yet explored and discovered.

Walker’s full remarks are available here. Engine will continue to explore opportunities to influence public policy around patents and will continue to update. If you have a patent story to share, let us know about it.