Problem: Some inventions still slip into obscurity
Solution: Publish all provisional and abandoned patents after 10 years.
The patent system is a marvelous institution. It provides a contract between the inventor and the state that says “If you give me a state-enforced monopoly for a couple decades, I will give my invention to humanity from then on. Also, I’ll write up the idea in sufficient detail that others can replicate and improve upon it.” This replaces the secrets of manufacture of the ancient world where advanced nautical instruments, which has lost many inventions.
The patent system is used in almost every country in the world. This creates a “land-grab” of inventions that companies seek to exploit. The “land-grab” has been on-going for over a century. A long term effect is that many previously amazing ideas are in the public domain. Zippers, microwave ovens, LEDs, computer components, encryption schemes, and other advances march into the free public domain at a predictable rate. Everything that was manufactured twenty five years ago can be made without infringing on patents.
About Provisional and Abandoned Patents:
Inventions, the creations of humans, are still lost and forgotten when a patent fails to issue. Provisional patents are partially described patents used to save the date of invention, and are destroyed unless a full patent is written within a year. Abandoned patents are patents where a patent is requested (filed), but never issued. Abandoned patents fail to issue when the company does not wish to pay the issue fees or has gone bankrupt; where the company loses interest; where the patent examiner raises sustainable rejections; and where the company has decided to keep the technology as a trade secret. The last case is rare: companies can evaluate if a trade secret is the best protection.
Unless the pending patent is made public, which is common for international patents, the information and invention are lost to the public interest forever. We should publish these provisional and abandoned patents to improve the public welfare. The publication does constitute a small tax on the inventors: one could not file a provisional patent and later decide to make the item a Trade Secret. This tax goes near zero if the provisional and abandoned patents are only made public after a decade. Even a delay of 17 years, the term of most patents, would enhance the public.
This is too long term a fix for most politicians to consider.