Microsoft employee: 'Ignorance is bliss and strongly recommended' on patents

When Microsoft can't even decipher its own patents, it's time to reform the system.

A Microsoft employee--Eric Brechner--has finally stated the obvious on patents: they're worthless in terms of providing "disclosure" for would-be infringers (or licensees). It would appear that they're also worthless in terms of helping licensors:

When using existing libraries, services, tools, and methods from outside Microsoft, we must be respectful of licenses, copyrights, and patents. Generally, you want to carefully research licenses and copyrights (your contact in Legal and Corporate Affairs can help), and never search, view, or speculate about patents. I was confused by this guidance till I wrote and reviewed one of my own patents. The legal claims section--the only section that counts--was indecipherable by anyone but a patent attorney. Ignorance is bliss and strongly recommended when it comes to patents.

Techdirt gets the best shot in based on this feedback:

Of course, technically, a patent is supposed to be written so that someone skilled in the art can replicate the invention from the patent alone. But, when even patent holders can't understand their own patents, it's quite clear that reality doesn't match up with the theory here. So, the next time you hear a patent system defender claiming the importance of disclosure, it might be worth pointing out that one of the biggest patent holding companies in the world instructs its own employees to ignore patents, because you can't actually learn anything from them in the first place.

In short, we have a mess on our hands. We've been talking for years about fixing the patent system, but the only thing we've received for all our talk is a growing mountain of patents that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is incapable of clearing in an expeditious fashion, given a lack of expertise and a lack of resources.

Yes, the USPTO occasionally gets things right, as with its smackdown of Dell's attempted trademark around cloud computing, but this is the exception, not the rule.

We're left with a dysfunctional system that rewards ignorance and eventual litigation. Can we get some sanity around here?

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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