TLWIR 53: Transforming the Broken U.S. Patent System with Free Software-Style Reforms

by Rex Djere on January 20, 2013 · 2 comments


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In The Linux Week In Review 52, I talked about the need for a Linux Reference System, a GNU/Linux computer guaranteed to work with the latest free software and drivers. In TLWIR 53, I will present some ideas on how to fix the broken U.S. patent system.

I. The Basic Reforms

A.  Crowdsource the patent approval process.

The first U.S. patent was issued to inventor Samuel Winslow in 1641 for a new method of making salt [1]. In 1641, modern innovations such as crowdsourcing were still nearly 400 years in the future.

Often, the people that review and approve patents have little or no expertise in the subject matter. It is time to open up the patent approval process, and to let everyone have a vote on whether a patent is approved or not. The votes of people who are in the industry related to the patent would hold more weight.

B. Set up a technical expertise endorsement system, and weight votes by expertise.

LinkedIn has a very good system for recognizing the skills and expertise of an individual: an endorsement system. Here is how a similar system could work in the U.S. patent system. I could not tell you every topic that Linus Torvalds is knowledgeable on, but I am certain that he knows a lot more than I do about computer programming. The U.S. government could create a site similar to LinkedIn where everyone could voluntarily start a profile. I, and a lot of other people, would gladly endorse Linus Torvalds’ knowledge of computer programming. Now, let us say that an inventor applies for a patent on a new computer programming method. Since Linus Torvalds would have thousands of endorsements as being knowledgeable in computer programming, and I might have a dozen or so, his vote would hold a lot more weight than mine would. If Linus Torvalds votes to say “no” to the patent application, and I say “yes”, the patent application will probably get disapproved.

C. Get rid of the “garbage” patent applications right away.

Reddit has a very good system for “burying” foolish or low quality content. A poor quality patent application wastes everyone’s time. The U.S. patent system should adopt a Reddit-style bury system to get rid of bad patent applications. If a patent application got enough bury votes, it would simply disappear. This would also weed out a lot of patents submitted by patent trolls.

II. The More Radical Reforms

The reforms that I am about to propose below will get the most attention, but they will be the hardest to get implemented.

Figure 1: An Example of the Root Patent Process

A. Root Patents

A root patent is a permanently issued patent that  is royalty-free for anyone to use. A root patent would be for a core product that is well established, such as a television. The purpose of a root patent would be simple: to establish a reference system that ANY manufacturer could make without fear of infringing on anyone. For example, the root patent for a television could include a modern television design. The television root patent would include diagrams and schematics that would direct anyone on how to build the reference television. Every patent application submitted would have to fall under the family of an existing root patent. For example, if any inventor applied for a patent for a new kind of high definition television display, that patent would fall under the television root patent. The inventor WOULD have exclusive rights to use and/or license his or her “root patent extension”, but once the patent extension expired, it would become part of the royalty-free root patent. The crowdsourcing community could offer the inventor a monetary reward to “fast track” the root patent extension into the root patent. More on this later.

B.  Root Patent Extensions

Any patent that a person applies for would have to be an extension of an existing root patent. Once the patent application was submitted, it would be subject to  review by the general public. People could leave comments, links to reference material, and they could vote on whether or not the patent should be approved. The final decision on patent approval would be based on the final tally of votes, weighted towards those with more expertise in the field. If approved, the patent would be valid for a period of time based on the nature of the industry. For example, 20 years is far too long for a patent to be valid in the fast changing computer industry. 5 years would be far more appropriate. The key is that the time should be calculated based on the speed with which the particular industry changes.

C. The Crowdsourcing Fast Track to the Root Patent.

If an inventor came up with a particularly good idea, the new patent system should have a method to reward him or her. For example, if an inventor came up with a new kind of computer system that was far more robust than what we have today, I might decide to send him $100 towards “fast tracking” the idea. Let’s say that 100,000 other people pledge the same amount. The inventor would get 10 million dollars in exchange for letting the idea go straight into the root patent for computers. Manufacturers would be able to immediately build the system, and sell it royalty-free.

Thank you for reading TLWIR 53!


  1. History of United States patent law. (2013, January 3). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:39, January 20, 2013, from


Shane Moore January 21, 2013 at 3:42 am

While I agree with the above. Serious consideration needs to go into “how can we prevent this new system from being abused?”

Thing about patent trolls is they are abusing an already established system with a clear goal. So take that mindset and think, how would those kinds of people try to abuse this system?

Fake accounts?

Arkanabar January 22, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Shane, the most evident form of abuse would likely be linking to “prior art” owned by the troll in question, to ensure that “while the new patent extension is valid, prior art demonstrates that it should belong to Patent Trolls, LLC, and not Original Innovations Inc.”

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