Myhrvold’s Insane Troll Logic


I should learn that sitting down to check my feeds just doesn’t work as a strategy to get a few relaxing minutes away from a stressful and irritating day. Not when I have a feed that’s searching the web for information on patents and the USPTO, anyway. From an interview with Nathan Myhrvold running on

What do you think of the complaints of how patent litigation is hurting companies? Some days it sounds like the trumped-up malpractice crisis of the ’80s.
Myhrvold: Well, this is even stranger. We actually did a study on this. The overall number of lawsuits for patents is growing, but so is the overall number of patents. So explain that to me.

If I’m painfully obtuse, please, someone tell me, but I don’t actually understand what Myhrvold’s argument is supposed to be here. I see a pretty straightforward explanation. The number of patents granted each year has been increasing steadily since the early ’80s, with a big, ugly spike in the late ’90s:

[Chart actually intended for a different post that I’ll have time to finish one day…]

As the number of patents granted increases…so too does the number of patent lawsuits.

And when you add in the shifts in what is considered patentable (check the two cases noted on the chart), the picture doesn’t get any prettier. There are a lot more potential infringement targets for a patent on something like “one click buying on the internet” than for a patent on, say, a “Gate turn-off thyristor with anode rectifying contact to non-regenerative section.” One might then reasonably expect that as the number of software and business model patents increases, they will tend to generate lawsuits at a per-patent rate rather higher than their old-fashioned cousins.

Okay, I feel better now. Thanks for listening.