Though patents are critical in modern society, they aren't always beneficial to patent holders or to the wider community. 

For example, a company may acquire patents to keep competitors from developing superior products. As a result, customers will have to wait for up to 20 years before an inventor can research and further develop the concepts protected in those patents. Highlighted below are some problems with patents and solutions that individuals and businesses can seek out today.

Problems With Patents

Legislators have designed copyright and patent laws in the United States so that inventors can build on the work of others if their work meets certain requirements. However, meeting these requirements isn't always easy, and many people find it profitable to take advantage of the current system in some unethical ways. Here are a few of the modern problems with patents:

  • No international standard: Copyright laws vary from country to country. There is no international standard for intellectual property rights.
  • Vague definitions of new, unique work: The law considers creative works personal property, but the law does allow people to build on prior work if it's distinguishable as totally new. However, the parameters that define whether a work is a new idea are unclear. Walking the fine line between totally unique and infringing on past work is a delicate balancing act.
  • Locking inventions behind term limits: The law grants exclusive rights to inventors for a long time. During the term limit, which is generally 20 years, competitors can't develop similar products or processes.
  • Bloated litigation: Infringements, fraud, and similar problems can tie up would-be inventors in red tape and hamper creative progress. People who know how to game the system, known as patent trolls, may take advantage of patent laws, costing eager inventors thousands in licensing fees or totally preventing them from pursuing new ideas.
  • Using patents to build a monopoly: Patents are a business asset. Though some companies file or purchase patents to protect their research, pursue ideas, or attract investors, others may purchase patents to keep businesses and individuals from developing competitive products.
  • Resource limits: Companies and individuals are filing more patent applications than ever before, and the Patent Office is inundated with applications. Processing times are long, and with so many applications for so many inventions already in the queue, it's likely that an idea will be rejected because it infringed on a concept that the creator was never aware of.
  • Vague language in patents: One trick that patent trolls use is purchasing many patents for vague or general products and processes and then suing other inventors or companies, claiming that those parties are violating the patents that the troll holds. In most cases, it's cheaper to pay patent trolls a royalty rather than fight them in court. As a result, people continue to use these tactics; even some reputable companies find patent trolling to be worth their effort.

These problems with patents could force an inventor to scrap an idea or pay royalties to continue developing an invention. Billions of dollars poured into research and development may be lost, and products could even be pulled from shelves if a company or individual can't comply with patent laws.

Solutions to Patent Problems

Unfortunately, there aren't clear solutions to many of the aforementioned problems with patents. Patent laws are dynamic, however, and legislators will continue searching for ways to reward inventors while allowing innovation to flourish.

For example, courts today work with patent holders and new filers to determine appropriate licensing fees and negotiate royalty agreements to deter those who aim to exploit the system. Lawmakers are also looking for ways to deter patent trolls altogether. For example, in 2011, Congress passed the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, the biggest overhaul to the patent system since 1952.

In the meantime, inventors must be diligent about confirming that their work is unique and doesn't infringe on any existing patents. This means hiring a patent attorney to perform an infringement search and confirm that an invention is eligible for a patent.

If you need more help solving problems with patents, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.