The Pirate Party
I noted with interest that the Swedish Pirate Party won a seat in the European Parliament last week. I’d never heard of them, but found to my surprise that they are the third largest party in Sweden. Moreover, many other countries, including the United States, now have a Pirate Party. So what do the pirates stand for?
While I won’t list the whole platform (it varies from country to country), the Pirate Party clearly supports a radical reduction in intellectual property rights. The U.S. version calls for the repeal of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the end of digital rights management, support for file sharing, and a return to a 14 year term for copyrights as provided in the 1790 Copyright Act.
Most of these goals are nonstarters, but there is one idea in their platform that may gain traction. The Party argues that “[p]atents which fail to be developed or have significant progress in any four-year term should be unenforceable.” At a patent law conference that I just attended, there was a lot of discussion about how the PTO and the courts should handle patents that are not commercialized. In recent years, these patents have (generally) been fully enforced. The problem with that, of course, is that these are often the patents that lead to nuisance litigation (patent trolls) and provide less value to society than ones that are actually developed or licensed in good faith.
I’ve taken the position that one way to deal with this would be to impose large maintenance fees (i.e., taxes) on dormant patents. Others suggest that patents that are not developed or licensed should be construed more narrowly after a certain period of time. Or maybe they should be unenforceable as the Pirate Party suggests. In any event, this is a serious issue.