WASHINGTON Policy makers need to fine-tune United States intellectual property rights protections to reflect the digital era, an industry-backed research group concluded in a study of the digital economy.
In a report released Wednesday (May 9) by the New York-based Committee for Economic Development (CED), the group found that patent and copyright protections are fundamentally sound. However, it warned that application of intellectual property rights to digital networks has created problems, such as the patenting of software-based automation technologies that could be protected just as effectively through copyrights.
"While the foundation of our copyright and patent protection policies is strong, their application to cyberspace has created some problems," the industry study concluded.
Patenting technologies that merely replicate existing practices could eventually stifle innovation, the group warned.
The study also recommended tha t regulators resist attempts to vary patent-term limits for different inventions. It specifically singled out attempts by the software industry to lengthen the terms of its patents. "Government should treat all patents equally," the committee recommended.
According to the study, software is now the fastest-growing patent category. Arguing that most software-based automation techniques can be protected by copyright law, the study's authors said, "Granting a patent to an undeserving application can be a costly error, and a system that routinely makes such errors is harming the economy rather than helping it."
The study also recommended that the patent applications process be opened up to public review and comment. The issue of whether companyies have a duty to disclose patent applications in open standard proceedings was pivotal in a contentious patent-infringement case between Rambus Inc. and Infineon Technologies AG.
Along with tweaking the United States' intellectual property regime, the report also recommended that U.S. antitrust laws "should allow the market greater leeway to resolve questions of market dominance." It also urged Congress to "enact a federal privacy law that requires the full disclosure of practices and policies."
"The potential for the Internet to benefit society through higher productivity growth and greater consumer welfare will not be fully realized until we rethink our current policies and their application," said CED President Charles Kolb.