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Passage Discussion

Passage A
The author of passage A describes how patenting obvious inventions has resulted in patent abuse.

Paragraph One:

The first paragraph clarifies the distinction between “obvious” and “nonobvious” inventions, and describes how the patent system should work in theory: patents should only be awarded for inventions that are not obvious. Unfortunately, obvious inventions are also being patented—and herein lies the problem.

Pay attention to examples that illustrate abstract or convoluted concepts. Translating between an Internet address and a telephone number is said to be an example of an obvious invention, but if you find this example confusing, think of something more familiar. Imagine patenting “riding a bike”: this would result in a patent that is so broad that it would be impossible to circumvent. “Biking” is an obvious invention that should not be patented. On the other hand, patenting a “folding bike”—one you can take on the subway, for instance—is probably OK. Why? Because the patent would be much narrower, and the invention—not so “obvious.”

Paragraph Two:

The second paragraph summarizes the problem in the patent system: the definition of what constitutes a “nonobvious” invention has become too broad, and as a result patents are being awarded too facilely for obvious inventions. This is clearly a problem, because patenting obvious inventions results in patents that are too broad to “invent around” or circumvent.

Paragraph Three:

The third paragraph describes how companies have responded to the proliferation of “bad patents”: they accumulate large portfolios of patents in order to create a credible deterrent against lawsuits. That way, if company A sues company B for patent infringement, company B can always find some patent that company A has infringed upon, and countersue. The author regrets this state of affairs, but also suggests that not joining the “arms race” would be a mistake.

Paragraph Four:

The fourth paragraph focuses on software patents and explains why they are especially vulnerable to patent abuse.

Passage B

The author of passage B is a software maker dealing with the problem of patent abuse described in passage A. The business strategy adopted is identical to the one described in passage A.

Paragraph One:

The first paragraph explains why the author opposes software patents: they impede innovation.

Paragraph Two:

The second paragraph shows why the author’s principled opposition to software patents cannot be put into practice. The problem, as in passage A, involves the practice of companies stockpiling massive patent portfolios. The author regrets having to play by the rules, adding the high cost of litigation as yet another downside to this practice.

Paragraph Three:

The final paragraph describes the software maker’s response to the misuse of software patents. To avoid finding itself defenseless against lawsuits, the company chooses to develop their own portfolio of software patents in what passage A called “joining the arms race.”

Passage Similarities and Differences

The two passages share similar views toward the patent system, which is criticized for allowing the proliferation of bad patents. Both authors lament the defensive strategy of amassing large portfolios of patents, and both consider such a solution regrettable yet necessary. The two passages are similar in scope, although passage B focuses exclusively on software patents; in passage A, software is just an example of an industry that is affected by patent abuse.

While substantively similar, the two passages approach the problem of patent abuse from different angles. Passage A provides the conceptual framework for understanding the misuse of patents, whereas passage B describes the position of someone dealing with that problem. Compared to passage B, passage A is a much denser read, describing the blurred boundaries between two key terms in patent law (“obvious” and “nonobvious” inventions). Both passages take issue with the patent system, but passage B outlines the position of someone directly affected by it.

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