Proposals for reforming the patent system are popular topics these days. One of the ideas floating around is that the number of patents issued, or possibly the number of patent applications accepted, per year should be limited. The possible premises (to which I don’t necessarily agree) for such a proposal are that there are a very large number of patents granted each year, some fraction of which are allegedly junk (i.e., low quality patents that should not have been granted), our courts are flooded with litigation, the large number of patents presents a barrier to new businesses, and all of this increases the cost of doing business which must then be passed along to consumers. But, would limiting the number of patent applications or issued patents solve any of these possible problems? And, might there be some unintended consequences?

Immediately, a question comes to mind: who would get to decide which patents are worth accepting or worth granting? Who is to say which patents are worthwhile, and which ones are not? Let’s say a committee is chosen. Might there be political influence on this committee? Or lobbying? I don’t think either of these is beneficial for the health of the inventor community, the economy, or innovation. What criteria would be used to select which patent applications are accepted?

And as for the possible goal of decreasing the burden on courts, can you just imagine how many lawsuits would arise from inventors and companies whose applications were deselected from consideration for patenting? What if there was a numerical limit of N applications selected per year for examination. How would the inventor(s) of the very next application (N+1) feel about this?

Might a decrease in the number of patents result in an increase in the number of monopolies, as fewer companies are able to obtain the valuable patents? In this proposal, which I do not support, and in any other proposal for patent reform, let's urge in-depth analysis and multilevel thinking, especially as to the potentially long-term unintended consequences of implementation.