Long-winded patents

Edward Tenner over at the Atlantic has a few observations about the trend towards ever-longer patents:

Patent numbers are often treated as a proxy for invention or technological creativity. There are many more now than there were at the peak of technological optimism in the late 1990s….[But if each individual patent has] thousands of claims, is none of them very important or — as some speculate — is there a tendency to obfuscate the significant ideas with chaff, defeating the patent’s rationale of disclosure?

I wonder whether another reason for increased patent lengths is the widespread availability of word processing software.  One observation I have made in my years of legal research is that court opinions and law review articles tend to be shorter (and have fewer citations) the further back in time one goes.  Perhaps our fore-bearers spent just as much time on their “work product” (a.k.a. writing and analysis) as we do but the cumbersome mechanics of research and writing in a pre-digital era nudged one towards focus and concision.  Today, of course, the kitchen sink goes in because it can.

Whatever the reasons, you should really check out Tenner’s full post, which offers a few other explanations and ends by arguing that all this increase is not necessarily a good thing.