The editorial began:
American patent law should provide large incentives that reward innovation. Otherwise, drug companies would not have the reason or the resources to invest billions in research and development, for example.
On the other hand, patents on “innovations” that are obvious to anyone with average skill in a field, or those that contain claims so broad they give the patentee monopoly control over huge swaths of an industry, can easily stifle invention.
One wonders how American drug companies think about the decision in KSR v. Teleflex?
The editorial made reference to the Duerr/Columbia case (Henry Ford vs. the patent of George Selden), which was decided in 1911:
Take, for example, the case of an 1898 U.S. patent, eventually truncated in court, that issued exclusive rights to a single inventor for adding a gasoline engine to a car chassis – an overly broad claim that would have resulted in giving that inventor patent rights on virtually all automobiles ever made.
The editorial emphasizes the idea that the Supreme "relaxed" a "restrictive" patent system, but still indicates that Congress needs to act:
A recent important Supreme Court opinion intelligently relaxed America’s sometimes overly restrictive patent system. Even so, legislative action is also necessary to strike a better balance between open competition and patent restriction in the United States.
The court’s decision relaxes the standard used to determine when patents are obvious, sensibly concluding that, in general, “if a person of ordinary skill in the art can implement a predictable variation, and would see the benefit of doing so,” it would not be worthy of patent protection. Rather, it would simply be “the product not of innovation but of ordinary skill and common sense.”
One can find the earlier Washington Post piece (Sunday, May 6, 2007; Page F03) here.