Some of the problems with patent laws could be fixed by developing standards for "fair use." Under a "fair use" standard, there would be circumstances where one company could use another company's patented ideas in a way that constitutes limited infringement (with a low ceiling on damages) or no infringement at all.
...The "fair use doctrine" would continue to protect ideas that are difficult to develop and easy to execute. However, it would provide less protection to concepts that are not embedded in working products.
Read the entire essay--it's short. Would my suggestion improve patent law?
UPDATE: I received a lot of pushback on this, so I've written
I think my starting position, based on my experience in business, is that pure inspiration is rarely very important. I believe it was Thomas Edison who said that invention is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. I strongly agree with that.
The notion that "I came up with a brilliant idea, so I deserve to be rich," strikes me as wrong. Ideas are rarely that brilliant. Maybe I'm uncreative, but I cannot think of a single idea that I've had that was not close to something that somebody else in the field had thought about.
Lots of people want to be rewarded for creativity. Rock musicians, writers, and so on. My view is that if you want to be creative, do it for your own satisfaction. If you happen to make money, consider yourself lucky, but don't expect society to arrange it so that you get rich.
There is a really long, complex value chain involved in creating a marketable product. If you are a pure inventor, and other companies control most of the value chain, you can whine and moan all you want, but you have to deal with reality. Part of the job of being an inventor is finding partnerships that will enable you to turn your concept into a product.
If we don't have patents to protect extensive research, then we will lose out on important innovations. But if your flash of inspiration does not earn a patent, that's no loss.
John Locke said that the right to property came from "mixing the fruits of your labor." If you don't try to implement your inspiration, you don't have much of an ownership claim.
Having said all that, I think that intellectual property is a tough issue, and I don't promise that the position I take on it today is the position that I will hold forever.