Creating a company for the sole purpose of suing other firms for violating patents you own is known as patent trolling. In a universe-twisting bit of irony, this practice has itself been patented. The owners of the aptly-titled "Patent Acquisition and Assertion by a (Non-Inventor) First Party Against a Second Party" intend to "use the patent defensively to discourage patent trolls and the like from extortionist practices." In other words, Halliburton Energy Services, owner of this patent, can threaten just about anyone who might sue them for IP infringement with a counter-suit.
In less absurd news, Michael Geist hails the Supreme Court of Canada's decision to void Pfizer's Viagra patent because the company refused to disclose information about the drug's active ingredients. Update from a reader:
The US Patent and Trademark office (USPTO) does allow some patents to issue that it should not. My firm regularly defends clients against them. However, the "extreme example" that Christopher Mims points at is a patent application, not an issued patent, and will likely never become one.
Until a patent application issues as a patent, it is not legally enforceable. I checked the USPTO website for the status of this application (US 11/741429). The applicant is still trying to get the USPTO to issue it, but the USPTO has so far rejected all claims of the application. The grounds for the rejections include section 101 – subject matter. Translation – you cannot get a patent for something like that. So far, this is an example of the patent system working as it should. And this points out a different problem: there are flaws with the patent system that need addressing, but many of the critics jumping into the debate do not know what they are talking about.