The patent system has, in recent years, enjoyed levels of use far beyond what would have been imagined only a decade ago. Numbers of patent applications have never been higher and there are a number of examples that patents have helped support the development of an ever-increasing range of technology. Yet this success has not given rise to universal satisfaction, either within the immediate circle of administrators and users of the patent system, or among the intended beneficiaries of the system more widely in society. The system today faces two main challenges: an internal challenge, concerning the actual operation of the system; and an external challenge, concerning the policy role, and the economic and social impact of the patent system.
At this second, broader level of public debate, general perceptions of the patent system are marked by apprehension and unease. After a long period of relative obscurity, when there were in fact concerns about the low general awareness of the patent system, it has more recently emerged into the public spotlight. Yet this increased prominence has not resulted from the contribution of the patent system to the creation and spread of new technology. Rather, it comes primarily from concerns about perceived negative effects of the system, including the controversy over the possibility that patents may be hampering governments' ability to deal with policy issues, concerns about the granting of patent protection to some forms of new technology, such as biotechnology, and about the granting of invalid patents, which may unfairly limit both the public domain and competition.
Against this backdrop, it is felt that a greater understanding of the role of the patent system, and of the concerns being expressed, may contribute to the ongoing debate.