This piece was originally published on August 11, 2011 on This is my next, before The Verge launched. We've updated it to reflect recent developments in the patent debate, and we'll revisit it periodically as time goes on.

There is a fundamental problem with patents in the United States.

It is us.

By that I mean all of us: the companies and people who directly interact with the patent system, the media that reports on those interactions, the analysts and experts who inform the media, and finally the large, active, and vocal readership that we try and service with our reporting. As a group, we have accepted and let lie the lazy conventional wisdom that the patent system is broken beyond repair, a relic of a previous time that has been obsoleted by the rapid pace of technical innovation, particularly in software, and that it should perhaps be scrapped altogether.

In the past few months, this rhetoric has grown to a furious roar, as the patent system seems to be affecting more and more of the technology industry in a negative way: small mobile app developers have been targeted with spurious lawsuits from companies that make nothing, a pair of multibillion-dollar patent auctions has sparked an unprecedented war of words between Microsoft and Google, and major players like Apple, HTC, and Samsung are locked in patent-related litigation that has resulted in devices like the Galaxy Nexus being banned (and unbanned) from sale. The most passionate critics loudly argue that whatever benefits our current patent system might offer have now been exceeded by its costs; that resources that should otherwise go to the development of new ideas are instead being misspent on the overzealous protection of the old.

This line of thinking has been so forcefully and insistently repeated that it has become almost axiomatic, an intellectual and rhetorical cheat that is rarely (if ever) questioned. But it's also wrong — painfully wrong, in ways that sabotage any real attempt at reform. Being loud and angry is a great way to get attention, but it’s a terrible way to actually get anything done — especially since most of the emphatic chest-pounding sounds like a slightly less sophisticated version of an argument we've been having in this country since Thomas Jefferson was appointed the first head of the Patent Office.

So let’s start over, shall we? Let’s actually look at how the patent system works, where it’s specifically malfunctioning, and how we can fix it. Ready? Let’s go.