In most English dictionaries, the words “patent” and “pathetic” end up on the same page. I’ve always found this to be somewhat telling. For years the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been routinely issuing patents so pathetic that they border on laughable. And I don’t really fault the Patent Office as much as I do the system, the fact of the matter is that the Patent Office research teams have an impossible task to perform, they are being asked to make Patent decisions about an incredibly vast array of topics, some so technical and obscure that I doubt that many even understand the applications they are processing.
To be fair, this is not just a U.S. problem. The Australian patent office allowed a man to patent the wheel. And the European Patent Office is quickly taking the lead in the absurdity race after having granted close to 30,000 software related patents including the ability to “visualise functions by graphically displaying their components”, being able to “represent the nodes in the network and their relations in a graphical manner”, “converting Windows95 filenames to WindowsNT filenames”, and trapping viruses in real-time.
And so it was somewhat gratifying to see the Patent Office do the right thing in invalidating the ridiculous “technology for embedding interactive elements into Web pages” patent issued to Eolas and the University of California (see http://news.com.com/2100-1023_3-5171073.html?tag=nefd_top). While the decision is not final, this is certainly a step in the right direction, and I understand all the fuss.
But what I want to know is who is next? What other ridiculous patents could be invalidated? What about Amazon’s patent (5,960,411) on one-click purchasing? Or Microsoft’s request for a patent that could prevent competing applications from processing Office documents? Or IBM’s recent filing for “A method and apparatus for conducting business via the worldwide Web in which business programming is isolated from Web user interface programming”? Or Interwoven’s patent (6,505,212) of code versioning? Or the 1985 patent (4,528,643) on paid-for downloads?
Hey, this could become fun! Hundreds, no thousands, of patents all being invalidated on the grounds of “stupidity”. And while we are at it, impose hefty fines on individuals or organization filing bogus patent claims. Oh, and get the Europeans to do the same. Oh yeah! Ok, I am fantasizing, but could you just imagine?
(Oh, and for the record, opinions voiced here are my own, I am not speaking for anyone else, individuals or organizations).