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November 17, 2005

New model patent crank
Posted by Teresa at 08:00 AM * 70 comments

I learn from Ohpurleese and Science Daily that the United States Patent Office has granted Mr. Boris Volfson (of 5707 W. Maple Grove Rd., Apt. 3046, Huntington, IN 46750) a patent for:

A space vehicle (see illustration) propelled by the pressure of inflationary vacuum state … comprising a hollow superconductive shield, an inner shield, a power source, a support structure, upper and lower means for generating an electromagnetic field, and a flux modulation controller. A cooled hollow superconductive shield is energized by an electromagnetic field resulting in the quantized vortices of lattice ions projecting a gravitomagnetic field that forms a spacetime curvature anomaly outside the space vehicle. The spacetime curvature imbalance, the spacetime curvature being the same as gravity, provides for the space vehicle’s propulsion. The space vehicle, surrounded by the spacetime anomaly, may move at a speed approaching the light-speed characteristic for the modified locale.

For those of you who don’t speak gobbledegook, that’s a near-lightspeed flying saucer powered by some combination of gravity, electromagnetism, superconductivity, and “quantized vortices of lattice ions.”

This science, it goes boing like the superball.

I keep hearing about the Patent Office issuing absurd, ill-reviewed patents for things that are obvious, or dumb, or already in common use, or which lay claim to way too much territory, or which lay claim to an application of existing technology that’s clearly going to be possible in the future, but which do nothing to help that happen.

Harvey Ross’s claim that he’d patented POD book production irritated me no end. In 1990, he dreamed up the idea of kiosks where a customer could type in the title of a book, access information about it, hit a button, and walk out with a printed and bound copy. Big fat hairy deal. Lots of people had already been imagining arrangements like that: Take one each World Wide Web, broadband connection, library retrieval system, and Docutech printer; whirl in blender until done. His idea was distinguished only by the addition of a point-of-purchase hut, and those were hardly a new idea.

Harvey Ross didn’t do bleep-all to help build the online bookselling world, nor to get sales information piped directly from publishers to the net, nor to develop Lightning Source’s print-and-bind technology. All he did was posit a business using a certain configuration of obvious technologies. Then he designed a GUI and database storage system he imagined would be suitable for it. Again: big deal. This is very like Mr. Volfson’s flying saucer application, where all the work evidently went into designing the hull of the ship.

Last year, Ross slapped Ingram/Lightning Source with a $15 million lawsuit. Their business has no resemblance to his 1990 pipe dream. The court nevertheless upheld his claim, because, as one expert witness testified, “what’s of essence in the patent is a system or process whereby a customer can look at a computerized list of titles and select one for purchase that triggers the retrieval of a file that sets in motion the printing of the book.”

(I wonder whether anyone’s patented the same thing, only it burns the book to a CD. Or the same thing, only it downloads the book into your Palm Pilot. Whee, I’m an inventor, give me lots of money.)

Still, I really didn’t get a sense of the Patent Office’s culpable negligence until I saw that flying saucer patent. Are they brain-dead? Couldn’t they at least have shown it to an undergrad physics major? If the “quantized vortices of lattice ions” didn’t tip them off, the claim of near-lightspeed travel should have done so.

Forget that business about encouraging arts and manufactures; the patent office is awarding patents on the basis of who gets there first and tells the biggest whopper. If they’re willing to grant this nutbar a patent on antigravity, I want to take out patents on the time machine, positronic brain, tractor beam, ansible, light saber, Romulan cloaking device, matter duplicator, and babelfish. Might as well be me as anyone else.

Comments on New model patent crank:
#1 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 08:23 AM:

Other marvelous recent patents include The Peanut Butter And Jelly Sandwich With The Crusts Cut Off, Swinging On A Swing, and Amusing Your Cat With A Laser Pointer.

#2 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 08:24 AM:

I imagine a positronic brain would have a tendency to go "boom". I doubt the patent agency would catch that, though...

#3 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 08:27 AM:

This patent however is unlikely to result in them being able to sue someone in 10 years.

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 08:32 AM:

Agreed, Bryan. The connection is that the same patent office that's careless enough to award a patent on an antigravity flying saucer, or on crustless PB&Js, is awarding patents on business technologies that are potentially worth millions.

#5 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 08:43 AM:

You know how on many complex web sites they have drop-down menus listing the major destinations within the site and a "go" button which will take you to that destination, either by a server-side app or (later) Javascript?

I invented that. Swear to the wombat god, I invented that in 1995 for use in Crossover's first web-game, Reinventing America (of which I thought I had an online archive, but I can't find it right now). Internally, we called it "the teleporter".

ReUS was hosted on Pathfinder, which was Time-Warner's web site and, at the time, the most-visited site on the web which wasn't an index. Pathfinder picked it up from ReUS and it wasn't long before it was all over the web.

By the standards of internet patents, the teleporter was patentable. If it had ever occured to us to patent it, Crossover could easily be very, very wealthy right now. But it would have been wrong.

#6 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 08:55 AM:

There will be a big piece denouncing software patents in saturday's guardian. Unfortunately they lost the distinction between copyright and patent where software is concerned -- it's the distinction between good and bad cholesterols. But I wish I had known about the flying saucer when I was writing it.

#7 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 09:36 AM:

Patents should be granted only if the party requesting the patent has already developed the invention. If not, it should be given pending status granting limited protection for a limited time period. Then the patent office wouldn't be so swamped.

Hey, can I patent this idea?

#8 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 09:37 AM:

In case you missed it while you were away: Plot Patents.

The fact that this guy's patent has been in the pipeline for 3 years and hasn't been rejected yet is enough evidence of the patent office's insanity for me. Let alone various other travesties (e.g. amazon's "one click purchase" system -- a patent on a truly obvious system that they just happened to be the first to use, and Eolas's patent on the web browser plugin, another obvious technology which this time had been in use for several years before they filed for it).

Then there are the numerous hoax patents that have been allowed through, such as "method of swinging on a swing" (USPTO # 6,368,227).

Andrew: should have looked on Slashdot. They had this story about a week ago, I think. They're normally quick to find stupid patents, although they don't seem to have ever had an article about the patent on "reality TV" contests for baby adoption, despite the fact that I submitted one to them.

#9 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 09:44 AM:

Correction: 18 months, not 3 years. Still should have been rejected already.

#10 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 09:48 AM:

I always thought that a patent could be issued only for detailed devices, not for broad concepts. There I go being naive again. Say... How about my concept that my boss is way out of her depth and shouldn't be a boss?

#11 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 09:51 AM:

As far as I can tell, the patent office will issue a patent on just about anything; they rely on the courts to sort out the resulting messes. Pure hell, of course, for anyone who has to defend themselves against a frivolous patent claim.

Your tax dollars at work.

#12 ::: Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 09:51 AM:

I do not remember if it’s by statute or custom, but as I recall the Patent Office operates under the assumption that they must grant the patent unless for very specific and enumerated reasons they can’t. And they’re grotesquely understaffed and -funded. Hence the state of affairs. Further information here. (It’s been a while since I poked about in this stuff; this from a link collected for my very first blog post evah.)

#13 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 09:57 AM:

I'm going to patent the concept of an ambulatory semi-autonomous organic mechanism for the separation of desirable fiction from slush (Many Other Functions), and then Tor will owe me money on you.

#14 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 10:01 AM:

If I recall the Swinging-on-a-Swing patent story correctly, that came about in this wise:

A patent attorney took his daughter to work on "Take Your Daughter To Work Day," and in order to show her what Daddy did, he helped her file her own patent. Thus ... swinging on a swing.

#15 ::: Derek Lowe ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 10:05 AM:

I have a whole file of these damn things. Working as a drug discovery chemist, I have to think about patent issues very carefully - people have made mistakes on drug patents that have cost hundreds of millions of dollars. So you can imagine my joy when I see the patent examiners letting stuff like this through. Many people still think that you have to have a working model to get an issued patent, but all you need is money and patience.

Try, for example, the patent issued in 2000 (US6025810) for a faster-than-light radio. The applicant isn't trying to hide the FTL part, either - it's right there in the abstract. The PTO granted it. (That link has details of the patent, but under the wrong number - the number given at the top of the page is for an presumably slightly more useful patent for a portable toilet seat, as it turns out).

All sorts of crank space drives have made it through - US5197279 ("Electromagnetic Propulsion Engine") is a good example, but at least that one seems to stop at lightspeed. And it's hard to make out just what US6404089 ("Electrodynamic Field Generator") is for, but it smells of a free-energy device. There are others.

Another handy device is found in US5280864, a "method for transiently altering the mass of objects to facilitate their transport." Yep, antigravity. Haven't heard of this one being licensed out yet; you'd think there would be a market.

Then there's the infamous "hydrino" patent, US6024935, granted to Blacklight Power, who've been scamming people for years with stories of a supposed lower-energy state of the hydrogen atom. The PTO at least caught on after this, and their follow-ups seem to have stalled. The Guardian recently ran a credulous article on these folks, which wasn't well received by people who've been following the story.

While we're on impossibilities, try US5533051, which purports to detail a method for infinite lossless compression of data files. But bad software patents are a whole other ugly subject.

These are just the ones that make it through. The list of insane patent applications is much, much larger, including incomprehensible 300-page screeds about reincarnation and invisible hormones that you just know were filed in green ink on brown paper towels.

#16 ::: Greg Morrow ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 10:10 AM:

I have been led to believe that the Patent Office's behavior is a kind of civil disobedience. They keep asking Congress for enough money to do their job well, Congress keeps denying them, and in return, because they don't have the money to do the job right, they let everything through, putting the burden on the courts and private entities to sort it out.

Of course, the people who believe that government can't solve problems, i.e., the party that controls Congress, have no interest in fixing the dysfunctional Patent Office, nor is it sexy enough for the opposition party to fight for.

We need a revolution in representation, to get people in office who actually believe that government can actually make things better and are willing to work for it.

#17 ::: Derek Lowe ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 10:18 AM:

Nope, if they let everything through, the volume of these things would go up by at least an order of magnitude. A search for odd phrases here will probably illustrate the point. I think that some of the patent examiners are good at their jobs, and some of them are clueless.

Which makes a story I've heard sound semi-plausible: that some tech companies have submitted multiple copies of the same application simultaneously and waited to see which examiner is assigned to each one. Then they dropped all but the one assigned to the examiner that they knew was a pushover. . .

#18 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 10:19 AM:

So the basic system is that anything can be patented, and the only way it can be challenged is by somebody with enough money to afford the lawyers, even if the patent is obviously ridiculous?

Sounds almost like something made for corporate neo-conservatism, a sort of IP version of "Kill them all and let God decide."

And under current US practice, Arthud C. Clarke could have patented the communications satellite and still never earnt a penny for it.

#19 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 10:27 AM:

How does the patent system work in Euroope?

#20 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 10:42 AM:

I invented the spork. No one believes me, but I did it. I've been trying to get those Bastards at Taco Bell to pay me my royalty check for I don't know how many years now.

Of course, my spork was made of a special alloy that produced a harmonic convergance field that made burritos super light.

#21 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 10:44 AM:

And yet amazingly, they denied my patent on Lot Auctions, even though it's clearly not in usage by anybody else and has new and novel apllications, and is in general a better online auctioning system.

Grumble grumble after spending tens of thousands of dollars in fees and lawyers grumble.

#22 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 10:45 AM:

Yes, but after the burritos had harmonically converged and become super light, could we become more luminous by eating them? (Actually, maybe we could. Did the special spork come with an ignition device?)

#23 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 10:46 AM:

I have some commentary on the storyline patent application in my most recent Escape Pod podcast.

My take on this is that this particular application is unlikely to hold up. But if it is granted, or if this category of patent is validated by another successful application, the consequences for creative work are going to be disastrous. The insanity of software patents won't hold a candle to this. Imagine having to hire a lawyer to perform a patent search for you every time you submit a novel manuscript.

#24 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 10:47 AM:

I've vaguely considered changing careers, and one of the directions I've thought about is patent-examining. (For the kind of science I know, obviously. Not IT.) It looks like the work needs doing, and ought to be done by someone who isn't an idiot. Does anyone here know if it's satisfying work? Horrible?

When I looked into it a few years ago, the intrusiveness of the background check scared me off. I'm delighted to have found treatment that means my health problems disable me as little as they do, and cautiously relieved that the ADA offered what protections it did. But when I prospective employer asks for my complete medical records and authorization to interview my former mother-in-law, I'm inclined to mutter "nevermind" and slip out the back door unless someone gives me an awfully good reason it's worth it.

#25 ::: perianwyr ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 10:48 AM:

And they’re grotesquely understaffed and -funded.

The patent office is in no way underfunded. It is one of the few profitable federal agencies- and by law it gets to keep the money it makes.

Part of the problems with patents arise from the fact that the patent office gains no fee from a rejected patent. It is indeed a case where the office assumes that the courts will handle it down the line. It is a poisonous atmosphere for real innovation.

#26 ::: John Aspinall ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 10:51 AM:

I'd never stumbled across OhPurleeze before. My initial opinion is lowered dramatically by the fact that they seem to be clueless about two-letter "country code" top level domains. Or perhaps they think California is a country.

#27 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 10:53 AM:

THN: This science, it goes boing like the superball.


I assume that you're talking about this particular case ("THIS science"). Because it's been well established in the literature that generally, scientific progress goes *boink*. (See: Watterson, 1991)

#28 ::: Derek Lowe ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 10:59 AM:

Perianwyr, you'd think that that would be true, but a substantial amount of the PTO's revenue is diverted by Congress into other spending. There have been any number of complaints about this over the years, but a recent court case held that it was at least constitutional. There have been several bills introduced to stop the practice, but (as noted here), these bills tend to die quietly in committee. Congress loves the revenue stream too much to give it up.

Greg Aharonian, who writes a well-known IP newsletter, makes support for ending fee diversion an acid test for determining if anyone is serious about improving patent quality.

#29 ::: Electric Landlady ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 11:03 AM:

I learned from reading Voodoo Science that they won't grant a patent on a perpetual motion machine (I think it goes something along the lines of "Deposit a working model with us, and if it's still running after a year, then we'll talk"). But I suppose a cunningly camouflaged one might make it through.

#30 ::: Matthew Nielsen ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 11:10 AM:

But wait, there's more! About four issues ago, I received a pair of heavy sweat pants for review and they had patent infringement warning tags attached right along with the size and brand labels.

Behold U.S. Patent No. 6,826,782 and the personal area network (PAN). Brought to you by Scott eVest, www.scottevest.com

It's essentially a patent for pockets in clothing, but not being limited, may also include a hole in the pocket.

#31 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 11:15 AM:

Yes, but after the burritos had harmonically converged and become super light, could we become more luminous by eating them? (Actually, maybe we could. Did the special spork come with an ignition device?)

There is no spoon.

#32 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 11:35 AM:

Randolph Fritz: "As far as I can tell, the patent office will issue a patent on just about anything; they rely on the courts to sort out the resulting messes."

The courts, meanwhile, assume that a patent is valid unless there's a strong reason to believe otherwise, because they don't want to second-guess the Patent Office....

#33 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 11:59 AM:

A friend of my wife's works for the patent office as a lawyer, as does her husband (if I'm remembering this right). I don't know about underfunded, but they were understaffed, and I vaguely recall there being some kind of asinine system whereby they were rewarded for the number of items they got through in a given month -- and also by how much improvement they showed in getting through items from month to month.

In essence, somebody who comes in lazy and gradually picks up his pace gets rewarded, while somebody who comes in working her hardest and gets better but not faster doesn't receive the same bonuses.

Under those circumstances, the patent office is putting in place systems specifically designed to encourage the approval of idiotic patents.

(Mind you, this was about four or five years ago over a very nice meal in a very loud restaurant, and I could be remembering some elements wrong. Both the husband and wife seemed very sure about this, and very cynical, and laughingly happy that at least a few patents hadn't gotten through.

#34 ::: Dan Guy ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 12:01 PM:

I have several friends who work for the Patent Office, and therefore have no doubt that it is collectively as uninformed and blundering as we all imagine. The system rewards them for approving patents quickly, not carefully.

#35 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 12:06 PM:

Of course this has sat in the que for a long time - if you had this on your desk wouldn't everything else take precidence?

#36 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 12:20 PM:

I'm going to patent the concept of an ambulatory semi-autonomous organic mechanism for the separation of desirable fiction from slush (Many Other Functions), and then Tor will owe me money on you.


I'm going to patent the idea of an organic mechanism (it need not be ambulatory, nor have Other Functions) for making funny, snarky, erudite and original comments in online forums.

Then T and P will owe me money on every comment thread. I'm gonna be rich!

#37 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 12:32 PM:

I'm surprised BSD hasn't chimed in here yet.

#38 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 12:43 PM:

I'm gonna patent an organic device for transforming caffeine into code, and REALLY clean up!

#39 ::: almostinfamous ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 12:56 PM:

someone should submit a patent for 5 human-driven robot lions that fuse together to make an invincble humanoid mecha with a sword.

#40 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 12:57 PM:

The language of the weirdo patents dealing with physics sounds like the authors listened a tad too much to the technobabble of ST-TNG.

#41 ::: almostinfamous ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 01:00 PM:

Serge, i do not think that is a coincidence.

#42 ::: Meredith ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 01:36 PM:

And when this guy finally builds his space vehicle and ushers in the era of intergalactic travel, won't we all look like naysaying fools. ;)

#43 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 01:40 PM:

Me neither, almostinfamous... Those inventors probably all see themselves as Starfleet's one and only weirdo, Barclay.

#44 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 02:35 PM:

Yes, but after the burritos had harmonically converged and become super light, could we become more luminous by eating them? (Actually, maybe we could. Did the special spork come with an ignition device?)

The orginal model was self inginting. Subsequent versions required my patented electrodynamic hydrocoil. It's basically a Tesla Coil suspended in a tank of heavy water.

#45 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 02:42 PM:

And no one's even (explicitly) touched upon some of the worst abuses: patents of business processes. Historically, these have been deemed inherently unpatentable - but in the US, a Federal Judge disagreed, which has led to a flood of BS patents being issued.

Those trendy 'ceral bar' restaurants? Some jackass has taken out a patent on 'mixing one or more branded breakfast cerals in a bowl and then adding milk' as a business process and is now in the process of suing independently-owned ceral bars - including ones that opened before he even filed his application. His patent is so broad, he might be able to file violation claims against companies using touch-screen kiosks for customers to place their own orders. McDonald's was experimenting with that years ago...

And don't get me started on Amazon's newly issued patent for web-form-based user-submitted reviews.

#46 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 02:50 PM:

Serge asks how the European system works. From my understanding it is very similar, with a few small differences:

* Fee is not refundable should the application fail, which means no incentive to pass patents for the patent office.

* As well as the "novelty", "utility" and "non-obviousness" requirements of US law, we also have a requirement that patents make a contribution to the state of a "technical art" and produce a "technical effect" (or solve a "technical problem"). This rules out most business method patents, storyline patents and other similar nonsense. It is also believed, because of how courts have interpreted it in the past, to rule out a large number of software patents (although not all).

Steve Eley wrote: Imagine having to hire a lawyer to perform a patent search for you every time you submit a novel manuscript.

Imagine having spent a year of your life writing a novel manuscript, only to find out that you can't sell it to anyone because the core premise is patented by someone you've never heard of. It would probably be advisable to make those searches before you start writing.

#47 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 03:10 PM:

Another problem with patents is that they are way too broad.

I just did some research for a company to test their dietary supplement for its effects on weight gain in a particular species of a particular age and gender under particular environmental conditions. I produced adequate data; in addition, because I am such a scathingly brilliant scientist (yeah, right) I found that the product caused a small but statistically significant change in one particular aspect of one particular kind of immune cell.

They are now applying for a US patent that states this product will have a positive functional effect on *all* immune cells in *all* mammalian species of *all* ages and genders....and they'll get it. No proof required to expand your claims once you've got a bit of data showing one claim. (In case you can't guess, I've got issues with this.)

#48 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 03:24 PM:

Has anybody patented the concept of onomatopeia? If so, Teresa's comment about science going boing means she just stole someone's property. How does it feel to be in the same league as criminal mastermind Lex Luthor?

#49 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 03:38 PM:

http://www.iusmentis.com/patents/uspto-epodiff/ has a summary of the difference between US and European patents.

I believe there was legislation pending at some point to move the US towards the European standard of "First to File" rather than "First to Invent."

The former is undoubtedly simpler bureaucratically, but the latter make much more sense to me. If you can document that you came up with the mechanism to solve a given problem first, why should someone else have the patent merely because that person got to the patent office first? (I suppose "First to File" encourages filing rather than keeping the details of your process as a trade secret?)

#50 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 04:03 PM:

"How does it feel to be in the same league as criminal mastermind Lex Luthor?"

depressing when you realize it means you're in the same league as Solomon Grundy too.

#51 ::: Derek Lowe ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 04:18 PM:

FranW: "They are now applying for a US patent that states this product will have a positive functional effect on *all* immune cells in *all* mammalian species of *all* ages and genders....and they'll get it. No proof required to expand your claims once you've got a bit of data showing one claim. (In case you can't guess, I've got issues with this.)"

Ah, but they won't have enabled any of that, will they? Nor will they have taught how to do any of it, unless they get lucky and the procedure you found works without modification for all the other things they're claiming. Those are two key requirements for a patent claim to stand up. You can claim all sorts of things; defending them is another matter.

A competent examiner (which as this thread shows you, cannot be assumed) will restrict those claims during the application phase. Even if some bozo grants them all, though, they won't hold up against someone who's really motivated to move in on them. This stuff will only scare off the faint of heart. Not that we all wouldn't be better off without all this gibberish in the patent system, mind you. . .

#52 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 04:25 PM:

Solomon Grundy in the same league as Lex Luthor? Are we talking of the same Grundy whose IQ makes the Hulk sound like Einstein?

#53 ::: Derek Lowe ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 04:29 PM:

TC: "I believe there was legislation pending at some point to move the US towards the European standard of "First to File" rather than "First to Invent."

That's still going on, although who knows when it'll ever become law. I don't see it happening soon, but I feel pretty sure that eventually we'll get around to the change.

There are good arguments on both sides, but it's important to realize how rarely a patent fight comes down to invention date. The "first to invent" rule seems to favor the underdog, but it only favors the underdog who keep meticulous, witnessed records. Many of them don't.

And most large US companies work at least partially with a first-to-file mentality anyway, since that's what you need for protection in the rest of the world. Priority for applications filed under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), which can cover a huge swath of the globe, are strictly by filing date.

#54 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 07:27 PM:

Serge, did you never watch Super Friends?

#55 ::: Ashni ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 07:53 PM:

I don't have the time or money to do this myself, but I bet if you filed a patent for a bureaucratic structure intended to determine and record precedence on inventions, and then sued for infringement, this idiocy would get straightened out right quick.

For extra credit, one could also patent a governmental structure in which representatives are chosen from multiple geographic reasons based on a majority of votes from each region. It would count as a business process, as long as you included the bit about lobbyists.

#56 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2005, 08:53 PM:

gravitomagnetic field that forms a spacetime curvature anomaly outside the space vehicle

This is a giggle, right?

When it's actually for sale, I want one. I have the name all picked out...

#57 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 12:45 AM:

Matthew, you review sweat pants? Mom never tells me anything.

#58 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 05:08 AM:

'Serge, did you never watch Super Friends?'

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legion_of_Doom

#59 ::: Jasper Janssen ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 07:44 AM:

It would seem to me that "fees nonrefundable in the event of rejection" would be an easy pass -- the legislature can't have a problem with simply getting more money, it'll reduce a lot of the frivolous patent filers (swinging on a swing -- you can't tell me he *planned* that to pass..), the PTO can hire many more examiners, and the incentive to pass everything goes way, way down. Why are they faffing around with first-to-file versus first-to-invent when there's a much bigger and more beneficial change that can easily be made?

#60 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 08:00 AM:

So, has anyone attempted to patent magic?

"A technology by which favors are traded from supernatural powers."

Jokes aside -- this patent silliness has to end. Or lawyers will take over America! (Ooops, too late. ;-))

#61 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 08:32 AM:

In Europe, the "technical invention" bit mainly protected us from the deluge of idiocy the US experiences... until a few years ago. With increasing pressure on standardisation of IP legislation across the world (don't we all want to live in a magical "Information Society"?), the dams are creaking. You can google the recent furious battle at EU level on software patentability for more info. In my opinion, if we really want to protect the little guy we should:

  1. strip corporations of any entitlement to IP of any kind, referring to physical living people
  2. keep ourselves strictly to technical fields
  3. build strong review mechanisms possibly involving research personnel (with appropriate checks)

This said, I'd never thought this kind of discourses would make it to a place like this, from the wilderness of Slashdot and P2P sites. Golly, the world really IS changing.

#62 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 09:14 AM:

Note that the filing fee and examination fees are nonrefundable if the patent is rejected.

However, the big money is in the issue and maintenance fees, which of course are only paid after the patent is granted.

On the plus side, those maintenance fees allow patents that aren't worth ponying up an extra $900 ($450 if you qualify as a "small entitiy") lapse after only 3.5 years. On the down side, this creates a monetary incentive for the patent office to issue meaningless patents.

Actually, although I can clearly see the societal harm caused by a patent office that issues overly broad patents or patents on obvious ideas, what's the societal harm in issuing meaningless patents, or patents on devices which cannot exist?

#63 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 09:56 AM:

Actually, although I can clearly see the societal harm caused by a patent office that issues overly broad patents or patents on obvious ideas, what's the societal harm in issuing meaningless patents, or patents on devices which cannot exist?

A patent on an impossible device allows a scam artist to claim a certain level of respectability. To people who don't know what really goes on in the Patent Office, it says "The government has looked at this, and found it worthy."

That's why scam artists are constantly trying to find new ways to patent perpetual motion machines, and why scam fighters are constantly working to block those patents.

#64 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2005, 03:23 PM:

Yet another bad patent pending -- "Breath Capture is a patent-pending method and apparatus for collecting human breath as a keepsake display."

Just, you know, adding to the list.

#65 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2005, 12:43 PM:

Just a quick note -- the article Andrew Brown mentioned above is on the Guardian's web site. Great stuff.

#66 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2005, 12:47 PM:

Oh, good lord.

Air in the form of human breath is no longer simply air. Breath is present when we laugh and cry, whisper and shout, sing and sigh. And once captured, it can be a powerful reminder of those we long to be around. In short, Breath Capture™ preserves not only the memory of someone, but who they are. So wherever you go, they’ll always be close.

Wouldn't it be easier just to get them to urinate into a sample jar? I mean, it makes about as much sense.

#67 ::: Kermit Williams ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 05:39 PM:

The PTO is scamming inventors i documented a idea the stole the 10$ dollars and gave me blank forms with my name on it took my designs they are frauding inventors and patent are no good they just take your money and give you the same patent others have.

#68 ::: P J Evans sees comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 05:49 PM:

Or a paranoid semi-literate.

#69 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 09:55 PM:

I'd go with the latter, myself, since there isn't a link to anywhere in the post.

#70 ::: Alistair d'rozario ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2010, 09:49 AM:

Until today i had always thought that if i wanted to patent any of my idea s that id have a very very defined idea to back it up even if what i had was sufficent for any common person to understand . . . . . Shit wow . . . Cant believe such crap can be patiented

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