June 25, 2003

Netflix Patent

As I have commented before there are patents being issued that have no business existing. This one fits in that category.

Don't get me wrong. Netflix offers a great service. If you regularly rent DVDs then it may work very well for you. But, there is nothing about this process that walks, talks or smells like an invention. This is a rental service using standard technology not an anti-gravity device.

Here are some example descriptions from the patent:

According to one aspect of the invention, a method is provided for renting items to customers on a subscription basis.
According to the approach, customers provide item selection criteria to a provider provides the items indicated by the item selection criteria to customer over a delivery channel.
There is lots of language like this accompanied by fairly trivial flow charts all doable by your average business systems analyst who has been asked to create a system to manage rentals. Folks there is not any invention in the classic sense here. This is like issuing a patent to someone who uses purple letters instead of green letters on their lemonade stand.

Posted by Steve on June 25, 2003

Is it really that hard to get technically savvy staff in the patent office? It seems if you appy for a patent related to a service or protocol (ass opposed to hardware) that utilizes computer technology, you automatically get issues the patent. This is patently ridiculous. (groan)

Posted by Nurse Ratched at June 26, 2003 12:57 PM

I'm bewildered by the resentment of software related patents. The PTO has always granted patents on anything implemented with hardware, yet the same invention was not patentable in software. This was quite a strange result. Now that the laws have changed, all of the sudden all these self-proclaimed software experts are patent experts who know what is legally "novel" and "non-obvious." Software is not the only field with patents issuing having what some consider broad claims.

I think much of the knee-jerk opinions come from those who look at the disclosure of the patent, rather than the claims, and conclude that everything disclosed is patented (as the author of the originating post has done). It is only the claims that define the invention, and the claims of the Netflix patent are different than what is quoted in the original post.

As to the Ebay patent referenced by the author in a previous post, a patent doesn't sustain a heavy duty trial like that without some serious analysis into the validity of the patent. Thus, as to the validity of this patent, I wouldn't be so quick to conclude that "our patent system is so broken that it issued this patent."

As to the Netflix patent(U.S. 6,584,450)... I see that there are only three patents cited as prior art. One might conclude that this means this was a very new endeavor, which would result in broad claims.

Obviousness is always 20/20 in hindsight. Ask yourself, if it was so darn obvious then:
o why did no one do it until Netflix?
o why are all the competitors only now attempting to copy Netflix?

Posted by GeorgiaJams at April 16, 2004 5:14 AM
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