More on Patents

Jonathon Krim explores some of the problems with patents and the US Patent Office in this long Washington Post article.
Regular readers already know that I take a very dim view of some of the patents being approved. For instance, see here, here and here.
Krim tells us that

Patents are granted for inventions deemed unique, useful and non-obvious, and the system has periodically yielded curious inventions, such as a diaper for pet birds.

There are some types of patents that have only sprung up in the last 20-30 years:

Software patents, for instance, can protect a single line of code that tells a computer to do a specific task.
Internet method patents, meanwhile, allow companies to protect broad ways of doing business on the Internet, rather than a specific product or its underlying technology. These controversial patents include’s method of “one-click” shopping and the use of online shopping carts.

Most of these types of patents should never have been issued.
Apparently the Patent Office has a huge backlog of applications and argues that they need more money and more staff to get them processed. There is an easy way to reduce the flow of applications and thus get a handle on the backlog: simply stop issuing these types of patents.
Via beSpacific.

Microsoft Patent

This may not be a glorious event for the internet and the world wide web.
On Tuesday, nearly 7 years after the original filing date, the US Patent Office awarded Patent 6,632,248 to Microsoft:

User-selected customization information for a network (e.g., HTML) document is stored at a server with reference to user identifying information that uniquely identifies the user. Whenever the user navigates back to the network address of the HTML document, the user is identified automatically and receives a customized HTML document formed in accordance with the customization information.

MS might just toss this in the back drawer and forget it or the courts might toss it out as Stephen S Hong, the primary patent examiner, should have done.
With their deep pockets, though, MS might just try to ram this down peoples throats.


For Your Entertainment

The August 2003 issue of Scientific American brings you gems from the US Patent Office:

The holders of the following selection of patents–a continuation of last month’s column on out-of-the-ordinary issuances from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office–will probably not have to worry too much about having to mount an aggressive program to protect their intellectual property.
Method of treating chest pain…..This inventor has patented lime juice to replace nitroglycerin as a treatment for chest pain such as angina pectoris.
Process for phase-locking human ovulation/menstrual cycles, patent 6,497,718, assigned to the secretary of the U.S. Air Force.

There are more. Go read the details and be entertained both by what people are spending their time doing and by the output of the patent office.

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.