Thursday, December 4, 2008

Patent Insanity

Throughout the blogosphere sarcasm and criticism has run rampant about the patent system for some time, and for good reason. For years now companies and individuals have started patenting everything under the sun. Patents, for impatient laymen like myself, are a lot like stocks: some are valuable, most are worthless and all of them are about as tangible as a fart. And just as with stocks, they are bought and sold by entities that often have little to do with the industry the patents are relative too.

This has given way to a new form of business called Patent Trolling, which of course is done by a Patent Troll, where by a person or company holds patents for the expressed purpose of waiting and watching for someone or some company to infringe on that patent and then drag them into court. It's a lot like fishing, you have your bait and you wait, or Troll for all you deep sea fishermen out their. When some unsuspecting shmoe comes along, you devour them and their assets to make a profit. These trolls often seek vague patents. The vaguer the patent, the higher the success rate of nailing someone.

Patent trolling gave birth to the idea of patent reform. Which was really just companies looking for headlines and publicity with little to no concern for actual patent reform. Many of these companies made bold statements about patent reform only to turn around and dirty their own hands with the forbidden fruit. Fruit forbidden by them.

Two examples that apparently have no shame are Amazon and IBM. Amazon vowed to reform the US patent system. IBM vowed to stop submitting vague and seemingly invaluable patents and stress significant technical content in its patents. However, Amazon is in it's ninth year of trying to patent 1-click buying on the internet. A technique employed basically since the birth of e-commerce. IBM has applied for a patent on software that basically recognizes a name as either a girls name, a boys name, or as being generic or genderless such as the name Pat. IBM has also submitted a patent for splitting a check at a restaurant. You know, us four are eating together but we all think the others will get the lobster but I'm only getting the salad bar so give us all separate checks.

While these patents seem ridiculous in nature (and they are) even patent trolling itself is not free from the foray. Haliburton (commonly known as the evil entity that once employed Dick Cheney, who is commonly known as pure evil), has applied for a patent on patent trolling. In a "anything you can do I can do better" move, IBM has applied for a patent on finding areas lacking patents. Careful, be calm, we're not quite done and whiplash can hurt for many years.

Like a virus, patent trolling has now mutated into patent insurance. A new company, RPX Corp is buying up patents promising not to use them, as long as you license the patent in question of course. You see how this is completely different right? Don't worry I just took another Advil myself. If that weren't enough, another new company, Article One Partners, is offering $50,000 rewards to anyone that finds prior art for certain valuable patents. Basically they tell you which patents help by companies with lots of money they want to go after. You find loop holes in the patents, they give you $50k and they in turn use that information to blackmail the company holding the patent.

To finish off, here are a few patents being applied for by companies. Hopefully the patent office will laugh just as hard as you will:

Microsoft: Applying for a patent to censor offensive words. Because the FCC hasn't mandated that offensive words be censored yet. That was sarcasm, try to keep up.

TiVo: Won an appeal to safe guard it's patent for Pause, Ffwd and Rwd. According to TiVo, no matter what you think you have never had these features until they came around. If you remember using these features in the past before TiVo existed, you should "just say no".

McDonald: If you made it all the way to the end of this post I applaud you and reward you by saving the best for last. McDonald's has applied for a patent titled "METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR MAKING A SANDWICH". That's right boys and girls, Mickey D's is patenting the sandwich. Put that turkey on rye down or you'll owe them a nickle! They even have a flow chart. For those of you who haven't died and gone to Corporate America heaven, you most likely are like me, your forehead hurts and 3 hours have mysteriously passed since you saw the flow chart. Stop, don't look again, or you may be doomed to be caught in this vicious vortex of time for all eternity.

No comments: