Thu 27 Nov, 2008
On what may nearly be a weekly basis, we hear news of yet another Patent being granted for what, at least on first glance, appears to be a trivial and somewhat useless idea, one which has been quite obvious for years but only just, apparently, come to the attention of the Patent Office.
For an example of this evidence of the ludditism and ignorance of developments of the modern world, let us witness Patent 7,457,767, granted to IBM, for a system of splitting the restaurant bill amongst several patrons of the establishment. While you or I might have conceivably engaged in this practice at some time or other, apparently the idea is novel enough to the Patent Office that they felt it worthy of a Patent. However, it could be that none of those working at the Patent Office have found themselves at a restaurant in the accompaniment of friends; whether this indicates a lack of funds or a lack of friends is beyond this writer’s means to speculate.
The fact remains, though, that, especially in recent years, the Patent Office has made a habit of granting patents for the most absurdly simple and self-evident of “inventions” and “processes,” such as, for instance, the process of making a sandwich.
Indeed, a number of individuals and firms have attempted to make a livelihood from the process of filing patents on seemingly self-evident processes or procedures (or by obtaining patents from companies that find themselves unable to continue to do business), and then filing a lawsuit for infringement of said patent upon its grant against the various and sundry persons and corporations who, unwittingly, have been using this protected invention or procedure for their normal course of business for, at times, years. Styled “patent trolls,” these persons contribute nothing useful to society; instead, they attempt to make a profit from other people’s labor–not an unusual occupation, but certainly a parasitic one.
Interestingly, as the body develops knowledge to fight off the particles of a disease, the business world has developed a sort of immunization against these patent trolls. “RPX” promises to be an interesting and somewhat novel development in this story; it is described as a “defensive patent aggregator” whose purpose is to obtain the patents that would otherwise end up in the hands of the so-called patent trolls and to keep them locked safely away until their expiration. RPX intends to obtain operating funds via the doubtless-patented means of charging various large companies a membership fee, presumably to guarantee that they will keep an eye peeled for patents of interest to the company that is funding the process, and enable the company to pay fewer lawyers to defend itself against the parasites eager to file suit for infringement.
Whether this company will have any real effect remains to be seen, but it seems to be naught but a patch in a leaky hull. The business world would perhaps be better served by ladling funds into various congresscritters until they turned their sluggish gaze to a reform of the Patent Office–perhaps by hiring sufficient persons to read through the patents who have enough of a brain to recognize when something has been invented before, and enough friends that they know how to split a restaurant bill without needing to inquire of IBM about how to do so.