Pondering about patents..

17 11 2005

” Betty bought some pretty patents, the patents were very petty , so Betty bought better patents to make the petty patents pretty “

Patent : “A grant made by a government that confers upon the creator of an invention the sole right to make, use, and sell that invention for a set period of time”

I never much thought about patents, until the day I attended a seminar by a medical enterprise, and got a Business card holder as a free gift. It was a normal, typical, plain, card holder, the only distinguishing factor being use of magnets for adhering a kind of detachable ‘skin’ to the case. Kind of like a cell phone cover, if you will . Now, what intrigued me was, written in not-so-small print underneath the case was “United states patent number blah blah blah ” .

I`d always associated patents with mad scientists and nerds with oversized glasses and straw like hair producing innovations for the betterment of humanity , that this petty patent came as a mild shock . Especially because it wasn`t particularly innovative. I mean, consider u have a metal card holder and u want to change its appearance , what would you do then ? Intutively, you would think about sticking something on top, and considering the case is made of steel , a magnet would be a logical option.Bad news, you are now liable to be prosecuted for patent infringement.Shucks.

This kind of stuff could be especially more acute in the software industry, where more often than not, the best solution to a problem is the most intuitive one. I heard an interesting anecdote the other day about a patent filed by Oracle . Seems they developed a database updating program for a client, where after getting the voluminous input data, the program spent 1 hour of its time updating the records in the database. The catch was, during the one hour the database was being updated, you had no access to the older values, and a client wasn`t satisfied with that and asked the Oracle programmer to find a solution. Now, put yourself in the shoes of the programmer and think about how you would have solved that particular problem, before scrolling down to see the solution..

Seems, the programmer copied the older database onto another, and pointed database accesses to the copy during the 1 hour the updates were being made. After updation the pointer was moved back to the updated one and the older table was deleted. Simple, intuitive solution, and what is the next thing you do ? Go and file a patent for that solution !! This implies,if you have the same problem yourself, and its not that uncommon, and you come up with the same solution, you are again, liable to be prosecuted for patent infringement ! Again, Shucks.

Of course, Oracle would not want not likely want to waste their time sueing you, but consider you start a small firm, patent a simple process before any1 else gets there before you, wait till you find one of the big guys using the same thing, and voila, headlines the next day, “young computer prodigy sues Microsoft for patent infringement” .

You may not, of course, actually win the trial, but think of the massive publicity involved. For a small upcoming firm struggling for clients, publicity could mean a lot. Sure, it wouldn`t be ethically right, but hey dont tell me every firm which starts up has ethics over money in its mission statement.

I may have exaggerated a whole lot, and i most probably did, but still, few thoughts..

What are patents really worth ? Would you be more likely to go to a company with more patents that one which has none ? Going by that token, remember the medical company we talked abt? Could they advertise they have 2 patents just because they created a card holder and a cigarette case? Would you ask them what those patents they held were before entering into business with them ?

Lots of questions, and if any1 can answer, i`d be patently pleased πŸ™‚

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3 responses

27 11 2005
Emily

Hey, I found you by clicking the “next blog” button and this entry totally hooked me.

I think this frivolous patent stuff is similar to the whole frivolous lawsuit crap that goes on in a way… on the one hand, some individual might honestly be trying to make money off of their product to help their start-up company. analogy: someone might honestly have gotten hurt in a public place and it was the grocery store’s fault.

But on the other hand, it can be like you said: someone files a patent with some kind of specific strategy in mind to either get publicity or make it hard for another company to compete with them.

just like someone might set up a scam or exaggerate an injury for a strategic money-making purpose…

It’s a cultural plague of people abusing a system that was intended to actually help people who need it. patents to help people keep control over their inventions, and the legal system to help people who really need help.

It’s sick when the system gets abused. And with the introduction of software and programming solutions and the possibility of patenting those in the same way they patent a physical product… eck gads. In a way, that’s as ridiculous as trying to patent “what times four equals 32”.

I don’t know much about patent law, but I feel your frustration, and I’m afraid of the idea of trying to impose laws that were designed for physical products onto digital products… I mean, look at the mess copyright laws and digital media continue to be in.

Anyway, nice to meet you. hope you don’t mind the comments.

27 11 2005
NaReN

Mind the comment ?? sigh or relieft that some1 actually read my stuff other than those damn spambots , more like πŸ™‚

28 11 2005
Emily

awesome, and thanks for your reply on mine too. πŸ™‚

as far as the dynamically creating a ‘recent readers’ list, I’m not sure if that’s possible because you’d have to dig into the blogger code itself… and as lowly users you can’t create new variables and such. I’m not sure, can blogger templates use javascript or something? I guess it’s possible if you get something to detect first that there’s a new comment, and second, to follow that link and pull the name of the person (and any associated link)… but hm… that’d have to be rendered with each visit… would be a big load time after a while…

just some thoughts.

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