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Stunted By Reality Just another know-it-all talking about life, business, technology, sports and music.


Patently mad. The absurdity of patents continues

The idea of patents is a good one. In theory. You invent something and apply to get it registered so that what you have made is exclusive to you for a period of time. During that period you can recoup the costs of coming up with your invention whilst copy-cats are barred from profiting at your expense. To qualify a patent has to be new, inventive or useful.

I say in theory because, it turns out you can apply for patents on ideas and also on software (which pretty much is a logical application and something of an art too). This is where things get muddy, because patents apply to everything in the modern world. From the medicine that the poor countries badly need to the cell-phones on which billions of people depend.

A couple of things in the last week have served to highlight the massive change needed to bring the system up to date if the technology world is to be prevented from going into a race to the bottom.

It started with Facebook being awarded a patent on the ‘newsfeed’, that page you see on logging into Facebook which tells you who poked who, and other ‘newsy’ stuff in your friends circles.

Then Apple sued HTC who make tons of phones for just about everyone in the industry apart from Apple and Nokia. Why, because HTC is said to be infringing on Apple’s patents including one for “Unlocking A Device By Performing Gestures On An Unlock Image.” Awarded on February 2 in 2010! You couldn’t make it up if you tried. In simple terms that means any phone company using that system where you unlock your phone by swiping it has to pay Apple for the right to use it. Absolutely ridiculous, especially when you consider that I have had a phone that does exactly that since before the iPhone was around. Step forward Neonode.

                          Is that an icon based menu? Quick let's patent it!


I bet Neonode didn’t apply for the patent because they thought it was too obvious to be granted! Anyway the whole thing has a lot of geeks shaking their heads whilst lawyers can’t stop salivating at the prospect of more long and drawn out litigation.

Ultimate blame however, has to lie not with those who are granted the patents, but with those who look at these applications and say “Yes, that is novel, it’s new, it’s inventive and it’s useful.”

For an illustration of the ridiculousness BusinessWeek featured this invention in their ‘Most ridiculous patents’  article.

Bear right dad! Double saddle coming on!

Dad Saddle

Patent awarded: 2002
Patent says: “A number of devices have been devised for carrying infants and young children. Such devices often are not appropriate or useful for carrying larger children. Nor are known conventional arrangements adapted to support a standing child.”
Business Week say: If your child is too big for a stroller, it’s probably time he or she learned to walk.