Monday, November 04, 2013

Patents of the week

Each week the patent office releases patents approved that week.  I try to keep up on them for work, but it is a tough list to troll through because the order is so esoteric and listed by number.   Here are a few from a month ago that I copied out because they caught my eye.  Basically anything can be patented if you are persistent and good at writing patent claims.  And there are so many patents.  Millions of them.  

In full disclosure, none of these are ones that matter to my work.  They are not my area of expertise and I am not probably the best judge of their true value, but as an outsider that reads these things, I think they are good examples of the idiosyncrasies of our patent system. By no means are my comments meant as legal or intellectual property advice.   

That was a mouthful.  

"This American Life" - the public radio show, did a series of shows about patents (Show 1 and Show 2) and one of the largest holders of patents - Intellectual Ventures.  It is a fascinating story.  Many of the claims in the story are denied in the official responses by Intellectual Ventures (Link1, Link2, and Link3).  I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between.  There are definitely patents out there that are badly written with very broad claims that I suspect are not defensible in court.  There are also persons that try to take advantage of the system to collect royalties from competitors.  Many smaller companies or individuals may not have the financial means or expertise to struggle through the complex and inane system built up for legal dispute and protection from patents.   

There are just so many things that I am surprised are patented or patentable.  


This patent was filed by the U.S. Navy.  I would hate to work at this computer station that monitors how often you look away from the screen and what part you point. Darn it, I just thought of an application where this patent could be built upon to be actually useful and not just a Draconian monitoring system for false worker productivity in some sort of military cubicle hive.

Here are some other examples of the kind of thing that is patented each week.  Many of them are components of a larger system and the hope of the filing inventor is that the patent will protect them from competition without disclosing too much about their invention.

Method for separating substrates

Many of the topics require some expertise.  Obviously if separating substrates is important for most chemical extractions, there must be different ways to do it, but I have no idea how this method works. 


How is this process patentable? I have no idea.  It seems like any crop insurer would have a computer, some way of querying data and a way of estimating the cost of crop insurance.  Many of these patents are to clear the path from potential competitors that could potentially sue to block others from using similar web interfaces.  There are tons of these types of patents.  

Many patents are incremental improvements.  This is the firing piston of a gun.  It looks similar to others, but if you knew firearms well, and I don't, maybe you could see some improvement over available designs, I guess.  


So many of the most recent patents from Google and Facebook look like this.  They have some flow diagrams that outline their strategy for passing information about what we do on the internet back to a database of ads and then picks the ads that are displayed to the user.  And presumably charges the advertiser. 

Like I said, there are tons of these right now.  Each week there are very similar patents that come out.  I am sure there is a patent fight in the future where someone will have to reconcile these very similar patents. 

I can't even imagine how this is unique.  As an outsider, this looks exactly like the process that I learned in my early statistics courses.  Essentially this process datamines a sample for a measurement that is significantly different from the null hypothesis and then calculates a p-value.  There is some automation proposed for the calculation and normalization, but that is all.  I would love to be able to sit down with the patent office and the patent holders in confidential meetings where everyone was completely upfront about what this is really for.  I suspect this will be implemented in some computer program to detect signal to noise variance, but besides that I nothing that to me is unique or patentable about it.

If you want to see a bunch of truly bizare patents check out these links:

A list of absurd patents -

Apple patents rounded corners -
I won't even get started on design patents.  This is an area where the asthetics of something are potentially patentable.  Things like how wide your cellphone is or shape of the buttons, etc.

What does this all mean?  Patents are the base of most businesses and now universities.  It costs money to develop new ideas and most companies want some way to sell that idea directly to consumers or to sell the idea to other companies who will make something that someone else buys.  Either way it is a complicated business because it is tough to determine what is truly novel and what isn't.  There are similarities and differences that sometimes I think the patent office doesn't do a good job differentiating.  And when they don't, people go to court.


Brian Gardunia said...

Check out this doozy of a device from this week:

It is a UV emiting toy storage device for infant toys. The UV will kill bacteria, but also causes skin cancer. I think the sensor is supposed to prevent it from mutating your child.

Matt Walker said...

A topic near and dear as I'm writing patents for a living now.

Apple is something of an innovator in patents as well as tech.

They've patented everything from rounded corners on their phones to the design of their Apple stores (

Some other good patents I've come across:
Patent Application for Method of Patent Trolling (

Patent for holding a guitar like Eddie Van Halen (

Patent for making Toast (