The Problem With A Database Of Prior Art Is You Don't Know What's Worth Putting In
from the not-so-easy dept
Dan Berninger, who I almost always agree with, has tossed out a suggestion for how tech companies can deal with situations like the one where Verizon was able to squeeze millions of dollars out of Vonage using patents that clearly never should have been granted, as there was tremendous amounts of prior art on the patents (much of which was brought to light by Berninger himself). His suggestion is that tech companies should create “a formal process of contributing software innovations to the public domain.” It’s one of those ideas that sounds good in theory, but won’t work in practice. In the past, we’ve explained why similar ideas (such as a database of “obvious ideas” for the sake of prior art) will never work.
The main reason: if you’re not in the business of generating patents, you generally don’t think all of the little things you do are worth patenting or dropping into a database. They just seem obvious and natural, so you don’t even bother. It’s only in retrospect — when someone else has patented the concept — that people start to realize that they wish they had some sort of record of the obvious ideas they had or things they did years before the patent was filed. Sure, people will submit some ideas here or there, but it simply won’t seem worth it to many people, especially on very minor things, or very broad things like setting up a hands-free kit in a car. That seems so obvious, why would you even think to patent it… or put it in a database of prior art? So, while it’s a nice idea in theory, it will fail in retrospect, because the ideas and concepts that need to be in a database will seem so obvious that people won’t bother entering them until it’s too late and someone else already has the patent.