Hospital Tech Declines To Patent His Invention, As Saving Lives Is 'More Important Than Money'

from the not-everyone-rushes-to-patent dept

These days, it often feels like anyone who does anything even remotely innovative feels the need to rush down to the patent office, because that’s what you always hear. There’s so much talk about why everyone “needs” to patent stuff, that everyone starts to believe it. So it’s somewhat refreshing to find someone who created something that really does appear to be useful, and has said that he has no interest in patenting it. The guy is a hospital psych tech — and came up with his invention a few years ago, after a fellow psych tech in the hospital was strangled to death by a mentally ill patient, who did so by grabbing the lanyard all staff members are required to wear, which holds their “alarm button” in case of emergency. Not surprisingly, this and a few similar incidents, had staff members at the hospital quite wary of wearing the lanyards, even though they were required. So Mike Jarschke came up with a new lanyard design, which has three “breakaway” points that will snap if the lanyard is pulled too hard. The hospital tested it out, and now they’ve been issuing the new lanyards to staff. After all that, he had no interest in getting a patent.

Jarschke didn’t bother to patent his invention. There are other things more important than money.

“When we get safety for this hospital, that’s going to be way better than money for me,” he said.

Of course, watch now as someone else tries to get a patent on it. Either way, this actually reminds me of some research we pointed to a few years ago, showing that the vast majority of inventions occur not because of the direct profit motive of selling a product on the market, but rather because someone is trying to solve a need for themselves. We see this over and over again, and it seems odd to have a patent system that covers those cases. It goes against every reasonable defense of the patent system. After all, the patent system is really only supposed to be an incentive to create a product that wouldn’t exist but for the patent system being there to prop it up. And yet, patents are still granted on those kinds of inventions all the time. It’s nice to see that at least some people don’t see the need to go that far.

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Comments on “Hospital Tech Declines To Patent His Invention, As Saving Lives Is 'More Important Than Money'”

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RonKaminsky says:

Re: Even Better Idea

Fix the patent system so that patents with obvious prior art are not issued — in fact, there should be a fine for applying for a patent when there exists blatant prior art. (The fine should be larger than the ordinary fees generated by an issued patent, so the USPTO would have an economic incentive to fine people.)

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This illustrates the silliness of the patent system. Breakaway technology has been around for centuries. In the middle ages there were breakaway weapon sheaths so that if an opponent grabbed your scabbard you could get away.

As you note, breakaway things around the neck are also well known.

Still, he could probably have gotten a patent on his “invention.” If his patent examiner balked, the inventor’s patent attorney would have deluged the examiner with additional BS until the examiner caved and awarded the patent. If they examiner held out longer than usual the patent might have had to be narrowed to hospital lanyards with exactly three break points.

The latter bit of specificity might cause minor problems for future trolling. For example, if they tried to sue someone for a breakaway clothes hanger that had two break points it would have been a little bit harder to win a patent suit in some jurisdictions. But trolling doesn’t really require a strong suit. The patent holder could probably get some type of settlement on any type of breakaway feature on any type of object in the future.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The problems with first to invent are plenty:
It is a significant extra burden to actually find out who invented things.
Conciously not filing for a patent to later backstab the first to file the patent under certain circumstances.

The problems with first to file are:
There is literaly no reason not to file for a patent. In turn it is encouraging trolling since any patent getting through is a good patent. (It can be combatted by raising the bar for patenteability, less damage awarded (maybe compensated by fines) or complex changes to the patent definition).
The true inventor will sometimes get screwed by the most patent-office-savy guys.

Pick your poison. None of the above are particularly good systems, but both are overall working fine.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Not sure there isn't prior art already

My wife is a nurse, and the lanyards she uses have had a breakaway feature as described for years (she has to buy them herself as the ones the hospital supplies are the non-breakaway ones). It’s saved her from being strangled a number of times.

I’m not sure what is patentable about the idea — it may be something special about his breakaway design, but it’s not the concept of a breakaway lanyard itself.

Anonymous Coward says:

Isn’t it wonderful that the USA has moved its patent system to first-to-file, so that someone can in fact file for a patent on these breakaway lanyards and then use the patent to extort money from hospitals?
Of course, I’d rather point to the host of previously-existing breakaway connectors as evidence that this isn’t even a patentable invention, but this is the USPTO we are talking about here, so no doubt whoever does file will enjoy a healthy, innovation-fueling 20-year monopoly.

DCL says:

The innovative part is...

…that there are multiple break away points.

If you only have one break away that leaves a lot of strong lanyard length to be strangled with. With multiple breakaway points there isn’t a long enough piece to be an effective (or convenient) strangle device.

Cat collars break in one place just to relieve the confinement not to have shorter length.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The concept is the same, pretty much regardless of size. A breakaway lanyard is an existing technology, making it has the correct mount for a medical panic button instead of badge isn’t a big thing.

The point is that the “technology” already exists. He may have come up with a specific application, but it’s not new (but maybe “new to him”…). So while it’s a nice story of “didn’t choose to patent” the point is it’s unlikely he could have, even if he had wanted to.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Bigger question people should be asking…
Why did it take random tech to come up with an obvious solution?
Why hadn’t one of the large lanyard manufacturers done it already?
Oh because they have their IP and can just sit on it, and the fear of being sued for making something like a remote idea some patent reviewer rubber stamped that one time.

People are/were dying, because adding multiple breakways might have been to costly in a courtroom battle.
IP Is our greatest asset, even more important than lives.

Mesonoxian Eve (profile) says:

“Of course, watch now as someone else tries to get a patent on it.”
They’ll quickly find out someone else already has a patent on it (and it’ll either be Microsoft, Apple, or Amazon).

Worse: had this guy filed is patent, and marketed the product, the patent trolls would find “fibrous straps with multiple break-aways in chastity belts” patent enough to sue for infringement.

rick (profile) says:

Curious that the lanyards that they used at the hospital had NO breakaways. The single breakaway lanyard is used in places that have machinery to keep it from harming the wearer if it gets caught up.
I can see how the three breakaways are better than one in this circumstance, though, because an attackers hands could grab the lanyard at the breakaway and still have a nice long “string” to use with one hand on each end.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Curious that the lanyards that they used at the hospital had NO breakaways.

When I learned about the standard-issue being the non-breakaway variety at my wife’s hospital, I was very surprised, too.

But I understood better after hearing her talk about work for a couple of years: in general, hospitals are broke and they cut corners in every little way they can find. A normal lanyard is less than $1, a breakaway one is about $3. Mystery solved.

Anon Commenter (profile) says:

Why such criticism?

Why are some of you dissing the gentleman who started making lanyards with 3 breakaway points? The links provided in the comments all have only 1 breakaway point.

If this guy doesn’t wish to patent his 3 breakaway design, big deal. He doesn’t want to stop other companies from making them too. He just wants hospital employees to be safe and save lives if ever they’re in a dangerous situation.

End of story.

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