Are We Going To Have Patents For Every Application Of RFID Technology?

from the this-is-non-obvious? dept

One of the problems with the patent system is that everyone seems to be getting patents these days for taking something out of one realm and simply moving it to a new one. That's why NTP was allowed to get a patent on making email wireless. Or Priceline was able to get a patent on reverse auctions online. Or MercExchange was able to get a patent on regular online auctions. The ideas are nothing special, but because you take a very common idea and move it to a new arena, suddenly the patent office has no problem saying that's innovative. This wouldn't be a problem if the USPTO had a real test for "obviousness" that wasn't just "prior art." The problem, though, is that now that everyone realizes this is how the USPTO functions (and the fact that getting these types of patents can be quite lucrative), it's only going to get worse. Take the RFID space for example. There are already plenty of patent battles over the core technology -- but now we're going to get patents for every possible application on RFIDs, basically making the technology too expensive to be useful. Look at consumer packaged goods company Kimberly Clark. That company has now been granted a patent on using RFIDs to determine how "fresh" a product is or if it's past its expiration date. This product is clearly a no brainer to just about anyone -- just read the patent. It's an obvious application that fits with exactly what RFIDs are designed for. So why is it patentable? If this keeps up, no one will actually be able to use RFIDs because it'll be too expensive to license each patent. It'll choke off the technology before it even gets started.
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  • identicon
    TJ, 18 Jan 2006 @ 6:26pm

    Hey if it slows RFID usage that's a win

    I'm as down on the US patent system as the next person, but Mike is selling me on the idea that patents might make RFID too expensive. Considering what poor thought and assurances for privacy seem to surround most plans for RFID, and how companies can and will use any data they can mine in so many invasive ways, anything that slows adoption of RFID at the consumer level is a plus.

    There was an article just today that in some cases pharmacies are or will be sending customers out the door with enabled radio-tagged medicine bottles. Great, just what people need: A way for someone to wirelessly, silently detect people passing by who have prescription narcotics or other controlled substances that would be an attractive target for theft, nevermind the invasion of privacy.

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    • identicon
      ehrichweiss, 18 Jan 2006 @ 6:46pm

      Re: Hey if it slows RFID usage that's a win

      I hadn't heard about the pharmacy thing but as soon as I read what they were gonna do, I already knew how that could be abused. It's like when my wife and I would be going to a friend's house who lived in a not-so-nice area of town, we would get out of the car and she'd ask in a very loud voice "DO I NEED TO LOCK THE DOORS?!?!?" "You do NOW that you've asked."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    patentman, 18 Jan 2006 @ 7:40pm

    I disagree

    "but now we're going to get patents for every possible application on RFIDs, basically making the technology too expensive to be useful."

    I disagree that simply because there are a lot of patents on a given area of technology makes them "too expensive to be useful." As mentioned in previous posts, I used to be an Examiner at the PTO. The art that I examined was magnetic recording media, namely CD's, DVD's hard disk technology etc. There are literally thousands upon thousands of patents on various aspects of magnetic recording technology. Yet are CD's and DVD's "too expensive to be useful?" NO! The cost of magnetic storage is cents per gigabyte!

    I predict that if RFID is as big a deal as everyone is making it out to be, the technology will follow a similar path as magentic media. Indeed, if there is profit to be made in an industry, it would be silly (and, lets not forget, stupid business practice) for the owners of these patents to whittle away all profitable aspects of the technology simply in a turf wart over who owns what rights to the technology.

    In magnetic madia, the major manufacturers (and patent owners) actually crosslicense their patents to one another, thus enabling them to turn a tidy profit while providing consumers with a cheap high quality product. A blank statement that because a given technology is covered by a lot of patents it will be "too expensive to be useful" is, quite simply, a misnomer in many instances. Certainly, without presenting any evidentiary data, this statement is nothing more than conjecture.

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    • identicon
      ccc, 18 Jan 2006 @ 9:17pm

      my patent

      I'm applying for a patent on putting RFID chips on RFID chips for the purpose of tracking your inventory of RFID chips.

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    • identicon
      ?, 18 Jan 2006 @ 9:58pm

      Re: I disagree

      Last I checked, CDs and DVDs weren't magnetic media.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        patentman, 19 Jan 2006 @ 4:28am

        Re: I disagree

        Last I checked, CDs and DVDs weren't magnetic media.

        Recordable CD's and DVD's are. Do your homework.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Oliver Wendell Jones, 19 Jan 2006 @ 4:52am

          Re: I disagree

          Last I checked, CDs and DVDs weren't magnetic media.

          Recordable CD's and DVD's are. Do your homework.

          My GOD! If the USPTO hired someone who actually believes that then it's no wonder our patent system is so screwed up!

          Recordable CDs and DVDs consist of a dye layer that is burned with a laser! There is no magnetic media involved. The closest you'll come is magneto-optical media which hardly anyone uses and would be hard to confuse with traditional recordable CDs and DVDs.

          Patentman - do yourself a favor, fact check yourself before you make yourself look like a bigger fool.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Dosquatch, 19 Jan 2006 @ 4:57am

          Re: I disagree

          Recordable CD's and DVD's are. Do your homework.


          Um, NO, they're not. Recordable CD-R's use a dye layer that is vaporized by the recording laser, creating pits similar to the pits pressed by manufactured CD's. CD-RW's use a state-shifting material that changes refectivity by the recording laser, simulating pits though none exist. Do your homework.

          Hey, fellas, I think we may have found exactly what the freaking problem with the USPTO is. If this is patent reviewer is the standard model on what gets passed and what doesn't, no wonder the whole system is buggered.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Jan 2006 @ 10:00pm

      Re: I disagree

      I don't think that the argument is about those who cross license, although that only works if you have something of value to barter. I think the argument is about those who set up some kind of "pattent think-tanks" And go patent crazy, but never do anything or take any real steps in developing the technology or ideas that they patent.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike (profile), 18 Jan 2006 @ 10:07pm

      Re: I disagree

      I disagree that simply because there are a lot of patents on a given area of technology makes them "too expensive to be useful."

      There's a huge difference between RFID costs and CD/DVD costs that you discuss. For RFIDs to work, the scale is tremendous, because they need incredible economies of scale to bring the costs into line. Anything that adds to the cost could kill it. It's a huge part of the reason why RFIDs are not catching on right now. Adding more fees will make it worse.

      Meanwhile, it's laughable to hear you say that owners of patents don't get involved in turf wars that destroy profitable ventures. Too many patent owners get greedy, and they often play for a "winner takes all" position, rather than one that gives the best overall result and guarantees a return. Take a look at UWB. Or 802.20. Or the OMA's DRM patent pool. Or any number of standards battles that were turf wars and only turf wars -- which completely destroyed any reasonable use of a technology. That's what happens when you're handing out gov't backed monopolies.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        patentman, 19 Jan 2006 @ 4:48am

        Re: I disagree

        "Meanwhile, it's laughable to hear you say that owners of patents don't get involved in turf wars that destroy profitable ventures"
        I did not say that patent owners do not get into these types of turf wars, I said, "Indeed, if there is profit to be made in an industry, it would be silly (and, lets not forget, stupid business practice) for the owners of these patents to whittle away all profitable aspects of the technology simply in a turf war over who owns what rights to the technology."
        In other words, good businessmen in any area of technology should realize that there is more benefit to cooperation in certain instances where all parties can reap a profit then to burn up all of the potentially profitable aspects of a given technology. As I have illustrated, this has occurred in at least one area of technology, namely recording media.

        "For RFIDs to work, the scale is tremendous, because they need incredible economies of scale to bring the costs into line."

        And CDs/DVDs did not require tremendous economies of scale to bring them to market? Hah! How many CD's and DVD's are in existence now? Hundreds of millions? Billions? They certainly were not all made 1x1 by some guy in his garage. They had to be mass produced to be profitable.

        "It's a huge part of the reason why RFIDs are not catching on right now. Adding more fees will make it worse."

        I don't agree with you here. I think that a large part of the reason RFID's have not taken off is because a large number of consumers, and in particular American consumers, do not want every aspect of their life to be trackable and/or recordable. RFID, while having the potential to gice the public a huge benefit, is also perceived by many as simply another "big brother" device that the government or a corporation may use to intrude on the privacy of their everyday lives.

        "Or any number of standards battles that were turf wars and only turf wars -- which completely destroyed any reasonable use of a technology."

        In some ways I agree with you here, especially in terms of recording standards etc... But recording standards are, in my mind, a speciallized circumstance where uniformity of technology is better then diversity because it unifies the market as to a given product. Few people want to be concerned with whether their DVD player will play a certain DVD they just bought because of format concerns (Remember the late 90's when this actually was a concern?). Turf wars over these types of standards actually are economically beneficial to society in many ways. The major cost is not really to society, but to the firms seeking to promote their given standard. OK, sure, some legit uses of technology (i.e. Betamax) get sent to the wayside, but its not as though the alternatives are necessarily worse or a failure in the market.

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        • icon
          Mike (profile), 19 Jan 2006 @ 10:38am

          Re: I disagree

          I think that a large part of the reason RFID's have not taken off is because a large number of consumers, and in particular American consumers, do not want every aspect of their life to be trackable and/or recordable.

          This is flat-out incorrect. I can say this with certainty, because it's one of the areas where we have many customers and are constantly researching. A lot of what we've been doing, actually, is telling these firms about the privacy fears, because that's THE LAST THING on their minds. The real issue is the cost of implementing RFIDs, which are cheap, but when every company needs them in everything (and, yes, the scale goes WAY beyond recordable media) it adds up. It's almost entirely a cost/benefit equation right now, and the privacy issue isn't just secondary, it's barely making a blip (something we've been trying to change, because we do think it will present an unforeseen cost -- but, most companies who are considering RFIDs honestly have no clue about the privacy stuff).

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  • identicon
    The Chad, 19 Jan 2006 @ 8:08am

    I've Patented Blogs

    Sorry guys this article/blogging idea has already been patented so you owe me some money or I'll threaten a law suit... What ever happened to common sense?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      The Chad, 19 Jan 2006 @ 8:45am

      Re: I've Patented Blogs

      I've got patent pending on calling myself "The Chad" on online comment forms, so I'm afraid once that is granted I'll be suing you for retroactive damages.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Dosquatch, 19 Jan 2006 @ 9:38am

        Re: I've Patented Blogs

        I have a submarine patent on calling myself "The Hanging Chad" just in case there's ever another Florida-esque election debacle. I have no intention of ever calling myself that (since my name isn't Chad), but I reserve the right to sue you into oblivion should you ever try to be clever.

        Don't think I don't have people not watching what you aren't doing just to not tell me about it. (I also have a patent on penta-negatives.)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    haggie, 19 Jan 2006 @ 12:20pm

    No Subject Given

    The EFF should file patents for all the evil uses of RFID to prevent any companies making RFID products that could be used by the government. That would be hilarious. EFF suing Halliburton for patent infringement to prevent RFID chips from being used to track an indvidual's movement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    6XGate, 20 Jan 2006 @ 4:19am

    No Subject Given

    I can't beleive that Kimberly Clark filed a patent for something that even the dumb managers at my local grociery store thought would be a neat idea, not just for product freshness (waive a scanner past a shelf and you know when you have out of date products) but also using this to track peoples shopping and automatic check out and other odd ideas. A friend of mine thought it would also be neat to use an RFID to find his lost remote when the couch ate it, maybe I should patent that before he does... :-P

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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