We already reported on the surprising but good news ruling out of East Texas, that Eolas' crazy patents were judged invalid
by the jury. However, Alex Howard's writeup about the ruling includes a crazy tidbit that came out during the short trial
that deserves separate attention:
One interesting detail that emerged in the case was that the U.S. Patent Office didn't have access to the Internet in 1994 and was apparently forbidden from going on the Internet in 1997, which would make research into prior art in cyberspace somewhat of a challenge.
I'm not sure I'd use "interesting" as the adjective there. More like insane
. I mean, it's pretty well-known that many patent examiners focused solely on other patents or journal articles as the key sources of prior art, rather than what was actually happening in the field, but being forbidden from going online
is just crazy
. Luckily for the internet, this was still a time period when most
tech companies believed that software wasn't patentable -- something that changed the following year when the ridiculous State Street ruling
opened the floodgates. While certainly some really bad patents (like Eolas') made it through, just think how much worse things would have been if there were as many internet/software patent filings from 1990 to 1998 as there were after 98.