One Reason Why The USPTO Granted Ridiculously Stupid Internet Patents: Patent Examiners Were Banned From Using The Internet

from the wtf dept

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.

Filed Under: internet, patents, uspto
Companies: eolas, google, yahoo

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  1. icon
    Alexander Howard (profile), 10 Feb 2012 @ 2:16pm

    First time commenter, long time reader

    Hey, Mike. Thanks for the link. Glad to have finally met you in person at the State of the Net conference last month.

    I wondered how many people would take note of that detail, which came from an interview about the case with a trustworthy source who'd been following it quite closely for years.

    In 1995, I was a sophomore in college and learning how to use HTML and an FTP app to put a web page online. I logged onto a BBS in 1993. In 1994, I fired up a Web browser for the first time.

    While that does make me an early adopter, in some respects, I was surprised to hear that the USPTO didn't do more due diligence online.

    When I used the word "interesting" in my post, readers no doubt could not see me ruefully shaking my head.

    While the Internet access issue from a government building is not novel in that time period, enough citizens and certainly government employees were logging on at that point that an examiner could have walked over to a library, study or school to do a search and find Viola.

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