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. identicon
    6, 10 Feb 2012 @ 3:38pm

    Re: Re:

    Mike this might come as somewhat of a surprise to you but examiners are basically never allowed to go out and understand what is going on "in the real world" at the time they're doing their examination (although we can certainly use the interwebs now). The reasons are at least 2 things. First, what is going on at the time of examination in the "real world" is usually 2 years + after the filing date. Second, it isn't feasible to have examiners all crawling all over industries to find all their secrits to know about the "state of the art" so we rely on the publications that are made, usually patent publications.

    Also like the man said, most gov. agencies didn't use the interwebs back then. Just because you had it at your little company and I and others had it at some of our schools doesn't mean that the whole of the federal government was well equipped with such things. These things do cost money to implement on a huge scale.

    "That the USPTO did not is downright scary."

    I'm sure they "knew how "big" it was". What they also knew was that a huge ship like the PTO cannot turn on a dime like a tiny company. And government agencies cannot turn on a dollar like a giant company would. To make matters evern worse, at that time iirc congress was taking money from the PTO's fees it was collecting to be able to examine in order to pay for tanks, bridges to nowhere and other general fund expenditures.

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