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
    TtfnJohn (profile), 10 Feb 2012 @ 9:01pm


    What's appalling is that this is the same group who were judging the validity of software and internet patents who had no access to the technology they were ruling on, in fact weren't allowed to. At least at work.

    Complete lunacy. Particularly as other branches of the US Government had helped develop the Internet.

    I hate to tell you this but where I worked there was access on every desk in my department in 1997 and on about half of them in 1994. So to say that pretty much every company didn't permit it is false. I personally know of many brokerage firms who were early adopters as the Web grew and became more valuable to them.

    There may not have been ADSL to homes in those days but there was certainly HDSL to businesses and other technologies available such as ISDN. And, I can also tell you that governments got the best of connections for the Internet from suppliers as that would come in very handy later as ADSL and cable were extended to homes.

    It's still utterly stupid and appalling that those making decisions about software patents weren't allowed to access the technology they were making judgements on.

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