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
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2012 @ 10:21pm

    In 1997, I had my first job at a Fortune 100 company as a programmer and the company still viewed the Internet as a time waste and liability, so I had to submit a request for every web site that I wanted access to and it had to be approved by both my manager and my director. Other Fortune 100 companies and government organizations also had similar policies.

    However, the patent office reviews patent applications against prior patents, so there isn't any need for Internet access for their examinations. The patent office is looking at the claims in the patent applications and a patent examiner can much more easily compare claims between two patents than try to compare claims against non-patented prior art, which would already be at least 3-5 years old by the time the patent application reached the examiner. It's up to the inventor to search for non-patented prior art, but there isn't much incentive if the inventor is just trying to make money off the patent, since a bad patent can be used to extort money, since it costs an extremely high amount of money to fight a bad patent. If there was an easier and less expensive way to invalidate patents for prior art, patents would much less likely be filed if there is non-patented prior art.

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