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
    ShellMG, 11 Feb 2012 @ 10:14am

    Re: Excusses

    Remember, the US Patent Office is a *government* agency. All government bureaucracies have their own special bizarre practices that are spectacularly batsh** insane. It's why Michigan has the "Slurpee rule." If you're paying for a Slurpee at 7-11 using a Bridge card (aka food stamps), you can't put the straw in it until after you've left the store.

    This rubbish is probably the result of either an ignorant director who knows nothing about the actual job involved, or a lobbyist/contractor shmoozer wined and dined the person in charge to persuade them to keep buying the traditional (and expensive) documentation used for patent research. Law journals and dead-tree reference material wasn't cheap then, either.

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