What Kind Of Professor Patents A Way To Make It More Expensive & More Difficult For Students To Learn?

from the insanity dept

Torrentfreak has the story of an economics professor (of all things) who has apparently received a patent on a way to try to force students to buy expensive textbooks. The professor, Joseph Henry Vogel, is positioning this patent (8,195,571) as an "anti-piracy" technique, though it appears that it works equally well in preventing students from sharing a single textbook or merely checking the textbook out of the library. The details of the patent are hardly new or innovative either. The basics are that the class has both a textbook and an online discussion board -- and buying the textbook provides you a code that allows you to enter the discussion board. In theory, you could also just buy the code.

There'a all sorts of idiocy involved in this situation. Let's just separate out a few examples:
  1. How the hell does something like this get patented in the first place? There is a tremendous amount of prior art in the form of things like "one-time" use codes for video games and other digital offerings to limit the used sales market. And yet this still gets approved? USPTO examiner James D. Nigh should be ashamed for letting this piece of garbage get approved.
  2. The claims here (the patent only has four) are so broad and so general, I don't see how it passes the non-obvious test, nor how it is anything more than mashing together a few different things that are widely available already and have been for years. After the KSR ruling the USPTO was supposed to reject broad patents that just combined basic concepts already found in the market.
  3. How could a professor of economics actually think that locking up access to information is a good idea? That alone would make me avoid any class that he taught, as his understanding of information economics is way, way off.
  4. It's sad that anyone in academia would think that this is a good idea. In an age where Harvard and MIT are investing a ton into opening up access, this guy is focused on locking it down.
The whole thing is extraordinary for how bad of an idea it is -- and the fact that a patent was actually issued on this only compounds the ridiculousness.

Filed Under: economics, education, harvard, james d. nigh, mit, textbooks, uspto


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  1. icon
    The Patent Examiner Guy (profile), 14 Jun 2012 @ 6:18am

    ALmost nobody commented on the patent itself, so, as a patent examiner, I was curious and looked it up and found a PCT filing for the thing, and, well, at least somebody knows their stuff - the international preliminary opinion on patenteability states lack of novelty for every claim... not bad..

    https://register.epo.org/espacenet/application?documentId=EOMZ02Z15399FI4&number=EP0786 1336&lng=en&npl=false

    (sorry about the link, the usual [url][/url] doesn't seem to work here)

    Nonetheless, the granted US version has widely amended claims when compared to the original PCT, but everything is more or less business method stuff, so no patenteability for those parts in Europe, making the patent completely bogus, assuming the examiner's know what they're doing. Anyway, I thought the latest decision coming from Bilski was that the USPTO had to examine the technological basis for the business method, not the method itself, exactly like in Europe.. maybe I missed some decision along the way...

    So yeah, I'm glad I live in Europe :) (except for having to put up with stupid "proteced by US patent" disclaimers on almost everything by US companies).

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