Yeah, I ran into the infamous Cadtrack patent while at Commodore. I had figured this out myself, as a teenager in 1979, playing around with my Exidy "Sorcerer" home computer. Talk about being obvious to one killed in the art. There should be a general rule that if a self-taught teenager can independent derive your "invention", it can't be patented.
The simple problem: patents are not granted to corporations, only to individuals. Sure, when those individuals are working for a large corporation, they have a prior agreement with that corporation to sign over any patents they generate. But that's a completely separate legal agreement, outside the scope of the PTO.
And of course, patents are considered property... once granted, you're free to do with that property whatever you like. Which also allows inventors to agree to sign over the patent. But that's an actual step. When I have a patent granted, I actually have to sign it over to the company. I could refuse, but they'd be able to take me to court, assuming I had signed the patent agreement with them at the time of my hiring. You can't really extent the power of the PTO to cover legal agreements currently way outside the scope of their current powers.
But I do agree, big companies have an unfair advantage. I was acting a technical adviser to a group of lawyers when I was with Commodore, back in the late 80s when IBM came after Commodore and the Amiga computer. IBM had this big office in Boca Raton, FL... larger than Commodore's whole engineering group, full of their patent guys. IBM didn't file patents on inventions -- they had lawyers pouring over every little thing anyone at the company did, to patent anything that could be patented.
And they learned to work the system. When the PTO started allowing software patents in the early 80s, IBM released a flood of software patents. Why not -- the PTO had essentially no prior art, nor did they have a single examiner "skilled in the art". So they had tons of crap... for example, they had one on cut and paste between different text buffers, from 1984. Something Emacs and others did back in the 70s... just not something in the patent database.
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