Applying for obvious patents

This is the third of a series of posts on patent law, about how existing incentives encourage the production and support of obvious patents on inappropriate subject matter.

To summarize most of the story so far, the USPTO has no incentive to reject applications on obvious claims. It’s easy to find places where the USPTO refers to applicants as customers, and where its rhetoric leans more toward serving those customers than promoting Progress. Remember all that during the election campaign where President Obama promised to maintain balance at the USPTO and ensure that it serves Progress, not maximizing patent count? You don’t, because it didn’t happen.

This time we’ll consider the incentives of the applicants themselves. Continue reading


why so many obvious patents?

Hi, my name is Ben Klemens, and I’m honored to say that I’ve been invited to write a bit here on Bureauphile. My background is mostly in Game Theory, Statistics, computational modeling, and other sundry methodological pursuits. But I have read far too much on patent law, so my first few posts will likely be on that subject.

Obvious patents almost seem to be the norm these days, because of all of the Bureauphile’s favorite problems, including regulatory capture and a budget-maximizing bureaucracy.

The parade of idiotic patents has been a common trope since Amazon’s one-click patent in the `00s. The slide-to-unlock feature on the iPhone, Google’s patent on doodles, or Friendster’s patent on circles of friends. I mean, if I stated to you this problem—

I have a smartphone with a screen and only one button. I need a way to keep it from turning on in users’ pockets.

—how long would it take before it occurs to you to require a gesture on the screen to unlock the telephone? As for making it work, here’s an implementation in about 450 lines of code—get it before the author gets sued. Continue reading