Thursday, February 02, 2006

USPTO, five interconnected empty buildings?

Andres reported in his Technollama Blog about yet another ridiculous patent granted by the USPTO, but it seems that the list is far longer than previously thought and makes one wonder whether is anyone actually working there or if the USPTO is really and empty building (well, actually they are moving from 18 buildings to five interconnected new ones) where whoever applies for a patent gets it granted by some sort of automatic brainless stamping machine.
One of the extremely ridiculous that can be found is US Patent 5,443,036, which claims the rights over a "Method of exercising a cat" that consists of "directing a beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus onto the floor or wall or other opaque surface in the vicinity of the cat, then moving the laser so as to cause the bright pattern of light to move in an irregular way fascinating to cats, and to any other animal with a chase instinct". Not only is ridiculous but it is as obvious (does satisfy the requirement of non-obviousness established in 35 USC 103) as being able to be found in a book catalogued as humour in Amazon that was published 11 years before the patent's filling date. But what really beggars belief is the fact that the same USPTO has granted at least other three patents for almost the same thing to other people: 6,505,576, 6,557,495 and 6,651,591 (Pet Toy, Laser Pet Toy, Automatic Laser Pet Toy and Exerciser respectively). What part of the Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution have these people missed? the promotion of the progress of science? the part that refers to useful arts? or the part of discoveries?
The lesson that can be learned about the whole "aquelarre" into which the US patent system has degenerated is that the convenience of basing the funding of an organization whose main role is to assess the quality of some product, on the number of applications its receive can be severely questioned. Such a system creates the incentives for the organization to lower the standards used to measure the referred quality, what in turn would encourage more applicants and would result in higher revenue. And the results speak by themselves...

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