Last week we learned about SBC Communications claiming they own a patent they want to enforce on sites that sport a fixed navigation. I wrote that it would promise to either make a big fuzz, or a ridicule flop. It may soon be both.
Everyone can worry about the efficiency of the US patent authority:
In practice, the system is in trouble -- and so is innovation in America.
The patent examiners are overworked and under-knowledgable. They grant ridiculous patents, and take a polluter's stance: Someone downstream will clean up the mess.
Back in the time where I had to frequent IP specialists I learned that for a patent to be valid once had to demonstrate a real innovation that not only was a première but also couldn't be infered from existent knowledge by others. E.g. in the case of SBC and with respect to European rules, their claim would be void on any system based on the fact that persistent navigation mechanisms existed way before the creation of web browsers.
If you want more evidence that there is something wrong going on in the IP world, take a look on the more worrying cases of genes patents. Besides the question of the patentability of the human genome (which is a sequence of raw, natural data, pretty much equivalent to common words which are not patentable), this article reveals another wrongdoing of the patent office:
The patent office's requirement that an inventor show that the new discovery has a real use went unenforced.
So, for years, ''People were just filing patent applications as fast as the printer would spit out paper.''
The SBC case sounds funny (except for those who have been hit), now move that to the biotech world. Are we going to see companies going after us claiming that they own a patent on our genes?