If you’ve ever wondered why the US patent system is so screwed up, now you know. Mac360’s exclusive, in-depth, undercover investigative report reveals the reason.
The US Patent Office does not use computers; no Windows PCs, no Macs, and, obviously, there are no internet connections.
How is this possible? How does a government inundated with trademark and patent applications from the business and scientific world handle such a stream, a barrage of paperwork without using computers?
Not very well, it would seem. This conclusion is based upon lawsuit after lawsuit filed by one company against another for patent and trademark infringement.
The US Patent and Trademark Office, known as the USPTO, or simply, the Patent Office, is a part of the United States Department of Commerce.
The Commerce Department uses computers, obviously managing the USPTO’s web site on the internet. The Patent Office itself does not actually use computers to manage the hundreds of thousands of patents gathered through the years.
How do I know this? As an experienced investigative reporter, I began to hear stories of Patent Office problems a few years ago.
A flurry of lawsuits challenging patents, and challenging the Patent Office’s granting of patents tipped me off to a trend and a growing problem.
Then there was that whole Blackberry thing which scared my pantyhose into a wedgie wad, as patent problems threatened to end Blackberry use in the US.
Even the Central Intellegence Agency uses Blackberry’s so I knew the problem was deeper than mainstream media was capable of exposing.
What’s going on? No one knew for sure, so I went undercover to find out what was really taking place inside the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Getting into a government office to conduct investigative reporting is a challenge these days. All offices are heavily guarded; armed guards, scanning devices, and high tech security prevailed at every entrance.
I decided to go undercover and take advantage of my current physical situation. I’m almost eight months pregnant and bulging worse than Pam Anderson in a new bikini; though in more places.
With help from friends and family, I began the transformation. First, I covered myself in a dark, hooded shawl, with a long dark dress. My camera was concealed in a large black back draped over my shoulder.
What a sight. My long black hair was hidden under the hood, and my dark eyes peered nervously from behind the veil covering most of my face. My neighbor said I looked exactly like an Arab woman carrying 27 sticks of dynamite wrapped around my midsection. “Perfect,” I thought. “That’ll get me through security. No problem. I’m pregnant.”
It did. I walked up to the USPTO entrance and approached one of the guards. “I left my lunch back in the office refrigerator,” I said nervously, my eyes dropped to my bulging midsection, afraid my nearly eight months of almost-mommyhood would give me away.
“Ok, eating for two, I see,” smiled the guard. I was in. After five minutes staring at the office directory, I decided to go straight to the top; the office of Jon Dudas, Under Secretary of Commerce and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
He wasn’t available, but his secretary was. I told her that I had some questions about US patent problems, such as “why are there no computers anywhere in the building?” She replied, “It’s always been that way,” and walked me to Jay Lucas’s office.
Lucas is the Acting Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy. “Perfect,” I thought. It was here I hit my first undercover snag. He refused to see me, and he seemed somewhat upset at my undercover garb.
It was at this point that my entire covert operation began to unravel. Lucas’ secretary called security after I demanded to know why the US Patent Office had such a huge backlog of of applications, reviews, and pending litigation.
While waiting for the guards, I managed to grab a large brown envelope from the mail cart as it passed by. “Maybe, this will reveal the tip of the iceberg,” I said to myself. I slipped the envelope into my bag.
The guards came and I explained that I was merely trying to find my brown paper bag lunch in the office refrigerator. They escorted me back to the main entrance and promised that the lunch would still be there tomorrow, as nothing has ever been lost or taken from the USPTO building.
As we moved down the halls toward the exit, I noticed that office after office was completely devoid of computers. No PCs were anywhere in sight, certainly not a Mac. How strange. Little did I know that the envelope I was carrying in my bag held the secret.
Once back at home I opened the envelope. Inside was a copy of an actual patent from the USPTO, awarded to one Neil Balthaser of San Francisco. I began to read the document. Suddenly, it all became clear to me.
The answer was right there. I had stumbled upon the answer to why there are so many patent problems, why there are no computers in the USPTO building, why the security guards let me through without so much as a second look.
The patent, #7,000,180, was filed in 2001 for “Methods, systems, and processes for the design and creation of rich-media applications via the internet.”
The abstract revealed even more detail:
That was it. The USPTO was so behind the times that they’d never even heard of the internet, let alone computers. Someone had filed for and received a patent for technology which actually existed years before the patent was filed.
The USPTO obviously didn’t know. How could they? They didn’t have computers, so they couldn’t connect to the internet, so they knew nothing of Flash, Rich Media, Shockwave, QuickTime, cable TV digital set top boxes, and so on.
The USPTO thought they were dealing with an original design, not knowing such technology was commonplace, even at the time of the filing.
If you’ve ever wondered why the US patent process was in such a state of disarray, now you know. I mailed the patent copy back to the USPTO. Postage due.