Patenting the Patent

Jeff Bezos, of infamy, was apparently issued a patent for displaying banner ads in Web pages. I'm all for it. If he can patent banner ads, then maybe all of these sites which display an incessant amount of the intrusive things will have to find another way to make money. Unfortunately, not all patents issued by our illustrious patent office have the potential to better society.

Another obvious blunder from the patent office had to do with cookies. These cookies were not of the chocolate chip variety but the type which allow Web sites to identify visitors. Cookies are essential to the Web experience. Most interactive or e-commerce enabled sites use them in some way and have for many years.

Despite this, the patent office issued a patent dealing with cookies to F5 Networks. Just to be clear, F5 had nothing to do with the invention of cookies: Netscape did. But apparently invention and patents have nothing to do with one another.

The Industry Standard has an article on what they term Patent Madness. They discuss the effects on developers who, if they tried to work around every patent in existance, could not even begin to create an original work of art. To put it in perspective, imagine if Snap-on was alowd to patent the wrench, or The New Your Times, the alphabet.

The situation is so bad that even Forbes (not exactly the bastion of anti-capitalist sentiment) has an opinion piece on the matter. Of particular interest, they locate the source of the problem. A U. S. Supreme Court ruling upheld a congressional committee report which stated that "anything under the sun that is made by man" is patentable.

Here's a short list of inventions which qualify as patentable under that somewhat vague rubric:

Ostensibly, this lead some ingenious fellow to patent the act of swinging on a swing. The patent reads:

A method of swing [sic] on a swing is disclosed, in which a user positioned on a standard swing suspended by two chains from a substantially horizontal tree branch induces side to side motion by pulling alternately on one chain and then the other.

No, this is not an April fools joke.

So, when the next election year roles around, be sure to pay special attention to the candidate who says they're going to overhaul the patent office, whoever he or she may be. It really is time for a change.

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