Note — Aug 25, 2019

Why Do Tech Companies File so Many Weird Patents?

Rose Eveleth for Slate on how the US patent system works. Or, more precisely, how big tech companies use it. They “file for patents to blanket the field—like dogs peeing on every bush just in case.” Like so many things these days, it’s not about documenting an invention and gaining reasonable protection. It’s not about respecting the intent of the laws, it’s about flooding the system with as much stuff as you can pay for and then blocking everyone else from doing anything useful that comes remotely close to the stuff you made up but don’t even plan on using. Oh and, entirely unexpectedly (!!), the media misunderstands and misrepresents what various patents actually claim.

Patents can be weapons and signals. They can spur innovation, as well as crush it. […]

The team that had invented this thing had been disbanded, and the company had moved to a different solution. But they had gone far enough with the patent application that they might as well keep going, if only to use the patent in the future to keep their competitors from gaining an advantage. […]

Even the actual language of the patents themselves can be misleading. It turns you actually can write fan fiction about your own invention in a patent. Patent applications can include what are called “prophetic examples,” which are descriptions of how the patent might work and how you might test it.