The US Patent and Trademark Office has just granted a particularly ludicrous patent: Carfax now owns the idea of searching for cars that have clean titles. Somehow, this didn't qualify as "obvious."
A method of searching for used vehicles comprising:
* Using VIN numbers to look up the title status of a vehicle;
* Storing the title status of the vehicle in a database; and
* Providing a list of vehicles based on title status to users who search for them online.
Could this be any more obvious? Even the patent itself admits that methods of compiling title information on used cars have been around since 1991. So what's the novel aspect of this invention?
Why does stupid stuff like this matter? It matters because every click and every idea is becoming someone's property. It doesn't matter if we've been doing it forever (like querying databases!), or if it's totally obvious, someone ends up owning it. The USPTO is open for anyone who wants to claim ownership of any idea (no wonder -- their funding comes from filing fees for patents), and once those patents end up in the hands of patent trolls, it's open season on the firms and people who make great stuff.
We all pay: we pay for the legal costs of fighting patent battles, built into the price of our stuff. We pay for the technologies that never come to market because of patent fears. We pay for all the ridiculous "defensive patents" filed by startups (there's no such thing as a defensive patent: having a patent doesn't mean that the USPTO won't give the same patent to someone else, and then your "defense" consists of not running out of money to fight the patent in court), which then turn into patent-troll armaments when the startups tank.
Astroturfing companies run bogus sites like this one, where they argue for "patent reforms" that consist of not reforming anything. Sites like Patent Fairness are a good place to get the real story.
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