Following (and posting on) the vagaries of the US patent system gets a little wearing after a while…outrage sags into scornful disbelief, which in turn fades into a fatalistic apathy. But then you get one of the particularly egregious perversions of the original intent of the system and the whole cycle starts over again…
While there are any number of articles on the topic to choose from, this article summary really cuts to the heart of the matter: “Wired News reports that the US Patent & Trademark Office rejected a request that Apple filed in October 2002 to patent technologies that support the iPod’s rotational wheel interface. The reason for the rejection: Microsoft had apparently outraced Apple to the patent office with a similar request by five months.”
Hmmm…so the the two requests were filed five months apart? Perhaps the method of using hierarchical menus covered by the patent wasn’t exactly “non-obvious to the skilled practitioner,” eh? I’ve linked to it before, but let’s take another quick look at the relevant portion of the US Constitution: among other things, it states that the Congress shall have the power “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to the respective Writings and Discoveries; […]”
The authors of the constitution recognized that it benefitted society at large to offer inventors a guaranteed, legally protected monopoly on use of their inventions for a limited period of time, in return for making the details of that invention public and available to all after the expiration of that monopoly. Note, however, that this deal only works to “promote progress” if the invention is one that is difficult or impossible for some other clever person to develop on their own.
To put it another way, Section 8 of the US Constitution doesn’t say anything at all about “providing corporations with the opportunity to generate additional revenue in licensing fees by completing their patent application before any of the other individuals and organizations who are filing overlapping or identical patent applications.”