CAN YOU PATENT A RESTROOM QUEUE?….The LA Times has a genuinely interesting long feature story today about the Patent Office and its problems. Their hook is a fight between two makers of crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The problem, says the Times, is that the standards for approving patents have gotten so relaxed over the years that practically anything qualifies:

Last year, the appeals court said the patent office had incorrectly rejected two applications for “obviousness.” If an examiner rejects an application using “general knowledge,” the court said, that knowledge “must be articulated and placed on the record.”

In other words, said deputy commissioner Kepplinger, “we can’t reject something just because it’s stupid.”

The article discusses the whole issue of patenting “business processes,” and tomorrow, in part 2, they’ll take on the internet. It’s good reading.

(As a personal aside, when I was in the document imaging industry some of the biggest users of our software were the patent offices in various countries. Their efforts to “go paperless” were always enormous and virtually always went really, really badly. I’m not sure what that means, but there you have it.)

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