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Patent obviousness to be tested

Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Tuesday November 28, 2006 )

Read tech industry news on any day and you’re liable to run across a story about one company sueing another for patent infringement.

Often it’s a little guy or relatively unknown company taking on an industry giant and wanting a stack of cash, but it’s not unusual for the big boys of the online world to take cracks at each other over what seems to be silly patents for obvious things.

In a case currently before the courts, arguments will be put forward as to what courts should take into consideration when deciding whether an invention is too “obvious” to be given protection.

I published an article not so long ago about patent trolls and the risks that online entrepreneurs run when developing “new” applications, services, concepts etc. In some cases, it may not be new at all, but has been previously patented. The patent holder may sit back and wait until such time that your service is successful and then pounce.

Such was the case for Microsoft when fighting a suit lodged by Eolas Technologies. Eolas claimed that Internet Explorer infringed on their patent which covered browser plug-ins and applets. I believe that case is still being fought, but Microsoft still had to take some rather extreme measures which are evident today in the way that some plugin objects are activated. If you’re a Internet Explorer user, have you noticed that on some Web pages using ActiveX Controls, such as Macromedia Flash, Apple QuickTime, RealOne, Microsoft Windows Media Player – the object must be manually activated by the user? You can thank Eolas for that.

The idea of browser plugins and applets seems like a no-brainer, something that surely couldn’t be patented. I’ve seen attempted suits over the last few years for Hyperlink usage. In that case if I remember correctly, if it had been successful, the company would have been able to collect royalties from anyone who used hyperlinks. Pretty amazing stuff.

The case currently in question is over gas pedals, but the decision will have effects way beyond that; particularly in relation to web related technologies – you can read more about it on CNET

Also, check out my article on patent trolls for info on the seedier side of the patent law industry.

Now, I must go check on how my patent application for the use of biological extensions for effective modern keyboard usage is going. Some people call these extensions fingers and the process is popularly known as typing on a post 1994 keyboard. But I was the first to do it. I swear.


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