Bad patents is what happens when lawyers think they understand engineering

Initially published 10 November, 2010 - 14:30 on

-- Myself.

And by the way, I want in no way to stigmatize lawyers, I still have some friends there.

But certainly, in spite of lucid advices on the necessity for patent attorneys to have a deep culture of the technical domain involved in the patents they're drafting, some of them definitely do lack such an adequate knowledge.

I have read so many obvious patents. Let's take the example of multi-touch patents (Apple got some, but so do others). This is what I was doing, as many others, in my lab twenty years ago with graphics tablets of the time. The only difference is that the tablet is now laid on the surface of LED screen, which we had not at that time, so we were using a video projector to mix the image with the sensitive surface. So the step of using a touch-sensitive LED screen (which certainly Apple doesn't claim to have invented) was absolutely obvious, and I'm pretty sure our software of that time would then still work now.

Many people are now aware of this "patent quality" problem, that by the way I think is at its worst in the domain of "software patent".

Every time I see one of these obvious patent, I think to myself "Wow, I hope for them that they won't go to court. They don't realize this stuff isn't worth more the support it's written on." Which is very little in the digital world.

From time to time, I'm lucky enough to chat with lawyers who have filled some of these patents and to try to understand why on they Earth they have built such a time bomb. The answer is always more or less the same: "Prior art ? No much time to do that. But when talking with the engineer who did it, it sounded revolutionary".

I bet it did.

The point is that in all these cases, the engineer describes her works, the lawyer couch it on the paper, and it's nobody's job to check if there is novelty or not.

May be the Peer to patent will change something, may be not, I don't know.