Wednesday, August 31, 2005

bNowhere patents the bathroom process

Today, bNowhere has received a number of patents for the bathroom process. This includes patents for the method of urinating both standing and sitting at both urinal and toilet, the process of defecating in a toilet and urinal and in multiple positions, plus, the same process specified within the constraint of clothing, bedding and other situations. Starting immediately, everyone found doing such acts must pay bNowhere a licensing fee.

Sounds completely idiotic doesn't it? Well, something similar has been happening in the computers and software industry for the past 20 years, and is an issue that continues to rear its ugly head every number of months at different scales. The most recent example is Creative Technologies, makers of the Zen mp3 player and number 2 competitor in the portable mp3 player market. That specific market is presently dominated and by no small measure by the ubiquitous Apple iPod in all its forms. Apple holds between 75 and 85 percent of the mp3 player market depending on who you ask, and Creative is one of many fighting for the rest of the market and a bite of the Apple pie. In fact, Creative's Chairman and CEO, Sim Wong Ho has been adamantly vocal about his company's "war" against the iPod since November of 2004.

Despite his claims and efforts, Apple sold over 6 million iPods in the last quarter, an over 600 percent improvement over last year, and Creative can barely sell those numbers in a year. Of course, desperate times call for desperate measures, and with the help of the government many companies have attained the means to fight the "war" with weapons that are as ridiculous as the bathroom example above. Creative's particular weapon is the recently acquired U.S. Patent 6,928,433 referred to as the "Zen Patent". This patent describes how files on a digital music player are organized and categorized hierarchically. In other words, the patent is the equivalent of inventing "alphabetical order" since it gives Creative a 20 year, government sponsored monopoly on hierarchical organizing of files in an mp3 player by song, artist, genre, etc. Anyone who's used an mp3 player, be it Apple's iPod, the Rio or any other brand than creative will logically find this browsing method familiar. Then again I should say that anyone who's ever classified music should find this familiar which makes all of this laughable and though normally considered unpatentable, here it exists for all the world to pay Creative for the right to organize the files in their player in the same way as their home CD collection.

Another controversial example in recent years was Amazon's 1-click® patent. On September 28, 1999 the U.S. Patent Office granted Patent Number 5,960,411 for a "Method and system for placing a purchase order via a communications network". In simple terms, Amazon patented the process of shopping used by most websites. The system receives a click, and processes an order for an item based on personal data previously stored on file that includes credit card and shipping address. Amazon defended its "innovation" saying that no one had thought of 1-click® shopping, and yet reducing clicks has been at the top of every webmaster's list since the beginning of the World Wide Web. The storing of personal information and using it to present data isn't anything novel either and is ridiculously obvious. It is the same as walking into a store, grabbing some stuff and telling the clerk as you leave, "Put it on my tab, Earl!"

Certain things can't and shouldn't be patented, yet the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office is awarding patents to everything and anything on computers and software. Their cluelessness and overall ignorance when it comes to online issues has resulted in a new form of defeating the competition, patenting their obvious processes.

Don't Patent the Mousetrap, Patent the Process!!!

Now you can patent the "Method and system for placing a mouse in a trap" and upon receiving said patent, all mousetrap manufacturers will be in violation of your patent and therefore subject to an injunction unless a licensing agreement is reached. It's exactly what Amazon achieved when it was awarded an injunction to Barnes and Noble's online store for their Express Lane system, and right before the critical holiday season. It was eventually resolved with a second, confirmation click, but it achieved the purpose of defeating Barnes and Noble in the online space at a very critical time. Is this the ethical way to compete? Should this be allowed? This has far reaching effects upon the economy, businesses, innovation, etc. and none of them pretty.

It used to be that to compete all you had to do was build a better mousetrap. Well, no more, now you don't have to build anything, just own the patent to the idea. It is a sad day for business, a sad day indeed.

Final Note: an untold number of patents were unknowingly violated in the writing of this article. ;)
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1 comment:

Franco Esteve said...

Hey, considering the current climate at the U.S. Patent Office, it's quite possible.