Geo Week News

July 16, 2012

Fighting the patent wars


Allow me to begin with a statement that is probably obvious to anyone that reads this column or knows me personally: I am not a lawyer. I am most especially not a patent attorney. However, keeping up with tech news has me spending a lot of time reading about patents. At some point it becomes background noise but every once in a while something grabs my attention and pulls me back into the fray. This week it was the Vegas Strip Steak™. A cut of meat so different, so mysterious, that the process of locating and obtaining it is the subject of a patent filing by Oklahoma State University.

For some reason I find myself more able to relate to a butcher than many of the typical professionals that are seeking patent protection. I think it is because like butchers we are all working with the same content while using the same (or remarkably similar) tools. Now, I spend a lot of my time developing standard methodologies for data capture and integration for my clients. Should I be seeking patent protection for these methods?

Now this is no gimmick…

To this point I have never done so. There are the obvious reasons of cost and the reality that I don’t want to spend all of my time trying to enforce the claim but the biggest reason is how quickly it would be superseded. As an example, I developed a method of data capture for a video game design firm in January of this year that was to be repeated at various locations (about 10 total) around the world this year. We completed five of the sites before we were offered the chance to test a new piece of hardware that increased our productivity more than 800%. No that is not a typo. Had I  filed a patent application I doubt that I would have received any response to date and the methodology is already toast!  

However, I may be guilty of being a bit too earnest about patents. As others have suggested, OSU and the other partners in the Vegas Strip Steak™ may have used their $625 filing fee as the best spent piece of an advertising budget since Don Draper used his family snapshots to pitch the Kodak Carousel. Just Google “Vegas Strip Steak”. There are over 500,000 listings and most are news stories about the patent filing. Perhaps a patent for my “Method of Capturing Reality for Use in Video Game Creation” would have driven all of those other gaming companies to my door! Who cares if it is derivative of everything else all of you are doing each and every day. Just because all of the industry insiders know it doesn’t mean that it won’t serve the purpose of advertising my services!

Patents have their place and I totally understand their usefulness in spurring innovation. However, watching companies buy one another just for the patent portfolio in order to fight off all of the patent trolls out there is a clear sign that the system needs some tweaking. Seeing it used as an advertising gimmick is the clearest sign yet.  

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