The popular conception of the patent system is one of mad inventors with ludicrous inventions and equally absurd expectations that the product of their years of pottering in the garden shed will change the world. Precisely the same system is the bulwark of strategy in some of the world's most powerful companies, notoriously in the pharmaceutical industry, but now also in the world's IT industry. Can the one instrument serve such diverse purposes? Certainly those for whom the patent system is of critical strategic importance think so for they frequently declare that it benefits the independent inventor and the small firm. They insist that the patent system encourages the innovation of the weak as well as the strong, and that society is much the richer for this innovation. This article considers just who does benefit from the patent system and then turns to the other side of the coin, the costs of the patent system. Most discussion of the system seems not so much to deny the existence of costs as to ignore them. Yet, the costs would seem to be considerable and their distribution as uneven as that of the benefits. Those who reap most benefits from the patent system are not those who incur most costs, and while benefits are finely focussed, costs are much more widely distributed. The greatest cost of all would seem to be borne by society as a whole in terms of damage done to innovation, which is curious given that the fundamental purpose of the patent system is to encourage innovation for the benefit of society as a whole.
Technical writers need a historical perspective in order to distinguish between enduring and transitory writing standards, to understand the variety of past styles in building future styles, and to give the profession a better sense of self-identity. To overcome the problems in developing a historical perspective, such as a dearth of artifacts to examine and the peculiarities in rhetorical time and place which undercut attempts to generalize on historical information, the 200 year-old federal collection of patents is offered as a solution. This collection of patents is also very often the only remaining written work of the ordinary mechanic of the nineteenth century, and this collection truly reflects technical not legal, business, or science writing.
Patents on software and business methods appear to have a pivotal position in today's economy, yet they have remained a policy backwater in which scope of patentable subject matter has expanded without legislative input. This is changing as Europe struggles with patent reform. A push by the European Commission to validate and promote software patents has been opposed by many companies and professionals, and especially the open source community. In this process, it has become clear that Europe opposes the broad non-technical patents on business methods that are now available in the U.S., signaling a major rift in international standards of patentability.
The question whether access to patent protection for computer software should be made easier (for example by removing the restrictions that would allow a classification of computer programs 'as such' as inventions) would be in the overall benefit has exercised policy makers for quite some time. 'Better protection' of software-related innovations (compared to copyright protection) as well as 'better disclosure' of the underlying ideas and principles have been cited as the main benefits. This paper takes a critical view of these arguments, taking into account that in many cases the underlying ideas and principles may be most effectively be protected as trade secrets (in combination with copyright protection of the 'expression', i.e. the computer program as it is made available to the user). Giving software producers the option to apply for patent protection may not make much difference in terms of the information generated for the benefit of other innovators. Patent protection may be most attractive for ideas and principles that are to a large extent obvious or become apparent to the user. This might lead to a raft of patents for rather obvious 'inventions' (even if patent office searches were improved and patent applications were assessed more rigorously), which might cause little benefit but much friction in the process of innovation.
This article investigates the design history of certain published artifacts—women's household sewing patterns—as that history is recorded in U.S. Patent Records. When a patented item is a published artifact, the U.S. Patent Record may contain valuable information on the author's perception of users and analysis of solutions for usability problems. This case illustrates the evolution toward a single standard despite early proprietary design solutions.
The coverage and the functionality of free online databases for Chinese patent data have improved gradually over the last few years. People without knowledge of Chinese now have more opportunities to find information using English search interfaces. English machine translations of Chinese patents and utility models became available on the internet in April 2008, making it easier for users to understand the content of the documents. Furthermore, English abstracts for utility models have been included in free databases, either as human or machine translations. English legal status information for Chinese documents has also recently become available in two databases. In addition to patents and utility models, users can now also search information on Chinese industrial designs via an English search interface. This article gives an overview of the options for searching for Chinese patent data in free databases, namely the European Patent Office's esp@cenet and various sources offered by the State Intellectual Property Office of the People's Republic of China (SIPO). Patent information users will see how they can search both English language sources and use the Chinese interfaces to retrieve additional information -- even without being able to read Chinese.
Companies often file for and the US government actually grants patents for user interface and interaction design 'innovations' that are either strikingly obvious or have appeared before in other systems.