April 2009
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The USPTO is Going Soft on Patent Applications

Kerry Gorgone reports on the touching story of a pint-sized “inventor” who “came up” with the idea for attaching an IV bag pole to a kiddie car, so that hospitalized children can play while getting their meds. It seems the kid filed a patent application for the device and is charging a licensing fee for toy manufacturers to build the thing.

As heartwarming as this particular story may be, it provides a textbook example of an obvious device, which means that it should not be entitled to patent protection. When an “inventor” merely “‘arranges old elements with each performing the same function it had been known to perform’ and yields no more than one would expect from such an arrangement, the combination is obvious.” K.S.R Int’l Co. v. Teleflex Inc., 127 S. Ct. 1727, 1740 (2007) (quoting Sakraida v. Ag Pro, Inc., 96 S. Ct. 1532 (1976)). Providing patent protection for obvious devices does not further the constitutional mandate of our patent system — to promote the progress of science and the useful arts. K.S.R. Int’l Co., 127 S. Ct. at 1746. In fact, it weakens that system and provides plenty of ammunition for those who would criticize it and demand reform.

The fact that this device is used by sick children should not provide a “free pass” to patentability. I was shocked to read the examiner, Kevin Hurley’s office actions, finding not even a mention, let alone some analysis, of 35 U.S.C. § 103 as it applies to this device. See Image File Wrapper for U.S. Patent No. 7,374,228.

@Lawminatrix: Good luck with your office chair/beer keg thingy, but you might have a better chance, apparently, if you can describe your device as useful for baby kittens, butterflies, and/or bunny rabbits.

This story was originally published on The Legal Satyricon.

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