Patent Derangement Disorder: A Diagnosis

We should lobby the American Psychiatric Society for the inclusion of a new entry in the next edition of the DSM: Patent Derangement Disorder (PDD). A commonly-occurring distortion of thought processes, PDD sweeps through online communities several times a year. The symptoms are familiar: hysterical blog posts, breathless comments, snide tweets. The only cure is better education about patents and how they are applied. Here at Intellogist HQ, we’ve made it our business to collect and offer as much patent-related information as possible. As part of my ongoing commitment to public service, I’d like to point out egregious cases of PDD so that we can help people get better.

One manifestation of Patent Derangement is “How the heck could they patent that!? It’s so common/easy/obvious/dumb!” Just this week, the publication of an Apple patent for multitouch gestures on capacitive surfaces had the internet foaming at the mouth. Apple is notoriously taciturn about upcoming products, so any patent they apply for or receive is guaranteed extra scrutiny by an online media environment famished by a constant need for more content. The reactions were immediate and hyperbolic:

From the Gizmodo comments:

“I am in the process of filing a patent…a process in which a user becomes capable of the ability to detect and perceive objects and surroundings made possible by a process by which visible-spectrum radiation is reflected off of said objects and surroundings, and enters through a biological lens mounted on the front of the user, causing specific endings stemming from a biological mass of bundled nerves mounted within the user to receive and interpret radiation into impulse signals which cause the user to experience vision. A second application currently in the works allows this process to happen in color as well.

You’ll all owe me BILLIONS! And if you don’t pay I get to poke out your ‘iSees.'”

From the Engadget comments:

“I hate stupid patents like these,”

“we should be ashamed of our patant system, not because apple can get a patant but because something so vauge and broad can be patanted”

The patent in question is 7,663,607. The claims and cited references are available at no cost for any commenter to read. It doesn’t take an advanced degree to look at the claims and establish that this is not a general patent for any technology involving more than one finger on a capacitive touchscreen. It gets fairly specific about exactly what kind of screen is required. Apple is unlikely to use this patent to bludgeon every other touchscreen phone off the market, as many imply. Furthermore, the list of cited references is extensive. I count 199 US patent documents, 22 foreign patents, and 110 nonpatent references. I’m not sure this is a case where the USPTO can be accused of rubber-stamping an excessively broad patent.

I’m not going to pretend that uninformed pronouncements on the Internet are news, but these discussions do highlight a broader issue of popular knowledge about patents. I’m going to continue watching the news for more examples of Patent Derangement Disorder in action. If nothing else, the arguments are a little bit funny. What examples of PDD have you encountered? Leave a comment to let us know!

Technical Translations from Landon IP

This post was contributed by Intellogist Team member Ryan Maietta.

One Response

  1. The claims of the US 7,663,607 patent are not broad. They describe the structure of the touch screen panel. What makes it different from the prior art is that other touch screens devices are only capable of reporting a single point even when multiple objects are placed on the sensing surface. The ‘607 patent has the ability to track multiple points of contact simultaneously. This is also described in claim 1: A touch panel comprising a transparent capacitive sensing medium configured to detect multiple touches or near touches that occur at a same time and at distinct locations in a plane of the touch panel and to produce distinct signals representative of a location of the touches on the plane of the touch panel for each of the multiple touches. Another thing that makes it very different from the known art, at least in my experience, is the structure and connections of each layer in the capacitive sensing medium.

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