Tiny Advances

Author:Mr Thomas Lederer

Thomas L. Lederer, Patent Attorney, Dennemeyer & Associates, explores the evolution of patentability of computer-implemented inventions.

The quote "Everything that can be invented has been invented" is often attributed to Charles H. Duell, who was the Commissioner of the US patent office in 1899.

Recently Gene Quinn (of ipwatchdog.com) commented on the time span taken to issue the nine millionth US patent on April 7, 2015. During the time Mr Duell (and others of course) were in office, it took the US Patent and Trademark Office 75 years to issue the first million patents. The time span to issue the ninth million patents was only three and a half years. I guess Mr Duell was wrong.

The world of intellectual property rights is not always easy to understand for laymen - and sometimes even for lawyers. In particular, when it comes to popular inventions like Amazon's "1 click" patent and Apple's "slide to unlock" patent. With technologies like these, which are very visible to everyone on the internet or on handheld or personal devices, an opinion about how worthy they are of being a granted patent is quickly made. Sometimes, even if the underlying principles are novel and inventive according to legal standards, the public might consider them to be obvious or at least to be only tiny advances in the technology according to the prior art known to them, and thus not worth a patent.

However, for the companies involved - either as applicants, as possible infringers or as competitors deprived of a feature to include in their products - a lot of money is at stake. Sometimes also pride and prestige are endangered by the fate of patent applications.

Consequently, fierce battles can arise from patent applications, regardless of whether the inventions are seemingly small and even more so if the protected subject matters are exposed to the public in everyday life.

Amazon's "1 click" patent and Apple's "slide to unlock" patent

Amazon's patent (EP 1 134 680) was much discussed in 2011 after the Board of Appeal decided on January 27, 2011 in T1244/07 that the claims were lacking an inventive step, such that the European patent was never granted in the first place (unlike, for example, in the United States and Canada).

More recently, the German part of Apple's "slide to unlock" European patent (EP 1 964 022) was revoked by the Federal Court of Justice of Germany on August 25, 2015 (decision X ZR 110/13). According to the corresponding local databases, the legal...

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