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U.S. Patent Office has approved a method of punching a hole into another dimension to travel faster than light

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is an interesting system.  Unlike some other global patent offices, it isn't sustained by any sort of tax allotment.  Rather, it sustains itself with the fees it charges.  The system essentially creates a fun game for the USPTO in that the more patents it grants, the more patents are filed.  And the more patents that are filed the more fees are collected.  Hence, the more patents that are granted, the more fees that are collected.  

Of course the patents office can only review so many patents.  So if it wants to grant more patents than it has employees to handle, it will need to simply approve patents that aren't thoroughly reviewed.  Granting insufficiently reviewed patents should help to increase the number of bad patents.

I. Modeling the Number of Bad Patents as a Constraint Satisfaction Problem

Constraint satisfaction problems or CSPs are used to model everything from financial decisions to sports season scheduling.  The quality of the model is dictated by your constraints.  It is easy to over-constrain or under-constrain.  Model quality is also determined by how well you estimate linear constants based on various experiments.

So let's look at the above description of how the USPTO can profit off bad patents, but put it in reasonable math terms.

Model in Symbolic Logic:

Max(R = F - B)

1. F = a * G
2. B = r* L + b * S
3. P >= ( G - c * A )
4. P >= 0
5. S >= d * e * (G-P) + e * P
6. S >= 0
7. L >= k * l * (G-P) + l * P
8. L >= 0
Goal in Words:
You seek to maximize revenue (R), which is increased as you take in more fees (F) and decreased by backlash (B) against the patent office in terms of lawsuits, patent review requests, etc.  

Constraining equation 1 in words:
Fees (F) increase as the patents granted (G) increase.  (a) is a constant coefficient representing a modeled relationship between the number of granted patents and how many extra fees are collected due to increased filing if companies and individuals know they're more likely to receive a grant.

Money talks
Money talks: the USPTO in this model is naturally inclined to accept more bad patents to reach its goal of hiring more attorneys and granting pay raises, unless public backlash is too great. [Image Source: Google Images]

Constraining equation 2 in words: 
Backlash (B) comes from the number of granted silly (or your other favorite "S" word, e.g. stupid, etc.) patents (S) plus the number of granted patents with incorrect literature reviews (L).  (r) and (b) are constants representing the scaling of public backlash for the two types of bad patents.  The more r*L + b*S the USPTO puts out, the more backlash (B) will be generated.

Constraining equation 3 in words: 
Poorly reviewed patents (P) are found by taking the number of patents granted (G) and subtracting the number of Attorneys (A) times the number of patents each attorney can review (A)

Constraining equation 4 in words: 
The number of poorly reviewed patents is at least (0) as a negative number of poor reviews is nonsensical.

Constraining equation 5 in words: 
The number of silly patents (S) (typically an non-novel patent) is equal to the frequency of silly filings (e) times the number of poorly reviewed patents (P).  As some well reviewed silly patents may be granted on accident, a constant (e) is utilized to indicate how likely a reviewed silly submission is accidentally granted.  So an additional number of silly patents is added for the frequency of silly filings (e) times the frequency of grants of reviewed silly filings (d) times the number of well reviewed patents (G-P).
Constraining equation 6 in words: 
The number of granted silly patents (S) is at least (0) as a negative number of grants is nonsensical.

Constraining equation 7 in words: 
The number of patents with incorrect literature reviews (L) (e.g. prior art goes unnoticed) is equal to the frequency of filings that ignore existing literature (l) times the number of poorly reviewed patents (P).  As some earnest reviews may miss prior art on accident, a constant (k) is utilized to indicate how likely a review is to miss prior art in the case of a bad patent.  So an additional number of incorrect literature reviews is added for the  frequency of filings that ignore existing literature (l) times the frequency actual reviewed patents are approved accidentally ignoring literature (d) times the number of well reviewed patents (G-P).

Constraining equation 8 in words: 
The number of granted patents with incorrect literature reviews (L) is at least (0) as a negative number of grants is nonsensical.

Overall Justification of Model:
This is a pretty simplistic model in that everything has to scale linearly and it operates under the assumption that the USTPO's goal is to maximize earnings (fees-backlash).  But it seems reasonably accurate, given the patent office's inherent business-like operation and the assumption that the goal of every business is to produce maximum profits.

There is one important flaw in the model.  The frequency of filed silly patents (e) and filed patents that ignore prior art (l) should increase as the number of grants increase.  However, if additional constraints were added to relate (e) and (l) to (G) by a scaling relationship, it would make the CSP non-linear.

Ultimately this could result in more patents being filed (if backlash is exceeded by the  gains in fees) or less patents being filed (if the fees are exceeded by the backlash).

This model offers two key observations:
  1. The model has a tendency to accept a lot of bad of patents, depending on the state of the office and public.
  2. The ony thing holding it back from accepting all bad patents (hence obtaining the best case maximum on profits) is the amount of public backlash. 
II. "Silly" Patents

Alright enough math, let's take a look at some interesting patents...

Today we present to you some jewels from the USPTO.  Remember, these folks are the law of the land and decide whether it's legal or not for someone to build something:

Patenting the slingshot...
"Handheld Water Balloon Catapault" (U.S. Patent 4,922,884)
Filed: Mar. 1989 Granted: May 1990
Man "invents" slingshot
The yolk's on the USPTO, apparently.  [Image Source: USPTO (left); Google Images (right)]

Now at this point you're probably thinking "How is this thing a catapault?  It has no cranked tension!  Isn't this essentially just a plastic slingshot, a crude precursor to the bow and arrow?"
Well silence your skepticism at its slightly misleading terminology and prepare to be amazed at the novel contribution:
"...implementing a yolk of greater clearance, thus allowing an enlarged projectile puch to be attached.  These features allow projectiles, of greater mass such as water balloons... Combined with... a guard which protects the fingers from the occasional contact which may occur during projectile launch."

Now at this point you're probably thinking they've somehow made a catapault out of hardened egg yolks. No, they have not.  It appears that the author meant to put "yoke", as in "handle", but instead put "yolk" as in "yummy egg".  This occured a good five times in the patent.  And he was patenting a slingshot.  It smells like a lawsuit against Dennis the Menace and Bart Simpson may be incoming.

Patenting nature...
"A Jumping Snail" (U.S. Design Patent 435,610)
Filed: June 1999 Granted: Dec 2000

Jumping snail
"Nature's litte infringer" meets his human inventors.
[Image Source: USPTO (left); macrophile on Flickr (right)]

Quite literally what it sounds like, this patent is a stuffed animal resembling a snail, which is poorly drawn in a series of imaginative images by someone whom we're guessing never had any formal college background in art.  We're not sure if snails are in violation of this design, but should human laws be applied to gastropods they're going to be crushed in court, particularly after they don't show up as a result of their general snailish qualities.  But seriously if there's one thing the Japanese horror film Uzumaki taught us, it's that snails are not suitable children's toys as they quite possibly might be trying to kill you.

Patenting use of a playground apparatus...
"Method of Swinging on a Swing" (U.S. Patent U.S. 6,368,227 B1)
Filed: Nov. 2000 Granted: April 2002

Swinging is patented
Clearly early writers and painters acquired Terminator-like powers and traveled forward in time to steal this invention. [Image Source: USPTO (left) Google Images (right)]

If you're wondering, yes this patent describes playing on a swing.  While it's hard to fault the author St. Paul, Minn.-resident Steven Olson (for the record, he's probaby one of these guys) for engaging in such a nostalgic activity, one might worry that someone might challenge this patent given that Mr. Olson didn't really provide much in the way of prior art for his novel play "technology".  A prior art claim seems especially likely if 18th century French Rococo artist Jean-Honore Fragonarde (see above) returns from the grave.  But fortunately the USPTO cleared that up for us. See that "B1"?  That means it's the first of its kind, or as the USPTO, "No previously published pre-grant publication."

Well if you were worried this patent was going to turn out to make the USPTO look willfully incompetent, thankfully they cleared it up for us by examining the issue and concluding that no one had ever "invented" swinging on a swing before.  Clearly Mr. Fragonard needs to get right back in his time machines, head straightaway to his own era, and stop stealing the 20th century's ideas.  That's some USPTO justice there!

Warp speed 10 on my Mark...
"Hyper-Light Speed Antenna" (U.S. Patent 6,025,810)
Filed: Oct 1997 Granted: Feb. 2000

Light speed circuit board
A simple circuit creates a faster than light drive?  It was sitting there under our noses, this whole time. [Image Source: USPTO (left); Star Trek Fan Wallpapers (right)]

While all these patents concerned modern technology somewhat indirectly as:
a) They covered "technology" inventions.
b) They show the likely quality of the approvals process for more serious invention claims.
They don't cover any sort of hard tech.  That's why we've saved the best to last.  You see, the USPTO has verified that Einstein was wrong and that one of the most fundamental laws of physics: E=MC^2 was just a bunch of baloney.

Meet the patent on the hyper-light speed antenna.  That's right, the author claims to have found a way to send electromagnetic waves at a speed faster than light.  He does not mention whether this is in a medium or not, so clearly he's shattered the speed of light in any setting, including the absolute speed of light in the vacuum.  

How is this possible?  Well, as our reader sprockkets points out, the patent explains:

The present invention takes a transmission of energy, and instead of sending through normal time and space, it pokes a small hole into another dimension, thus, sending the energy through a place which allows transmission of energy to exceed the speed of light.

Don't believe that a small electrical circuit can punch a hole in the multiverse and destroy the fundamental laws of phyics?  Well, guess what skeptics, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office says he's right.  It took them three years to verify his claims, but now they've gave resounding approval to the filing.  Guess you can kiss those fundamental laws of physics, goodbye.

Some mistakenly believed that the patent was assigned to a U.S. Doctor in Aurora, Colo.  That's understandable as the patent assignee is David L. Strom, while there's an orthopedic surgeon named David E. Strom.  But it appears that the filer is instead possibly a real estate agent in the town whose middle initial matches that of the filer.  That's right, it may be a real estate agent who trumped all those stuffy physics professors who told you about all that laws of physics hooey.  Looks like we can finally go Star Trek on the universe, assuming we find enough dilithium crystals to power this sophisticated gadget.

And yes, for the record, these are all real patents, follow the links.  Hopefully this inspires you to file some good patents of your own.

Comments     Threshold

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RE: Jason Mick is confused! Quelle surprise!
By Samus on 1/8/2012 4:01:59 PM , Rating: 2
I think the point is, that patent in particular, is, and always will be, fundementally impossible.

The other examples are all simply prior art violations.

I understand patenting something that doesn't exist yet but might someday could be consider 'patentable' such as the wireless data transmission patents from the 80's and various patents regarding touch interfaces or automotive stability control systems, but "punching a hole through space and time" belongs in a sci-fi movie, not an approved patent...clearly approved to pocket the filing fees.

By Gondor on 1/8/2012 5:14:45 PM , Rating: 2
It's not just "punching a hole in S/T", it's doing so by said circuit, if I read this correctly. This makes said patent utterly useless if the circuit doesn't do what the description claims it does, and if that is the case (which I'm willing to bet that it is), that also means that USPTO has granted a useless, utterly worthless, patent, substantiating Jason's point of the article.

By Nanobaud on 1/8/2012 6:32:40 PM , Rating: 2
If one is meaning to criticize the patent office, that is not the point at all. It is (fortunately) not the job of the patent examiners not to decide if something works, even if it is considered impossible. If something becomes to broadly abused, such a perpetual motion, then patent law is changed to say that perpetual motion cannot be patented, whether or not you figure out how to make it work. The patent examiners are primarily to help you come up with claims that describe something unique. A patentable invention must also be enabled, but excepting obvious omissions, that is more appropriately decided later in court rather than during prosecuting the application.

Also, since existing language often does not properly express new innovations, the inventor has some liberty in applying new definitions to existing words. The biggest mistakes most people make (some professionals included) is to read the title and abstract and glance at the figures and claims and assume they know what the patent covers. Remember, there is always one or more 'as described herein' implicit in every patent claim. So is it 'patently' ridiculous to have a patent claiming something 'faster than light'? Not at all. Lots of things can move faster than light. Phase velocities / beat patterns, the streak in a streak camera, ... Apple could pre-record their announcement of the iPhone-62 and send it to an astronaut on Mars, tell him to watch it at the equivalent of 9:01am while they make the announcement at 9:00am. He sees it a minute later even though it takes light 20 minutes to get there. Apple can call that 'faster than light' and patent it as long as they adequately describe what the term means 'as described herein'.

So some guy has a patent on some weird antenna with the added restriction that it transmits or receives signals that are 'faster than light" (as described herein), and he paid the patent office and some lawyer to help him get it. Does it matter whether you agree that it is faster than light? No, unless you ever make such an antenna yourself and infringe his patent. Same things apply to prior art. I am sure there is a recently-granted patent on a wheel, but it will be a wheel 'as described herein' with some unique feature that by this time in the evolution of wheels is probably useless to almost everyone. Yes, there are plenty of patents out there that miss prior art even within the context of the issued claims, but this is a well known effect and there are plenty of ways of rectifying it. There are rare exceptions, but generally a patent holder can not restrict someone from practicing things that are legitimately in the public domain (not uniquely contributed by that patent holder).

So are the key points that (a)patent examiners should be deciding what is and isn't possible and (b) we should worry that they are influenced by monetary influences? That seems to be the wackiest discontinuity in the whole article.


RE: Jason Mick is confused! Quelle surprise!
By avxo on 1/9/2012 4:26:33 AM , Rating: 3
I think the point is, that patent in particular, is, and always will be, fundementally impossible.

I feel compelled to correct you. Yes, it's fundamentally impossible. Now. But not necessarily "always." Your statement is true given our current understanding. But you don't know what's coming tomorrow. To claim that something is fundamentally impossible is to set a high bar. But with that said, I do wholeheartedly and without hesitation agree that the idea behind this patent is completely and utterly bogus and non-sensical.

With that said, even if the idea behind the patent is completely bogus and non-sensical -- or even impossible -- that is not the point .

The point is that the Patent Office makes no claims about whether the idea is right or even plausible; yet this is what Jason Mick statement said this patent meant.

So let's set the record straight: the patent office didn't take "three years to verify the claim" in the sense of verifying that it works or is " right ." Perhaps it took three years to approve the patent, but that says something different altogether.

RE: Jason Mick is confused! Quelle surprise!
By alcalde on 1/9/2012 11:53:00 PM , Rating: 2
The patent office has a policy denying all perpetual motion devices unless a working device is demonstrated. The same should apply to any invention that claims to do something held impossible by mainstream science. No saying it can't be done, but... "take our word for it" might be good enough for conventional claims, but something more is required for unconventional patents. Do you really want me to be able to draw up some documents about mixing up herbs and salt and an accompanying chant and getting a patent on "raising the dead" approved by the patent office? Although that would make one heck of a nice framed wall decoration.... :-) Frivolous patents need to be rejected in the same manner frivolous lawsuits are.

By avxo on 1/10/2012 2:22:05 PM , Rating: 2
Do you really want me to be able to draw up some documents about mixing up herbs and salt and an accompanying chant and getting a patent on "raising the dead" approved by the patent office?

If it's a worthless concoction (or a frivolous "invention" for, say, perpetual motion) why not? What does it matter? It wouldn't be a practical problem. If it ever became a practical problem (say someone patents a "salt and pepper" mix and goes after food manufacturers, then there are existing methods for getting that sorted out that work well for the most part.

So what problem is the hyperlightspeed antenna patent? Does it restrict anyone from patenting legitimate inventions? Is it used by the author to request royalties?

A patent for something impossible - like a perpetual motion machine - isn't a practical problem as far as I can tell, but you can try to change my opinion.

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls
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