The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has granted Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin a patent for inventing the technique of putting event-driven doodles -- such as daily holiday references -- on web pages to cause people to click on those pages. Is this what qualifies for a patentable invention these days? I find it silly that our back-logged patent office is issuing such ridiculous patents.
I do believe that patents and other forms of intellectual property have an important place in society, helping to promote and protect true invention. However, I believe that issuing patents like this only serves to highlight how problematic the patent system has become. While I was trained as a lawyer a long time ago, and even litigated some intellectual property matters along the way, my analysis here is an entrepreneur, not a former lawyer. Here is why I find patents like this ridiculous and dangerous:
Innovation is not invention. Patents are supposed to protect invention, not just innovation. According to Wikipedia, an invention is a new composition, device or process. Innovation is an improvement on an existing composition, device or process. The practice of adding timely and relevant graphic elements to media pages generally, and computer-driven interfaces specifically, certainly predates the 2001 application date of this patent. At best, Google's Doodles were an innovation.
Patent office can't -- and doesn't -- know about all prior art. Something can't be invented if it already exits. In a perfect world, the patent office will know of all related and prior work in the field: the "prior art." Assuming that each patent examiner knows everything related to every patent application he reviews is a pipe dream. It is not only a virtual impossibility. It is an actual impossibility.
Patent litigation costs are out-of-sight. The only way to fix things after patents have been issued is legal challenge and litigation. Since the legal costs to successfully challenge or defend patents now start in the millions of dollars, it means that this is becoming a world owned by large companies, investor-funded patent trolls, and law firms incented to litigate for a piece of the action.
Creates virtuous cycle of more silly applications and more silly patents. The more silly patents that are issued, the more will be filed. This is just basic human behavior at work. So, not only do we get more bad patents, we get a more congested patent review process, more delays and more mistakes.
Creates more patent trolls, more tax on innovation. The issuance of software patents over the past two decades had brought enormous ambiguity into what is an invention and what is just a new application of a previous technique. Patent trolls have exploited this, and their litigation amounts to a "tax" on companies operating in technology markets. More bad patents will only bring us more trolls.
What do you think? Do Google's Doodles deserve U.S. patent protection?