The one thing that everybody seems to know about the Patent Office is that Albert Einstein used to work there. The esteemed scientist worked at a Swiss office in the years between 1902 and 1909, a period that also saw him publish four papers, including one detailing his theory of special relativity in 1905. Apart from that, the patent office arguably lacks much magic.
Notable patents and sales
The tech world might take umbrage with the latter statement, though. According to the former corporate lawyer David Drummond, major companies get excited about patents. A single smartphone can be protected with up to 250,000 of them, some of which don’t seem to have much of a purpose to the untrained eye.
Still, there’s no denying that there’s money to be earned from the pursuit of various patents. The Wired has previously reported on internal patent programs, i.e. employee to employer, that are worth somewhere between $500 and $4,000, depending on the company in question. However, the real money seems to come from something known as legacy patents, where an entire block of patents is bought from its holder.
Some of the more notable sales include Universal Display Corp’s purchase of 1,200 Fujifilm patents for $105m in 2012. Also, a sextet of companies including Apple and Microsoft bought 6,000 Nortel patents for $4.5bn in 2011, as part of an agreement that disadvantaged Google. Bill Gates’ former plaything acquired 925 patents from AOL for just over a billion dollars in 2012 as well.
What might seem strange is that the patent process can be a complicated one. A Forbes article on the topic lists difficulties such as the time required (up to several years) and the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to hire a specialist lawyer, which, combined, can make filing for a patent seem undesirable. There’s also around a two-year wait and an 80-90% chance of failure once the United States Patent and Trademark Office gets hold of it.
Of course, patents are handed out all the time, especially in developing areas of tech. For instance, the Slots of Vegas online casino website recently reported on the granting of a patent to IGT, which permits users of its gaming software to play in alternative currencies. Slots of Vegas already accepts Bitcoin and Litecoin payments, as the industry moves away from more traditional payment providers towards digital wallets.
All the above considered, there do seem to be some quite significant barriers to patents for ordinary people. This works in favor of corporations, who are able to provide their own patent services to budding inventors. For example, the Microsoft website has a patent program called #MakeWhatsNext that has helped women secure patents for an underwater camera, a sickle cell diagnosis app, and a mosquito agitator, among other things.
Overall, patents are quite a closed-off world – but one that can attract the financial support of the biggest companies in the world.