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January 15, 2004
And Now for Something Completely Different
Here's something new to finish off the week. As even casual observers know, patents are extremely important in the drug industry. We spend whacking amounts of time writing them, reading them, and worrying about the ones that other companies have filed. And it should also be clear, to the same laid-back observers, that a good number of patents are. . .well. . .not what they could be. Many are a bit. . .overstated, or perhaps a bit under-enabled. Estimates vary. Some people think it's 90% of all patents. Others more conservatively estimate that only half of them are nonsense.
It's taken a team effort for things to come to this. Patent applicants have to write crummy applications; the patent office then does its part by granting way too many of them. And that leads up to this latest bolt of inspiration, whose examination by the PTO I would pay to witness. Prepare yourselves for US application 200400055535: "Process of Reincarnation."
Uh-huh. Allow me to quote from the Summary of the Invention. Heck, let's do the whole thing; it won't take long:
" This invention resulted from my combining Einstein's Theory of Relativity and Newton's Second Law of Physics." (sic)
" Reincarnation is defined in Webster's Third New Inernational (sic) Dictionary as "rebith" (sic). Thus my invention is a process of rebirth or in other words immortality."
There we go. Actually, I could have saved myself some time by just putting (sic) after the whole damn thing. You can guess what the single claim consists of. It's the shortest patent application I've ever seen, which is only one of its many distinctive qualities. But - and I'd hate to break this to the applicant in person - I don't think it has a chance.
You see, the, er, inventor didn't cite all the Buddhist and Hindu prior art. It's the sure sign of an intellectual-property amateur. If he'd just worked in a couple of references to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, say, I think he could have been out the door in a matter of weeks with his issued patent. But as it is, it'll probably take months for approval. Details, details.
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