State of Innovation

Patents and Innovation Economics

8 Millionth U.S. Patent Issues

According to the USPTO website, 8,000,000 patent issued today, August 16, 2011.  The patent is entitled “Visual Prosthesis” and the inventors are Greenberg, Robert J. (Los Angeles, CA, US), Mcclure, Kelly H. (Simi Valley, CA, US), Roy, Arup (Valencia, CA, US).  The patent is assigned to Second Sight Medical Products Inc.  The patent took almost four years from filing, October 18, 2007, until issuance.  Hopefully, this company did not need this patent to secure funding, which is common.  This illustrates one of the major problems with our patent system – namely the absurd length of time it takes to get a patent issued.  A patent is a property right and if it took you four years to obtain title to a car or house or stock you bought you would think you were living in a third world country.

According to the Patent Office’s press release the patent explains:

In a healthy eye, the photoreceptors (rods and cones) on the retina convert light into tiny electrochemical impulses that are sent through the optic nerve and into the brain, where they are decoded into images.  If the photoreceptors no longer function correctly, the first step in this process is disrupted and the visual system cannot transform light into images, causing blindness.

The system awarded patent number 8,000,000 is designed to bypass the damaged photoreceptors altogether.  A miniature video camera housed in the patient’s glasses sends information to a small computer worn by the patient where it is processed and transformed into instructions transmitted wirelessly to a receiver in an implanted stimulator.  The signals are then sent to an electrode array, attached to the retina, which emits small pulses of electricity.  These electrical pulses are intended to bypass the damaged photoreceptors and stimulate the retina’s remaining cells to transmit the visual information along the optic nerve to the brain.

Of course, I am sure that the patent critics will complain that this patent is an example of how the Patent Office issues bad, overly broad, patents for inventions that were created years ago.  This is clearly obvious in light of modern electronics and an understanding that the brain is really just electrically signals.  What is unique about converting light signals into electrical signals anyway?  It really all boils down to wiggling electrons, which has been done since man first harnessed fire.  I am sure that the critics will point out how this patent does not encourage innovation and is just legal title to sue and waste resources that would be better spent on engineers????????????????????????????????

 

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August 16, 2011 - Posted by | News | , , , , ,

6 Comments »

  1. Now IF this patent is specific enough to make it possible to use a camera and send the signals to the brain in a different way, and it’s not hard to figure out a way to do it differently (don’t have to be easy to implement), then that’s probably no big problem.
    If the patent (like many others) are so broad that just about everything that matches the description above violates it, then it IS bad.

    Now, where’s the link to the patent?

    Comment by Natanael L | August 23, 2011 | Reply

  2. Nat, Do you know how to read the claims of a patent? Do you even know that the claims define the boundaries of a patent? Given your comments I sincerely doubt it. As a result, your opinion about whether a patent is overly broad is just random nonsense.

    Comment by dbhalling | August 23, 2011 | Reply

  3. I have actually read a few patents, and I have read a few analyses of patents. By patent laywers. In fact, my interpretation is usually close to theirs. So what’s your point?
    Are the whole point that I have nothing to say about patents because I’m not a lawyer? Then you’re just sinking your own argument even further, because you’re trying to stimulate innovation and making it hard to understand patents does the absolute OPPOSITE.

    Comment by Natanael L | August 23, 2011 | Reply

  4. Nat, I have read some code for operating systems also and my broad generalizations are the same as some programmers. This does not make me qualified to comment on code for operating systems. I already know that you are not qualified, because you do not understand the meaning of obviousness in patent law and you do not understand why hindsight cannot be used in evaluating a patent claim. In addition, you appear to not understand that all inventions are combinations of existing elements.

    Patents are hard to read for the same reason that differential equations are difficult. Patents are not difficult to read just because lawyers are trying to obscure the subject (okay some are) but because this is a difficult area of law to learn.

    Comment by dbhalling | August 23, 2011 | Reply

  5. I do in fact understand what’s meant by obviousness. When I can implement video on a website the obvious way and get sued for patent infringement, that means the patent system are flawed. If there’s only a few ways to do a specific tasks and anybody asked to do it would write nearly identical code, should the first person to actually do it still be allowed to patent it?
    I understand the problem with hindsigh. But scrapping the obviousness requirement without replacing it is just stupid. There’s no way to do it objectively. You could have a requirement that anything that would have been done the same way or too similiar by an independent person in the trade asked to achieve the same thing would not be patentable. The similiarity issue and testing patent applications would be hard to get “right” (still subjective).

    Where did I even imply that I don’t think innovation are combinations of earlier things? What’s your point?

    If patents are as precise as equations, then I assume there should be a few equally precise guidea somewhere in how to read them. Care to point to any? I don’t find math very hard and don’t have issues with logic, so it shouldn’t be impossible for me to understand it.

    (Also, assumptions is the mother of all ****ups.)

    Comment by Natanael L | August 23, 2011 | Reply

  6. My point is that if you (The US Supreme Ct and many smart technologist) state that if you invention is just a combination of known elements that it is unlikely to deserve patent protection. Your attitude on obviousness appears consistent with people who do not understand that conservation of matter and energy means that all inventions are combinations of known elements.

    A good place to start understanding claims is Landis on Mechanics of Patent Claim Drafting. I have dealt with many brilliant inventors, who certainly more than smart enough to understand patents, that make basic mistakes. They confuse whether something is patentable with whether something infringes a patent. They ignore terms in a patent. They read claims like they are prose. It is not a lack of ability on their part, but you cannot be an expert in all areas.

    Comment by dbhalling | August 23, 2011 | Reply


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