In its bid to change patent law to effectively protect useful inventions and prevent trolls from taking advantage of the system, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has initiated a somewhat humorous “Stupid Patent of the Month” series in which it plans to shame the current patent system.
In the first installment, the EFF targets a patent that describes a “Method and Apparatus for Indirect Medical Consultation,” or a computer-assisted secretary for doctors. Here in simple terms is the technology described by the patent:
- a. take a telephone call from patient
- b. record patient info in a patient file
- c. send patient information to a doctor, ask the doctor if she wants to talk to the patient
- d. call the patient back and transfer the call to the doctor
- e. record the call
- f. add the recorded call to the patient file and send to doctor
- g. do steps a. – f. with a computer.
The EFF has discovered that initially the patent lacked step “g,” and it was rejected. As soon as step “g” was added the “rejection went away.
“It is important to remember that stupid patents like these can do real harm,” the EFF wrote. “A patent troll with a similarly dumb patent has sent letters claiming that anyone ‘communicating health information to patients… by telephone’ owes it money. Since defending a patent case can easily cost more than a million dollars, trolls can leverage the threat of these costs to extort settlements. By issuing vague and overbroad software patents like our inaugural Stupid Patent of the Month, the Patent Office is providing the raw material that trolls use to shake down true innovators.”
It’s not clear at this time whether Amazon’s patent describing a technology of photographing an object against a white background will ever be included in this EFF series, but we certainly think it’s a good candidate.