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EFF shames our patent system with its ‘Stupid Patent of the Month’ series

Published Aug 5th, 2014 8:15PM EDT
EFF Stupid Patent of the Month Series
Image: EFF

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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 Monthseries 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.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.