Friday, September 3, 2010

Intellectual-property battles: Patent lather

September 2, 2010

Deep-fried beer may sound scrumptious, but is it patentable? Mark Zable, an inventive Texan, thinks it is. To protect his novel production process, which involves encasing the alcohol in batter and dunking it in a fryer, he recently applied for a patent. He wants to profit if others exploit his beery brainwave.

Without patents to protect their creations, inventors would have little incentive to invent. But some Americans fret that patent protection has grown too strong. The system breeds so many lawsuits, they worry, that it throttles the innovation it is supposed to promote.

Consider a suit filed on August 27th by Interval Licensing, a firm owned by Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft. It targets everyone who is anyone in Silicon Valley, including Google, Apple, eBay, Yahoo! and Facebook. (But not Microsoft.)

It involves four patents covering inventions that improve an internet user’s online experience, such as suggestions for further reading related to a news article and pop-up features that display share prices. Interval claims these were pioneered at Mr Allen’s now defunct Silicon Valley research laboratory and then patented between 2000 and 2004. It accuses each of its targets of violating one or more of the patents.


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