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Washington Post lists 'Stupidest Patents of 2017'

A year-end wrap-up of patent highlights in a major newspaper focused on a trend toward what it called "stupid patents."

There is an actual endowed position at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, dedicated toward identifying and exposing stupid patents. The position is called the Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents, funded by tech investor Mark Cuban.

When is a patent 'stupid'?

A stupid patent, the Washington Post article explained, is something worse than a frivolous invention. It is a patent that should not have been granted in the first place, and that causes harm in the marketplace.

The designation includes legitimizing patent trolling - when patents are obtained solely for licensing or litigation, not for the actual production and sale of goods or services.

The Consumer Technology Association estimates that patent trolling sucks $1.5 billion from the U.S. economy every single week.

Software leads the way

Software patents are the leading category in the stupid patents list. They cite a patent granted to CBS Interactive for a program allowing users to review and annotate song lyrics.

Another patent went to a program that scans Uber and Lyft traffic and finds taxis that are free and places a call to the taxi dispatch system.

Hewlett-Packard obtained a patent for a program that reminds you of upcoming calendar items - never mind that nearly identical programs have been on the market for years.

EFF's point of view

Why does the EFF frown on these patents? Because they are redundant - software properties have long been shielded by copyright and often trade secret law. And because, all too often, they often involve very large companies claiming patents to keep smaller companies at bay. Very often, the result is that smaller companies must litigate their patents - if they can afford to.

The EFF's stand on so-called stupid patents is controversial. Many companies and product developers feel that labeling product ideas as stupid is a disservice to them. But EFF argues that Congress has ignored the need to tilt patent law back toward the inventers of real products. Even the courts, which occasionally rule in favor of "the little guy," have not done enough.

The article lists the stupid patents for this year. Tune in next December to see what 2018 introduces.

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