Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Whatever you may think of software patents (such as the infamous U.S. Patent 4,197,590 "Xor patent"), whether you think they're harmful like the LPF does, or awesome like Paul Heckel does, the fact remains that most companies who create software file them. As such, my employer has filed (or started the process thereof) about seven patents with my name on them (two have been awarded, I forget where in the process the others currently languish).

It is a bizarre experience to see something that you invented, and described in engineering terms, regurgitated in legalese. An invention that I'm intimately familiar with in all of its details becomes a confusing morass of gibberish. I must then go into a room with lawyers (and sometimes other engineers) and attempt to verify, explain, and defend my patent application internally.

This is a grueling process because patent applications are almost totally unreadable -- even the lawyers have a hard time navigating them. Even the ones who write them for a living can sometimes get stuck in their own language. Frankly, it's rather ridiculous. It takes an absurd amount of time to reconcile what's on the page with what I know the invention does. Never mind the parts that are boilerplate explanations of what a computer is (apparently a computer has RAM, a network card, and... I got bored after that and just moved on).

Whether or not it's true that "there's gotta be a better way" when it comes to the patent system generally, there certainly must be a better way to describe inventions for the purpose of patenting them. A human readable way. And one which doesn't make the filing process take over five years.

On the plus side, I get a plaque when the patent is actually issued.