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What's Your Opinion on Patents?

IV is one of the many companies that have come into existence solely to purchase patents and litigate on the basis of them. What is your take on patents?

Today I read a blog to which my sister pointed me about Intellectual Ventures on the NPR Website. IV is one of the many companies that have come into existence solely to purchase patents and litigate on the basis of them. Many people refer to these companies as patent trolls, though the companies insist they exist to help the “small guy” who has a patent but not the ability to defend it legally. It made me think of some of the dumb patents I have run across over the years.

I've written about patent 4215330 before. It describes a perpetual motion machine, though it carefully refrains from calling the device that in the claims. I ran across this patent while poking around in the Giant Database of Mostly Dumb, Obvious, or Unworkable Ideas (GDMDOUI). Many people prefer to call this database by its shorter nickname, the US Patent Office.

In the year 2000, inventor Terrance F. Lenahan applied for and received patent 6080436, which is described in the NPR blog post, for a device that provides thermal “bread refreshing.” This device uses infrared heat to apply a temperature of 2,500 to 4,500 degrees Fahrenheit to a bread product that has lost its freshness and has become “unsavory or unappetizing.” It cleverly has two drawers into which the bread can be placed, a control for time and temperature, a start button, and a stop button. The patent also has a helpful drawing of a cross-section of toast, with a section line that delineates the “toasted above” portion of the refreshed bread from the “not toasted below” portion.

On a completely unrelated note, I recently read a prepublication version of the book The Toaster Project, in which Thomas Thwaites, a British design student and author, attempts to invent a toaster from scratch. He learns a lot about smelting nickel, making steel from iron ore, refining plastics, and the division of labor (or, as he likes to refer to it, labour). It’s good. Look for a copy.

Another completely unrelated note: I once visited a museum of modern art in Monterrey, Mexico. One of the exhibits was in a large room the size of a racquetball court. All four walls were carefully covered with pieces of toast. I managed to take a picture of it before the docent chewed me out in Spanish.

Got an opinion on patents? That’s what the comment box below is for.

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