In this week’s episode of Stuff You Should Know About IP, Thomas Colson and Raymond Guarnieri examine whether a science fiction work can be used as prior art to block a patent. In order to obtain patent protection, an invention must be novel and non-obvious. If a science fiction work shows that an invention is either obvious or not new, then the science fiction work can prevent the invention from being patented, but only if the work describes the invention in sufficient detail. For example, in 1968, Charles Hall’s utility patent application for a water-bed was rejected because Robert Heinlein had thoroughly described a water-bed in three science fiction works: Beyond this Horizon in 1942, Double Star in 1956, and Stranger in a Strange Land in 1961. But Star Trek would not block a patent for a transporter beam, and Star Wars would not block a patent for a light saber, because neither Star Trek nor Star Wars describes how either invention actually works. Litigants can also cite science fiction in cases involving infringement of design patents. In 2011, when Apple sued Samsung for design patent infringement, Samsung argued that Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was relevant prior art. Even The Sunken Yacht, a Donald Duck cartoon by Carl Banks, was used as prior art to block a patent. Karl Kroyer sought a patent for his method of raising a sunken ship by using a tube to fill it with ping pong balls, but his application was rejected because Donald Duck did it first.
In this week’s episode of Stuff You Should Know About IP, Thomas Colson and Raymond Guarnieri welcome special guest Tony Trippe to discuss patent data. Patent data can reveal trends and indicate where a field is headed. The best way for a smaller company, like Jawbone or Fitbit, to compete with a larger company, like Apple or Nike, is to have a great patent portfolio. If a smaller company doesn’t have a great portfolio of its own, it can be beneficial to acquire another company’s patents. The earlier the priority date of a patent application, the better; nothing published after that date can be used to invalidate the patent. Each feature of a product can be covered by its own patent. A savvy investor can analyze public information in patent portfolios and then use that information to guide investments. Companies with well-developed patent portfolios tend to be traded at higher values. A company can use patent information to find new technologies and for competitive intelligence. Patent information can also be used to predict new products that will be released. Patent applications are published eighteen months after having been filed. Tony Trippe predicts that Northrop Grumman, a company in the quantum computing field, might form a major partnership with an established player in the field. In just a few hours, a quantum computer can solve an equation that a huge network of supercomputers would need hundreds of years to solve. Quantum computers present cybersecurity concerns, and they also have applications for chemistry, molecular modeling, other multiple body problems, and encryption.