| ...Obviously patents could be improved by searching further across
| disciplines for prior art and by having more USPTO expertise.  We're
| also seeing a dumbing down of the 'Persons Having Ordinary Skill In
| the Art' as the number of practitioners expand rapidly.
Patent law and its interpretation - like all law - changes over time.
Through much of the early twentieth century, patent law was strongly
biased in favor of large companies.  A small inventor couldn't get any
effective quick relief against even obvious infringements - he had to
fight a long, drawn-out battle, at the end of which he probably didn't
end up with much anyway.  In reaction to such famous cases as the
much-infringed patent on FM radio, the law was changed and reinterpreted
in ways that gave the small inventor much more power.  Unfortunately,
patent trolls eventually made use of those same changes....

The last couple of decades have seen a series of cases that effectively
gutted the entire notion of "obvious to persons having ordinary skills
in the art."  As often happens with trends like this, if you look back
at the early cases that started the trend, the results may seem
reasonable - but over time, the whole thing gets out of control.

The Supreme Court, in a decision last year (the name and details of
which escape me), pretty much said "This has gone too far."  Specific-
ally, they said that applying a technique that is well known in one area
to another area may well be "obvious" and not eligible for patent
protection.  The Supreme Court can only decide on cases brought before
it, but the feeling seems to be that they are signaling a readiness to
breath new life into the "non-obviousness" requirement for a patent.
It'll be years before we see exactly how this all settles out.

                                                        -- Jerry

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