And it seems to be especially ill in the US. Lately a lot of crazy patents has surfaced as the companies that succeeded acquiring them have tried to enforce them.
The latest evidence of the illness and cluelessness of the patent system as it is today, is the news story about SBC Communications (american telco and ISP), a company that claims they have a patent on “A structured document browser includes a constant user interface for displaying and viewing sections of a document that is organized according to a pre-defined structure”. (US patent no. 5,933,841 called the “Structured Document Browser”)
According to SBC, an example of this “structured document browser” would be the links you see on the right side of this site (the archive etc). The patent was granted in 1999 – and even I can show prior art to that kind of navigation from before the patent was granted.
In my opinion the whole patent system is faulted when such obvious misrepresentations of IP surfaces. There really has to become harder to take out patents, especially in the US.
More information on the SBC Communications patent case: Google News: SBC Communications
The best news story about SBC Communications patent claims so far seems to be the ZDNet story
In an email sent to the site www.museumtour.com, SBC said “… your site includes several selectors or tabs that… seem to reside in their own frame or part of the user interface. [These] appear to infringe several issued claims in our patent.” The company also included a schedule of fees, which show that the ‘base rate’ for licensing for a company with a $100,000 (£62,000) turnover is $5,270 (£3,300) a year, rising to $16m for a $10bn company.