Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Next up: US Patent #6,273,287, "Breathing While Using the Internet"

Politech reports the following from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

When Regis University put some of its courses online in the 1990s, officials there figured that it was a no-brainer to administer tests online as well. And so they did.

Last fall, however, they received a threatening letter from Test Central Inc., which holds a patent on various types of online testing. The company claims that Regis and other colleges may be infringing on that patent and, if so, must pay thousands of dollars to continue offering tests online.

Ellen K. Waterman, director of distance learning at the Denver institution, says she was stunned to see that somebody claimed to own the rights to online testing itself. The patent claims made by Test Central are so broad, she says, that they seem to cover any type of testing in cyberspace.

"It's very, very general," she says. "If you can patent anything that people do on the Web, we are not protected at all."

Alas, the U.S. Patent Office's attitude towards online patents has long been exactly that: For any activity X, it awards patents to "Method and Apparatus for X on the Internet". It's a bonanza for land-grabbing "intellectual property" speculators, and a disaster for actual innovation. See: Priceline, One-Click, Eolas... the list goes on and on.

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