Cracked Pokes Fun At Simultaneous Invention
from the patently-funny dept
It’s no real secret that one of the many problems with the way patents work in the United States is what happens when two or more people produce the same invention independent of one another. Unfortunately, with the USPTO’s seeming inability to judge what is obvious to those skilled in the arts and what isn’t, the result is typically the guy who got the patent first wins. We’ve discussed before how inventions that are likely inevitable shouldn't be patented, as there's little progress to reward if the progress was simple eventuality. Still, recognition is sorely lacking for how common this kind of thing is.
So, when a popular (and hysterical) site like Cracked.com decides to dedicate one of their famous lists to 5 odd cases of simultaneous invention, including well-known inventions, we hope that injecting that into the common bloodstream gets people thinking. In the process, they get in a few digs at the patent process as well.
That’s not necessarily how invention works. Aside from the fact that these scientists and inventors often work in teams, even those teams aren’t working in a vacuum. They read the scientific literature, and attend conferences, and exchange correspondence with their peers, and in general absorb the thoughts and ideas of their day, thoughts and ideas accessible to everyone else. Indeed, it turns out that many of the biggest inventions and discoveries of all time haven’t been made by a single person, but by many people, working more or less independently, in some cases barely finishing their research before they make comical sprints to the patent office, trousers hanging around their ankles.
Indeed. More over, it’s not as though these are obscure, trivial inventions that you’ve never heard of. We’re talking about things like the Polio Vaccine, the theory of relativity, and calculus. My personal favorite on the list is an invention hallmark, the telephone. It turns out that Alexander Graham Bell walked into the patent office not only on the same day as a guy named Elisha Gray, but with the intention of patenting a nearly identical invention.
What happens next is complicated. It involves lawyers, and shadowy visits to the patent office, and bribed patent clerks, and probably some great 19th century insults. The end result of it all being a huge controversy about whether Bell read Gray’s preliminary patent paperwork and copied parts of his invention. Understand that this was all before either of the men got their damned inventions to work. Indeed, Bell’s famous first words on the telephone occurred while he was testing a device that looked an awful lot like Gray’s patent application.
The point isn’t that Graham didn’t contribute. It’s that when two or more people invent the same thing simultaneously and independently of one another, the result shouldn’t be one of those people getting the kind of monopoly that could result in gold-plated testicles for all the household pets while everyone else is relegated to polishing said testicles to make a little cash. That the patent system can’t handle this kind of thing shows a clear flaw. One that hasn’t been dealt with since before the telephone, apparently.