The current state of patent law allows for all sorts of ridiculous claims that wouldn?t pass muster if basic common sense principles were applied. Here?s a particularly egregious example to ponder:

U.S. Patent No. 7,228,298
Apparatus and method for perusing selected vehicles having a clean title history
Assignee: Carfax, Inc.
Issued: June 5, 2007
Filed: September 3, 2002
Abstract: A system and method for allowing a consumer to search a database containing used vehicles from a variety of sellers that can be queried to provide search results that include only vehicles having clean title histories.

Here's Claim 1:

1. A method for perusing and searching used vehicles comprising:

  • analyzing vehicle identification numbers to determine title information indicative of whether each of a plurality of vehicles have at least one of a clean title in which the corresponding vehicle has no known title discrepancies, and a branded title in which the corresponding vehicle has a title discrepancy;
  • providing a classifieds database that stores vehicle information and title information regarding at least a portion of said plurality of vehicles analyzed by said vehicle history management system;
  • and remotely searching said classifieds database for vehicles based on search query criteria that includes whether vehicles have branded titles; wherein said classifieds database stores vehicle information and title information for vehicles that are determined not to have branded titles.

English translation:

A method of searching for used vehicles comprising:

  • Using VIN numbers to look up the title status of a vehicle;
  • Storing the title status of the vehicle in a database; and
  • Providing a list of vehicles based on title status to users who search for them online.

Could this be any more obvious? Even the patent itself admits that methods of compiling title information on used cars have been around since 1991. So what's the novel aspect of this invention? According to the patent:

While such systems and methods have been perfectly adequate for their intended use, they do not provide potential buyers with the opportunity to selectively search a database that includes a large selection of vehicles for sale that have been prescreened and found not to have any discrepancies in the vehicle title. Likewise, such systems did not provide sellers with the opportunity to offer a prescreened vehicle, that does not have any discrepancies in the vehicle title, from one seller along with prescreened vehicles from other sellers in a single searchable database.

Yup, that's right, according to the patent, the only novel aspect to this method is that it provides a single searchable database with the ability to prescreen for cars with clean titles. In other words, it allows you to adjust the results of any search based on pre-selected fields and criteria ? just like every other database ever invented in the last twenty years.

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