In choosing this month’s Stupid Patent, we realized that we couldn’t choose just one. Instead, we decided to give the award to the entirety of patent class 705.
By way of explanation: every Tuesday, the Patent Office officially publishes new patents in the “Patent Gazette.” (This week’s is available here, through an interface that seems like it was built in 1995.) The Gazette arranges patents by patent classification, which is a way of organizing the patents by field. In looking for a good candidate for our Stupid Patent of the Month, we often look at newly issued patents in class 705. Why? Because that class is the class for “inventions” relating to “Data Processing: financial, business practice, management, or cost/price determination.” Yes, the Patent Office has a whole area dedicated to this “technology.”
In browsing this class, we realized that awarding just one Stupid Patent this month would be a waste. We had too many candidates, so we decided to give the entire class the honor. Here’s a sample of what came out of class 705 this month:
- U.S. Pat. No. 9,026,468 (issued May 5, 2015), System and method for proactively establishing a third-party payment account for services rendered to a resident of a controlled-environment facility
This describes the idea of soliciting your loved ones to set up accounts to pay for your commissary purchases while you’re in jail. (Incidentally, this patent was granted to the same company that claimed ownership of your photos if you sent them to your loved ones).
- U.S. Pat. No. 9,026,464 (issued May 5, 2015), Securely and efficiently processing telephone orders
This describes the idea of customers have billing accounts so that when they make phone orders, they don’t have to tell the salesman their billing information directly.
- U.S. Pat. No. 9,037,482 (issued May 19, 2015), Method and system for optimizing the viewing of advertising
This describes changing the number of times an ad is shown to a viewer based on things like what the viewer does (e.g., if they turn their device off while an ad is playing).
- U.S. Pat. No. 9,043,220 (issued May 26, 2015), Defining marketing strategies through derived E-commerce patterns
This describes the idea of analyzing consumer behavior so as to select a marketing strategy to use on the consumer.
- U.S. Pat. No. 9,043,226 (issued May 26, 2015), Method and system for crediting a retailer for an internet purchase
This describes giving a commission to a store for an Internet purchase from another store if the customer was actually in the first store when they made the purchase.
Of course, all these patents have a bunch more specifics in them, but much of it is the usual patent technobabble such as including “modules” and “processors” with code stored on “non-transitory computer readable mediums.” Also, many of the patents don’t claim just one particular way of carrying out an idea, but pretty much any way done with a computer. And even where there are specifics in the claims (which define the patent rights given to the patent owner), they don’t seem to be much beyond the obvious things people would do if implementing these ideas. (Google’s patent 9,043,226 on “crediting a retailer for an internet purchase” is a good example of this.) Yet the patents issued anyway.
The number of patents granted out of class 705 has apparently gone down in the last year. (One patent analytics company claims that several companies have seen significant drops in the number of patents they get issued out of class 705.) That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. The Patent Office needs to be much more diligent about not allowing the types of “inventions” we frequently see in class 705.
But more importantly, we think the public should ask itself whether we need class 705 at all: is a 20-year monopoly on allowing people to prepay for their loved ones’ jail purchases really needed in order to incentivize that “invention”? We don’t think so.