Patents and Misleading News Articles

By: Dan Pierron

It seems there is a growing trend in the reporting of patent litigation and the prosecution of patents by high-profile applicants (the likes of Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc.) where the basic gist of the invention is described in the article in very broad terms, but there is little or no reference to the claims of the patent/patent application.  As a practitioner, I am concerned by this practice, primarily for the violence done to the reputation of and public sentiment for the patent system.

Take, for an example, this article on Engadget from this past summer talking about a long in the tooth patent application filed by Apple.  To his credit, author Jon Fingas appears to have done a bit of homework in writing the article noting the requirement of a membrane, but he still characterizes the invention as “water-reactive, color-changing tape positioned in a device such that the Genius Bar staffer can see that your device took a dive in the swimming pool without having to tear the phone open.”  In contrast, here is the allowed independent claim:

An electronic device, the electronic device being compatible with at least a peripheral device, the electronic device comprising: an enclosure, the enclosure housing at least a set of electrical circuitry; a connector coupled with the enclosure, the connector including at least a set of conductive contacts for transmitting signals between the electronic device and the peripheral device, the connector further including at least a hole for receiving a portion of the peripheral device with a remaining portion of the peripheral device disposed external to the electronic device; and a detector disposed inside the hole of the connector, the detector including at least a moisture-indicating portion, at least a visible portion of the moisture-indicating portion being visible within a viewing range through the hole from outside of the enclosure without dismantling or opening the electronic device, the detector being invisible outside the viewing range, wherein the connector encloses the moisture-indicating portion.

 

Based on my interpretation of this claim, it seems it is also required that a connector having conductive contacts also be contained within in a hole through which the moisture indicator is visible.  It seems a rather simple design-around is to not include a conductive contact in the same hole as the one the moisture indicator can be seen.  However, the narrowness of this claim, and the ease with which it may be avoided, is not mentioned in the article.  Instead, the article, and the myriad of others of its ilk, seem to be written to capitalize on the notion that large corporations are gobbling up inventions that, based on the roughest characterization of the invention, are obvious, non-novel, or otherwise should not be patentable.

This guy doesn’t like patents being misrepresented

For me, the spillover effect mostly arises in social conversation when a friend recounts to me an article he or she read that is similar to the one above.  When I ask about the claim language, the usual response is “what’s a claim?”  I do not fault my friends for not being so informed; patents are a highly technical and specialized field without much use to the general public outside of their affect on what products are brought to market (or not) as a result of them.  However, I do fault those who write articles that, either out of will or ignorance, convey inappropriate and irresponsible misrepresentations of inventions in their most general, basic terms so as to sensationalize an issue that, in truth, is more molehill than mountain.

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