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10 tech patents that should have been rejected

Gord Goble | May 22, 2013
Patents are supposed to protect innovation, but some seem better designed to create confusion—or lawsuits.

Smartphone Technologies doesn't have a website. It doesn't have a storefront, office, staff, or telephone number. And it certainly doesn't seem to develop and/or sell products. What it does have is a propensity for filing complaints--patent infringement complaints, to be exact.

In its time, Smartphone Technologies--a subsidiary of patent-purchasing megatroll Acacia Research Corporation--has sued a who's who of the tech world, including Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Dell, HTC, LG, Microsoft, Nokia, RIM, and Sony, among others. Congrats, ST dudes, for an exemplary business model.

The everything patent

Parody site The Onion suckered more than a few nimrods consumers with its 2009 "MacBook Wheel" spoof, chronicling a purportedly new Apple laptop that sported a single click wheel instead of a keyboard. Memorable moments include "Everything is only a few hundred clicks away."

Yet we all know Apple loathes traditional control methods. Witness the company's 2012 patent, "Method for providing human input to a computer," a meandering, 26,000-word behemoth that touches on...virtually everything, including robots, force feedback, multitouch controls, virtual controllers, visual cues, and a potential fifth dimension. All this in a single patent? That restores our faith in the patent office.

Scottevest swims with the sharks

Festooned with hidden compartments and wiring conduits, the apparel from Ketchum, Idaho's Scottevest targets folks who would rather have their electronic gadgets strapped to their bodies than dangling from their hands. Scottevest is doing okay, due in no small part to the publicity machine that is Scottevest boss (and namesake) Scott Jordan.

Jordan's biggest claim to fame is a 2012 appearance on TV's Shark Tank, where he seemed more interested in pitching Technology Enabled Clothing (TEC), a company that licenses patented Scottevest technology--and profits when those patents are "violated"--than Scottevest itself. The Sharks didn't cotton to the patent trolling idea.

"Running a wire through a piece of clothing?" panel member Mark Cuban sputtered during the show. "That's a patent? Are you kidding me?"

Cuban and Jordan continued their verbal slapfight on Twitter, resulting in 140-character gems like the one you see to the right. Shortly thereafter, Cuban put his money where his mouth is. Last December, he donated $250,000 to the Electronic Frontier Foundation to create "The Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents."

"The current state of patents and patent litigation in this country is shameful," he said in the press release announcing the donation. Need more proof? Read on.

Apple invents the rectangle

You needn't be a tech freak to be aware of the ongoing hostilities between Apple and Samsung. Indeed, plug "Apple vs. Samsung" into any old search engine and you'll encounter gazillions of hits. This ain't no hillbilly moonshinin' feud.


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