Hi, I’m Stan Muller. This is Crash Course:
Intellectual Property and today we’re talking about patent law. That’s why I’m wearing these
fancy patent leather shoes. They’re a little too small and uh, I had a hard time putting
them on. If only somebody would invent a new useful and non-obvious tool for forcing feet into
too small shoes. Mark, can I take these off now? [Theme Music] A patent is a grant by a government that allows
an inventor to maintain a monopoly on the use and development of an invention for a
limited time. Patents allow inventors to prevent or exclude other people or companies from
manufacturing, selling, or using their patented inventions. Governments grant these exclusive
rights in exchange for the clear and detailed public disclosure of inventions. So here’s the deal. You invent something awesome,
explain how you did it in patently obvious terms, we’ll let you be the sole owner for
a couple of decades or so which should give you enough time to make some money off the
thing. Ideally, you’ll get rich for your inventive
efforts before the term expires or maybe you’ll pour all that money into more research and
develop new patents. The notion of giving talented inventors and
innovators a limited monopoly in exchange for their instructing the rest of their less
talented fellow citizens is not new. It’s generally accepted that the first systematic
patent law was developed in Venice, a hotbed of Renaissance Industrial activity. The 1474
Venetian patent statute sums up the economic rationale of patent law pretty nicely. “We have among us men of great genius, apt
to invent and discover ingenious devices; and in view of the grandeur and virtue of
our city, more such men come to us every day from diverse parts. Now, if provision were
made for the works and devices discovered by such persons, so that others who may
see them could not build them and take the inventor’s honor away, more men would
then apply their genius would discover, and would build devices of great utility and benefit
to our commonwealth.” Wow. These Venetians really thought a lot
of themselves. “Grandeur and virtue of our city.” This idea of granting exclusive rights to inventors
to encourage discovery, spread throughout Europe, into England and then to the United States, where
it was incorporated into the U.S. Constitution. In order for an innovation or invention to
be patentable, the invention must satisfy five requirements. We’ll look at all of these
requirements generally, and we’ll look at the patent for our trusty liquid-filled die
agitator containing a die having raised indicia on the facets thereof. Magic 8 Ball’s patent was issued in 1964 and did it meet all these requirements? Yes. So this seems a little circular, but the first
requirement is that the patent’s subject matter be patentable. The categories for patentable
subject matter are defined as broadly as any process, machine, manufacture, or composition
of matter, or improvement thereof. The Supreme Court has interpreted this to mean that anything
under the Sun that is made by human beings is patentable. However broad this definition
might be, certain things like, the laws of nature, physical phenomenon, abstract ideas,
have consistently been held not to be patentable. The distinction here is that the innovation
has to be the product of human inventiveness, and not the product of nature. The Supreme Court recently looked at this
issue in a 2013 case involving a biotech firm that had isolated human DNA linked to
ovarian and breast cancer. The company argued that it had developed an innovative process for looking for mutations that might lead to cancer and isolating. They argued that the isolated genes were the product
of human inventiveness and therefore patentable. The court disagreed, finding that a naturally
occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because
it’s been isolated. The Magic 8 Ball is certainly the product
of human inventiveness, although it would be fantastic if these were formed by nature,
like if they washed up on beaches or maybe there was a Magic 8 Ball tree. I use fantastic
here in the sense that this is obviously a fantasy. But, uh, mmm, what a world that would
be. So are you patentable subject matter or what? It is certain. The second requirement for patentability is
that the invention be useful, which means both that it has some identifiable benefit
and that it’s capable of being used. Patent law often refers to a person of ordinary skill
in the art. What they’re talking about here is an engineer or fellow inventor that can
understand the technical information included in the patent. This differs from like tort
law, where the law often refers to a reasonable person standard. Understanding patents requires
a little more technical expertise. I mention this because the second requirement relies
on a person skilled in the art to accept that the invention described in the patent is useful
and that it works. The Magic 8 Ball is very useful. It functions
in the way that the patent claims it does. It displays answers to yes-or-no questions such as, “Should I join the Merchant Marines?” or “Will I die alone?”
Are you useful? It is decidedly so. The third requirement for patent protection
is that the invention be new or novel. Basically, if somebody else already invented or patented
a similar invention, you can’t get a patent. Going back to the case of our Magic 8 Ball,
despite the fact that its application notes that similar devices exist, the novelty of
the 1964 version lies in the shape of the die, which allows for a better question-and-answer
experience. Are you novel? Outlook good. The innovation must also be non-obvious. The
test for non-obviousness is whether the innovation and the prior art, by which I mean all that
which has come before the innovation, are such that the innovation as a whole would
not have been obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the art at the time the invention
was made. This is kind of a difficult theoretical task for a judge or patent examiner. Sometimes
the most inventive leaps of logic yield solutions that are so elegant that they seem obvious
once you’ve seen it. The Magic 8 ball 1964 patent was for an improvement to the original
invention. The inventor added many more sides to the die and also added the all-important
raised indicia: the raised lettering, so as to prevent bubbling between the viewing screen
and the die. It doesn’t seem obvious to me. Magic 8 ball, are you non-obvious? Without a doubt. The final requirement is enablement. Technically,
this means “the specification of the patent shall contain a written description of the
invention, and of the manner and process of making and using it, in such full, clear,
concise, and exact terms as to enable any person skilled in the art to which it pertains
to make and use the same, and shall set forth the best mode contemplated by the inventor
of carrying out his invention.” Whoever wrote this doesn’t understand the terms clear and
concise. What they’re saying is that the plan submitted with the patent have to be clear
and complete enough for someone else to recreate the invention without too much trouble. Beyond
this, the applicant has to describe the best mode of making this thing happen. The inventor
can’t give people the runaround. If there’s a best way to recreate the invention in question,
the inventor is required to disclose it. This final step is essential to the underlying
rationale of patent law. Without a clear and accurate explanation of how to make and use
the innovation, the public gets nothing in return for granting the limited monopoly. So, what’s it gonna be, Magic 8 ball? Can we make or use you based on the patent’s
description? As I see it, yes. There are 3 types of patents issued by the
Patent & Trademark office: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. The 5 requirements
we just talked about refer to utility patents. Design patents cover any new, original, and
ornamental, rather than useful, article of manufacture. Apple is famous for their design
patents and their utility patents. Plant patents are granted to persons who first
noticed the distinctiveness of a plant, then reproduced it asexually, by grafting or cloning,
rather than growing it from a seed. If you grow it from a seed, you can’t patent it.
The plant must be novel and distinctive to be granted a patent, which basically means
that it has to have at least one significant distinguishing characteristic to establish
it as a distinct variety. So this is what a plant patent looks like. Not a lot of them
get issued relative to utility or design patents. On a related note, the human-made plant, or
a plant that’s been genetically engineered, can also be the subject of a utility patent.
Provided it meets all the 5 requirements we talked about. Often, these are plants that
are resistant to certain herbicides or are better suited to shipping. There’s even a man-made
variety of cotton that’s resistant to pests. Patents don’t last forever. The term of protection
for utility patents is 20 years, measured from the date of filing. There are extensions
of up to 5 years allowed for drugs, medical devices, and additives. The current term of
protection for design patents is 14 years, and that’s also from the date of filing. So
patents are all about the money. Let’s talk about that in the Thought Bubble. In terms of economic impact, patent law is
arguably the most important branch of intellectual property. There are legitimate questions about
the role of patents and what types of research and development patent law encourages. Does
the law encourage more research into highly lucrative erectile dysfunction medications
than stuff like anti-malarial drugs? Should developing nations be able to create public
health exceptions for life-saving proprietary medications? If so, then how would companies
be able to pay for the development of these medications or future life-saving medications
without the assurance of patent protection? And then there are non-practicing entities,
often called patent trolls, that go around acquiring huge patent portfolios, and then
threaten to sue pretty much everybody. Patent trolls bring these lawsuits despite the fact
that they have no interest in developing or manufacturing any actual products. This is
their business model. Because of the high cost of litigation, costs can range from about
a $1,000,000 to $5,000,000 if this goes to trial and the threat of massive damage awards.
Most companies sued by patent trolls settle or agree to pay a licensing fee to the trolls. There’s legislation
pending in Congress designed to address this issue. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So the policy issues
around patents are incredibly complex and controversial, and this video is only a basic
overview. The underlying purpose of patent law, which is to reward inventors for their
skill and effort, is often in direct opposition to the public’s interest in accessing those
innovations. Whether it be life-saving medications that costs thousands of dollars per pill or
water treatment technologies that developing countries can’t afford to license. The trick
is to strike a balance between providing inventors with incentives and ensuring public access. How we
attain that balance is still very much an open question. Thanks for watching, we’ll
see you next week. Crash Course Intellectual Property is filmed
in the Chad and Stacey Emigholz Studio in Indianapolis, Indiana, and it’s made by all
of these nice workers for hire. If you’d like to keep Crash Course freely
available for everyone forever, you can support the series at Patreon, a crowdfunding platform
that allows you to support the content you love. Speaking of Patreon, we’d like to thank
our Headmaster of Learning Thomas Frank and our Vice Principals, Kathy and Tim Philp and
Linnea Boyev. Thank you so much for supporting Crash Course. You can get awesome rewards
for your support, but you don’t get ownership of our Crash Course copyright. You do, however,
get to help people learn. Thanks for watching. We’ll see you next week.