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Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Facebook sued for patent infringement -- TechnoLlama

I was going to comment on this TechnoLlama post, but then I thought, "why not just blog about it?"

Now, before I go any further, let me reiterate, I am not a lawyer, I have no formal background in law, and the Unlocking IP project is not even particularly about patents.

Get to the point, Ben.

Okay, okay. My point is this, and please correct me if I am wrong (that's why I'm making this a whole post, so you can correct me in the comments): as I understand it, the abstract of a patent does not say what the invention is, but rather it describes the invention. I.e. the abstract is more general that the invention.

For example, say I had a patent for... *looks around for a neat invention within reach*... my discgear. Well the abstract might say something like
A device for storing discs, with a selector mechanism and an opening mechanism such that when the opening mechanism is invoked, the disc selected by the selector mechanism is presented.

But then the actual patent might talk about how:
So that's what I've patented. The abstract I gave just describes it. You can invent something else that fits that description, but as long as it's not sufficiently similar to my invention as described in detail, it's not patent infringement.

To go back to the original example, an old vinyl disc jukebox (see the third image on this page) would satisfy the description in my abstract, but not infringe my patent.

In summary, I'm not alarmed by the generality of the abstract in the Facebook case. But if it turns out I'm wrong, and abstract are not more general than the patents they describe, let me just say I will be deeply disturbed.

You have no idea what you're talking about

I thought I made that clear earlier, but yes that's true. Please correct me, or clarify what I've said, by comment (preferred), or e-mail (in case it's the kind of abuse you don't want on the public record).

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Blogger Catherine Bond said:
I think you make a good point about how broad patent abstracts can be, but the worrying thing is that patent claims are usually quite expansive as well, and that is what has happened in this case (or did happen, since the patent was granted back in 2001). Andres has linked to the full patent claim on his Technollama post, and gives the abstract as an example of what the patent is all about. See:,519,629.
Mark Twain once stated that "only one thing is impossible for God: to find any sense in any copyright law on the planet." One hundred years later, perhaps the same is true for patent law (and, actually, the majority of intellectual property-based legislation).
Anonymous oj said:
An abstract is just a short summary of the invention, the claims define the legally enforceable monopoly of a patent.

Under US law an abstract is written by the applicant and is “to enable the reader thereof, regardless of his or her degree of familiarity with patent documents, to determine quickly from a cursory inspection of the nature and gist of the technical disclosure and should include that which is new in the art to which the invention pertains.” USPTO manual

Under Australian law an abstract is used for much the same purpose, although an Australian patent examiner is required to draft the abstract for an application if none is submitted by the applicant Australian manual

Both these links are quite useful for finding out more about patent abstracts.
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