US Patent office silliness

I've seen the USPTO grant some pretty ridiculous patents over the past few years, but I think patent 6,671,714 (story at Slashdot and Geek.com) takes the cake.

From the abstract of the patent:

The present invention comprises a method, apparatus and business system for allowing on-line communications with members of a group of recipients for whom the invention has been implemented. A group may, for example, comprise members of a particular business or profession. For example, a group may consist of doctors admitted to practice medicine in the United States. Individual members of the group may or may not have existing internet presences. The invention allows online users to communicate with each member of a given group regardless of whether or not the member has an existing internet presence. In one or more embodiments, the invention does so by setting up a database of contact information for members of the group, creating an internet presence for each member of such group, creating an on-line user interface allowing a user to access the member's created internet presence, and providing means of communications between the created internet presence and the member recipient.

And furthermore, claim

  1. A method for assigning URL's and e-mail addresses to members of a group comprising the steps of:
    • assigning each member of said group a URL of the form "name.subdomain.domain"; and
    • assigning each member of said group an e-mail address of the form "name@subdomain.domain;"
    • wherein the "name" portion of said URL and said e-mail address is the same and unique for each particular one of said members such that an only difference between said URL and said e-mail address for said member is that in said URL the "@" symbol of the e-mail address is replaced with a "." and wherein said "subdomain" portion of said URL and said e-mail address is the same for all members of said group.
  2. The method of claim 1 wherein said members of said group comprise members of a licensed profession.

So essentially what the patent was granted for is a way of assigning domain names, URLs and email addresses like

  • tom@runspotrun.com, http://tom.runspotrun.com/
  • jane@runspotrun.com, http://jane.runspotrun.com/
  • harry@runspotrun.com, http://harry.runspotrun.com/
And they have the gall to call this an invention!

And as patent owners are prone to do, the patent owner promptly proceeded to file lawsuits against two TLD registration companies for patent infringement, essentially a form of government santioned extortion. A patent that should never have been granted if collective people at the USPTO had a brain among them. A patent for which it should be fairly trivial to find prior art for, considering the patent was only filed in 1999.

Really makes one wonder about the people who work at the USPTO and review applications. How much research gets done researching the validity of a patent? What kind of training and background do these examiners have? Some of patents that have been granted recently really want to make you smack all of them with an idiot stick.