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2009-04

The Inventor's Mentor

April 2009

 Patenting a Bug


If cars crashed as many times as some of the most popular operating systems, we would all be riding horse drawn carriages. A father and son team of inventors residing in San Diego has decided to put an end to this absurdity. They have filed a patent covering the fix of a bug in a software application sold by a large well known company. If the company wants to fix its software, it may now have to pay royalties. This precedent setting action could have far reaching consequences: every bug and loophole can become a patenting target for the world’s hackers who will then demand royalties. Software manufacturers will have to think twice before placing buggy products on the market.

 

Software companies have, for years, marketed inferior products wasting enormous user resources. These programs include bugs that cause computers to crash, loopholes that allows virus entry, lack of standardization that requires having to learn multiple software environments, and marketing-driven complications. Hopefully the simple act of showing that a bug fix can be patented will force large software companies to be more diligent in properly testing their software before it is issued.

I know, I know, it’s April and you think this column about patenting bug fixes is a joke. Well, not exactly. Improvements to existing devices or to buggy software are definitely patentable as long as they satisfy the legal requirement expressed in the code 35 USC 101:

“Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent.”

 

An improvement to an existing invention can be claimed by means of a Jepson Claim which takes the form of

1. A widget …. wherein the improvement lies ...

Everything before the words "wherein the improvement lies..." is considered prior art and therefore cannot be claimed unless it relates to a pending application by the same applicant to which priority is claimed. Everything following the words "wherein the improvement lies" is considered new matter.

The bug busters are a father and son team. George Levy is a patent agent running the firm patentsandventures.com and author of this column. His son, James heads a startup in the Bay area. He is developing software for enhancing on-line education. While developing a web application they stumbled on a problem in the web design software Dreamweaver™ manufactured by Macromedia, a division of Adobe Inc. Dreamweaver™ does not deal properly with the lack of browser standardization and incorrectly implements the drag and drop function under Internet Explorer™. A provisional patent about fixing a bug in the interface between Internet Explorer and Dreamweaver has been filed and is entitled “Fix for a bug in Web design software.” It has been assigned the application number 60/816,173. More information can be obtained at http://www.patent-a-bug.com.

Microsoft software is full of bugs: Try the following:

Bug 1. You cannot create a folder named “CON”. You don’t believe me? Try it!

Bug 2. Open Microsoft Word and type: “=rand(200,99)” without the quotes. Press ENTER and see the unexpected.

Bug 3. This is my favorite bug because it honors me by name as an April joker. In fact, I signed the bug “glevy.” It only works with Windows XP and earlier:

1)       Open an empty Notepad file and type without quotes: “Fool hid the words april joker glevy

2)       Save the file, naming it whatever you want, and

3)       Close it, and re-open it. Poof! Just like a magic rabbit, the sentence is gone replaced by a row of rectangles.

4)       Cut it and paste it to Google translator. Now out of the magic hat, comes out a coded message in Chinese sent by secret agent King to secret agent Eddy.

I hope you have enjoyed exploring these bugs – and perhaps you will find some of your own. There are bugs of all kinds, some in software and some in hardware. Bug hunting can be fun and challenging as a creative process. Fun aside, however, inventing is it is also an opportunity to contribute goodness and make improvements to the world.

Good luck as you work on your own inventions and Happy April Fool’s Day!

 

For archived newsletters and a lot of information for the small inventor go to: www.patentsandventures.com. If you have any question you can contact me at (858)259-2226 or email me at glevy@patentsandventures.com. This newsletter should not be construed as legal advice. ©2010 by George Levy.

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