August 3, 2012
Recently, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg won approval for the first patent he ever applied for.
Back in 2006, at the tender age of 22, Zuckerberg sought a patent for a method of matching an account holder’s privacy setting to his or her publicly displayed profile. Since then, he has been granted other patents, but this particular application took six years to get approved.
Evidently, this patent application was rejected more than once. It seems Zuckerberg had to be interviewed and alter his application several times because patent examiners were not convinced the method was “non-obvious,” which is one of the requirements for patentable material.
So, if you are Zuckerberg, your company has become a part of 21st century life, other patent applications you have filed are making it through and you’re the very definition of a Tech Golden Child. Why, then, would you fuss over your very first patent application?
Because patents have been described as “the ultimate geek vanity trophy.” In addition to providing protection for your invention, a patent is recognition that what you have created is special, valuable and important. If there’s a higher way to have your work recognized, I can’t think of it.
To be patented, material must be useful, novel and non-obvious. Some people think the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office construes those terms too strictly when it’s considering whether to grant a patent.
Now, I’ve never sought a patent myself, but the idea that patent examiners take a hard-line approach doesn’t bother me too much. The protections that patents provide benefit the creator, but they also act as an impairment for the rest of society in that they permit the creator to restrict how his or her material is used. So, to me, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to just give out patents like candy. I absolutely want inventors to earn patents, but that’s just it — I want them to earn them.
And besides, if patents were too easy to get, what would geeks have to aspire to for an “ultimate vanity trophy?”