Science & Technology

Inside Big Tech’s Race to Patent Everything

In 2020, three coworkers and I threw collectively a three-page define of a patent thought, rife with typos, and turned it over to our huge tech employer. In trade, we every received a $700 bonus. The proposal took possibly half an hour to jot down and fewer than 5 minutes to current to an inner assessment board of specialists who had been additionally our friends. We joked round, the board voted sure, and we emailed the file to an in-house authorized workforce. Just a little greater than a yr later, our utility for carbon footprint tracker was printed.

It’s typical for a corporation to imagine possession of the mental property developed by its workers. However, in my expertise, proposed patents didn’t must be groundbreaking and even related to the enterprise to realize traction. Carbon footprint tracker had nothing to do with my job or any proprietary know-how. A few of my coworkers had as much as 100 patents below their names, protecting all the things from video video games to discovering higher parking spots to espresso supply through drone.

This isn’t uncommon at huge tech firms. Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Cisco, Google, Intel, Meta, and Microsoft, amongst others, have worker patent recognition applications. The incentives differ, however these tech giants supply even entry-level workers money rewards and free entry to a workforce of patent attorneys, companies value “an estimated worth of $50,000,” in line with Microsoft’s informational web page.

Payouts to inventor-employees sometimes begin at about $500 however would possibly go into the 1000’s for ascending phases of a patent’s lifecycle. Most companies supply rewards for any thought value patenting, no matter whether or not it’s finally granted or rejected. In accordance with inner documentation, Apple presents as much as $4,000 per inventor per submitting. Others maintain off on an enormous payout till a patent is granted, a course of that normally takes years and ends in success for less than about half of patents submitted to the US Patent and Trademark Workplace. Google pays worker inventors a whopping $10,000 at this milestone, in line with inner sources. (Google didn’t reply to requests for remark.)

I proposed greater than a dozen potential patents by way of my firm’s course of and obtained a framed certificates for my efforts, made out to Fatty Nut Watkins, which I submitted as my identify simply to see if they might print it. Patenting was profitable, simple, and downright enjoyable.

Previous to the tech revolution, it might have been tough for companies to handle an inner system for quick, informal, crowdsourced patenting. A decade in the past, the USPTO dealt with solely about half as many patents because it does at this time. Purposes needed to be filed by particular person inventors, which shut employers out at an important step. This modified in 2011, when the passage of the Leahy–Smith America Invents Act streamlined the method and enabled firms like my (now former) employer to file patents on behalf of an worker inventor.

Across the similar time, tech giants grew to become more and more taken with patents. As Steve Jobs reportedly stated on the invention of the primary iPhone, “we’re going to patent all of it.” And patent all of it Apple did—proper right down to the slide-to-unlock function and beveled edges. In 2011, Google’s high lawyer, David Drummond, claimed that the typical smartphone is likely to be protected by as much as 250,000 patent claims. At this time, nobody appears capable of get an correct rely, however final month’s sale of all “legacy patents” from Blackberry’s terminated smartphone enterprise fetched $600 million.

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