(Way back in 2004, I ambitiously started a blog called Telecommedy with the intention of writing on it every day. I stopped writing there in 2005. C'est la guerre. In the interest of posterity and hubris, I am slowly moving those posts over here so that all of this inanity can be concentrated in a single forum and not pollute the intenets any more than necessary.)
The Patent Portfolio is held in awe by the telecom world. When a telecom junkie says "mine is bigger than yours", he is typically referring to his list of patents. OK, not usually, but often enough to be disturbing.
For those of you who did not pay attention in your civics class and/or are suffering from a debilitating mind disease that enables you to read postings on the computer but otherwise not function as a literate member of society, patents are granted by the government to say that you've done something unique and anyone else who does it has to pay you for the privilege. For example, the light bulb was patented by it's inventor (General [H. J.] Electric), who needed a way to illuminate late-night baseball games. Also patented was the parakeet diaper - by someone else - for a reason that no one truly understands.
The number of patents that a company is able to acquire can determine its worth in the beady little eyes of investors and/or venture capitalists. Smaller, private companies especially pursue patent portfolios to prove their worth to their overlords. The net result is approximately 10,251 companies each with a patent portfolio of a dozen or more patents granted by the US government. So you can probably guess where most of these patents fall on the light bulb to parakeet diaper continuum.
Our personal favorite patent granted to a telcom company during the tech boom was a patent on a cup holder on the door of the equipment. Yep, while most of us were pursuing patents with names like "The Use of Phosphoglobulins in Fiber Splicing", there was someone out there who actually spent the big bucks to patent a device that enabled a technician to put his morning pick-me-up down without having to - oh, I don't know - put it on a table or something. Pure parakeet poop, no?
Having had the good fortune to receive paychecks from a multitude of companies over the last decade or so, the enormous staff here at Telecommedy headquarters have been party to numerous patent submissions. No matter how much parakeet poop they hold, those with their names on the patents will have them bronzed and hung in their offices. It can indeed be impressive to walk into the office of a CTO and see a wall covered with bronzed patents. Impressive enough to suck money directly from the bank accounts of non-technical investors (usually a redundancy).
Even the big telecomm companies are not immune. However, with their much larger staffs, they are spared the ignominy of actually talking about the details of their patent portfolios. They can just come out with the numbers. For example, one very large dinosaur left over from the days when Collosus strode over the telecom Rhodes quite often published the number of patents granted to their staff while their stock and number of employees enjoyed a faster plunge than Jean-Claude Killy (or the Lipton Iced-Tea girl, for those of you searching for a less obscure reference).
Government Parakeets at Work
All of the patent nonsense is controlled by the Patent Office in the Federal Mental Asylum known as Washington, D.C. (Don't Call). The underpaid, understaffed, and WAY under-informed staff of the Patent Office is understandably eager to get those patent applications out of the way so that they can eventually manage to burrow their way through the stacks of paper and back into the sunlight. Many Patent Office workers have not seen sunlight since the Carter administration and have turned the lovely shade of wallpaper paste. So, one must understand if occasionally a parakeet diaper makes it through.
However, it is more difficult to understand patents granted for "inventions" so obvious that the applicants should be fined for conspicuous audacity. For example, there have been patents granted for "a way of making a swing go from side to side by alternate pulling on ropes" - a maneuver that has been practiced by kids since the Earl of Swing first invented the "Swing-Set" in 1604. One large British company even tried to patent the hyperlink - that underlined blue text on web pages that you click on to access another web page or photograph of Brittany Spears's navel or something.
There have been equally obvious patents in Telecomm, but they would only be obvious to those of us who live in the industry. Things like patents on passing through some wavelengths while dropping other wavelengths in the same device. Trust me - that one's obvious. The point is that the Patent Office is so overwhelmed that really silly things are getting through. In fact, Mrs. Elizabeth Hornwinkel from Ottumwa, Iowa recently received a patent on the 1040-EZ form after a mix-up over addresses with her husband (inventor of the Wash-o-Matic automatic cat bathing device), who sent her income tax form to the wrong governmental agency. The IRS is, of course, fighting the patent. In the meantime, Mrs. Hornwinkel has collected over $4.3 million in patent licensing fees.
In conclusion, and after much thought on the matter, it occurs to us now that the Lipton Iced-Tea plunge may also be too obscure for the younger audience. For those of you in that group, I offer the following substitute analogy: a faster plunge than Brittany Spear's moral standing after Justin revealed that she was - in fact - not quite a pure as originally marketed.
You are welcome.