Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Oklahoma University's Patented Steak?

An interesting article on NPR yesterday showed some of the major problems with the US Patent system. Oklahoma State University (OSU) is planning to patent a new 'cut of beef'. The cut, dubbed 'Vegas Strip Steak' is from a part currently ground up and used for hamburgers

There's a slight problem though, in that at one point OSU's Steve Price completely undermines the whole 'patentability' of the steak. "If i told you, it would be a hint to where this muscle is, "he is quoted as saying by NPR. "A knowledgeable person would say, 'Aha!'"

Patents are a problem today. More and more are being granted for things that are not actually new an innovative, but are developments, or just obvious things wrapped in confusing legalese, or technobabble. That's because an important step in patentability is that something must be non-obvious. That means that anyone having ordinary skill in the field could do it, or not.

Essentially, could such a person create the product without any creative or innovative steps themselves. Could someone in the same situation, give the same result?

It would seem not, at least judging by the comments at the end of the interview, which will give OSU some potential problems.

While there are precedents for 'meat patents' - NPR mentions Creativators patent used to make Steam-Umms and KFC popcorn chicken, which seems to be US Patent 4728524 - it's not exactly the same. The patent mentioned talks about a not simple process of cutting meat a certain way, then adding materials to it, kneeding it, and processing it further. If you show someone a whole chicken, and a piece of popcorn chicken and say make that, from that, they wouldn't be able to. Or Pork riblets (Example V), which it states, is made by adding 2lb of CHICKEN into 5lb of pork shoulder.

That's not exactly the case with this steak. As described it's taking meat already there, and cutting it a certain way. That's about it, it seems...

Not exactly seeing the non-obvious step there, personally. And the University doesn't think so either.As noted above, when someone hints at the location of the muscle, which cut of meat is from, then anyone will know how to cut that steak who has knowledge, it feels. So it would seem that it would fail the obviousness test. That's not stopped people paying to license it though!

There's also international prior art. Not every cut is used in the US, and people in other countries cut meat differently. Odds are someone in the world already butchers 'that steak' or has done so in the past. Thus it's not really new.

That doesn't mean that the patent won't be be granted. The US Patent Office has a long history of granting patents that shouldn't have been granted (the most obvious being the plastic stick dog toy, but there's a list of other crazy ones here), and the main problem is, the USPTO has NO incentive to not grant a patent.

Regardless, the Patent Office needs a radical shake up of what can be patented, and how patent applications can be challenged, because right now, innovation is being slaughtered.
How Patents Hinder Innovation - an EFF infographic
Source: EFF

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