Silly patents can be useful for explaining how difficult it is for examiners to evaluate patent applications on software ideas. They can show how abstract software ideas are.
They can also be a distraction. They can make the listener think that the main problem is the examination process, letting silly patents through. They could think that if there were more examiners, or if each one had more time, we could avoid silly patents and then the system would work. If they think that, then you haven't correctly explained the real problem.
Also, many news stories about silly patents are about applications for silly patents. Anyone can apply for a patent on anything, so these stories are not very consequential. Stories of silly patents that have been granted are more useful.
Countries that grant certain patents without review
Some countries have utility models and innovation patents, which are a special, separate type of patent which gets approved with little or no review. The review only happens if the patent is contested or used in a court case. So, when the Australian patent office grants a patent on the wheel, it's not because the examiners are stupid, it's because there was no examination.
For a small number of countries, such as South Africa, all patents are like this.
Related pages on ESP Wiki
- Raising standards is not our goal
- Example software patents
- Quality of software patents is particularly bad
- Divine e-commerce patents - Divine inc. asked e-commerce companies to pay royalties on its "shopping cart" patent
- Why software patents are a joke, literally, 17 Aug 2010, former Sun employee James Gosling tells of the office competition to get the silliest patent
- Also: Slashdot discussion
Slashdot stories about specific silly patents
Slashdot publishes a lot of stories on this topic. You may find more by looking at the news links page(s) and sorting the table by the Website column.
- HP Patents Bignum Implementation From 1912 (See also: HP)
- USPTO Awards LOL Patent To IBM
- IBM Wants Patent For Regex SSN Validation
- IBM Patents Changing Color of E-Mail Text
- IBM "Invents" 40-Minute Meetings
- Google Patents Country-Specific Content Blocking (See also: Google)