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I Should Have Patented That!

·2 mins

Today I received my regular list of network updates email from LinkedIn.  One of my friends from grad school had listed a patent into his profile, and I figured I should also enter the one I have. A quick search on Google’s patent database for my name and I had found it: System and method for increasing click through rates of internet banner advertisements. That was easy!

Interestingly, it also turned up two patents issued to some other people that referenced a paper I co-wrote while in grad school at Duke, The Internet Programming. Contest: A Report and Philosophy.  We described The Duke Internet Programming Contest which we invented and ran from 1990 through 1993.

The basic gist of one of these patents, Systems and methods for coding competitions, is how to run a coding (programming) contest over a communications network.  To my eyes, the bulk of the claims involve describing exactly how we ran the contest, with a few minor additions.  The biggest difference I see is they have a pre-qualifying test.  We sort of had that, too, but it was designed to ensure that the communications part of the system worked end to end for each contestant, not to qualify them for the contest itself.

The other patent, Apparatus and system for facilitating online coding competitions, seems to describe the software they used for their contest.  They describe a web based client/server system, whereas ours was driven by email and shell scripts.  Email was just the conduit through which the shell script client sent the request to the server, and how the server responded to the client.  We could not have used web browsers as our interface since our contest pre-dated the general availability of the web (or any Internet access) by several years.  The clever thing about email was that it worked over other channels as well, which permitted people from many parts of the world to participate.

Clearly, we should have patented our contest method. My personal opinion is that these two patents should never have been granted since they are substantially just a translation of our contest onto the web interface. Our full contest and all code has been available for anyone to use since 1990, and I’m certain the developers of this patent were well aware of it.