I'm always somewhat bemused by the fact that the way I find out about my own patents is not because the government's Patent Office contacts me; not because the company I work for (or worked for in the past, in this case) contacts me; but because a private company that sells commemorative patent plaques contacts me to see if I want to purchase one. The profit motive trumps bureaucratic inertia every time.
I've just received patent 7,305,550, which I first applied for almost exactly seven years ago. Given that it's bouncing between Intel's lawyers and the patent office all this time, I hesitate to say exactly what the patent covers; from reading the abstract, the patent seems to have retained its original purpose, which is to help authenticate people over the telephone using biometrics stored in a central server.
I recall being careful when I wrote this patent to make certain that the innovation was genuine and that I didn't inadvertently damage my industry's ecology by staking out some territory that wasn't really mine. Today I'd be even more careful, as patents have become scarier over the years. Starting in the mid-1990's, the patent office issued many vague patents for "innovations" that were completely obvious to anyone skilled in the art but not to the patent office examiners. The glut of rotten patents gave rise to the "patent trolls" who perform no innovation but simply loot the real innovators who have built real products. Given the huge damages to both individual companies who are caught out by the patent trolls, and the damage to the US economy that results from improper ownership of innovation, I expect that the laws will change to make challenging patents easier.
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