Ex: Apparatus and methods for automated observation of objects (US 5351078 A) has the following abstract:

"Apparatus and methods are disclosed for automatically inspecting two- or three-dimensional objects or subjects. A detector and the object are moved relative to each other. In one form, a detector, such as a camera or radiation receiver, moves around an object, which is supported to be rotatable such that the detector may receive electromagnetic energy signals from the object from a variety of angles. The energy may be directed as a beam at and reflected from the object, as for visible light, or passed through the object, as for x-ray radiation. Alternatively, the detector passively receives energy from the object, as in an infrared detector. The detector generates analog image signals resulting from the detected radiation, and an electronic computer process and analyzes the analog signals and generates digital codes, which may be stored or employed to control a display."

How can we fix the patent office to stop granting such non-innovative and all-encompassing patents?

Edit Claim 1 says:

  1. A method for automatically observing objects comprising: (a) supporting an object at an observation station, and employing an imaging device to control the positioning of said object relative to the observation station; (b) causing the object to modulate electromagnetic energy signals; (c) detecting electromagnetic energy signals modulated by a first portion of said object; (d) detecting electromagnetic energy signals modulated by a second portion of said object; (e) computer-processing the detected energy signals and generating and storing electronic image signals representing a physical characteristic of the object; (f) computer-analyzing the stored image signals and generating code signals representing further physical characteristics of the object; and (g) storing a plurality of command control signals at selectable locations of a signal storage device, and reproducing and using selected of said stored command control signals to control at least one of the positioning, detecting, computer-processing, and computer-analyzing acts.
  • Hi, AskPatents is an online service in Q&A format where users help find prior art on US Patent Applications and US Patents and ask questions about the US Patent process. We have found that he Q&A format used at Ask Patents works best for specific, answerable questions. Please see faq for more information about which topics are on topic for Ask Patents and feel free to resubmit. Sorry for any confusion. Commented Nov 29, 2013 at 13:59
  • In the case of this specific patent there are two facts that lead to valuable lessons on how the patent system works and how it has been reformed to-date. Please reopen.
    – George White
    Commented Nov 29, 2013 at 22:39

1 Answer 1


This patent is a good example of how our patent system has been reformed. Take a look at this clip from its front page:

enter image description here

The application this patent issued from was filed in 1993. It is true that the claimed subject matter was not innovative in 1993. However, the original text was filed in 1954 ! Presumably it was innovative then. Even if the filing date is 1993 the examiner must put himself back to 1954's technology when examining it.

Now, now and why did this happen? The inventor, Jerry Lemelson was a famous and prolific inventor. He was very creative and was a visionary. He was also a supreme practitioner of "submarine patents". These were patents that are conceptually breakthrough but are not practical at the time of filing. The inventors stalls the process or refiles many times (cost $$) in a chain of continuations. A patent gets issued 20 years later; in this case 40 years later!. At that point the hope is that technology has caught up with the idea and it is being used in high volume by companies with deep pockets and has a life of 17 years from then.

"This can't be done now. In the late 1990's the law was changed so that patents expire 20 years from the earliest priority date regardless of when they issue.

  • So does that mean that had this new law been in place, his only choice is to keep his invention a secret, since a patent filing would start the 20 years countdown?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 2:49
  • Yes, if you thought you were far a head of your time but if you wait too long someone not as visionary might beat to filing.
    – George White
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 5:48
  • Is it true to say that since I independently invented it as well, we would both share on the profits right?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 7:06
  • No - under the "old" system there would need to be ab interference proceeding, assuming both application were going through the parent office at about the same time. After an expensive process one would be declared the first inventor and the other gets nothing. There was also something about "had not concealed the invention" in the old law. Under the new law one of you files first, the other is out of luck.
    – George White
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 21:08

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .