Book Review: Patent Interferences as High Drama!

By Charles L. Gholz

Patent interferences are intellectually stimulating and often a lot of fun–at least for the attorneys involved. However, I've seldom thought of them as "capable of producing a hell of a good story," which is the author's assessment of the story he tells in Taylor, LASER: The Inventor, The Nobel Laureate, and The Thirty-Year Patent War. Of course, the laser was unquestionably one of the great inventions of the Twentieth Century, and the fact that the issue of who invented it (Prof. Charles Townes or his grad student, Gordon Gould) provided gainful employment for patent attorneys for thirty years certainly commends this book to the readership of this publication.

Actually, "gainful employment for patent attorneys" better describes the situation of those who supported Prof. Townes's claims than the situation of those who supported Mr. Gould's claims. (Tellingly, Gordon Gould never did get his doctorate.) However, the fact that those who worked for Mr. Gould "on the cuff" for many years were ultimately amply rewarded makes it a heart-warming story for most of us.

Moreover, the professor/grad student controversy is a familiar one–and one that is usually difficult for even the best intentioned objective observers (including members of the interference bar) to sort out. Just as "mistakes were made" during the Reagan administration, an "invention was made" while Gordon Gould was working for Prof. Townes. But who made it? According to this book (and according to the final judicial determination), Gordon Gould made at least part of the overall invention of the laser—a part which was essential to the commercialization of lasers. However, I've been involved in enough of these disputes to suspect both that the final judicial determination could have gone the other way and that, if that had happened, an equally plausible (and interesting) book could have been written about Prof. Townes.

What made this book particularly entertaining for me was the fact that many of the principal players in the drama (judges, Patent Office officials, and lawyers) are still alive or have been within recent memory. It's always fun to read about folks you know and to realize that they were involved in a truly historic controversy.

In addition, the parts of the story concerning Gordon Gould as a prickly, overly suspicious "basement inventor" rang true for me. Most of us have dealt with some of those in our time at the bar, and it's never easy.

On the negative side, however, I should warn prospective readers that the manuscript was apparently not read by a patent lawyer—let alone by an interference specialist. It is replete with legal howlers! However, if one reads it with the proper attitude, noting those howlers is part of the fun.

18 thoughts on “Book Review: Patent Interferences as High Drama!

  1. Thanks Cindy,

    I was hoping there was some type of USPTO-sealed frame out there or something. Places like Framingsuccess.com/framingachievement.com have frame designs for just about every possible possible certificate. Alas, nothing for USPTO.

  2. suggestions / ideas for framing your USPTO registration certificate

    There are many, very artistic, framing companies that could help you with a creative design , if that is what you are asking. Otherwise it would just be a matter of picking the right frame. Try Google Images and use some search words like framed certificate. It might help you with a visual of what you would like.

  3. “It is still a tragedy that the true inventor of the “Laser”, Dr. Alan Parsons, has not been recognized.”

    Dr. Parsons was involved with another project and was unavailable.

  4. Possible new thread – what are the experiences with the academic patents and inventorship? Given most University policies of spreading the revenue amongst the inventors, there is huge incentive to limit the number of inventors, even with deceptive intent. Given the professorial view that students are incapable, creates problems as well. I think if you push inventorship hard enough on University patents, you may find the US grant questionable and invalid, and maybe uncorrectable due to deceptive intent. I think this topic deserves some debate and could even fit into the troll debate as well.

  5. Random question:

    Anyone have suggestions / ideas for framing your USPTO registration certificate. Apparently there’s no info on framing your certificate anywhere on the web.

    Thanks,

  6. For a reader in Europe, this thread is interesting though. In a “First to File” system, we are arguing in relation to a piece of property expressed in one unique material form (writing) on one unique date. The app on that day is not evidence of something else but, rather, the very thing in which the property resides. In “First to Invent”, by contrast, we are arguing about an incorporeal conception. The writings are secondary, namely the evidence that might or might not substantiate the conception. So, not only is First to Invent at odds with the “Promote” Raison d”Etre of a patent system but also an endless chase after something no more substantial than a Will o’ the Wisp, that existed in somebody’s head, but whose. So, I think the Dennis allusion to the passive voice is entirely apt, to make his point. Tossing in the word “Reagan”, as a way to get a thread up and running, seems to me legitimate. Sorry.

  7. “Completely unnecessary for the story, controversial and not worthy of this site. Shame!”

    The butthurt is strong in this one.

  8. There was a major article published in the January 2006 issue of the American Bar Association Journal telling everyone how Gorden Gould allegedly benefited from the “first to invent” system, quoting for authority [I kid you not]a TAX attorney! I wonder if Gordon would actually have been better of with a “first to file” system rather than all those years of costly interference litigation over several patents benefiting many patent attorneys?
    Take a look at these 3 Gould patents and their issue dates, earliest claimed priority dates, and total numbers of years of issuance delays:
    4,053,845 1977 1959 18
    4,704,583 1987 1959 28
    4,746,201 1988 1959 29

  9. “According to my local library, this was published in 2000. Not quite a timely book review.”

    Thanks to the economy and various PTO policies, even the best of us have a little more time to say hi to our spouses and read something other than patents.

  10. It is still a tragedy that the true inventor of the “Laser”, Dr. Alan Parsons, has not been recognized.

  11. BTW…the book entitled “Flash of Genius: and Other True Stories of Invention” by John Seabrook (c.2008) is available at my local library.

    Has anyone on the board read it and/or care to comment on it?

  12. According to my local library, this was published in 2000. Not quite a timely book review.

  13. “Moreover, the professor/grad student controversy is a familiar one–and one that is usually difficult for even the best intentioned objective observers (including members of the interference bar) to sort out. Just as “mistakes were made” during the Reagan administration, an “invention was made” while Gordon Gould was working for Prof. Townes. But who made it?”

    There seem to be two types of professors in academia: (1) the type who promote their grad students and/or postdocs in an almost egoless fashion and take zero credit for their own contributions; and (2) the type who take credit for everything.

    Neither are particularly helpful when it comes to determining inventorship.

  14. Dear Professor Crouch,

    Please delete my account.

    Sincerely yours,

    Nancy Reagan

    ——————-

  15. “Just as “mistakes were made” during the Reagan administration, …”

    Completely unnecessary for the story, controversial and not worthy of this site. Shame!

  16. How such an obvious and well known device such as the laser got patented can only be attributed to enormous malfeasance on the part of the Patent Office and legal chicanery by well paid lawyers whose job was to deceive the public.

    In five minutes I was able to find no less than 30 references which either anticipate the so-called “laser” or render it obvious in light of the prior art. Obviously these references were never submitted to the Patent Office or the well-read and highly intelligent examiners there would have thrown out this piece of “inventive” nonsense.

    Not to mention that such a claim to a natural phenomenon should never receive protection under 101. This was nothing more than a patent directed towards taking the use of natural light, provided every day by the Sun, out of the public domain and granting its use to greedy private investors.

    The damage done to our society by these so-called “inventors” and their unscrupulous attorneys is beyond measure.

    (the above is satire, for those who missed it)

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