A patent is a set of exclusive rights granted by a state (national government) to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for a public disclosure of an invention.

Typically a patent application must include one or more claims defining the invention which must be new, non-obvious, and useful or industrially applicable.

Source Wikipedia

Patents have been around for a while and in my view it is a way to protect an Inventor’s idea from being stolen by a multi-national company and bringing it to the market. But over time the concept of Patents should get a big overhaul on the research and granting part. Because the social media creates a whole new meaning of something getting publicized and thus out in the open.

Is my idea new or not?!

When attending a Patent searching workshop myself, it became clear to me that applicants of patents do everything in their power to prevent anyone of finding their patent. They accomplish this by use of synonyms and different ways of describing a definition of their application, making it a hard job to find out if something is new or not. The workshop leader also specifically noted that when an applicant applies for a patent, the search for it being new has a guarantee to the door as we dutch would say this. Meaning that they actually give almost no guarantee that a thing is new, because of this approach of making things hard to find.

Complicating things or vice versa?!

So when you’re adding social media (or even blogs or other stuff on the WWW) to the equation; is finding out if something is new getting easier? Or is the big noise of the social media stream too big to filter that out?

I believe this is also one of the constructs behind being open source, that something that is known widely and is being developed by a community is not granted a patent. So getting your idea out in the open would be the best thing to do…or is it? I think this all depends on what your plan is and if you have ideas to market your idea or not. But be ware that when pitching your idea at a company, that they might respond with: “Nah, we’re not interested in such an idea.”. Only to find out that exactly your idea has been marketed by the same company you pitched it to. So before pitching, I would decide between publicly known or patent beforehand!

Is Social media a legal tool for granting application or not?

Another question arises when you are checking for new ideas. Once an idea has been publicly available, it cannot be patented. Or at least one has to really narrow definitions down to some specific area or field and use combinations where it does make it a new thing. So the question is; “When someone spits out an idea into the social media stream, is it preventing a new idea for patent application of being granted or not? This is a question that needs to be answered in the overhaul for the concept of patenting.

The other side of the social media being a legal factor or not might be the ability to search through all the clutter… As I could think of the example where I can find back my first tweet, but searching for that exact tweet is impossible. [Update: it is possible again: exact tweet]

So a lot is unknown on how the new ways of communication are effecting the patent-business. But hopefully there will get some stories into the media, where a social network’s message or status is used to claim an idea being new or not. And if you yourself have something to share on this topic feel free to drop it in the comments.