Friday, September 21, 2007

Mail call (ooph!)

A few weeks ago I came home to find someone had mailed me a phone book -- at least that was my first impression. The return address of the old shop suggested the explanation for the bulging package -- the full text of a newly issued patent on which I am listed as an inventor.

I've lost track of how many patents I have -- it's not a huge number, perhaps a dozen, and a few trickle out periodically. When I had to interview last year, I did go track them down to get the resume right. It could have been a deluge -- the paralegals once made a habit of booking me for an hour so I could autograph my way through a mountain of applications.

I non-chalant about it because the patents are part of that dubious flood of gene patents from the genome gold rush. Nobody knew whether they would be worth anything, but more importantly nobody wanted to be caught without one should they prove valuable -- so the lawyers made a fortune. On my end, in most cases my contribution was my development of the software which sieved the molecular databases -- I was more of a meta-inventor than inventor.

I'll never really know what, if anything, comes of most of them without a lot of work, as the patent titles are broad and vague. My notorious gene numbering system will be immortal though: many of the patent titles mention them. There is one major exception to this: one cluster of patents led to a compound currently in clinical trials. My contribution was clearly very small and very early, but it is nice to know that something good might come out of it.

I did somewhat expect the huge package -- not that I am claiming clairvoyance. No, I had advance warning, also by post. There are several companies which will put your patent number or title on a wide variety of knick-knacks, such as T-shirts, coffee mugs, plaques, etc., and their mailings spring forth as soon as the patent issues. That's how I've always known when a new patent came out -- because I got junk mail. Funny system.


Hsien Lei said...

Fascinating. So can we get a picture of you wearing one of those patent t-shirts? ;)

Keith Robison said...

I've never sprung for one, but perhaps I should.