Links for 2019-03-07

  • How Theranos used the USPTO to defraud investors and patients

    When legendary grifter Elizabeth Holmes was 19 years old, she conceived of a medical device that could perform extensive diagnostics in an eyeblink from only a single drop of blood; she had no idea how such a device would work or whether it was even possible, but that didn’t stop her from drawing up a patent application for her “invention” and repeatedly submitting to the patent office until, eventually, she was awarded a patent for what amounted to a piece of uninspiring design fiction. For Holmes, the patent was key to convincing investors, partners, and patients that her massive, years-long fraud (a company called “Theranos” bilked investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars) was legit; the USPTO helped her out by trumpeting the importance of patents to “inventors” like Holmes, comparing her to Benjamin Franklin in their public communications. Patents are only supposed to be issued for devices with “utility” — that is, they have to actually work before you can get a patent for them. But it’s been decades since the USPTO has paid meaningful attention to this criterion when evaluating applications, handing out patents for imaginary “inventions” to con artists, delusional hucksters, and other “inventors” who are willing to pay the filing fees that keep the lights on at the Patent Office. And since most people only have a vague idea of the rigor used in patent examination, these patents for design fiction can be used as impressive “proof” when crooks set out to deceive their marks. [….] ‘More than a decade after Holmes’ first patent application, Theranos had still not managed to build a reliable blood-testing device. By then the USPTO had granted it hundreds of patents. Holmes had been constructing a fantasy world from the minute she started writing her first application, and the agency was perfectly happy to play along.’

    (tags: fraud patents uspto theranos inventions boing-boing)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.