Actually, around 1973 (when I had a couple of patents, but under the old rules in my managers name) the rules changed, and applications ceased to be examined for novelty. The Patent Office would grant a patent which would then not be guaranteed until someone challenged it.
We concluded that the new system was not so much a way to stop other people using the idea, so much as a way to guarantee your right to continue to use your own ideas.
Subsequent experience, and material I have read, suggests that some companies find it profitable to threaten heavy legal action and more-or-less blackmail companies into paying relatively small licence fees.
The system is a mess, and far from fair.
Just another example of the sort of humbug that is all too often upheld in law - though it appears that this, surprisingly, eventually was not. It seems to me that patents are all too often misused to suppress useful techniques that should be in the public domain - Watt's (or was it Stephenson's?) patent on the crank probably delayed useful development of the steam engine for years. Patent holders should be obliged to license their patents for a reasonable royalty to all who wish to use them, so that creative time and effort is not wasted devising less useful substitutes. And patents that are not promptly made use of should lapse.
it's no joke - these days you can use an idea or process/procedure that you knew about 30 years ago that was common knowledge 40 years ago... or can you? How do you know that somebody didn't patent this prior knowledge last year and you owe him, or he sues. This nonsense (and barefaced fraud) has to stop.
Actually you can cut as many sticks to throw or use the laser point to exercise the cat as much as you care. Infringement of the patent only occurs when you sell the device that you do not hold the patent on.
Hi Brian, you've hit a rich vein here, poking fun at the patent system.
Unfortunately your dog owning readers are in the same bucket if they ever cut a stick from a tree and throw it for their dog to retrieve. http://www.google.com/patents?id=hhYJAAAAEBAJ&zoom=4&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false
I wrote about this one on Design News last year.
The second patent I mentioned is close. It is kind of a robot that moves around and twirls with a laser pointer built into it. Kind of like one of those vacuum cleaners, but doesn't actually do anything useful.