One of my quirky traits is a penchant to read and examine everything that I come into contact with. It's a strange enough behavior that my kids often tease me at the kitchen table when I read the information printed on a jar of jam, or a bag of bread. "Daddy is investigating again", they proclaim.
Once in a while I come across something interesting though, that makes little sense. Paper cup sleeves are one such example. I have seen these around for some years and I think they are a great idea. They save one's hands from being scorched, while consuming less material than a second paper cup. Whoever thought of this novelty should be thanked, but should such invention (if it can be called that) be given its own patent number.
The patent office seems to think so. In fact the Starbucks paper cup sleeve has the patent number 5,205,473, and it is proudly printed right on it. Now I am all about protecting one's invention from copycats, but is this really that innovative of an invention? It's a piece of corrugated cardboard rolled into a funnel and glued at the edges.
It seems like everything you can think of these days can receive a patent protection. No wonder some companies today are just in the business of patenting everything under the sun in the hopes of cashing them in at some future date through licensing or lawsuits. They are known in the industry as patent mills and they are poisoning the very reason why patent protection was created to begin with. Patents are supposed to foster creativity and innovation by giving the inventors protection from imitators. But if I were an inventor today, I might think twice about releasing my next great idea fearing the cost and time of patent conflict search, and the possibility of a lawsuit down the road by someone with an obscure patent.