Patents gone wild?

The original intention of the patent system was to encourage innovation by giving inventors of useful, novel, and non-obvious inventions the monopoly to enjoy the fruits of that invention. In exchange, they would have to publish the invention in a patent, and thereby increase the amount of knowledge available to the public and other inventors. Recently, there has been a movement to reform the patent system, as it is not used to patent plants, one-click shopping, and a whole host of “inventions” that seem to defy the original spirit of the system.

In that vein, I recently came across this patent, owned by the Mars company that covers “improving the health of a mammal” by administering chocolate with “enhanced levels of cocoa polyphenols.” The very odd thing about this patent is that it doesn’t claim the process of making chocolate with elevated polyphenols (though it does discuss this process), probably because the process involves making chocolate with underfermented cacao, which is probably not patentable. Instead, they claim any process that improves the health of a mammal, presumably humans, by ingesting chocolate made with underfermented cacao. Maybe this means that if you ate some not-so-fantastic chocolate, and your health improved in some way, Mars could sue you for patent infringement. (And, by reading this blog post, you now know about the patent, and could perhaps be charged with “willful” infringement, which triples the damages you owe the world’s largest candy company!)

Nice to know that patent craziness is not just confined to the software and Internet space…

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