Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Re: Automobile satire not so satirical

Author:Jeremy Bowers
Posted:10/22/1999; 10:55:39 AM
Topic:Jeff Bezos' Patent
Msg #:12258 (In response to 12252)
Prev/Next:12257 / 12259

Actually, automobile turn signal sticks are indeed patented. The Dodge Neon my family has a nonstandard turn and lighting controls due to patent constraints.

However, it is not as silly as it sounds; there isn't a component on a car anymore that doesn't cost thousands/millions to develop.

My father is a brake engineer for [major car company]. There is a brake test where a human drive must as quickly as possible exert x lbs of force on a brake for a certain time duration, and then release it, and the car must do certain things. (Another example of non-obvious design issues: You'd think they can design a machine to do that (it's bad news for the driver's hips to do this), but there is actually no good way to do it. If they find one, it will definately be non-obvious and patentable. They've already spent who knows how much time thinking about it.)

This test had a problem, though. The man performing it hit a plateau at about 90% force, and couldn't get above it. It was known that the man could do the job, as he could before and after in other test vehicles, so the problem must lie in the test vehicle. The really wierd thing is that the test could be done in another prototype, which was supposed to be part-for-part identical.

It was eventually discovered that on the one vehicle, the brake pedal was impacting the floorboard, which was supposed to be recessed just far enough to allow the pedal to go all the way down, but was off, due to manufacturing variances, by a small, small fraction of an inch and so the brake pedal was getting hung up on the floor, basically, preventing the brake pedal from passing some Federal requirements, which is a pretty big deal.

My point? In the real world, while the fact that the brake pedal must be able to stop the car to Federal specifications is obvious, the exact implementation can be costly, even on so "trivial" a problem. Turn signals are perfectly patentable, because that are indeed precision components that must meet extremely low tolerances for conditions, repeated use, and variable amounts of force the user will exert, as well as provide electrical connectivity (in some models) in all positions to the cruise controls or other controls, which must be extremely reliable or you will be sued when somebody smashes into a tree at 105 after setting the cruise control to 65. Doing all these things is non-obvious.

This is the world the patent office lives in, and it makes sense that people can't steal stuff that you may personally think is trivial, but actually takes a lot of engineering to make go. Obviously, "one-click buying" as a concept is trivial. (I think perhaps Amazon could patent their entire system, but then, unless you were Amazon, you'd have differences.) We all see immediately how to implement it, and (insert patent arguments here). But software and real-world (non-computer) hardware are not comparable.

Long response to a satire, but I thought you might like to know that turn signal bars are indeed patented and for good reasons.

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