Apple Just Got Granted a Patent for Rounded Corners on Electronic Devices

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And that's not even the world's most absurd patent.

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The relevant drawing from Apple's patent on a "Portable Display Device" (USPTO)

So this happened: Apple was just granted a patent on rounded corners for rectangular electronic devices. It's tempting to think that patents are becoming more absurd, but that would be a mistake. The US and other patent bodies have always granted overly broad patents. What's changed is that courts, in recent years, have started to award damages based on them.

Here's a list of historical patents that have been violated millions of times--but have yet to earn their creators a cent.

The Wheel

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IP Australia

In 2001, Australian John Keogh patented a "circular transportation facilitation device" (PDF). Keogh, a freelance patent attorney, filed for and received his patent on the 5,000-year old contrivance in order to demonstrate flaws in Australia's "innovation patent" system for fast-tracking legal protection of new ideas.

Every Smartphone Ever

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USPTO

In 1999, NetAirus Technologies filed for a patent on a "wireless communication system," and it was granted in 2006. Four scant years later, lacking any products of its own, the company used its patent--so broad that it covers basically every smartphone ever invented--to sue Apple. That trial is ongoing.

Patent Trolling

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USPTO

Creating a company for the sole purpose of suing other firms for violating patents you own is known as patent trolling. In a universe-twisting bit of irony, this practice has itself been patented. The owners of the aptly-titled "Patent Acquisition and Assertion by a (Non-Inventor) First Party Against a Second Party" intend to "use the patent defensively to discourage patent trolls and the like from extortionist practices."

In other words, Halliburton Energy Services, owner of this patent, can threaten just about anyone who might sue them for IP infringement with a counter-suit.

Donald Trump's Double Comb-Over

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USPTO

Real estate paper tiger Donald Trump is legendary for putting his name on disastrous real estate deals, raging against the president on Twitter, and attempting to cover up his male pattern baldness. Forensic analysis of his unique hairstyle has revealed that it is an innovative "double comb-over," in which hair coming from different sides of his scalp is plastered into place. Incredibly, even this has been patented: "Method of concealing partial baldness," issued in 1977 to a pair of inventors in Orlando, Florida.

Swinging on a Swing

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USPTO

If you've ever swung side to side on a swing rather than front to back, you owe money to the filer of "Method of swinging on a swing" (PDF). As the text of the patent notes, "These methods of swinging on a swing, although of considerable interest to some people, can lose their appeal with age and experience. A new method of swinging on a swing would therefore represent an advance of great significance and value."

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Christopher Mims is the science and technology correspondent for Quartz. His work has appeared in Wired and Scientific American, as well as on the BBC.

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