US Patent Office approved a cure for cancer

Our tipster received a copy of this U.S. patent and assumed it was a hoax. It’s real, issued last December. What does this say about the competency and purpose of the US Patent Office? Why not just buy a rubber stamp and not bother reading the applications? This kind of stuff is abuse of the system.

Magical Drug Wins EFF’s Stupid Patent of the Month | Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Good news everyone! The Patent Office has granted a patent on a cure for cancer.

Last December, the Patent Office issued Patent No. 8,609,158 on a “potent drug” that “rebukes cancer, cancer cells, and kills cancer.” According to the patent, this drug cures a litany of other maladies. What is this wonderful invention, you ask? It is a combination of “evening primrose oil, rice, sesame seeds, green beans, coffee, meat, cheese, milk, green tea extract, evening primrose seeds, and wine.” As the patent’s abstract says, “it works.”

This patent’s most obvious flaw is lack of utility – there’s no proof that the invention works. But the system places the burden of proof on the Patent Office, not the person asking for a 20 year monopoly. The examiner likely decided a rejection was not worth the effort – frankly, we wonder whether the examiner even read the application. In a similar case, the Patent Office issued a patent to an applicant whose work was widely known to be fraudulent. (The purported inventor had even spent time in jail for the fraud.)

The inventor sounds deluded. A portion of the original application which does not appear in the final patent stated:

“You may wonder why I don’t obey Dr.’s? It is because they do not understand the word of God. I am a minister who was diagnosed with Bi-Polar, Lymph-node cancer and many other issues. I found a group of ingredients that when processed correctly solve these issues in such a way as to not ever take chemo-therapy, burn yourself incorrectly and harm the very body you are trying to save….”

Oh my. The article makes note of the numerous grounds on which the application should have been rejected. Mark, who practices Patent Law, tells Doubtful News that it is not at all unusual to see the Patent Office failing to do a proper job of examining applications (both in not rejecting bad application and refusing good ones). They are inundated by thousands of applications and do a quick review instead of examining even the obvious questions like does it work and is it an actual new invention.

Sounds like a big issue that needs to be fixed but how do you efficiently approve the valid requests when you are deluged with nonsense?

Tip: Mark Mollon

  16 comments for “US Patent Office approved a cure for cancer

  1. Peter Robinson
    September 3, 2014 at 8:35 AM

    Like other scams that have received patent approval e.g. perpetual energy machines, it would be quite simple to fix the problem by requiring independent verification.

  2. John Nowak
    September 3, 2014 at 9:02 AM

    Issuing a patent doesn’t mean it has been tested. Issuing a patent allows the filer exclusive rights for a period of time.

    In other news, you can write a book about how ancient astronauts built the Brooklyn Bridge, and get a copyright on it.

  3. skeptictmac57
    September 3, 2014 at 9:19 AM

    Hmmmm…maybe the patent clerk is from the 17th century:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patent_medicine

  4. Mark Mollon
    September 3, 2014 at 10:23 AM

    A patent is different from a copyright in that it covers any embodiment of the claimed idea and you can infringe even if you develop the concept independently. This example of a Patent Office mistake is mostly harmless since it is hard to imagine the owner enforcing it. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, and manufacturers spend millions a) fighting off ridiculous claims, and b) obtaining marginal patents to help defend themselves. The patent system has benefits and detriments. It is essential for some technologies. Early on, it may have been easier to see that the benefits outweighed the costs. We assume that continues to be true, but I don’t think an objective study exists. The question of whether we need a patent system could benefit from a little more skepticism. But we’d need that from Congress, so…….

  5. spookyparadigm
    September 3, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    Just as long as the cure doesn’t have rounded corners, you should be ok.

  6. Tribeca Mike
    September 3, 2014 at 11:29 AM

    This has inspired me to patent all of my fifth grade book reports.

  7. drongo
    September 3, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    The patent has only a single claim: 1. A method of treating a human suffering from cancer, pain, and Bipolar disorder consisting essentially of administering to said human therapeutically effective amounts of evening primrose oil, rice, sesame seeds, green beans, coffee, meat, cheese, milk, green tea extract, evening primrose seeds, and wine.

    This claim is fatally flawed. Instead of something like “suffering from cancer or pain or bipolar disorder or any combination”, the claim applies only if you are treating someone with all three: cancer and pain and bipolar disorder. Similarly, the claim would appear to cover only treatment with all of the listed ingredients (though the examples describe various subsets of these ingredients — plus others not listed in the claim).

  8. Andrew
    September 3, 2014 at 11:56 AM

    John Nowak is correct. Furthermore I remember hearing a news report once that mentioned there were a series of court cases where the Patent Office was effectively ordered to issue patents more broadly and stop denying so many. So the blame for this isn’t so much at the patent office but on congress for not passing a law to clarify or limit what can be patented. We have a rubber stamp patent office by design through common law.

    At least that’s what this story said. I think it was a This American Life episode.

  9. Kathy Moyd
    September 3, 2014 at 12:57 PM

    Won’t they have to get FDA approval if they claim to cure cancer. Also, they would need to get the wine licensed. I think all the patent does is say that no one else can sell this concoction.

  10. chemical
    September 3, 2014 at 4:32 PM

    I thought the same thing. FDA approval is required if you try to sell a product that has a specific health claim, like “My product cures cancer”. I’m actually suprised that the patent office didn’t defer to the FDA in this case.

    But as far as I know, this charlatan hasn’t tried to SELL this junk yet — just file a patent for it. Definitely a charlatan move — file a patent for something despite having no evidence that it works, which gives this scam an air of legitimacy to people who don’t actually know that the FDA is the governing body that makes sure our medicine actually works.

  11. Mike
    September 3, 2014 at 4:51 PM

    I worked over 5 years in patent law, both as an Examiner and at a private law firm. This patent is utterly embarrassing to the Patent Office and I feel bad for this lady, who declined potentially effective treatment for her cancer in favor of her own home remedies.

    Most patent applications are initially rejected but, according to the prosecution history for the patent viewable on Public Pair, this patent was issued by an experienced senior-level examiner who actively called the lady up to draft a claim that would be acceptable to both of them. No rejection was ever issued.

    Senior-level examiners do not have their work regularly reviewed and also have the least amount of time to review an application.

    One of the things I remember from my initial training classes is “Do a thorough job because you don’t want your patent on the front page of the Washington Post.” There are many good examiners at the Patent Office, but unfortunately, there are some bad apples, as we can see from this trainwreck of a patent.

    I’m disappointed that this was ever issued and that the lady (who I hope gets mental help) had to pay issue fees for her worthless patent.The main reason it is worthless is that (ignoring that her treatment is almost certainly ineffective against cancer), the claim uses the close-ended word “consisting” which means that all an infringer would have to do would be to add another ingredient to the potion to work around the patent claim.

    I worked in the electrical arts, but we examiners were instructed to assume submitted inventions actually worked unless it was obvious that they didn’t (e.g. perpetual motion machines) But even ignoring the lack of utility, the patent still fails on novelty grounds, because even a cursory Google search shows primrose oil being marketed as a cancer agent.*facepalm*

    Luckily, the application for “Walking through walls training system” was rejected and never issued as a patent.

  12. J
    September 3, 2014 at 9:43 PM

    What exactly does “rebuke cancer” mean? Maybe the ‘word of god’ is supposed to be in effect there?
    And wow, that “Walking Through Walls Training System” is the laugh I needed today. Thanks for that.

    Fig. 16: “Walk -> Generate Vortex”

    Yep…

  13. September 3, 2014 at 10:12 PM

    I have two patents in my name (and assigned to Big International Company, so all it gets me is something to put on my resume to impress people who aren’t familiar with how Big Companies get patents – actual patent numbers are in “Bragging Rights” of my G+ page in the link) and I have seen some “amazing” patent-related stuff.

    I’ve read in electrical/electronic design newsmagazines for the last two decades about how the US patent office has had overworked examiners, and I’ve heard all kinds of stuff about reforming patent law. There WERE some changes made a couple years ago, perhaps most notably was the change to “first to file” (where first filing of a claim automatically gets the patent) versus the older “first to invent.” I don’t know who pushed for that change, but first to invent (where lab logbooks with dated text and drawings helps establish one as the actual inventor) had been the standard for a long time, and it was hoped (by actual inventors) this would remain. Apparently “first to file” means less work for the examiners, rather than having to go through lots of evidence to see who actually did what at what date. I haven’t read anything on this lately, so I don’t know if that latest patent law change has improved anything.

    I was at a 1990s seminar of my company’s patents (this was before I got mine). One patent was from an engineer who bet his manager he could get a patent on adding a totally useless (but of course not worded that way in the application) resistor to a circuit. The manager took the bet, signed off on the patent being submitted, and it was granted.

    It took about two years from submission to granting for my patents (really the company’s – they just happened to have my name on them as inventor) in the late 1990s, and I’ve heard longer periods since then.

    Anyone can apply for a patent without an attorney, though the application costs hundreds of dollars, which at least slows down or stops some people from applying for frivolous (and probably even a few serious, good) patents. This is strongly not recommended for a variety of reasons you can imagine (I’ve scanned through the NOLO book “Patent It Yourself,” available in any public library, and it appears to have some decent explanations of the pitfalls). Even if it’s a “good” patent and you have a patent attorney write it up (which pushes the cost to well over a thousand dollars, and likely several thousand), the chances of selling it or licensing it to even make back the money you’ve spend is pretty low.

    Large companies get patents to build up their patent portfolios so they have “intellectual turf” – if they get a notice from another company that they’re infringing on the other company’s patent, they look through their own patents in relation to the other company’s products, find something the other company is infringing on, then the companies sign a cross-licensing agreement rather than have the embarrassment of having to pay royalties to the other company.

    But from what I’ve seen there’s little to gain on patents by individuals or small companies. This is probably not how the original patent law was intended, but it’s how things have turned out. The intermittent windshield wiper is one such “good” product. A quick google brings the story up in Wikipedia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Kearns
    The filing and issue dates for the patents even in the 1960s were separated by almost three years!

    There’s the patent on growing broccoli sprouts – this was a bad patent issued to one company, and it took several of its competitors getting together to hire an attorney to sue to invalidate the patent. Here’s one of several online stories about it:
    http://sproutpeople.org/sprout-politics/broccoli-sprout-saga/

  14. Headless Unicorn Guy
    September 3, 2014 at 10:32 PM

    What exactly does “rebuke cancer” mean?

    It usually means verbally bringing God’s power to bear on demons. The full phrase is more like “I Rebuke you in the name of Jesus Christ.” Advocates for this sort of “deliverance ministry” act like just saying the words drives the demon away. And these types also practice “discernment”, which does NOT have the original meaning of “seeing beneath the appearance to the reality” but more like “seeing Demons under every bed”.

    My guess would be Spiritual Warfare Fanboy who figures cancer (and everything else, including burned-out light bulbs) is caused by DEMONS. (I’m not making the “burned-out light bulbs” up; there are those out there who ARE that far gone.)

  15. RobH
    September 4, 2014 at 12:24 AM

    You should have a look at the crazy flying contraption that Nikola Tesla patented. The thing would have flown like an anvil.

    Makes me wonder what the big deal is about perpetual motion machines and the patent office. My understanding is that the patent office absolutely won’t issue a patent for a perpetual motion machine. They seem to have no problems, however, with other forms of magic.

  16. September 4, 2014 at 7:53 PM

    I might file my own patent, but replace primrose oil with snake oil.

    That should do it.

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