There has been a considerable amount of discussion on the Internet in recent months about abuses involving the U.S. patent system. If the critics are to be believed, just about anyone can obtain a patent on any idea, regardless of how obvious it may be. Indeed, there have even been suggestions that the U.S. patent system is simply broken, perhaps beyond repair.

Recent examples have only served to bolster the critics’ point of view. In December 1999, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office granted a patent for a method of making a crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In 2001, the patent was acquired by Orville, Ohio-based J.M. Smucker Co., famous for making preserves. Smucker promptly sought to enforce rights in the patent and to obtain broader patent protection through additional patent applications.

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