Yogi Berra's classic line, "It's deja vu all over again," came to mind as I read a story on the United States Patent Office fiasco regarding the Compton's New Media case (S. Chartrand, "At the Patent Office, a digital dawn," New York Times, Nov. 12, 1994, page 39).

To recap: In August 1993 the Patent Office awarded Compton's, a San Diego-based CD-ROM publisher, exclusive rights on a basic search and retrieval software feature in its interactive CD-ROM products. This would have allowed Compton's to demand licensing or royalty fees from virtually any company in the CD-ROM industry. However, last October the Compton's patent was invalidated. After a more careful examination, the Patent Office found dozens of documents indicating the "invention" was neither new nor unique. It is indeed ironic that this obvious failure in searching "prior art" involved a retrieval software patent application.

The sense of deja vu arises...

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