Patents and Sampling

I was recently reading Gelman’s blog, and he wrote a post about this: Patents Aren’t Only for Engineers.  Apparently, some actuary received a patent for statistical sampling.  The author (is that what they are called?) of the patent, Jay Vadiveloo, is a mathematics professor in residence at the University of Connecticut, and he is quoted in the article as saying:

To me, the results were astounding: statistical sampling worked.

At this point, I thought I got the joke and I went to check the date that the article was published expecting to see April 1.  Nope.  May 12 actually.   So, this is serious?  If this is serious, this is — how can I say this nicely — astonishingly…..I have nothing nice to say here.  So I will say nothing.  Congratulations, professor Vadiveloo.

Gelman goes on to write:

P.S. Mendelssohn writes: “Yes, I felt it was a heartwarming story also. Perhaps we can get a patent for regression.”

I say, forget a patent for regression. I want a patent for the sample mean. That’s where the real money is. You can’t charge a lot for each use, but consider the volume!

This reminded of a conversation I had with a fellow graduate student in statistics who had done an internship at an insurance company over the course of a summer.  They explained to me that someone in the insurance industry had either tried to patent or already had a patent for multiple regression for use in insurance.  Now, I wasn’t sure how true the story was when I heard it, and I’m still not sure how true the story is, but if you can get a patent on sampling, I suppose anything is possible.

Question for a lawyer:  If someone can get a patent on sampling after it has been around in the statistics literature for a very, very long time, can I just go through more recent statistics literature and just start filing patents on other people’s ideas?

I’m not actually going to do that, but that is a serious question.  What is preventing me from doing that?




Posted on July 1, 2012, in Academia, Insurance, Sampling. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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