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?