Patent No. 9,000,000 issued today. It’s a pretty cool invention on a system for replenishing your car's washer fluid. And it’s actually being developed and marketed (the company says it has a “fully functional prototype.”)
But have you ever noticed that when a restaurant or store surprises its x-millionth customer with rewards, the “victim” is often photogenic or sympathetic, rather than, say, a “person of Walmart”? That makes sense, right? It’s all a big marketing opportunity for the business, which probably gets a lot of free publicity to go with it. And there’s no way for the public to verify that 1,000,000 really means 1,000,000.
So maybe we shouldn’t be so shocked that USPTO plays the same game. There’s actual evidence backing it up. Because patents issue at discrete, weekly intervals, the PTO has time generally to group patents of the same “class” together in contiguous blocks of numbers. That’s why you usually don’t see a floor wax patent immediately next to a dessert topping patent. (Unless, of course, it's for both.)
Patent 9,000,000 today is in class 210, “Liquid purification or separation”. Yet, it interrupts a block of patents from class 514, “Drug, bio-affecting and body treating compositions”:
The majority of the other class 210 patents are in a contiguous block from 8,999,153 to 8,999,176.
It doesn’t take Nate Silver to see that this is more than a statistical anomaly. Patent 9,000,000 will be giving a lot of attention to the PTO today, and it only makes sense that they’d prefer to have the discussion surrounding an interesting, everyday invention by a startup, rather than 8,999,999’s “Use of inhibitors of Bruton's tyrosine kinase (Btk)” or 9,000,001’s “Organic compounds.”
Or a non-practicing entity’s patent.
Or an airplane toilet queue.