In 1993, a San Diego company called Compton's New Media got a big prize from the federal government in the form of U.S. Patent No. 5,241,671, only to have it quickly snatched back. The patent covered using multimedia on a CD-ROM, and it raised a storm of controversy.
Every big newspaper in California ran stories about Compton's multimedia search patent, which quickly became a poster child for a patent system run amok. The PTO Commissioner took the unheard-of step of initiating a re-examination on his own. (This was before re-exams were cool.)
The controversy ultimately faded, with the patents exiled to the PTO's basement. And yet: the '671 patent, so long out of the public eye, had to be killed again last month in a Texas federal court, after Encyclopaedia Britannica used it to demand money from a quite different, and quite successful, industry: GPS manufacturers. How did this happen? File this story under: patents die hard.