Manufacturing guy-at-large.

Patents are insane.

Added on by Spencer Wright.

I got sucked in a little today looking at Google Patents. It's really cool to find a design and then look at all the patents filed by the designer. Weirder still if the company is one that makes a product you hold in high regard, viz. LH Thomson, the contract machine shop and venerable manufacturer of bicycle hardware. 

On the one hand, Thomson owns an incredibly broad patent for "Object clamp, such as for bicycle component, having at least one relief area and related methods." This would appear to cover not only any split tube clamp, including those on bicycle stems & seatpost clamps (as the patent describes), but also almost any accessory that attaches to a tube, anywhere (disclaimer: I am not an expert in patent law). See fig. 33, below:

If I'm reading this correctly, it's saying that if your split tube clamp has one bore which is of a slightly larger diameter than the diameter of the part you're clamping to, your part is covered by Thomson's patent - at least until 2021, which (I believe) is when it runs out. 

On the other, Thomson owns a patent for "Bicycle rider hand attachment and cooperating gear shift actuator and associated methods" that is batshit crazy. The basic idea is that of a gripshifter, but Thomson's version requires the user to wear one of many medieval glove-like contraptions, which interface with the shifter itself. See fig. 15, below:

It should be noted that this is exactly as crazy as it looks - disjointed thumb and all. Or see fig. 6, which installs a shaft onto the rider's hand, to interface with some handlebar-mounted shifting device:

So yeah, anyway: Patents are insane. Are these inventions useful? Are they worth protecting? Is the value of their protection greater - to either LH Thomson or the greater society at large - than the value of open sourcing them? I don't claim to have an answer, but I would be interested to hear arguments for the pro side - it seems a bit specious.