Thanks again for Rob Hyndman pointing me to an intersting story with a privacy angle ...
A couple days ago, the Washington Times reported on the sorts of weird information that may be available in public patent files. It appears that inventors who fail to renew their patents are required to provide a reason why in order to renew without interruption. The files containing their submission are open to the public and contain an ecclectic range of very personal information to support the inventors' failure to renew:
Patent petitions reveal inventors' data:
"More than 1,000 inventors petition to reclaim their patent rights each year. Inventors typically provide the information to prove that hardship prevented them from paying their maintenance fees on time. The fees range from $450 for independent inventors to up to $3,800 for large companies.
The records, which are not required but frequently are submitted as supporting documentation, include divorce decrees, tax returns, records of psychological therapy, professional license suspensions, hospital bills, credit reports, telephone numbers and home addresses.
Richard Pierce, a Brea, Calif., resident who owns a patent on a device to help emergency responders administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation with flashing light signals, has his credit report listed in patent office records...."