Oops! According to a law professor at George Washington University, all patent judges appointed after the year 2000 have been done so unconstitutionally, making thousands of patent rulings made by said judges null and void. This will have ramifications on patents worth billions and billions of dollars, and it's not clear exactly what's going to happen.

But the Justice Department has already all but conceded that Professor Duffy is right. Given the opportunity to dispute him in a December appeals court filing, government lawyers said only that they were at work on a legislative solution.

They did warn that the impact of Professor Duffy's discovery could be cataclysmic for the patent world, casting "a cloud over many thousands of board decisions" and "unsettling the expectations of patent holders and licensees across the nation." But they did not say Professor Duffy was wrong.

If it was a legislative mistake, it may turn out to be a big one. The patent court hears appeals from people and companies whose patent applications were turned down by patent examiners, and it decides disputes over who invented something first. There is often a lot of money involved.

The problem Professor Duffy identified at least arguably invalidates every decision of the patent court decided by a three-judge panel that included at least one judge appointed after March 2000.

Yikes! The Supreme Court will probably take this issue on in the not too distant future, but before that, lemme just put this in writing now: I came up with the idea for the iPod and iPhone way before Apple, and I deserve all of the revenue from both of those products. See you in court, Jobs. [NY Times via Boing Boing]