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Nathan Myhrvold and the Business Of Invention

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the ok-let's-run-with-that dept.

Patents 137

elwinc writes "There's a great New Yorker story about Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures company, whose business model is to nurture ideas, write patents, and sell them. Apparently they're filing about 500 patents a year including a passive thorium reactor which consumes waste from conventional reactors. On the lighter side, you can read how Nathan has achieved 'dominant T. rex market share.'" Though we've discussed Myhrvold and his company in the past, the New Yorker focuses more on how incredible it is to have a group of very intelligent people sitting around a table developing ideas.

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Ideas (5, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345002)

First of all, the article goes on and on about brainstorming... which is universally known to be a really bad way to come up with ideas. If you have an idea and you want to flesh out what it is good for or, better yet, what it is not good for, then brainstorming is great way to do it, but inspiration does not come from brainstorming - it comes in the shower or when you're walking the dog or whatever.

Then there's this whole "ideas have value" thing. Their whole business model is based on that tenant. Which is why they're not actually selling these patents to anyone, no-one goes out looking for a great idea to pour money into and create a business from.. investors go looking for *people* who have both a great idea and the technical skills to turn it into a workable business.. you can't just pick up someone else's idea and run with it, no matter how well the patent is written, and there's never written well. So how are they making their money? By litigation. So they're not actually helping progress, they're hindering it.

All in all, its a dot com era idea for a business.. "let's get smart people together and invent stuff" and leave all the pesky marketing and sales to someone else.. but that's what business *is*, so you're basically saying you want to be in the business of not being in business.

Re:Ideas (4, Interesting)

explosivejared (1186049) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345100)

Implementations have value. For example, I could probably sit down and write a decent enough patent for a perpetual motion machine to where the patent office would accept it. Now obviously no such machine could be implemented. So here in lies the problem with this company's approach and the general approach of any patent troll, it is easy to come with ideas when you sit there and detach your thinking from the scientific method. Such imaginations make for great novelists and storytellers, but they make for very poor engineers and businessmen. Anyone can look at a problem and identify a solution that would work. The real skill comes in finding a solution that works in reality and then being able to back up your findings by properly and effectively implementing your solution.

All in all, I agree with the parent, this company is a leech. It sucks value out of the economy while adding none in return.

Re:Ideas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23345488)

Actually, the US Patent Office doesn't even consider perpetual motion machine patents anymore. They're not complete.. well, you know.

Not so sure about storytellers (3, Insightful)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345586)

Some of the finest storytellers of our time - Alan Garner, Isaac Asimov, JRR Tolkien, for example - applied logic and rational thinking to their novels. Carl Sagan's "Contact", based around very sound scientific principles, was highly respectable. 2001 was more "scientific" and realistic than 2010 - name the book (or movie) with the better reputation. Indeed, many famous artists were also scientists, and many famous scientists were also artists.

Clearly, there is a branch of storytelling and artistic creativity which is highly in tune with the scientific method and Socratic thought. Not all, sure, or even necessarily a whole lot, but the two are not exclusive. On the other hand, you are correct in saying that no quality science is conducted in a purely creative sense. "Thought experiments" come the closest, being a form of daydreaming and roleplaying, but they are still more entrenched in rational thought than emotional whim.

intellectual honey pots (2, Insightful)

Quadraginta (902985) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345632)

I dunno...patenting an idea which is impossible to implement, such as a perpetual motion machine, or which (more realistically) is wildly unprofitable to implement, isn't any real bar to progress. No one's ever going to implement those ideas, right? So that kind of "business" seems like just a honey pot for impractical dreamers.

If they required a working prototype, I'd agree. (5, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345856)

But since the patent office will now take "patents" on "a system for ..." that pretty much means that anyone can patent anything and then wait for someone to actually invent the device.

I can patent a perpetual motion machine ... and then claim that a new battery system infringes upon my useless patent. As long as I'm willing to "license" my patent for less than an actual court case would cost, I'll make money.

And I'll hinder REAL innovation and progress.

That's the goal with that company. They aren't improving anything. They're abusing the patent system (with the patent system's willing support) to drain profits from real inventors.

Re:If they required a working prototype, I'd agree (2)

Quadraginta (902985) | more than 6 years ago | (#23346854)

Apparently you're under the impression that the Patent Office is run by morons.

Fair enough, you're entitled to whatever POV you like. But there's no way to argue logically with you, since your assumptions are so fantastically different from mine.

FWIW, I assume the PTO is run by pretty clever people who do the best they can, given the general difficulty with predicting the future, and who have a pretty decent -- albeit not perfect -- track record over the past 200 years, and who would normally see right through any such transparently bogus scam, and, since they're human beings exercising judgment, and not Pentium Core Duos executing a giant Perl script written by Congress, would use the discretion the law gives them to just deny such an application forthwith.

Re:If they required a working prototype, I'd agree (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23347030)

Pretty decent track record? When companies who hold thousands of patents agree that the patent system is broken, then there should be general consensus on this point. They've made some improvement on the processing time and quality of review, but we still have too many things that should be unpatentable receiving a patent. The assumption should be against the patent, unless the application is persuasive and complete. Sometimes it seems like they rubberstamp it, letting interested parties fight it out in court.

This story and too many others like it show that the purpose of incentivising real inventions for the eventual benefit of society is not being met.

Patent Office is not run by morons but (5, Insightful)

anandsr (148302) | more than 6 years ago | (#23347252)

The whole concept of patents is so 1900ish. There was a time when people could create something and then keep it under wraps, and nobody could discover what they were doing under the hood. Mostly because mostly people with the knowledge were not near the devices.

This allowed a lot of ideas to get lost. Patents were specifically designed to prevent this act. But now in 2000 and the internet this idea is totally useless. There will be always people who can reverse engineer to find out how the thing works. So that particular reason for Patents is patently lost.

Now there is another use of patents to allow people to invest into projects that have a very high risk value. Pharmaceutical companies do have these kinds of projects. I would think there is some use of patents for these sort of companies.

But for the rest of the market Patents are an abomination. They should be abolished. Software industry definitely does not need patents. They already can use copyrights, to control their creations.

One thing that the patent office should do is to require a working prototype. No prototype no patent. And the complete plan should be made open.

Pharma? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23348116)

Where the marketing budget is bigger than the R&D (which would include the very expensive testing and certification etc)?

Just because Pharma R&D is expensive proves patents are worthwhile no more than it proves Marketing must be protected as an intellectual property.

Re:If they required a working prototype, I'd agree (1)

clang_jangle (975789) | more than 6 years ago | (#23347498)

It's not about competence, it's about money.

When a big corporation submits a patent application they use highly paid pros to slide it through. It's cost-effective for them, as they do it fairly frequently. If you or I submit a patent app, it's probably on a shoestring and will be something we do rarely. This results in a totally different process.

Big Corporations are patenting ideas at an alarming rate these days. It's analogous to the big real estate scamming which began in the 1980's and has resulted in ludicrously high property values today.

Re:Ideas (2, Insightful)

rishubhav (1192083) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345294)

What the parent seems to be missing is that as the article points out inspiration often comes from something outside your normal field of study and expertise - a different view of things. That's what this provides by bringing together people who are not just smart, but people who come from a variety of disciplines

They are throwing shit at a wall (2, Insightful)

Pinky's Brain (1158667) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345322)

With 500 pieces of shit some of it will stick in the end ... and unfortunately that's all patent trolls need to turn a profit.

Re:Ideas (1)

jpellino (202698) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345386)

tenant?

Re:Ideas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23345606)

Sentance structure?

Re:Ideas (1)

Cyvros (962269) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345674)

Their whole business model is based on that tenant.

tenant?
How else do they pay the bills?

Re:Ideas (1)

aproposofwhat (1019098) | more than 6 years ago | (#23347696)

I for one welcome our new Rachmanite landlords :P

Re:Ideas (1)

hostyle (773991) | more than 6 years ago | (#23347756)

Why with correct spelling and grammar, Timmy. How else?

PS. I think OP meant to write "tenet"

Re:Ideas (1, Funny)

lawn.ninja (1125909) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345406)

I just came up with 8 pages of single spaced inventions too, while I was taking a shit. Anyone want to know what my inventions were composed of?

Re:Ideas (5, Informative)

kesuki (321456) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345550)

"So how are they making their money? By litigation. So they're not actually helping progress, they're hindering it."

evidence to this light is found here: http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/node/348 [cosmosmagazine.com]

a company by the name of thorium power, is designing a real thorium based fuel that would run in a conventional Russian atomic reactor, and along comes this patent troll company trying to eat up the US thorium reactor patents... which will mean Russia and China may be using thorium reactors while America finds itself unable to because 'the patent troll drove the cost too high'

Re:Ideas (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23347376)

Yup. Interestingly, that's exactly what happened with the Wright brothers.

We think that they invented the world's first aircraft (untrue, but let's not go into that now). They thought their big advance was solving the problem of aircraft control (which they had, but in a cumbersome and essentially dead-end way, with wing warping).

Did they advertise this for the benefit of humanity, like Santos-Dumont did? No, they patented it and tried to force all aircraft designers to pay them money. Of course, this only worked in the US, so before long France, Britain, Russia and Germany were designing all kinds of aircraft, while development in the US had ceased.

When WW1 came we had to buy fighters from the French - we had no industry of our own.

I sometimes laugh at the plaudits offered to the Wrights, when the only thing they really did was SUPRESS American development of aircraft for 15 years.....

Re:Ideas (3, Insightful)

FreeUser (11483) | more than 6 years ago | (#23347490)

a company by the name of thorium power, is designing a real thorium based fuel that would run in a conventional Russian atomic reactor, and along comes this patent troll company trying to eat up the US thorium reactor patents... which will mean Russia and China may be using thorium reactors while America finds itself unable to because 'the patent troll drove the cost too high'

It serves America right. Currently we believe we can grant ourselves a monopoly on most ideas, business models, and software, and then use our economic, diplomatic, and military muscle to force the rest of the world to eventually adopt laws enshrining such patents into their legal systems, and thereby hard code a medium-term economic dominance over everyone else.

What we didn't count on was George W. Bush draining our economy, diluting our military strength, and devistating our diplomatic influence using our nation to prosecute a pernsonal and family vendetta against the Hussein family.

As a result, we are no longer in a position to dictate our agenda to the rest of the world (this is in most ways a good thing for everybody, including the US, even if we don't know it), and lo and behold! The rest of the world has chosen not to enact business method and software patents, and isn't too keen on granting patents for vague ideas the so-called "inventors" have no intention of actually building. So if that means the rest of the world ends up with cheap, clean power, and the US economy flounders or even impldoes, well, our own greed and lust for dominance brought it upon ourselves, and we deserve it.

And maybe, just maybe, our falling behind every other developed nation in just about every field will be the catalyst we need for real patent and copyright reform. I'm not betting on it--we seem to have developed a talent for burying our heads in the sand--but there is an outside hope such change might eventually happen, someday.

Re:Ideas (1)

smilindog2000 (907665) | more than 6 years ago | (#23347592)

A bit off topic, but I was under the impression that we don't burn up our nuclear waste simply because it would allow our military to mine it for plutonium in the future. If true, the thorium reactor may not have much of a market in the US anyway.

Re:Ideas (1)

Prune (557140) | more than 6 years ago | (#23347958)

How large would be the theoretically smallest fission reactor that could be created? (not bomb but controlled fission) I know it's a bit offtopic but I didn't know where else to ask

Re:Ideas (0)

Dirtside (91468) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345912)

brainstorming... which is universally known to be a really bad way to come up with ideas
It... is? Perhaps you could link to some of the undoubtedly numerous peer-reviewed scientific articles that prove your claim? Because I guess in the universe I'm in, this "fact" isn't universally known.

Completely Viable Business (1)

v(*_*)vvvv (233078) | more than 6 years ago | (#23346314)

There are ideas, there are engineers, there are marketing and sales people... Companies, let alone *people*, rarely do it all. This company is simply placing its focus on the idea part of business, which is a completely viable thing to do. Whether they will succeed is another story, but to argue they are BS is BS.

Are they patent trolls? Maybe. But ideas do have value, as long as patents have value. Litigation can only happen if patents are being violated, and that is why IP management is so important. The system is what it is, and these are the rules we are forced to deal with.

Ideas have value, but ... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23346816)

Are they patent trolls? Maybe. But ideas do have value, as long as patents have value. Litigation can only happen if patents are being violated, and that is why IP management is so important.

Ideas have value, but what they don't have is natural ownership. By unnaturally imposing ownership on them through patents, the value they have for the community of producers is reduced, while the value they have for legal leeches who produce nothing is increased. And that's a disastrous tradeoff for community.

Re:Ideas have value, but ... (1)

v(*_*)vvvv (233078) | more than 6 years ago | (#23348044)

Unfortunately the system is already in place, and so patents in business become a necessity, and the emergence of a company such as this is only natural.

Although I hate patent trolls as much as everyone else, at least these guys are "inventing" are they not? Even in the worst case senario where they hog all their inventions, once the patent expires they're public domain. They also claim otherwise:

Our current focus is on developing our invention portfolio. Over time, we intend to market our portfolio on a broad and non-exclusive basis through a variety of channels including spin-out companies.

patent troll (5, Insightful)

biot (12537) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345016)

Developing ideas? Give me a break, they buy patents and sell licenses. It's your basic patent troll outfit.

Re:patent troll (4, Funny)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345470)

Developing ideas? Give me a break, they buy patents and sell licenses. It's your basic patent troll outfit.
But they're really smart people and they are brainstorming and they are nurturing ideas and they are from Bellevue Washington where all the real Microsofties live, so they must be innovating...

Re:patent troll (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 6 years ago | (#23346888)

That's like saying a software company like Microsoft just a copyright license for what developers produce, bundles together their work and sells licenses to that bundle to customers. It's true, but it misses the fact that that company is actually providing a service to both the software engineers and the customers who buy software.

Re:patent troll (1)

mollymoo (202721) | more than 6 years ago | (#23348004)

TFA didn't mention them buying patents. They have a bunch of absurdly clever, motivated people from different disciplines who get together and invent (conceptually) things. Those ideas are passed on to a bunch of merely extremely clever people who do the detail work and, if in the end they come up with something workable, they patent it and license the patents. That's a somewhat different process to merely buying and licensing patents. It's inventing without aiming to be the end producer, which is exactly how many inventors work.

As far as I'm concerned whether or not it's a good thing depends on how close their output is to working designs. If they invent a new type of safe nuclear reactor which runs on waste and just needs a bit of engineering to come up with blueprints before it can be put into production, how is that a bad thing? If they don't actually solve the core problems and can get away with overly-broad patents which essentially just convey a concept, but wouldn't allow someone skilled in the art to construct a working device then it's a bad thing (and indicative of a broken patent system). The fact that they're hiring a nuclear reactor core designer suggests they are at least making some attempt to produce workable designs.

Slave masters (5, Insightful)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345022)

Though we've discussed Myhrvold and his company in the past, the New Yorker focuses more on how incredible it is to have a group of very intelligent people sitting around a table developing ideas.
Developing ideas? No, they are not developing ideas. To develop an idea one must nurture it into a product or service that helps humanity. What these people are doing is enslaving ideas. They are taking what could possibly benefit you and I, and encumbering them in chains.

Re:Slave masters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23345278)

What you're talking about is delevoping a product or service. You need ideas first. If no one comes up with the idea, nothing will come of it. The whole point of the patent system is that people will come up with ideas for profit so that they can be freely developed by anyone after the patent expires. Everyone wins from this type of behavior.

Re:Slave masters (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345620)

Society is encumbering the ideas. Their paper isn't magic, it gets its meaning from the legal system.

That doesn't change the fact that it sucks.

Misuse of the system (2, Insightful)

Chmcginn (201645) | more than 6 years ago | (#23346274)

Society is encumbering the ideas. Their paper isn't magic, it gets its meaning from the legal system.
This is true, but the system in place is one that a lot of people feel is necessary to some extent. For the basement developer who comes up with an idea and makes a prototype working weekends in his home workshop, getting a patent for something useful is the end result of years of hard work. But getting a patent for 4 hours of sitting around brainstorming, and coming up with an idea that may not even be possible seems to be a definite abuse of the system.

Re:Misuse of the system (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#23348050)

When you classify more activity as misuse than you classify as use (I get the impression that you would agree that this is the case), the problem isn't that people are misusing the system, the problem is that the system is broken.

That's what we need... (3, Funny)

narfman0 (979017) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345028)

An idea pimp!

Re:That's what we need... (5, Insightful)

explosivejared (1186049) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345214)

Personally, I think you give these guys too much credit. Pimps are the epitome of coolness. Fancy, flamboyant suits, canes, and ostentatious jewelry are great. Plus, pimps are cultural hearths. The language of my generation was pretty much developed entirely by pimps and their siblings, "playas". These guys the article is talking about are more like the white cracker, slavemasters of ideas. In short, they are totally not cool.

Re:That's what we need... (1)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345424)

plus, as we all know, "pimpin' ain't easy."

Any 'tard can come up with ideas -- doesn't mean they're any good. It also doesn't mean they'll work, and without a prototype requirement, then there is no way to prove that a so-called "idea" is going to go anywhere to people you're trying to sell the patent to.

I'm not sure I feel sorry for people who blow money on whatever it is these people are pushing.

Re:That's what we need... (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 6 years ago | (#23346914)

I'm amazed you got moderated up for that. You realise pimps are slavemasters, right? And that Nazis had style too, so style isn't indicative of your worth as an individual. In fact from my experience it's inversely proportional.

It's sickening how quick people are willing to consider slavemasters 'the epitome of cool' just because they have a brown skin and an ostentatious suit.

Re:That's what we need... (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 6 years ago | (#23346896)

Hey, I own that idea!

Oh god.... (1)

bobwrit (1232148) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345052)

An company that invents your ideas for you. How lazy can you get?

"passive thorium reactor" (4, Insightful)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345056)

I always thought that a working model was required in order to patent a 'thing'. How can they possibly know that it will work or what other patents are required in order to impliment said patent if all they did was to sit around a table and discuss ideas found in other papers?

Re: "passive thorium reactor" (3, Informative)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345114)

huh? Where have you been for the last 100 years dude? Yes, this is a good example of why the patent system is broken.. but its been that way for quite a while now.

Re: "passive thorium reactor" (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23345652)

"The dinosaurs are extinct because they didn't have a space program, but imagine the hilarity if they did!"

hate to give you a rude awakening... but... NASA's only plan in the case of a large space bound object coming at the earth, that on impact would destroy all sentient life... is an old military project that would be a massive massive deep space space craft that would have to be built, in pieced in orbit, and propelled by detonation of atomic bombs!

it's the only fuel source with enough energy density To Get That Far Out Into Space to either destroy, or steer into jupiter etc, Before it Was In The Point Of No Earth Life Survival Range...

AN unproven technology, that was never even tested, is The Best we Can Come Up With... for what scientists believe destroyed the dinosaurs...

although I kinda like the global cooling mass extinction theory, where plant life evolved so that it could produce O faster than animal life could produce CO2, causing an ice age that destroyed the lifeforms dinosaurs needed to survive. there could have been a big comet, etc, but then, where is the crater, they don't just go away you know. Global weather change can cause massive drought, massive annual firestorms among leafy plants like ferns, who can grow quickly then dry out fast, and create a huge ash layer, with no crater, all from global cooling.

It takes a long time for nature to cool the planet, if enough plant life is on solid ground and keeps burning down once or more a year..

until the crater is found ash layers can be explained by annual or more frequent massive firestorms over enough years where plants can regrow in one season to burn down in the next.

So really dinosaurs needed massive massive fossil fuel plants to keep CO2 levels high enough, ah the irony.

Re: "passive thorium reactor" (1)

YttriumOxide (837412) | more than 6 years ago | (#23346938)

there could have been a big comet, etc, but then, where is the crater, they don't just go away you know.

You're right, they don't...
Overview - [1 [redorbit.com] ] [2 [gwaihir.org] ]
Chicxulub - [1 [nasa.gov] ] [2 [wikipedia.org] ]
Shiva - [1 [wikipedia.org] ] [2 [spacedaily.com] ]
Boltysh - [1 [wikipedia.org] ] [2 [open.ac.uk] ]
And probably more, such as the Silverpit crater [wikipedia.org] , although that's a bit more debated.

Re: "passive thorium reactor" (1, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345270)

Uh, the basic idea with the patent system was that you'd get a patent so investors with money couldn't just take your idea and run with it themselves.

No patents:
1. Come up with good idea
2. Talk to investors about idea
3. Investors run with it themselves
4. No profit

Patents:
1. Come up with good idea
2. Patent idea
3. Talk to investors about idea
4. Make the product with investors
5. Profit

Least, that was the idea with the big engineering patents at least. With the "soft" patents that are basicly done the moment you put the drivel down on paper, I agree it doesn't make much sense. Sadly the current state is more like trolls patent bits A, B and C which don't work, then someone figures out to build a real product ABCXYZ which actually works, then gets sued to hell. Oh well...

Re: "passive thorium reactor" (1)

badboy_tw2002 (524611) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345416)

If they did ABCXYZ that's ok - they can do that and in fact write a new patent for it. The problem is that these companies are getting the equivalent of the 1. X 2. ??? 3 PROFIT! patents where they figure out A..Z, someone comes in with BCXY and they get the shit sued out of them. The problem lies with the patent office granting bad patents and courts upholding them. And of course, that doesn't even get into business method/software patents where this stuff really comes into play.

Re: "passive thorium reactor" (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345568)

Yawn, that's what non-disclosure agreements are for.

The purpose of a patent is so that you can keep your competitors from adopting your newest innovation, thus giving you an advantage in the market place for a limited time in return for disclosing how your invention works.

Originally patents were a means for attracting skilled immigrants to come set up shop.

Re: "passive thorium reactor" (1)

kesuki (321456) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345576)

"How can they possibly know that it will work or what other patents are required in order to impliment said patent if all they did was to sit around a table and discuss ideas found in other papers?"

Well if another company named 'thorium power' had been developing a way to make thorium/uranium/plutonium rods... the plutonium to activate the thorium the thorium to create energy and activate the uranium, which creates energy and keeps the thorium going..

and they didn't patent every single idea that was possible(who could do that ins a small startup), and along came a patent troll reads their patents and comes up with a solution to problems they've been working on over the past 2 years, and patents it... well you've got a problem.

and in this case it sounds exactly like that is what's been going on...

Re: "passive thorium reactor" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23345640)

A new Ruling in patent law could change the allowance of these kind of prophetic claims. As I understand it the bar for acceptance for the "reduction to practice" has just been dramatically reinterpreted. Now due to a ruling by the supreme court on interpretation of the law (not a change in the law itself) they want real data to allow a claim within the patent application. What we used to call prophetic claims are no longer allowed. Until now if you could make the reasonable case that you were actively working on the project the claim would be allowed. Now however, prophetic claims will not be allowed, you will need to really demonstrate that it works, and so in my judgment should mean that patent troll activities from companies like Myhrvold's should not issue. More specifically it means they should not issue from now on but who knows how many have already been issued.

And of course you can count on lawyers to litigate whether or not a patent has real merits or not, such as in the case of SCO.

Perspiration (4, Insightful)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 6 years ago | (#23346180)

That's the problem with these types - they do the 2% inspiration, but skip the 98% perspiration. If somebody else does the 98%, they sue.

So much for "promoting science and the useful arts..." - ergo, IMHO, unconstitutional.

Right, and here's how to fix it... (2, Insightful)

msouth (10321) | more than 6 years ago | (#23346810)

Here's a standard that would help fix the kind of behavior which, as you point out, does the opposite of the founding fathers' intention with patents.

When you show up with your idea that you think deserves protection, the patent examiner's first duty is to look at what evidence you provide that this idea has been economically feasible for 20 years, and no one has done it yet.

If it has been feasible for 20 years, then there is a market that could support it, and there are big players in that market, and the lone inventor knows that the minute he puts the idea out there, one of the established players will swoop in, copy it, and laugh at the inventor. The inventor, knowing this, just doesn't bother making it because going through all that work to have someone else come in and cash in on it doesn't make sense (not to most people, I mean).

We know the idea is clever and/or hard to come up with because no one has come up with it for 20 years, even though it has been feasible all this time.

Take the Chip Clip (a wide spring clip used for holding plastic bags of snacks closed after they have been opened to keep the remainder fresh). I have no idea whether it was patented or not, but it deserved patent protection, in my opinion, because it was clear that it had been within the ability of humans to make such a clip 20 years previous. Just no one did it. So we say "ok, it was feasible for 20 years, no one did it, you can have a monopoly on it for the next 20" or whatever the term is.

Now, Amazon's one-click--they just look at that and laugh, and say "sorry buddy, come back and tell us something interesting when the web has been around for 20 years, kthxbye."

Re:Right, and here's how to fix it... (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 6 years ago | (#23346992)

Why would you innovate with new technology then, if BigCo can just come in and copy it? I think your proposal is just another way to encourage major corporations to sew up the markets, much as the current system does. Might as well drop the R&D department entirely, and just do pure manufacturing, copying suckers' plans.

Another hard problem to solve is that often the value of a patented invention is that somebody finally thought to ask the right question. If you ask the question, the answer isn't all that hard to come by, but sometimes people can go decades without every finding the right question. Science can work this way also, like when Joule got a better thermometer for his still, then we had the Empire State Building 70 years later (his insights lead to thermodynamics, lead to air condition, made skyscrapers inhabitable).

The case of 1-Click should probably be relegated to the examiner and judges. 'Obviousness' I don't think is easy to measure, but humans are good at judgment.

The best solution I've heard is to double the cost on each patent application per year. The first one costs $200, the next $400, then $800, $1600, etc.

Your patent troll's 500th patent of the year costs $6.54678121579228e+152 to file. Even Bill Gates is starting to think that's real money.

Re:Right, and here's how to fix it... (2, Interesting)

darthflo (1095225) | more than 6 years ago | (#23347154)

Your patent troll's 500th patent of the year costs $6.54678121579228e+152 to file. Even Bill Gates is starting to think that's real money.
I like that general idea, but it just wouldn't work:
- Patent trolls like Intellectual Ventures could simply start tons of shell companies. If the cost of creating one of these was, say, $1k, they'd get themselves some 167 "independent subdivisions", getting the price down to $800 per patent.
- Some giant companies may actually come up with lots and lots of ideas. The likes of IBM, Bosch (iirc those guys file tons of patents), Microsoft or even Apple probably spend more than Int. Ventures' annual revenue on their R&D departments' janitors' coffee (if available). To add at least a touch of fairness, they'd need to be entitled to more patents, probably on a sliding scale based on the number of employees.

I thought you couldn't patent an idea... (2, Informative)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345156)

..only an implementation?

Patentable Subject Matter. Assuming the criteria described in the next section are also satisfied, any new and useful process, machine, manufac- ture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement of these things, can be patented. These cate- gories are quite broad, but the courts have identified certain types of subject matter that cannot be patented, including laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas.

(from Can You Patent That?" [ftc.gov] )

It's a semantic game ... (2, Informative)

Pinky's Brain (1158667) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345202)

Played by patent proponents, it's a useless distinction which holds no information. Empty words and misdirection.

Re:I thought you couldn't patent an idea... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23345936)

You can patent any thing, as long as it involves a reasonable http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inventive_step_and_non-obviousnessinventivestep [wikipedia.org] . You can ask yourself the question "Is the invention that I am proposing something that was obvious to any skilled person in the field aware of the state of the art"? It always comes down to interpretation though. In the example from TFA regarding a blood filter, filters with varying components (i.e. AlOx, Cellulose, activated carbon) are everywhere. The creator of a filter Ii.e a 0.22 Micron would be useful for letting blood cells through, but catching body cells i.e. a cancer cell will most likely be patented for filtration and separation of biological materials (cells, bacteria, etc) according to it pore size. Is sticking one of these things into the blood stream to filter cancer cells a significant inventive step given you are still just filtering biological materials from biological materials? Probably not. But overcoming some of the hurdles to make this innovation actually work like making it sufficiently inert to be put into a body with porosity that will catch cancers and not significantly restrict blood flow would be a significantly inventive step. (assuming that someone else has not already patented these properties in a filter). Be wary though, patent lawyers will always draft you a patent, even if you just have the smallest glimmer of hope that your invention might work. They have already made 200K on patent fees by the time you could reasonably bring an invention like this to a marketable product, at which point if people think you are infringing, you will know about it. The patent attorney then says "there were always risks of infringing on prior art with this innovation" and then charge you another $500 for this gem of wisdom. You being a small entrepreneur and they being a huge multinational conglomerate, hopefully youve got some trade secrets to sell to them.

You americans think you are so fucking great (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23345166)

What have you done lately? Killing babies, mothers, brothers, daughters, and fathers. !JIHAD

Re:You americans think you are so fucking great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23345198)

What? You mean TF2 is real?!

Well maybe next time you'll think twice... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23345200)

before crashing planes full of civilians into offices full of civilians - many of whom were not Americans, btw. You see - that's Islam's dirty little secret: most Muslims who die violently do so at the hands of other Muslims. Have fun killing yourselves, losers.

Re:Well maybe next time you'll think twice... (3, Insightful)

YttriumOxide (837412) | more than 6 years ago | (#23346970)

Please don't use the word "Muslims" like that... it's tarring all people of one belief with the same brush.

It's probably equally as accurate to say that most Christians who die violently do so at the hands of other Christians. (although I have no cite for this, just as you have no cite for your Troll)

(disclaimer: I'm not a Muslim or a Christian - in fact, I'm a staunch atheist that thinks both the Muslim and Christian faiths are COMPLETELY ridiculous. I just don't like it when people fuel hatred in this manner)

Re:You americans think you are so fucking great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23345882)

maybe you guys should get in on some H1B Visas and start patenting weapons systems

and yes, that does kinda make us great.

I have seen it before (1)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345208)

MICHAEL (CONT'D)
This month is going to be bigger. It's
actually going to be the biggest month
we've ever had. We've got a new issue
I want to talk to you about. It's
called Med Patent. They've just
designed the world's first retractable
syringe. This means that doctors and
nurses will never again have to worry
about infection from dirty needles.
This is not going to be an alternative
in the medical world, it's going to be
the standard. We all know we're here
to make money, but if we can do
something good like this, then all the
better. So I want you all to go out
and buy yourselves a new car, or a
house. Whatever you want. Go into
debt. You will make a million inside
of six months.
-- from Boiler Room movie script.

Perpetual Monopoly Machine (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345228)

What Myhrvold demonstates is that helping run a monopoly is a great way to make enough money to hire people to create patent monopolies to make more money to make more patent monopolies.

Great idea, but Myhrvold didn't invent it. Luckily, he can't patent it, either.

New Yorker is a pathetic tribal mouthpiece (1)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345232)

New Yorker is a pathetic tribal mouthpiece that would celebrate anybody with the name Nathan.

but they aren't intelligent (0)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345240)

not that the NY times is very credible, but all the SMART people are actually out there making things work, not just sitting around like a bunch of stoners cooking up 1/2 baked idea's.

You're an optimist ... (2, Insightful)

Pinky's Brain (1158667) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345288)

The chance of people being assholes is wholly uncorrelated with their intelligence. As far as risk/reward/effort goes patent trolling is a better deal than being an engineer in a start up.

What a great idea... (3, Funny)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345246)

"the New Yorker focuses more on how incredible it is to have a group of very intelligent people sitting around a table developing ideas."

Hey, maybe the place where they THINK could be called a TANK. I can't believe no one's thought of this before!

Re:What a great idea... (1)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345666)

I modern usage the term "think tank" is most often applied to organizations [wikipedia.org] issuing authoritatively-sounding opinion pieces on controversial topics for propaganda purposes, so even patent trolls don't want to be associated with it.

I'm not impressed by "inventors" (4, Insightful)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345328)

I saw a post on the blog Technology Liberation Front that pointed out that most of their ideas don't pan out. They just don't even work. You know what many of those "inventors" sound like?

The same sort of person who would fit in well with "social scientists." It's great that you are smart and have ideas, but I could give a shit less about your "ideas" if you cannot make a functioning prototype of them.

Our society should have precious little tolerance for people who only come up with ideas on paper, without being able to put them into practice.

Re:I'm not impressed by "inventors" (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345626)

I like novels just fine thanks.

Re:I'm not impressed by "inventors" (1)

RobBebop (947356) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345716)

Our society should have precious little tolerance for people who only come up with ideas on paper, without being able to put them into practice.

I disagree. If somebody is good at thinking of innovative ideas, power to them. I fully support the right of these people to establish themselves within an industry where their ideas are suitably marketable so that they can earn a living.

What I disagree with is the fact that these bastards seem like they are being greedy about it. There is no need to pretend they are making positive contributions to the world when their goal is to milk the business community for their hard earned cash.

Re:I'm not impressed by "inventors" (1)

YttriumOxide (837412) | more than 6 years ago | (#23346994)

Indeed... Everyone seems to have their own ideas on patent reform, and while I'm more in favour of some of the "bigger" measures, a simple "little" measure that would probably help would be to say that if you have no business plan to actually use your patent, and someone else does, then they have a defacto right to purchase the patent from you.

It would stop this kind of patent troll that patents ideas and then nickle-and-dimes others out of their cash. The "idea companies" (as this one claims to be) could still exist, and would make money from SELLING the patents to other people who think the idea has merit, but not a cent after that.

Re:I'm not impressed by "inventors" (1)

darthflo (1095225) | more than 6 years ago | (#23347212)

In a similar discussion, not too long ago, somebody had the idea of adding a patent tax and (re-)valuing patents in an auction-style fashion every five years or so.
The five year period would give startups ample time to capitalize on the idea and gather enough cash to assign some value to their patent and pay the taxes for the next few years.
Licensing probably would have to be thought over as patent ownership would be fluctuating a lot, but given a well thought out system, a lot of the new patent tax could be offset that way.
Also, to get patent litigation down to a less fucked up level, throw a mandatory auction before any court proceedings.

Everybody wins!

Re:I'm not impressed by "inventors" (0, Redundant)

SoupIsGoodFood_42 (521389) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345752)

Yeah, because less tolerance is what society really needs right now -- That will solve things.

Re:I'm not impressed by "inventors" (1)

spicate (667270) | more than 6 years ago | (#23346466)

Our society should have precious little tolerance for people who only come up with ideas on paper, without being able to put them into practice.
You think we should get rid of all the theorists in physics, chemistry, biology, etc., not to mention philosophy and literature? Good thing you aren't the one making the decisions!

Elisha Gray and the telephone (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23345360)

English majors who write on scientific matters for laymen seem to delight in such unexpected phenomena as near-simultaneous discovery and invention by geniuses working independently.

At least one researcher has come up with a more prosaic explanation [amazon.com] for the coincidental telephone patent filings - he believes that Bell bribed a patent office employee to show him Gray's filing, after which Bell returned to his lab, completely revised his approach, and soon re-filed with a description of his triumphant "invention".

This strikes me as entirely believable. I've learned that even among highly educated engineers, there are pathological liars who have no qualms about taking credit for excellent work done by others, if they think they can get away with it. Think of it as the engineering version of "Bosnian sniper fire". And don't believe everything you see on a resume.

Good not evil? (3, Interesting)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345434)

Though we've discussed Myhrvold and his company in the past, the New Yorker focuses more on how incredible it is to have a group of very intelligent people sitting around a table developing ideas.
Filing about 500 patents a year...

Oh, I see, these are good patents not evil patents. Yes...

I hate these patent farms (5, Informative)

Awptimus Prime (695459) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345456)

While this shit may sound good for some of you, I recently began doing research on a project to build water transportation using alternative energy.

Well guess what? One guy ownes ALL rights to the most common sense approaches, yet refuses to bring his product to market. Prior to my investigation, all my 'original' ideas have already been thought of , registered, and accepted. The only way I could move forward would be to pay someone who didn't do anything to help my work some money for every sale. That is, if he'd even respond to inquiries.

It gave me an edge for the future. If the system is going to be bound by such things, I am going to register every stupid thing I come across that hasn't been registered yet. If I can't invent without being stifled, why should anyone else?

Re:I hate these patent farms (3, Insightful)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345604)

this is the problem i have with the patent system as well. it doesn't reward people for being productive. drastic change needs to happen

Re:I hate these patent farms (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23345736)

I say just do it and if they come after you once you start making money, then argue it in the court of the popular press. If that fails go to Mexico and do it.

Re:I hate these patent farms (1)

Richard W.M. Jones (591125) | more than 6 years ago | (#23347232)

It gave me an edge for the future. If the system is going to be bound by such things, I am going to register every stupid thing I come across that hasn't been registered yet. If I can't invent without being stifled, why should anyone else?

Fortunately (for Russia & China), unfortunately for the West, such a future won't come about. It's a bad idea to base your entire economy on something which is easily copied by people who don't care about the artificial constraints you put on yourself, and at the same time to ship off all your jobs and manufacturing over to the same people. They don't care about your silly copy restrictions, and you give them all the how-to and know-how so they can make the products successfully on their own. Can anyone see the flaw in this plan?

Rich.

Re:I hate these patent farms (2, Insightful)

eobet (959982) | more than 6 years ago | (#23347478)

If I can't invent without being stifled, why should anyone else?
How about finding a way, doing the right thing, doing it for humanity?

I mean, if you won't and instead do what you said you would, you're no better than the loathesome trolls and in that case, what do you contribute to society?

Sadly, not many are willing to put in the effort required to do great things, so it becomes even harder for those few who try.

Nathan Myhrvold (1)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345472)

>> Nathan Myhrvold

Gesundheit

Phooey (1)

jo42 (227475) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345596)

how incredible it is to have a group of very intelligent people sitting around a table developing ideas
Anyone can sit around a table "developing ideas" - the hard part is making them into reality.

Re:Phooey (1)

BiggerIsBetter (682164) | more than 6 years ago | (#23347796)

Anyone can sit around a table "developing ideas" - the hard part is making them into reality.
Your reality and theirs is different. Reality for these guys is something profitable, which given their chosen business model, means something patentable. But it doesn't have to be practical, doable, or reasonable, or any of the other considerations us less motivated folks would consider necessary in our reality. Think about it - their competitors are fools like you and me, so of course they will win with that approach!

And a couple of other points to consider:
1) It's easier to make money by NOT being original.
2) They're gaming the system.
3) It obviously works.
4) ???
5) Profit.

I'd rather listen to... (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345616)

...Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.

Patent trolls (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23345704)

These people are patent trolls. Very simple. Since he has dinosaurs, people think he's interesting. But they're still trolls.

They are parasites (4, Insightful)

HEbGb (6544) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345732)

I was going to jump in and describe this company as being a bunch of parasitic patent trolls, who create zero value for the world, but instead suck value from people doing REAL work.

But it looks like plenty of people have already made that point. Excellent!

These people should not be glamorized, they should be roundly criticized for being lowlife parasites.

THAT Nathan Myhrvold... (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23345858)

And don't forget, this is the Nathan Myhrvold who asserted (while working for Microsoft) that Microsoft deserved a cut of every transaction made over the internet.

Reminds me of something I wrote a few years ago (4, Insightful)

argoff (142580) | more than 6 years ago | (#23345990)

http://yro.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=168820&cid=14072468 [slashdot.org]

Bottom line, patents are anti free-market, they are not property, they are not incentive, they are not protection. Rather brought to their logical conclusion they are genocidal.

techdirt (1)

macshit (157376) | more than 6 years ago | (#23346030)

There's an rather insightful comment by Mike Masnick at techdirt.com [techdirt.com] about this New Yorker story.

As he notes, the story first tries to show that many important ideas are invented simultaneously by multiple parties ... but then completely fails to ask the obvious question: If such ideas' "time has come", so to speak, why are we granting a legal monopoly to someone who has no intention of developing them?

Intellectual Ventures?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23346044)

Sounds more like Intellectual Vampires, to me...

decadent science (2, Insightful)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 6 years ago | (#23346124)

There definitely is value in getting different kinds of scientific people together to talk about specific problems. I've been to some conferences like that, and it's great. ... but I won't patent the hoped for results of the experiments I'd like to do over the next ten years. Most of us in science can't get away with that kind of stuff, we can't afford it financially and we value the respect of our peers too much. Most of us can't afford to put a T. Rex skeleton in our living rooms, or have lawyers around to record our dinner conversations either.

caustic (1)

hyperball (1038196) | more than 6 years ago | (#23346140)

Why is having a geek-board tank thinking of problems and patents wrong? I mean, it is certainly better than paying millions to a lobby group to ban alcohol. I know, some people in I.V. worked for Msoft. Some may not have great credentials, but seriously, why flame them when at least they are trying to find ways to develop technologies that can help us? In any way you think of, it is a laudable enterprise by people like the /. public. I don't think the criticism here is helpful.

there's another thing, somewhat different. The article is kind of naive: It claims "ideas are in the air" ... but that (ironically) thae same process that was proposed by Marx during 1860's. He said ideas and "insights" were all conditioned by their historical circumstance(whatever we can think is a product of our current society). I'm not going to go deep into Marx, it's just that its kind of a downer to read a "novel idea" of a statement that was made more than 150 years ago.

They aren't developing technologies (1)

Pinky's Brain (1158667) | more than 6 years ago | (#23348086)

They are trying to find steps which are unavoidable in the development of technologies. Not quite the same thing.

A person skilled in the art could not make anything which actually worked from their patents without making many more innovative steps ... if they actually developed a technology that would not be true.

We need open source ideas! (1)

jberryman (1175517) | more than 6 years ago | (#23346266)

I was about to post, encouraging people to write the author of that column, but the idea struck me: what if there was an open source "community" for ideas?... and that's when I realized that that is pretty much how the patent system was originally meant to function.

There should be a website where people can make known to the world their ideas. At least might that act as some prior art and save an idea or two from the patent trolls?

what a joke (1)

nguy (1207026) | more than 6 years ago | (#23347040)

This company is typical for Myhrvold. Read about Myhrvold's "cool idea for image compression" here [washingtonpost.com] . Trouble is: he hadn't done his homework, and this stuff had been invented several times before. But, hey, he is a physics Ph.D. who studied with Hawking, he must be so much smarter than everybody else that it isn't necessary to do his homework, right?

His patent troll company is likely to do the same thing: reinvent a lot of stuff that people already know, and get a bunch of patents that nobody who actually knows the field would have even considered patenting.
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