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The Death of Nearly All Software Patents?

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the we-can-only-hope dept.

Patents 731

An anonymous reader writes "The Patent and Trademark Office has now made clear that its newly developed position on patentable subject matter will invalidate many and perhaps most software patents, including pioneering patent claims to such innovators as Google, Inc. In a series of cases including In re Nuijten, In re Comiskey and In re Bilski, the Patent and Trademark Office has argued in favor of imposing new restrictions on the scope of patentable subject matter set forth by Congress in article 101 of the Patent Act. In the most recent of these three — the currently pending en banc Bilski appeal — the Office takes the position that process inventions generally are unpatentable unless they 'result in a physical transformation of an article' or are 'tied to a particular machine.'"

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731 comments

This violates my patent (5, Funny)

Pennidren (1211474) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319215)

Invalidation of software patents was patented by me back in 2003.

Re:This violates my patent (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24319303)

You just violated my patents on patent-ing invalidation of....

Aw fuck it...

Re:This violates my patent (5, Funny)

eln (21727) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319813)

I patented the use of curse words for humor value in Slashdot comments years ago. If I ever decide to enforce that patent, all of you fuckers are doomed.

Re:This violates my patent (-1, Redundant)

SpuriousLogic (1183411) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319321)

I patented the ability to talk about patent news stories in a threaded manner. Pay up suckers.

This violates my patent (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24319461)

I patented statement of patent ownership on online message boards in 2005. I'm afraid you're in violation of my patent.

Re:This violates my patent (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24319707)

I'm afraid his 2003 patent claim counts as prior art to your 2005 patent ownership statement patent.

Unfortunately for both of you, you're violating my 1997 patent on Invalidating a Patent Claim Through Use of Prior Art.

Re:This violates my patent (5, Funny)

neokushan (932374) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319843)

Well you're all in deep shit, I patented "beating a dead horse through overuse of a tired old joke" way back in 1996, so you'd better get wise

This is the first post I'm making informing you of your new, patent-holding, overlord. I suggest you welcome him, you insensitive Clod!

Tied to a machine? (5, Funny)

RandoX (828285) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319227)

Sounds like the machine that these patents are going to be tied to is the Titanic.

Patent Pending (5, Funny)

tensop (1232374) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319243)

Someone should jump the gun and patent the idea that software cannot be patented. Then sue the trademark office for patent infringement.

Re:Patent Pending (3, Insightful)

Presto Vivace (882157) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319347)

Actually I assume that this ruling will be litigated.

Re:Patent Pending (2, Funny)

rah1420 (234198) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319411)

Ah, good. We can then get patent lawyers and lawyers in the room at the same time. Too bad we can't patent that as a cure for insomnia. Or can we? I'm so confused....

About damn time! (3, Insightful)

neowolf (173735) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319255)

The subject says it all.

Re:About damn time! (3, Funny)

SleptThroughClass (1127287) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319307)

This calls for a Kermit full-waving "YAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!"

Re:About damn time! (-1)

AshtangiMan (684031) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319681)

"Eat that sh*t".

this is a joke, not a troll or a flame

Re:About damn time! (5, Funny)

b4thyme (1120461) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319425)

And millions of patent troll voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced...

It's about time (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24319261)

Sanity at last...

Good (5, Insightful)

Lord Apathy (584315) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319265)

Thus is a good thing. Patenting software is like patenting a math equation. I can understand software copyrights but not a freaking patent. I wonder how this will affect the cases that where already in court.

Now if we can only get some sense in patents regarding biology. By the way my patent on the biological reproductive process in humans will go into affect today. So all you with kids prepare to cough up.

Re:Good (5, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319365)

Patenting software is like patenting a math equation.

It's not even "like", it is patenting math. Software is math. Someone might say that everything can be reduced to math, but the fact is that a ball tossed in the air may follow a parabola, but the ball isn't math, it is just described by math. Whereas software is math, as surely as "y = ax^2 + bx + c" is math. One is a human-readable representation of a pure mathematical concept, and software is a machine-readable representation of a pure mathematical concept. You can't patent the human-readable form of math, you should not be able to patent the machine-readable form of the exact same math.

You can patent the machine that is capable of reading and acting on the mathematical operations described by the software. But not the software itself, because that is, literally, no metaphor at all, patenting math.

Re:Good (1, Interesting)

eggstasy (458692) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319673)

You could just as well argue that nothing is patenteable, as a patent contains the human-readable method for doing something, and software is a machine-readable method for doing something.
Analogies... everybody has one and they all stink :)

Re:Good (4, Insightful)

Locklin (1074657) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319767)

Your not patenting the patent; you are patenting the physical machine. Of course a patent is not patentable, just like software should not be patentable.

GP was NOT making an analogy, GP was making the assertion that software IS ACTUALLY, FOR ALL INTENTS AND PURPOSES math.

Re:Good (4, Informative)

Khalid (31037) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319725)

You are completly right, there is even a mathematical foundation for this, it's called the Curry-Howard correspondence : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curry_Howard [wikipedia.org] ; which says : "The Curry-Howard correspondence is the direct relationship between computer programs and mathematical proofs. Also known as Curry-Howard isomorphism, proofs-as-programs correspondence and formulae-as-types correspondence, it refers to the generalization of a syntactic analogy between systems of formal logic and computational calculi that was first discovered by the American mathematician Haskell Curry and logician William Alvin Howard."

Re:Good (5, Insightful)

Klaus_1250 (987230) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319749)

By that same logic, doesn't that void patenting genes as well, as Genes are natures version of software?

Re:Good (0)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319755)

I think software can be described as unpatentable with this simple claim:

"There is no spoon."

Think about it.

Re:Good (3, Funny)

denis-The-menace (471988) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319373)

I agree with you but now I'll have to find a new sig! Damn!

Re:Good (5, Informative)

thermian (1267986) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319547)

During my phd I created a dynamically resizing matrix like structure for representing gene networks of arbitrary size.
Shortly after this I found that something effectively identical had been granted a patent in the US.

The patent didn't effect me at all, so I wasn't concerned on that front. What shocked me was that a patent had been granted for it at all.

The design was useful for me, because it reduced memory usage by around 96%, but in no way was it something that should have been granted a patent.

I imagine that patent will cause some researchers problems unless reforms prevent its usage. I've not heard of it being used offensively yet, I assume the holder will be waiting for a chance to get some serious settlement cash.

Re:Good (5, Insightful)

Mouse42 (765369) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319875)

From my experience with watching how the companies I work for treat patents, they aren't used offensively. They are used to:

A) Show proof of innovation to venture capitalists, stock holders and management
B) Ensure they will have the right to use that process, so some other guy won't use a patent offensively against them.

I would say the patent you're discussing falls under A.

However, that certainly doesn't stop a patent troll from buying the company who has the patent and then using it offensively.

Not good (5, Insightful)

5pp000 (873881) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319557)

I don't agree. Once again, patent policy is being set by people who obviously don't understand the technology, and so, having lurched from one extreme to the other back in the 1980s, we're now going to lurch to a new extreme that is also not going to make sense. If you read TFA closely to the end, you'll see that somehow two connected computers constitutes a "particular machine", where one does not. This doesn't make any sense, and is going to result in an arbitrary selection of which patents are valid and which aren't.

I understand that many people feel that software patents are so broken they should be thrown out. I don't agree. I think the problem with software patents is that the PTO never has had adequate expertise concerning prior art in the industry, and largely as a consequence, the bar for obviousness has been set about two orders of magnitude too low.

Re:Not good (1)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319795)

I was also startled by the "two connected machines", but I don't think we should worry about multiprocessors, because they tend to become a "general purpose machine".

Re:Not good (1)

pfleming (683342) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319805)

"A particular machine" is used to describe one computer not two connected computers.

The Board concluded that the collection of the two âoephysical computing devicesâ operating together âoeis âa particular apparatusâ(TM) to which the process is tied, not simply a generic computing device for performing the steps.â[19] Distribution of the process over two general purpose computing devices quite clearly seems to be the key to patentability in the Boardâ(TM)s view, for the Board emphasized that the narrower claim covered only the embodiment in Wasynczukâ(TM)s specification that âoeuses two computing devicesâ not the embodiment that âoeuses a single computer.â[20]

Re:Not good (5, Insightful)

malkavian (9512) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319845)

Bear in mind obsolescence and market saturation times as well.
Patents were developed with a long time to market and market saturation time (i.e. several years to ramp up production, then about 10-15 years to get a market using this as almost a standard), which ate up about half of the patent time. So you had about the same time again to enjoy the benefits of a stable market before the floodgates were opened, and everyone could make it.

In the software world, a technique can have the development time of hours. Market saturation can happen in weeks/months.

If software were to be patentable in its current form, I'd say 5 years would be a good ballpark figure. Like all things, this would have to be hashed out sensibly, so it'll likely never be implemented in a workable form.

Re:Good (1)

mini me (132455) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319663)

Why is a patent for a user interface element, for example, any different than a patent for, say, a suspension system design for an automobile?

I don't like software patents because it means that my favourite application won't legally be able to include that superior interface element. But, for the same reason, I don't like automobile patents because my favourite car won't legally be able to include that superior suspension system.

I'm just not seeing what exactly is different about the software patent that makes it worse than any other type of patent.

Re:Good (1)

pfleming (683342) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319835)

You're saying that it's OK to patent the look of the interface? That clearly should be covered under copyright (and be covered for longer than under a patent BTW)

Re:Good (1)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319861)

I'm just not seeing what exactly is different about the software patent that makes it worse than any other type of patent.

Software vs. Hardware.

Any questions?

Re:Good (1)

AshtangiMan (684031) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319745)

Hear hear on the biology patents. IIRC pharmaceutical companies are able to patent the genomes of plants . . . perhaps also of animals. Hopefully this is the next bad idea to epic fail.

Re:Patent on Reproduction (1)

NReitzel (77941) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319761)

Cough up? Uh... I thought it was the other way.

They are math. (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319777)

As I understand it, at least a few codecs we know of as "protected by patents" are actually mostly open -- just some crucial mathematical function has been patented, and it's impossible to build a working encoder/decoder without it.

Re:Good (3, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319879)

By the way my patent on the biological reproductive process in humans will go into affect today.

"Ah, Mr. Lord Apathy, sir? There's this big guy in flowing white robes in the waiting room. He's got thunderbolts sticking out at odd angles and he has some sort of weird glowing mist around him. He wants to talk to you and is muttering something about 'prior art'.

Should I let him in?"

Can Someone Please Speak English? (1)

Flyin Fungi (888671) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319269)

Can someone who is in the "know" on this matter please translate it to English for us please?

Re:Can Someone Please Speak English? (4, Insightful)

rah1420 (234198) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319385)

You don't need to be "in the know."

The patent office is tired of BS patents for ideas, and is telling inventors that it has to transform a Lumpy Object (to quote Tom Peters) or be part of a process that is inextricably tied to the operation of a machine (for example, a process to get an internal combustion engine to get 100MPG.)

Simply coming up with a software algorithm or something in the abstract won't be patentable.
(And, IMO, shouldn't be patentable. But of course, it's easy for me to say that because I don't hold any patents, least of all a software patent.)

Re:Can Someone Please Speak English? (5, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319657)

(And, IMO, shouldn't be patentable. But of course, it's easy for me to say that because I don't hold any patents, least of all a software patent.)

Sure, but for anyone coming from the other side, who does have software patents and is thus in favor of keeping them, all I can say is this: You would be nowhere and have nothing if patents had been allowed in the first thirty years of electronic computing. All the sorting algorithms, all the OS scheduler algorithms, all the compiler technology, all the things you take for granted every day, would have been locked up and all the amazing development that required freely taking these basic ideas as building blocks for more ideas would have faced repeated decade-long roadblocks. The environment in which you are creating your software patents would not exist if they had been able to place those roadblocks to progress just as you are doing today.

So sucks to be you, Mr. Software Patent Holder, but the health and development of the industry requires you to take down your toll booth.

Re:Can Someone Please Speak English? (1)

CyprusBlue113 (1294000) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319837)

It still wouldn't have been a big problem if the work was truly innovative, and by the spirit of the patent system, they actually LISCENSED their patents in good faith, instead of only using them to extort money on the backend or create product monopolies artificially.

Re:Can Someone Please Speak English? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24319827)

The patent office is tired of BS patents for ideas

Sure they are, the same way government is tired of BS propositions for more laws and more spending.

There is sanity! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24319271)

Maybe the system does work.. albeit glacially slow.

My cynical self wonders how long before companies buy a new act that re-instates the broken method.

--iamnotayam

Re:There is sanity! (1)

hostyle (773991) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319819)

A broken clock tells the correct time every so often.

Good idea! (4, Funny)

Orleron (835910) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319277)

They should patent it.

Re:Good idea! (0, Offtopic)

Constantine XVI (880691) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319325)

I'm going to patent the process of different people posting the same thing repeatedly. I could make billions from Slashdot and Fark alone.

Hooray (3, Interesting)

ZwJGR (1014973) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319311)

Good news at last!
Common sense prevails.
Hopefully patent trolls will not be able to lobby against such changes; as for once, I daresay that certain major corporations are likely to be somewhat supportive, the current patent mess is as much a pain for them as for everyone else.

These restrictions bring patents back in line with their original intention, and hopefully will help reduce the excessive (patent) litigation so prevalent in the US...

I'll believe it when it happens, not before... (5, Insightful)

mark-t (151149) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319317)

I don't care who's reporting it or how reliable the source, the news that software patents would be invalidated, at least to me, and I'm sure a great many others, is something that is far in excess of too good to be true, so I'm gonna wait and see what happens.

I really wish I could believe that this were possible, but I think too many people with very deep pocket and friends in the right places would get screwed over by this sort of thing to ever allow it to happen.

Re:I'll believe it when it happens, not before... (4, Insightful)

Alexpkeaton1010 (1101915) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319419)

You are exactly correct Sir. There is so much money (read: lobbyists) involved, that even if the Patent office has good intentions, I won't believe this until it actually happens.

Re:I'll believe it when it happens, not before... (1)

Joey Vegetables (686525) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319441)

I would not say they will get "screwed over" except possibly in the sense that other kinds of thieves are "screwed over" by laws against theft. In reality, the most that might happen is that THEIR ability to screw over other people will be reduced, probably marginally and temporarily at best.

Re:I'll believe it when it happens, not before... (4, Insightful)

greenguy (162630) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319445)

Precisely. Patent abuse is both a cause and effect of corporate power. Money speaks, and I think I can hear it clearing its throat even now.

Somebody post on this after it's happened, and a long list of major technology corporations has not only acknowledged it, but acted on it. Until then, I'm not getting my hopes up.

I was going to tag this... (5, Funny)

pushing-robot (1037830) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319341)

suddenoutbreakofcommonsense, but holyfreakingshit conveys my feelings better.

I haven't finished reading TFA yet, but this seems huge if it pans out — not only would software patents be invalidated, but essentially all "business process" patents would get tossed out as well.

Re:I was going to tag this... (1)

TwoQuestions (1111637) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319387)

Wait, there are 'business process' patents? Like patenting the process of asking floor workers what the problem is before we fix it? holyfreakingshit indeed.

Re:I was going to tag this... (4, Funny)

Sonic McTails (700139) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319435)

I'm not even sure holyfreakingshit covers it. Its the patent office doing something nonbraindead. That itself is almost enough to make one believe in God.

What about compression algorithms? (5, Insightful)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319359)

Does compression of data count as "physical transformation" (IMO it's not, but I wonder what the USPTO thinks about it)?

And if this turns out well, does that mean that the MP3 and MPEG4 formats will no longer be patent encumbered?

Re:What about compression algorithms? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24319531)

Doubtful that it's counted as physical. Compression is probably one of the closest types of software 'patents' to a pure mathematical algorithm.

Re:What about compression algorithms? (1)

pinky99 (741036) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319685)

Doubtful that it's counted as physical. Compression is probably one of the closest types of software 'patents' to a pure mathematical algorithm.

you could still be bound to pay for your ipod etc, as it is really "a machine" implementing this process described.

Re:What about compression algorithms? (1)

fitten (521191) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319567)

This was what I was thinking... does this cover any sort of compression or transformation of data (converting format A to format B, for example)? What about taking two input streams and combining them into one type processing?

Re:What about compression algorithms? (1)

cyphercell (843398) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319609)

I think you've pointed directly at the Achilles' heel of patent reform

Re:What about compression algorithms? (1)

szelus (580884) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319815)

I'm all againt software patents, but I would argue, that if we allow for patents at all, MP3 and MPEG4 patents are as close to the other "physical" patents as it gets.
We do have a method here of converting a physical waveform into a stream of bits/storage space. It uses particular properties of this physical input object to store it into a particularly constained medium.
I mean, if we allow patents for gramophone or magnetophone (or radio, or telephone), this is quite like these.

patent scope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24319375)

I would like to see an end to business process and some medical (DNA!) patents.

Mixed Blessings (4, Insightful)

danaris (525051) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319397)

First of all, can I just say, WOO HOO! This has been far too long in coming!

If this is what it sounds like (and no, I didn't RTFA; way too many links that look like they're probably rich in legalese!), it could pull the rug out from under many patent trolls, and allow a lot more innovation to come back into the US software world.

However, precisely because it has been so long in coming, it could mean a major shakeup of a number of things. One important example is listed right in the summary: Google's PageRank patent. With that invalidated, other search engines can legally use PageRank, without giving Google a dime, which could give them the same searching power as Google.

I can't even begin to speculate what the fallout of this would end up including, but I think it's important not to underestimate it. However, even if there are some short-term negative consequences, I think most of us here will agree that in the long term, at least, this is a big win for everyone (well, everyone but the patent trolls, that is!).

Dan Aris

Re:Mixed Blessings (4, Informative)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319587)

other search engines can legally use PageRank

That's where Google's pal "Trade Secret" comes in, after all, it's not like they list the algorithm they use to rank pages on their front page. Their patent reads more like "PageRank exists [uspto.gov] and we use it to order results from most relevant to least relevant and then display those results with links to the user, doing so is hereby patented" i.e. business process at its finest, with not a word that can be used to actually implement PageRank.

Re:Mixed Blessings (1, Insightful)

Narpak (961733) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319593)

If this were expanded to count DirectX I would be pleased. Opening up DirectX would be a good way to reduce Microsofts dominance of the computer gaming platform. And hopefully make games run better and faster. Then again, that is something I can't see happening regardless of the letter of the Law. Microsoft will fight hammer and nail for all of its patents I am sure. Of course, is such a reformation is executed, Microsoft, and others, could take a heavy hit to their stock price.

Re:Mixed Blessings (1)

tinkerghost (944862) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319701)

With that invalidated, other search engines can legally use PageRank, without giving Google a dime, which could give them the same searching power as Google.

Actually, they can develop their own version of PageRank. In order to use PageRank itself, they would have to license it as the code behind it is still under copyright. Running a copy without paying Google is infringing, and using it for a 3rd party site would be 'exceeding authority' for computer access.

You can't have it both ways (5, Insightful)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319727)

You've got to decide whether software patents are good or bad. If it's good for Google to patent the idea of page ranking, then software patents, in general, must be a good idea. If software patents are a bad idea, then allowing Google to have a software patent on the PageRank algorithm is a bad idea.

  In the future, if software patents are basically denied altogether, Trade Secret law will used to protect this sort of thing. Unfortunately for the many companies like Google, who've already been awarded patents, the algorithms are already disclosed. Which is why you will probably see some sort of transition period where currently existing software patents aren't just immediately invalidated, but I suspect will be grandfathered in - a basic principle of fairness is you can't change the rules after someone has already upheld their end of the bargain - the patent bargain is that you publically disclose your 'secrets', so that other people can *eventually* use them, but get legal protection on those secrets for a limited time. Telling people who've made disclosure that suddenly they get no protection on their disclosured algorithms is something I don't think is gonna pass - there will be too much resistance from companies on legislators to get protection for this sort of thing.

Personally, I think search engine competition is a good thing. I think competition in general is a good thing. My only concern with outright gutting of the patent system, is that now much knowledge that would have been disclosed in patents, will now remain locked up as trade secrets and NOT eventually become generally available to practitioners of software engineering, and so will, long-term, hold back the progress of computer science. Of course, we all know that right now, patent trolls are holding back the progress of computer science even more. Sort of a lose-lose situation. I guess gutting software patents is, really, probably the lesser of two evils here.

Re:You can't have it both ways (1)

danaris (525051) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319847)

You've got to decide whether software patents are good or bad. If it's good for Google to patent the idea of page ranking, then software patents, in general, must be a good idea. If software patents are a bad idea, then allowing Google to have a software patent on the PageRank algorithm is a bad idea.

Oh, I'm not claiming that Google's patent on PageRank should be upheld, or that we should otherwise cherry-pick some software patents to keep and others to throw away. I'm just saying that with a change like this, there will, almost inevitably, be some negative consequences, and one of those may be to Google.

Like I said before, this is clearly a good thing overall.

Dan Aris

Re:Mixed Blessings (1)

cornice (9801) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319731)

Google isn't where it is because of the patents that it holds. Google simply runs faster than everyone else. This change will take a lot of effort and energy that's currently wasted in the courts and put it back into products or services. I'm all for protecting the small inventor but patenting math didn't work.

Re:Mixed Blessings (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319769)

Great.
In the industry I am in a company patented sending text over a connection and displaying it on terminals. That got tossed but some other stupid parts didn't. They have no product but I have been prevented from putting in a really cool feature because it might get us sued.

Re:Mixed Blessings (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24319801)

Google's PageRank patent. With that invalidated, other search engines can legally use PageRank, without giving Google a dime, which could give them the same searching power as Google.

they'd have to come up with their own implementation of it first, because the actual code would still be protected by copyright.

and hey, if someone can make a page-rank algorithm that works as well as or better than google's, then more power to them. at least now they'd be allowed to TRY.

Re:Mixed Blessings (1)

mrbah (844007) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319829)

"One important example is listed right in the summary: Google's PageRank patent. With that invalidated, other search engines can legally use PageRank, without giving Google a dime, which could give them the same searching power as Google." Other search engines already have the searching power of Google. Yahoo and MSN results are comparable with Google's, their problem is presentation. Larry and Sergey stumbled upon the perfect user interface for a search engine while Google was still a research project at Stanford, while Yahoo and MSN stuck to their ugly, information-vomiting, 1997-style portals. Is it any wonder people prefer Google?

Yahoo vs Microsoft (3, Interesting)

AftanGustur (7715) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319455)

If this invalidates most business patents as well (since they do not transform an physical object) as required.

The famous Overture's PPC patent which microsoft is trying to accuire through Yahoo should become invalid as well, resulting in "interesting times" to say the least.

quick (5, Interesting)

Tom (822) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319475)

Hope this gets done quickly, because the EU and other players are pushing for software patents and one of the main arguments is "harmonisation with the global (read: US) systems".

And I'm very keen on finding out what their next pseudo-argument is gonna be.

So how will this affect the real-world today? (2, Interesting)

tonto1992 (922918) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319517)

Will the patents like the so-called "one-click" patent be voided wherein anyone who paid licensing fees to that company will no longer have to? Will fees be refunded?

Read the WHOLE article... (2, Informative)

HaeMaker (221642) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319539)

They are holding patentable when there are two computers involved. So, any networking code may still be patentable since it is a system of multiple computers. This may help to invalidate non-network software. Fraunhofer, I'm looking at you...

Retroactive? (4, Insightful)

rumblin'rabbit (711865) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319543)

The article uses the workd "invalidate", which sounds to me like it would cancel existing patents. My question is - would this new set of criteria be retroactive, or would it apply only to new applications?

The PTO changing the rules to cancel previously approved patents would generate massive legal problems. In particular, companies have spent billions of dollars to register patents, only for the PTO to say "Oops, just kidding. Jokes on you."

No matter where you stand on software patents (and I'm against them if they can be restricted sensibly, BTW), that's no way to run a patent office.

Re:Retroactive? (1)

fnj (64210) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319743)

I hope it _is_ retroactive!

companies have spent billions of dollars to register patents, only for the PTO to say "Oops, just kidding. Jokes on you.

I don't know about you, but I'm sure laughing. With the unholy collusion of Big Business + Government that has spread round the world, I can't think of a better way to _begin_ to reverse the process.

Choke on it, megacorps!

Re:Retroactive? (3, Insightful)

pavera (320634) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319765)

I doubt it would immediately invalidate existing patents, however, it would certainly open the door to A LOT of patent challenges, and certainly greatly reduce the value of people's patent portfolios. If you implement page rank, and Google sues you, you have a clear cut defense now it appears. In your case you can argue that page rank is not patentable material, and it appears you would win based on these recent decisions.

It would certainly take the bite out of the patent trolls, as soon as they sue, their patents would be invalidated by this rule, and they'd lose.

In short, I don't think it would invalidate any patents immediately, but it would greatly reduce the ability of companies to leverage their software patent portfolios against competitors (think Microsoft's patent threats against Linux...)

Re:Retroactive? (1)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319883)

I don't know about canceling an entire class of patents, but single patents that were approved are often invalidated, so it's not as if it can't be done.

Previous lawsuits from frivolous patents? (5, Insightful)

Jinky (565098) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319591)

If this is actually true and at least the frivolous software patents are going to be removed, what about those who have been sued by the patent owners and lost? Will they be entitled to receive anything back from the patent owners as the patents are now invalidated? I know if I lost out hundreds of thousands of dollars to one of these BS patents, I would want my money back. Hell, if I lost $5, I'd want it back. I only read part of TFA, so maybe I'm missing something. Patent discussions are boring :o

Kind of a shame, sorta (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24319605)

On the down side, I was hoping to patent an online technology that I think is revolutionary. On the up side, I guess that's done with now, and I get to release it to the public sooner!

Google will be fine. (5, Insightful)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319617)

That blog seems to want software patents to continue -- not surprising, really, given that it's a "patent law blog", and lawyers are the ones with the most to win from the cottage industry of software patents.

While I doubt this ruling will stand, I hope it does. Google has an enormous amount of manpower to throw at this kind of problem, most of it highly intelligent. The only way this hurts Google is if a competitor is able to implement PageRank (and other features) so much better than Google that people start to switch -- and I doubt Google will be standing still as this happens.

The fact is, software patents have had an overwhelmingly detrimental effect.

Does anyone really believe that, for instance, h.264 would never have been invented, were it not for patents? It would either have been open, or some interested party would have paid for the development.

As it is, while it's relatively cheap to obtain the computing power needed to, say, transcode a large library of video to h.264, the licensing cost can end up being something like $2500 per machine used in this capacity. And because of the longevity of patents, it seems unlikely that it will expire before a better encoding option surfaces.

Yeah -- ever wonder why YouTube took so long to convert everything to hi-def, when they have the computing resources of Google available? I think we know now.

I can imagine software patents being a good thing, but not in their current form. Getting rid of the 15-year-monopoly on an ephemeral idea or a mathematical function can only be a good thing for society as a whole.

If these cases are influencing the fall of.... (1)

3seas (184403) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319621)

...software patents then what is common factor? Abstraction Physics! [abstractionphysics.net]

The submarine goes... (1)

Lord Lode (1290856) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319631)

Woot, look at the submarines, they're all sinking! It's beautiful!

Which PTO are we talking about? (1)

Mesa MIke (1193721) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319645)

Must be the one on Nibi-Nibi island in the south pacific.

Too much common sense here to the US PTO.

Tied to a particular machine... (3, Insightful)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319655)

how much particular? What about i.e. iPhone? There are a lot of patents around it, probably several related with software. If "tied" means "no way you can implement a similar algorithm if is in a different hardware" should be mostly ok.

This could be the silver bullet needed to kill all patent trolls.

4 words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24319661)

It is about time!

Thank Goodness! (1)

MarkvW (1037596) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319665)

This has the look and feel of a very good decision. Software patents, used in conjunction with trade secrets and copyright, are a wonderful way to create FUD. That FUD chills programmers too much because they don't want the litigation risk associated with FUD.

I hope the courts eventually figure out that software patents are troll food--and nothing else.

Cheer! and stock market upheaval (1)

RichMan (8097) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319669)

So what is happening to patent troll companies with software patent portfolios?

New strategy (2, Insightful)

Captain Spam (66120) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319677)

s/process/physical transformation/g

Before: "A process by which text may be inserted into a 'base' of 'data' in a format easily searchable by electronic means."

After: "A physical transformation by which text may be inserted into a 'base' of 'data' in a format easily searchable by electronic means."

And presto, patent granted! Cue the next round of the trolls! :-)

Skeptical but Researching (2, Informative)

LionKimbro (200000) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319687)

The Loophole (1)

Vornzog (409419) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319695)

From TFA

This is not, however, the end of the story. The PTO's decision in Ex parte Wasynczuk provides one final twist so Kafkaesque as to strain credulity.
...

In sum, an innovative process is not patentable when operating on a single computer processor but is when operating on two processors, even though the Board recognizes that the process in the unpatentable claim "is essentially the method" set forth in the patentable claim.

I really hate law sometimes. Using two computers (instead of just one) means that the method is tied to a 'particular machine' instead of a general purpose computer.

So while this may kill of some current software patents, only a slight change in hardware is required to keep on patenting software. Why even bother? All this does is ensure that every software patent from this day forward will be tied to a 'particular machine'.

I harbor a secret hope that this will still render software patents ineffective, because to get a patent, you'll have to say that your process can only be run on a 'particular machine' comprised of two computers, while your competitors will just run a 'general purpose computer' and claim that they are not violating your patent. That's still probably wishful thinking, given my usual misunderstanding of how laws actually works.

Oh, that's right, it's an election year (2, Insightful)

realinvalidname (529939) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319699)

Those parties materially impacted by this policy, for good or ill, will presumably need to get out their checkbooks and start making contributions to candidates who will legislate/administrate in whatever manner suits the contributors.

The court is too smart (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24319709)

The courts are too smart to invalidate software patents wholesale. They realize the incentives to innovation they provide, the vast sums of research money that are put into place based on them already, and the destabilizing economic effect such a shift in policy would have.

Quickly! (1)

Lord MuffloN (1310101) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319779)

Someone check the temperature in hell!

Most but not all (1)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319825)

Woo hoo!!! But I think that some patents should stand if they are truly innovative. If someone comes up with a killer compression technique that can compress a rar to 10% of it's size then they would deserve a patent. It is these "use a hyperlink to start a video" patents that need to go.

And a pony (1)

Chemisor (97276) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319831)

I propose that to circumvent the new "particular machine" requirement, all software patents should henceforth contain the phrase "this algorithm executes on a general purpose computer and a pony named Jack, housed in the San Francisco Zoo". A pony should be particular enough, right?

has the fat lady even gotten to the stage yet? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24319841)

once again the bell has tolled over the death of something or other around slashdot with absolute zero proof that anything will change. the village idiots are all cheering in the streets over the sudden outbreak of common sense even though a finger really hasn't been lifted against the foe yet.

sweet dreams, guys. this is an extremely premature victory party.

What I see happening (3, Interesting)

Ares (5306) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319859)

Somehow I've got the feeling that if this goes through, there will be a lot of patent attorneys making a lot of money writing clauses into software patent applications along the lines of:

"whereby said process causes an electron to move from transistor a to transistor b"

since way down at a quantum level, the bit state of a block of memory is a physical process.

Alternatively, I'm sure there will be a lot of "software appliance" patents showing up under the argument that once its an "appliance", its no longer a general purpose computer.

The natural workaround... (4, Funny)

pushing-robot (1037830) | more than 5 years ago | (#24319901)

...is for companies to employ a "physical object" provision in their patent filings. Google's PageRank patent, for example, may change from:

"A computer implemented method of scoring a plurality of linked documents"

to:

"A computer implemented method of scoring a plurality of linked documents with possible applications as a shower curtain"

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