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When Patents Attack — the NPR Version

timothy posted about 3 years ago | from the official-office-suite-of-rent-seeking dept.

Businesses 87

fermion writes "This American Life is running a story this week on Intellectual Ventures, a firm some consider the leader of the patent trolls. The story delves into the origins of the term patent troll and the rise of the patent troll industry. Much time is spent presenting Intellectual Ventures both as a patent troll firm and a legitimate business that allows helpless inventors to monetize patents. It is stipulated that Intellectual Ventures does not in fact sue anyone. It is also alleged that Intellectual Ventures creates many shell companies, presumably to hide such activity. Intellectual Ventures is compared to a Mafia protection racket that may never actually burn down a business that does not pay the dues, but does encourage such burning to occur."

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87 comments

Shell Post! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36858180)

Presumably to hid it!

Re:Shell Post! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36858568)

I'd hid it.

Re:Shell Post! (1)

HermMunster (972336) | about 3 years ago | (#36860828)

As far as I know IV does sue. They have sued in the recent past. Remember IV is owned and run by an ex-microsoft big-wig.

wrong summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36858202)

grammar police: Intellectual Vultures, that's how you spell it...

Misread the name... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36858204)

I thought it said "Intellectual Vultures"... my mistake!

I was a touch surprised that (1)

jra (5600) | about 3 years ago | (#36858206)

in all their "Mafia protection racket" analogies, they didn't use the phrase "You gotta really nice lookin' business here", which nearly always precedes "It'd be a shame if something happened to it".

Nice piece, though, over all.

Slander (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36858432)

in all their "Mafia protection racket" analogies, they didn't use the phrase "You gotta really nice lookin' business here", which nearly always precedes "It'd be a shame if something happened to it".

Nice piece, though, over all.

Becareful, they may become a Slander/Libel Troll and sue anyone that calls them "Mafia" or their business a "Protection Racket".p/.

M.a.F.I.A. (1)

tepples (727027) | about 3 years ago | (#36858632)

Becareful, they may become a Slander/Libel Troll and sue anyone that calls them "Mafia" or their business a "Protection Racket".

I wonder why the music and film industry associations [mafiaa.org] haven't already done that.

Re:M.a.F.I.A. (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 3 years ago | (#36859440)

Because truth is an absolute defense against libel.

Re:M.a.F.I.A. (1)

pfleming (683342) | about 3 years ago | (#36860234)

Because truth is an absolute defense against libel.

Only in the United States. It's backwards in many European countries.

Re:I was a touch surprised that (4, Funny)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | about 3 years ago | (#36861296)

Excuse me, Sir, I happen to represent the local honorable family in legal matters. Please refrain from comparing a traditional family mafia business with patent trolling. It besmirches the good name of the mafia. My client would be very grateful for that, if you know what I mean.

Will educating lamens help change the climate? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36858208)

I just finished listening to the story and it does a great job of explaining current situation of software patents and trolls in the industry.

Does anyone think that getting people (non-slashdot crowd/lamens) informed on this issue will make any significant changes to current way the industry is operating?

Re:Will educating lamens help change the climate? (2)

click2005 (921437) | about 3 years ago | (#36858240)

No, because the public will never be able to spend as much on bribery/lobbying as most large corporations.

Re:Will educating lamens help change the climate? (5, Interesting)

Anthony Mouse (1927662) | about 3 years ago | (#36859258)

No, because the public will never be able to spend as much on bribery/lobbying as most large corporations.

In the case of software patents the lobby in favor of them isn't really the corporations. It's the lawyers.

Think about it: If software patents went away tomorrow, Microsoft et al wouldn't be able to collect patent license fees anymore, but neither would they have to pay them out. For most companies it comes out as a wash, give or take. And if software patents went away, none of those companies would have to continue paying their armies of patent lawyers, which would save them each millions of dollars.

But that would put all of those software patent lawyers out of business, so it is the lawyers who supply the driving force behind the status quo. What confuses people is that they frequently hear corporate lawyers advocating software patents and assume that they take that position in the interest of their employer rather than their occupation.

Re:Will educating lamens help change the climate? (2)

tkrotchko (124118) | about 3 years ago | (#36859680)

Software patents have always been about raising the cost of entry to new competitors.

Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, etc fight each other for business, but its sort of a gentlemen's game, with the players, stakes and products well known.

New players shake up the status quo, change markets, obsolete product lines. Stuff that big companies hate.

Years ago, I argued here on /. against software patents, arguing that despite what developers thought, they were really for the benefit of large companies, not upstart new companies.

I'm actually sorry that I was proven correct.

Mod parent up (1)

DCFusor (1763438) | about 3 years ago | (#36859850)

I've been saying the same thing for years myself, and experienced it firsthand. The bigs just cross license, no money need change hands. A little guy with just one patent can't play in that game, and can't do squat without violating some bunch of stupid patented stuff.

Re:Will educating lamens help change the climate? (1)

Anthony Mouse (1927662) | about 3 years ago | (#36860064)

Software patents have always been about raising the cost of entry to new competitors.

Yes and no. That is certainly an advantage of software patents to large corporations, but it is weighed against on the other side by subjecting the large corporations to shakedowns by patent trolls. Ask Microsoft if they think i4i deserves more than a quarter of a billion dollars of Microsoft's money. To say nothing of what will happen one of these days when a patent troll gets a permanent injunction against a major software company for a patent claim that can't be worked around without breaking protocol or file format compatibility with the version currently in use by customers.

At the end of the day, the only winners when it comes to software patents are the lawyers. They get paid when companies stockpile patents for defensive purposes. They get paid when their employers file a patent lawsuit. And they get paid when their employers get sued over patents. And all of that paying the lawyers comes out of the coffers of companies that could otherwise be spending that money innovating. The only way the lawyers lose is if people decide that the purpose of software patents should not be full employment for patent lawyers, and get rid of them.

Re:Will educating lamens help change the climate? (1)

nothings (597917) | about 3 years ago | (#36859932)

Yep, I've been thinking that the lawyers are the real problem for a decade.

"The software programming community seems largely against patents. When the only people defending software patents are patent holders who make money from licensing, patent lawyers who make money from patent applications and patent litigation, and the Patent and Trademark Office who make money from granting patents, is there any reason to believe patents are in the public interest?" -- me [nothings.org] , in 1999 (slightly edited for clarity)

Re:Will educating lamens help change the climate? (1)

lsatenstein (949458) | about 3 years ago | (#36862550)

In the meantime, patent trolls spell the doom to the small entrepreneur. How is the small guy to know that the logic he writes and creates with his own logical thought processes is a violation of someone elses' patent. The only thing we can do is continue developing here, but register your product with a business that is resident off-shore in what is a safe haven.

Re:Will educating lamens help change the climate? (1)

couchslug (175151) | about 3 years ago | (#36861700)

"Does anyone think that getting people (non-slashdot crowd/lamens) informed on this issue will make any significant changes to current way the industry is operating?"

No. The public are too stupid to understand the issues.

I realize this is Slashdot (3, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 3 years ago | (#36858212)

But it would be nice to, at least in theory, RTFA. Is it just me or do I have to wait until Sunday at 7:00 PM (timezone unknown) to download the MP3 and LTFA.

Or should I just whine about how bad patent trolls are without benefit of absorbing any new material? It's not like we haven't been down this road before.

Re:I realize this is Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36858234)

Different NPR stations will air TLA at different times, thus although you can't download the MP3, you can listen to it online streaming on a NPR station when it's airing

Re:I realize this is Slashdot (3, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 3 years ago | (#36858238)

Well, I finally found something resembling TFA [npr.org]

Re:I realize this is Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36858352)

You can go to www.thisamericanlife.org and click on the play button.

Re:I realize this is Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36858290)

As mentioned different NPR stations broadcast at different times and many have streaming. For instance I believe the New Mexico station will broadcast the show 3PM their local time. I am sure as one moves towards the east cost more opportunities will present itself.

Re:I realize this is Slashdot (2)

pythagoreanmetronome (2026474) | about 3 years ago | (#36858304)

Indeed. I was ready to listen to it and get into a nice comments discussion but lo and behold it will be available tomorrow unless you want to buy a copy on Amazon or iTunes. The internet has become such a wonderful source of information, freely flowing at the same pace as a telegram... unless of course you want to shop at the Apple Store. Then it's pretty much instantaneous... AND SO WHAT ABOUT ALL OF THAT PATENTED/PROPRIETARY BUSINESS are those goofballs at NPR going to gripe about? I guess I will find out tomorrow night.

Re:I realize this is Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36858328)

It's 6PM Chicago time, where the show is produced from Chicago station WBEZ. I guess 7PM comes from the fact that this is 7PM on the East Coast where the highest concentrations of Americans live.

Also, I'm pretty sure This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International, not NPR.

Re:I realize this is Slashdot (1)

gmrath (751453) | about 3 years ago | (#36858488)

Story was on air Saturday afternoon in Chicago (wbez) at 3pm Chicago time. And it can be streamed from wbez.org. Also interesting is just how many of these "companies" (IV, LodSys, and the rest) have an identical business address: 140 whatever street, Podunk, Texas. The story goes gives some detail about all the shell companies IV uses to shake down businesses and developers, er, protect inventors rights. . . It's just sick.

Re:I realize this is Slashdot (1)

leonbev (111395) | about 3 years ago | (#36858474)

The show should be live-streaming on most of the West coast NPR stations in about 30 minutes, so you'll get your chance to LTFA soon.

I heard the second half on the radio just a short while ago (and it was awesome), and I'm looking forward to listen the the half that I missed soon.

Re:I realize this is Slashdot (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36858656)

http://podcast.thisamericanlife.org/podcast/441.mp3

I'd love to hear this, but (0)

mat catastrophe (105256) | about 3 years ago | (#36858218)

This American Life gives me hives.

Good introduction for the uninitiated (4, Interesting)

grahamsaa (1287732) | about 3 years ago | (#36858226)

While much of the slashdot community is aware of the insanity the way software patents work, this show does a pretty good job of explaining the process for the uninitiated. I tried to explain the problems associated with software patents to my girlfriend last week and she could barely believe how screwed software patents are. Thanks to NPR, I can send her to a more clear and thorough explanation than I was able to give.

Hopefully this helps to convince non-technical Americans that patents should rarely, if ever be awarded for software.

Re:Good introduction for the uninitiated (1)

pfleming (683342) | about 3 years ago | (#36860254)

They spent an hour minus station break time to do it too. I had a lengthy discussion with some friends about copyright and patents and neither of them even knew it started in the Constitution. Most ordinary people don't know and don't care how much this costs them.

Re:Good introduction for the uninitiated (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36872990)

I often have trouble getting past the "you just want to steal people's ideas" and "patents are there to protect inventors". The idea that patents were intended to create a social benefit for everyone, not just inventors seems to be impossible to impress on people. Most people I know who are "protected" by patents and copyrights think the system is against them. It's the people outside and the MBA's who love them.

Re:Good introduction for the uninitiated (1)

Sabriel (134364) | about 3 years ago | (#36860702)

Explaining patent insanity is easy. What's hard is getting those in charge to fix it.

Imagine a primitive world without cookies. Two people from different towns, John and Barry, independently invent cookies at the same time. Each starts a cookie-making business, but John pays the government for a patent.

When they meet, John tells Barry that he has to either pay John a percentage or stop making cookies. Barry refuses, since John didn't have anything to do with Barry inventing cookies, but the government forces him to comply. Barry starts paying John the money rather than go out of business.

Boiled down, the current system is legalised extortion, with the government willing to threaten your kneecaps for anyone who's paid the fee.

Re:Good introduction for the uninitiated (1)

hoggoth (414195) | about 3 years ago | (#36874484)

Imagine two people from different towns, John and Barry. John invents cookies and starts making cookies. Barry has a bakery and decided John's invention will add to his profit, so Barry starts making cookies too. Since Barry has a bakery with better equipment and staff, Barry soon puts John out of business.

Later that week Zeke is sitting in Barry's bakery eating a cookie and has a revolutionary idea for a new invention. Just then John passes by dressed in rags begging for food and Zeke decides it's not worth the trouble pursuing his idea.

I hate software patents and patent trolls in general, but your analogy is too simple and not everything about patents is bad.

Re:Good introduction for the uninitiated (1)

Sabriel (134364) | about 3 years ago | (#36878038)

Since people today can start bakeries and make cookies yet not go out of business, even though other people already have bigger bakeries and make more cookies, your counter-example is hardly ironclad.

And the counter-counter-example is John invents cookies, does patent them, and starts up a bakery. Barry has a big bakery franchise and a war chest of bakery-related patents, so buries John in lawyers. Broken by court costs, John agrees to lease Barry the patent for a pittance. Later that week Zeke has a revolutionary idea - but seeing John passing by in rags, decides to release the idea into the public domain and let society as a whole benefit rather than risk attempting to profit directly and get eaten by much bigger fish.

Yes, not *everything* about patents is bad. But between the costs of today's legal system (not just to individuals but also to society), patent war chests, patent thickets and now patent trolls, patents have outlived their net usefulness.

I listened to this last night (1)

jader3rd (2222716) | about 3 years ago | (#36858248)

and loved it. Everyone should listen to this. They tried to find a usefull (protected an inventor who wouldn't have been protected otherwise) patent issued from the last few years, and couldn't find one.

Re:I listened to this last night (4, Insightful)

robot256 (1635039) | about 3 years ago | (#36858296)

Yeah, the guy from Intellectual Ventures said there were two cases, TWO CASES out of their 35,000 patents, that had actually been licensed to manufacturers. And he couldn't even remember what industry they were involved in, much less which patents. When their entire spiel is that they "take languishing ideas and put them to good use", that is a pretty piss poor record.

Re:I listened to this last night (1)

MooUK (905450) | about 3 years ago | (#36858396)

"Good use", as in for the good of their bank accounts. What else did you expect?

Re:I listened to this last night (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 3 years ago | (#36858596)

By good use they mean shakedown someone actually producing a product. You did not think they actually wanted to get things made did you?

Re:I listened to this last night (1)

Lance Dearnis (1184983) | about 3 years ago | (#36858738)

Hopefully now we'll get to see some real patent reform; honestly, I'm not sure why this hasn't come up already. The popular political topic right now is 'Obamacare' and how it 'creates uncertainty' and that is a horrible thing for business; understandable in a way, as they set aside money for the worst-case scenario whenever possible.

So, assuming along those same lines, I wonder what their patent costs are? I know I've heard before that tech companies set aside a 'patent licensing fund' when they can to deal with patent trolls; if they could get rid of the need for that, or at least substantially lessen that, it'd be great for business, right? And everyone HATES a patent troll, right? C'mon, someone take this ball already and dunk it. The only people who hate it are easily turned into villains for the camera. They're leeches profiting off of GOOD Ol" FASHIONED AMERICAN INGENUITY.

Re:I listened to this last night (1)

robot256 (1635039) | about 3 years ago | (#36858884)

Yeah, we'll get patent reform all right...for the trolls, by the trolls. The America Invents act will make it easier than ever for a patent troll to actually steal an idea before it's patented, get the patent, and then win in court when they sue the original inventor.

Unfortunately, that is why we're all so depressed about patents (and many other things as well). It's because the status quo is one thing, but if Congress goes near it they can only make it worse.

Re:I listened to this last night (1)

pfleming (683342) | about 3 years ago | (#36860274)

Patent reform [google.com]

Interesting tidbits (5, Informative)

robot256 (1635039) | about 3 years ago | (#36858276)

I listened to the whole thing live streaming from my NPR station. I was interested to hear that almost everything considered "common knowledge" here on Slashdot held up under their scrutiny. They visited a company that makes software to find duplicate patents, and they said that about 30% of patents granted are duplicates of the same idea. They also said that the one case Intellectual Ventures gives as their "poster child" of an "inventor whose idea was being used illegally until IV came along" actually had over 5500 duplicates granted in the same time frame (nevermind all the prior art that existed). That one patent, by the way, was traced to a patent troll company that is obligated to give Intellectual Ventures a cut of their revenue from it...and the creator of the patent is trying to sue them, IIRC. So much for "encouraging innovation by helping poor inventors".

Another interesting statistic is that they cited polls claiming that 80% of software engineers say patents hurt their business and creativity. I know we've been repeating this to each other for years, but it's nice to see it backed up every now and then.

Re:Interesting tidbits (1)

conspirator23 (207097) | about 3 years ago | (#36858486)

Another interesting statistic is that they cited polls claiming that 80% of software engineers say patents hurt their business and creativity. I know we've been repeating this to each other for years, but it's nice to see it backed up every now and then.

Well that statistic might be correlated to the 80% of software engineers leave /. comments.

Re:Interesting tidbits (1)

dthirteen (307585) | about 3 years ago | (#36858546)

Actually I think their claimed 'prototypical inventor' was just involved in patent litigation, not specifically involved in litigation with intellectual ventures.

Re:Interesting tidbits (-1, Flamebait)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about 3 years ago | (#36858564)

I know we've been repeating this to each other for years, but it's nice to see it backed up every now and then.

This is what NPR does with convenient truths. What do you think NPR does with inconvenient truths? Hint: they don't get broadcast time.

Re:Interesting tidbits (3, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 3 years ago | (#36858606)

Please list some of those inconvenient truths they avoid.

I see far more of that sort of behavior from other news outlets. The Oslo bombing is getting far less press coverage now that they figured out a white guy did it.

Re:Interesting tidbits (2)

robot256 (1635039) | about 3 years ago | (#36858846)

At least they air any truths at all, which is more than can be said for most news outlets. And no, they don't air what you call "inconvenient truths"--if they are actually falsehoods. For example, on the Dianne Rehm show about vaccines and autism, she deliberately did not bring anyone from the "other side" because they have been so thoroughly proven false. To give falsehoods like that airtime would be irresponsible journalism, yet it is perpetrated every day by mainstream media "covering the controversy".

Re:Interesting tidbits (-1, Redundant)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about 3 years ago | (#36858914)

they don't air what you call "inconvenient truths"--if they are actually falsehoods

So why do they air global warming propaganda? Falsehoods, from beginning to end. Yet, this topic somehow makes the cut, day after day. An inconvenient truth, eh?

Re:Interesting tidbits (2)

QuantumLeaper (607189) | about 3 years ago | (#36859488)

If you want to turn the planet in to a Shit hole, could you do it without everyone else? Also if you change 'Global Warming' to 'Climate Change', it change how many republicans believe in it from 40 vs 60 to 60 vs 40, with just two words changed.... They have been programmed to HATE the word 'Global Warming' by the taking Heads....

Re:Interesting tidbits (1)

Dachannien (617929) | about 3 years ago | (#36858642)

They visited a company that makes software to find duplicate patents, and they said that about 30% of patents granted are duplicates of the same idea.

Do they mean in a legally distinguishable sense, or in a "we used the same or a very similar specification but have different claims in each patent directed to our several different inventions" sense? Forgive me for being suspicious of the correctness of this statement, but very few people on Slashdot (and off Slashdot, for that matter) understand how to read a patent and how to understand what it actually covers.

Re:Interesting tidbits (1)

robot256 (1635039) | about 3 years ago | (#36858814)

Well I'm assuming that the guy who makes a living telling investors whether their prospects' patents are unique (and thus valuable) knows more on the subject than I do. The point, I thought, was that even if they are legally distinguishable, the amount of "value added" is so little from one to the next that it's hard to consider them new inventions. All it does is make any one application infringe on even more patents.

Another amusing quote was of a software engineer who said he has four patents in his name, and he doesn't have a clue what they mean. By the time the lawyers were done with them, it was all gobbledegook to the person who invented them. That just seems wrong to me.

Re:Interesting tidbits (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36859390)

... but very few people on Slashdot (and off Slashdot, for that matter) understand how to read a patent and how to understand what it actually covers.

Isn't this a failing of the patent system, then? A patent specification is meant to disclose what exactly it is about to inform persons skilled in the art (of, say, software programming). It is in return for teaching others about your wonderful invention that you get a monopoly right.

A patent specification is not meant to be written by lawyers for other lawyers.

Re:Interesting tidbits (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36863458)

The show said 5000+ duplicates might have been a slight exaggeration for this particular patent. But it was a patent that two of Paul Allen's patent trolls held out as an example of a good patent among the 15 thousand or so patents they hold.

It's a good listen. While there is lots of stuff that's common knowledge around here, I for one didn't know that Paul Allen's patent troll has invested 5 billion in amassing patents and so far has only collected about 2 billion in protection money. To get a decent ROI for their investors they need to become 10 to 15 times more predatory over the next decade. And Paul Allen's use of shell companies is much more nefarious than I would have imagined.

Re:Interesting tidbits (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36859650)

The spiel with the Senior Software Engineer describing the patents as utter "crap" was the best. Then the reporter reading through a portion of the patent was even better. I hope /. can keep this article near the top of the page for a while. NPR's semi-tame reporting really went deep and exposed the nasty underbelly that many of us were already aware of.

Cheers NPR!

Transcript available (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | about 3 years ago | (#36859784)

Transcript here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/07/22/138576167/when-patents-attack" [npr.org]

They also said that the one case Intellectual Ventures gives as their "poster child" of an "inventor whose idea was being used illegally until IV came along" actually had over 5500 duplicates granted in the same time frame (nevermind all the prior art that existed).

Not quite... Actually, it's pretty clear that the journalists have no idea what they're talking about - they note three patents that [OMG] have the same title... while failing to note that two of them are continuations of the first one, and that they have very different claims. Their evidence for all of those duplicates, again, are the titles. Any patent practitioner, including myself, will tell you that titles have no legal weight, and the fact that two patents have identical or similar titles says absolutely nothing about whether they're duplicates or not... but apparently, This American Life failed to ask anyone about that.

Frankly, the transcript shows the lack of investigation that you can expect from NPR and PRI's fluff shows. Some producer did a few minutes of research on Wiki, made a couple phone calls and recorded some soundbites, and then threw it together into a story without checking any of the conclusions from those soundbites. This isn't journalism... this is "he says X. She says Y. The end."

Full disclosure: I am a US patent agent, and formerly worked for a major NPR affiliate station group. Some of the shows do great work. Others, not so much.

Re:Transcript available (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36860292)

Then you should know that patents on mathematics is illegal.

And all software is mathematics - that is all a computer can do.

computer -Noun
1. An electronic device for storing and processing data, typically in binary form, according to instructions given to it in a variable program.
2. A person who makes calculations, esp. with a calculating machine.

And an electronic device for storing and processing data is a calculating machine.

Winning move (1)

gmuslera (3436) | about 3 years ago | (#36858322)

As the field is shaped by actual legislation, the only winning move in software development is being patent troll or big lobbyist. For anything else big success is probably followed by bigger setbacks by that kind of players.

It is stipulated? It is stipulated? (1)

stevegee58 (1179505) | about 3 years ago | (#36858350)

OP sounds like a lawyer him/herself.

PRI != NPR (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36858358)

This American Life is distributed by PRI. Yes it plays mostly on NPR affiliates, but NPR has nothing to do with making it.

Re:PRI != NPR (2)

surmak (1238244) | about 3 years ago | (#36859976)

This American Life is distributed by PRI. Yes it plays mostly on NPR affiliates, but NPR has nothing to do with making it.

Note, however that this week's episode was a co-production if This American Life and NPR's Planet Money [npr.org] .

Normally, this statement would be correct, but not always.

Patents hinder creativity? (1)

Vecanti (2384840) | about 3 years ago | (#36858382)

Is there anybody here that has a had a great idea, physical or software, but not brought it to fruition "because" of the patent system? Because of the headaches of the process or even just the thought of the slight chance of being sued in to oblivion?

Re:Patents hinder creativity? (1)

AlamedaStone (114462) | about 3 years ago | (#36859590)

Is there anybody here that has a had a great idea, physical or software, but not brought it to fruition "because" of the patent system? Because of the headaches of the process or even just the thought of the slight chance of being sued in to oblivion?

Uh... yes! Millions! And I'm suing for damages.

Place blame where it belongs (1)

sqrt(2) (786011) | about 3 years ago | (#36858470)

We like to blame companies that do shit like this, or the lawyers and lobbyists that enable and push them on, but the real problem is the underlying system that makes the appearance of such entities necessary and inevitable. In a world where software patents exist, you will have patent trolls. In a world where the idea of "intellectual property" is taken seriously, you will have lawyers defending said property. Fix the system, and these sorts of behaviors will go away as they will no longer be economically productive. We've let it fo unchecked for too long, and now the big players put money into the feedback loop of lobbying to perpetuate the same system that allows them to make money to lobby with; I admit that I am at a loss for a solution to fix the problem while working within established channels. The average person has virtually no knowledge or understanding of patent law, and has no interest in becoming informed. The minority of us who do care and are informed are easily ignored with no political consequences for our elected representatives.

It seems that the best we can do on a personal level is make the choice to disregard those bodies of laws that are illegitimate, while shielding ourselves from repercussions as best we can.

Re:Place blame where it belongs (2)

bmo (77928) | about 3 years ago | (#36858592)

>In a world where software patents exist, you will have patent trolls. In a world where the idea of "intellectual property" is taken seriously, you will have lawyers defending said property.

[Don La Fontaine voice]

In a world, where CEOs run their versions of the Mafia...In a world where Gordon Gecko is seen as a naive do-gooder...

In a world, where the true gangsters wear shiny suits and red power ties...there's... Malone.

"You wanna know how to get Intellectual Ventures? They pull a patent, you pull a lawyer. They send a brief to the court, you send one of them to the morgue. *That's* the *Chicago* way! And that's how you get Nathan Myhrvold. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? I'm offering you a deal. Do you want this deal? "

*dramatic music*

Sean Connery as Malone, coming to theaters this Christmas in "The Unpatentables"

--
BMO

Re:Place blame where it belongs (1)

PPH (736903) | about 3 years ago | (#36858900)

"You wanna know how to get Intellectual Ventures? They pull a patent, you pull a lawyer. They send a brief to the court, you send one of them to the morgue. *That's* the *Chicago* way! And that's how you get Nathan Myhrvold. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? I'm offering you a deal. Do you want this deal? "

Funny. But in the era of offshored cloud computing, this may come close to the truth. You send your data off to a cloud processor (located who knows where in the world) and get work product back. But then some troll claims that they hold patent rights to the implemented process and attempts to serve papers.

Serve papers where? Sure, some smart nerds could eventually crack Tor and find the country hosting the servers. But then what? Send a lawyer over to serve papers? There are enough countries that would love a chunk of the cloud hosting business and some that would defend it with strict protectionist laws. Strict enough that IV's lawyer would probably disappear.

Problem solved.

Re:Place blame where it belongs (2)

StripedCow (776465) | about 3 years ago | (#36858594)

The average person has virtually no knowledge or understanding of patent law, and has no interest in becoming informed. The minority of us who do care and are informed are easily ignored with no political consequences for our elected representatives.

So, indeed, the real problem is the political system. I also wonder why the discussions here on slashdot always get stuck at what's wrong with patents (we've heard all the arguments), instead of focusing on how the system could be changed.

Re:Place blame where it belongs (1)

PPH (736903) | about 3 years ago | (#36858848)

The fix is closely coupled to what's wrong. So arguing about what's wrong is a necessary step in formulating a solution. But we can't even get people to agree on the exact problem, so that's where we are stuck.

Actually, most people here can more or less agree on what the problem is. But the players in the system continue to throw out red herrings to distract the political system from the actual target. One thing I didn't hear in the NPR show was an analysis if Intellectual Ventures' lobbying efforts, political contributions and hooks into the judicial as well as legislative systems. Therein lies the real problem.

Mafia comparison? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36858714)

"Intellectual Ventures is compared to a Mafia protection racket that may never actually burn down a business that does not pay the dues, but does encourage such burning to occur."

Nice, innovative, lucrative computer program you have there. It'd be a shame if something "happened" to it (pats pile of patents on desk and glances at lawyers just outside the door).

Time Limit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36858752)

There has got to be a time limit imposed on patents other than the 17 years. If a patent owner does not have a functioning product in production, say, within 5 years of the patent being awarded then the patent should be released to the public domain. If you have it, use it, otherwise, let it go.

The Ninja-Pirate-Robot Version (1)

Lord Juan (1280214) | about 3 years ago | (#36858758)

As a somewhat regular (minus long hiatuses) player of kingdom of loathing, I couldn't help but read the title like this >.

Obviousness (2)

txghia58 (951109) | about 3 years ago | (#36858802)

From the podcast it mentions a photo sharing site that got sued along with some 130 different companies. If 130 some odd companies came up with the same concept independently, doesn't that make the patent invalid as it would fail the obviousness requirement?

Re:Obviousness (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | about 3 years ago | (#36858844)

From the podcast it mentions a photo sharing site that got sued along with some 130 different companies. If 130 some odd companies came up with the same concept independently, doesn't that make the patent invalid as it would fail the obviousness requirement?

Not if they all came up with it after the first guy released his product to market. Essentially, claiming that something is obvious after its been on sale for months by someone else is more sour grapes than legal evidence.

Re:Obviousness (1)

St.Creed (853824) | about 3 years ago | (#36859004)

"Obvious" is a legal term, different from how you would interpret it - it only has a remote relationship with the English word "obvious".

I just had a chat tonight with a software friend of mine who's now going to become an IP lawyer about this topic, patents and other good stuff, where this came up as well. Basically, he told me that "obvious" for patents is defined as: "if you take everything that has been written in the relevant literature previous to the patent application, and you can combine that to directly derive the idea, then it is obvious". Not even indirect derivations are obvious, even when normal people *would* consider them obvious.

So even if 1000 companies come up with the idea, but don't write it up, or only come up with it *after* the patent application, then it's not defined as "obvious". It has to be published.

Re:Obviousness (2)

Theaetetus (590071) | about 3 years ago | (#36859162)

"Obvious" is a legal term, different from how you would interpret it - it only has a remote relationship with the English word "obvious".

I just had a chat tonight with a software friend of mine who's now going to become an IP lawyer about this topic, patents and other good stuff, where this came up as well. Basically, he told me that "obvious" for patents is defined as: "if you take everything that has been written in the relevant literature previous to the patent application, and you can combine that to directly derive the idea, then it is obvious". Not even indirect derivations are obvious, even when normal people *would* consider them obvious.

So even if 1000 companies come up with the idea, but don't write it up, or only come up with it *after* the patent application, then it's not defined as "obvious". It has to be published.

Close, but not quite... While patent examiners certainly look at publications, non-published prior art is still available (except during reexams). So, if 1000 companies come up with the idea, and use it, they don't need separate write-ups. I am a US patent practitioner, and I've had everything from sales brochures to help screens cited as prior art for various things.

Not quire sure what you mean though by "indirect derivations". Contrary to what your friend thinks, prima facie obviousness doesn't require a showing of directly combining disclosures of multiple prior art elements. Instead, an invention may be obvious if it is merely suggested by a combination of known elements, or even if there's an unknown element but a finite and predictable number of potential replacements (have him take a look at KSR v. Teleflex). Now, if you're saying that an invention is obvious even if nothing in the prior art teaches or suggests an element, or that there's tons of different elements that could be used without predictable effects, then I'm not sure how that's obvious.

One last thing, regarding the connection between the legal term "obvious" and the English word "obvious"... They are the same, but you have to remember that this is an administrative decision of a government agency acting in a quasi-judicial manner. A patent examiner can't just say, "it's obvious," without providing any evidence, any more than a judge can say, "you're guilty," without any evidence. So, really, what we're talking about is the Examiner being able to provide a prima facie case that an invention is obvious, and that requires evidence... so if he really feels, in his heart of hearts, that the invention is obvious, but can't find any prior art to show that, then it's at best legally unsupportable, and at worst, improper hindsight.

Re:Obviousness (1)

St.Creed (853824) | about 3 years ago | (#36861856)

Hi,

you're correct ofcourse - what was actually said was that there had to be a direct benefit for the combination, not a process whereby you have to combine known elements, and then combine *those* new elements in order to have the new invention (what I meant by indirect derivations). That would not be obvious, it had to be "one step" removed from known items, not two steps.

I didn't know about the prior art in unpublished help screens counting as well, which is good to know. I'm not sure if there is a difference there between first-to-file (EU) and first-to-invent (US) patent systems there, though?

Re:Obviousness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36907540)

From the podcast it mentions a photo sharing site that got sued along with some 130 different companies.
If 130 some odd companies came up with the same concept independently, doesn't that make the patent invalid as it would fail the obviousness requirement?

Yes. But proving that takes money.

Not NPR (2)

Ophion (58479) | about 3 years ago | (#36858912)

This American Life is a Public Radio International (PRI) show, not a National Public Radio (NPR) one.

Re:Not NPR (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36859464)

Yeah, but the people who did the story work for the Planet Money podcast, which is a collaboration between TAL and NPR.

Lodsys same company (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36858930)

You know, those folks suing apple developers directly? They've already collected money from Apple, but they're suing their customers... hmm... sounds like our friends from Utah an awful lot.

They have done legitimate things (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36859262)

Um, how can the company be a troll if they don't sue anyone?

Someone who works at Intellectual Ventures had a feature in Make magazine recently about his project to zap mosquitoes with lasers in order to control malaria.

Also, they developed a plan to build a very cheap way to solve global warming by building a hose to spew sulphur into the upper reaches of the atmosphere just like a volcano does. This was described in the book "Super Freakonomics." I hadn't heard this idea before, and it is ingenious.

Not everyone who owns a patent is a troll. It's was created by someone who used to work at Microsoft, Nathan Myhrvold. From their website:

"We believe ideas are valuable. At Intellectual Ventures, we invest both expertise and capital in the development of inventions. We collaborate with leading inventors and partner with pioneering companies. By providing access to our portfolio of patents, we help our customers innovate and reduce their risk by Bridging the Invention Gap between the invention rights they currently have and the invention rights they need."

It sounds to me like a legitimate operation involved in developing and monetizing ideas. Just because there is money involved doesn't mean they're automatically trolls. This story seems like sensationalism: "They have halls loaded with empty companies.....buh buh bum! Hide your children!"

Re:They have done legitimate things (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36859798)

Um, how can the company be a troll if they don't sue anyone?

IANAL, so I'm not familiar with the details, but I think it goes like this:

  • 1. make your company a holding company [wikipedia.org]
  • 2. split off a daughter company
  • 3. make the daughter company sue the pants off of a victim with one of your thousands of patents
  • 4a. if the lawsuit is lost, make daughter company go bankrupt. their only asset was the patent which is now invalidated anyway.
  • 4b. if the lawsuit is won, make sure the money is somehow transferred back to holding company (e.g. the daughter company "buys" advice for $lots)
  • 5. when the holding company has more money, buy more patents, hire more lawyers and sue more victims.
  • 6. profit!!! (*)

(*) I see no need for a step 5.5 ???
If you want to make sure to do it right, hire your own attorney instead of just following Slashdot AC comments advice.

Excellent episode. (1)

surfcow (169572) | about 3 years ago | (#36860346)

One of their best.

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/

Incentives (1)

zenyu (248067) | about 3 years ago | (#36863840)

This is a problem of incentives. We could pass one three sentence law and clean up the patent mess within a couple decades:

  1. For each claim of a patent later overturned in court each defendant shall be paid $5,000,000 out of the general budget of the PTO; adjusted for inflation each year.
  2. Patent fees shall be be set by the PTO to be at minimum $1,000,000 per claim.
  3. Fees shall be set so as to collect sufficient revenues to fund all spending by the PTO plus an additional 5,000% (to account for some of the cost of patent holder's rent seeking to the greater economy.)

The first sentence helps clean up the backlog of existing bad patents and the other two will help stem the flood of future crap.

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