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US Patent Regime Is Absurd

Unknown Lamer posted more than 2 years ago | from the self-inflicted-wound dept.

Patents 202

An anonymous reader writes in with an opinion piece in the Economist about the the effects of patent trolling on the US economy. The author argues that the U.S. patent regime is causing the U.S. essentially to harm itself. Things have gotten so bad that paying for protection is par for the course.

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Stole my idea (5, Funny)

Toe, The (545098) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964464)

The idea of patents being bad for the economy is MY intellectual property.

I'm suing the author, the poster (meaning everyone who has ever posted as anon), and Slashdot.

The Toe (0)

mfh (56) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964496)

Was my idea but they didn't allow comma characters in the usernames when I made my account. I'm suing you for exactly the amount of money you win from your previous case plus damages.

Re:The Toe (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36964852)

There is no need to get all upitty about it. There is no problem with having multiple patents covering the same idea. Heck, it is such a great idea that I am thinking about filing one for myself.

Re:The Toe (3, Funny)

jefe7777 (411081) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965012)

There is no problem with having multiple patents covering the same idea.

Guess again! I have a patent on multiple patents covering the same idea.

Pay up bitches!

Re:The Toe (2)

19thNervousBreakdown (768619) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965832)

I have a patent on ideas coming from you. Give me all of your money, and don't even think of trying to get out of it.

Re:Stole my idea (3, Funny)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965880)

The idea of patents being bad for the economy is MY intellectual property.

Then you might want to send a cease and desist to President Obama. In his remarks to the press today, he mentioned "patent reform" as part of his agenda for the next 14 months.

We'll see what comes of it, but I've got the feeling we're going to be seeing hearing a little more media coverage of the issue of patent reform, at least until the next celebrity overdose or semi-attractive white woman on trial for murder.

It'll be interesting to see how the anti-US government Fox News covers the story. Patents seem to be the very definition of "big government" and all "intellectual property" is "anti-free market".

I say, "Get the government out of our business and do away with all patents, copyrights and trademarks. We don't need no stinkin' Big Government to be involved with their job-killing regulations and picking winners and losers by giving patents.

We'll see if FreedomWorks and the Chamber of Commerce gets behind THAT anti-government message.

Regime (2, Funny)

mfh (56) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964466)

Anything that is a regime is absurd!

Just make things free and democratic okay? Otherwise it's gonna be regime-change time!

Re:Regime (4, Funny)

Swanktastic (109747) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964602)

Those Fascists who run the Patent office are a bunch of Commies...

In closely related news ... (5, Insightful)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964504)

Human genes [acs.org] can be legally patented, according to a Federal Appeals court.

Now, the difference here is that the genes are isolated from the body as a whole, but it seems like we're not too far from being in breach of patent every time we get it on.

Re:In closely related news ... (1)

FredFredrickson (1177871) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964718)

Oh man, our child is a red head and has freckles.. guess we have to put him down or face the consequences of gene patent violation.

I'm still waiting for them to do to human genes what seed companies do to their patented crops: Render them sterile so they can't reproduce. That might actually make gene patents worth it.

Re:In closely related news ... (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964850)

I believe the justification for this is that they don't want genetically modified crops escaping to the wild in case they have some adverse effects. It's a happy coincidence for the companies that make the seeds, but there is some non-evil logic to it as well. What would happen if they made genetic modifications to the crops than ended up wiping out huge swaths of forest. People would be saying sterilization of these crops was a good idea then.

Re:In closely related news ... (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965902)

I believe the justification for this is that they don't want genetically modified crops escaping to the wild in case they have some adverse effects. It's a happy coincidence for the companies that make the seeds, but there is some non-evil logic to it as well. .

Actually no, making plants grown from hybrid seed sterile has been used long before there was genetic modification*. Seed companies been seeking that trait to protect their patented seed lines since the 30s.

* Genetic modification has been going on via the much slower means since human kind started in agriculture.

Re:In closely related news ... (1)

ryantmer (1748734) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964964)

I'm still waiting for them to do to human genes what seed companies do to their patented crops: Render them sterile so they can't reproduce. That might actually make gene patents worth it.

I will patent the stupidity gene, meaning all stupid people will be rendered sterile and unable to reproduce.

You're welcome, humanity.

Re:In closely related news ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36965362)

If your grandfather couldn't get it to work, what make you think you can?

Re:In closely related news ... (2)

RingDev (879105) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965006)

That's actually not necesarily GM work. Lots of crops work based on a breeding stock, and a yield stock. You need to grow enough of the breeding stock to get seeds to plant for the yield stock, but due to the selective breeding, the yield stock is often sterile.

Not that Monsanto isn't 95% evil or anything (I gotta give 'em some credit for Golden Rice), but sterile yield crops isn't necessarily due to them.

-Rick

Re:In closely related news ... (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964834)

Now, the difference here is that the genes are isolated from the body as a whole, but it seems like we're not too far from being in breach of patent every time we get it on.

No we're not, but the company is already charging thousands of dollars [blogspot.com] for you to know if YOUR copy of the relevant gene is mutated and if you should be more vigilant about breast or ovarian cancer*, which is of course criminal by any sane standards.

(* to those two women who are reading slashdot, this applies. For everyone else, well, it still raises your health insurance)

Re:In closely related news ... (1)

TwilightXaos (860408) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965412)

Men can get breast cancer as well.

Re:In closely related news ... (2)

Genda (560240) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965988)

Here's the really ugly part

A doctor receives a patient. The patient has cancer, and to the amazement of the doctor the man survives and is discovered to have extraordinary traits of interest to the doctor. The doctor patents the cell line he develops from the man, keeping him coming to his office for years after he has been cured on threat of relapse and death, all for the purpose of furthering his personal research. The doctor can make the argument that this ones man's year perhaps even decades of suffering will save thousands of lives and oh by way make the Doctor a very wealthy man. The doctor see's no point in informing the man, or his family of what he's doing in spite of the fact that he's been serving his own interests and not his patient for years and doing so through deception.

Does the Doctor own this man's genetic material? Should he? What are his rights? Should he be required to share his discovery and wealth with his patient? If the man finds out he's been egregiously abused and misused, what rights does he have? It is arguable the Doctor has the rights to them man's genome, and can legally force him to continue providing samples to further the Doctors research. It is also arguable that the Doctor has the right to force the man to deliver children, grand children any other descendants to determine whether or not they carry the patented genes and therefore legally bound to continue this medical slavery.

This is just one of the many reasons that the growth of open source genome research has been exponential. Reducing people to a commodity of genetic traits to be mined by patent hungry biotech businesses paints a very gloomy future for what it means to be human. You think farmers are having a hard time with Monsanto? Imagine when their lawyers show up at your door because a plasmid in one of their products becomes widely spread by common bacteria and they sue you into oblivion for stealing there IP because you got infected. The mind shudders at the depth and breadth of what will be possible, and how little protection the common man has today in the face of corporate power and depravity.

US Patent Regime Is Absurd (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36964522)

Thank you captain obvious!

Re:US Patent Regime Is Absurd (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36964600)

You're missing the point. It's not that the patent system in the US is absurd...almost everyone here will acknowledge that. The story here is that a major publication like the Economist is taking that stance. When it's a bunch of nerds in an online forum whining about it, nothing will ever change. When it hits the mainstream, the politicians have to take notice.

Re:US Patent Regime Is Absurd (2)

DrgnDancer (137700) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964802)

The linked planet Money story is well worth a listen, though it's a bit long. The This American Life [thisamericanlife.org] that the Planet Money story is based on is even longer, but again fairly entertaining. I actually drove around for an extra 15 minutes Saturday afternoon to continue listening to the whole thing.

In other news (1, Insightful)

White Flame (1074973) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964562)

Water is wet, the sky is blue, and I didn't RTFA.

No, actually... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36965650)

Water is that which makes other things wet. Saying "water is wet" is like saying "the paint is painted." It is semantically absurd.

Also, the sky isn't blue. It just looks that way because of how light gets refracted as it passes through stuff in the sky.

But...if you tell me you didn't RTFA, I will believe you.

Old news is old (1)

Kc_spot (1677970) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964568)

The patent process is dumb in the first place. The opinion piece is only bringing up old points. Notify me when major groups take action.

Nu-uh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36964570)

The author argues that the US patent regime is causing the US essentially to harm itself.

If that were true, the US would be in the toilet, financially-speaking. Oh wait...

Podcast about this (5, Informative)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964578)

The often-wonderful This American Life show covered this topic quite recently. They tried to find out what the deal was with Intellectual Ventures and their ilk, and made some surprising discoveries. (I don't want to give away any spoilers.)

You can listen to a podcast of the show here:
http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/441/when-patents-attack [thisamericanlife.org]

Re:Podcast about this (1)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965056)

The Economist, Public Radio... we might be reaching a tipping point regarding patent trolls. When CNBC starts covering the idiocy of patent trolls, I'll know that the end of the insanity is near.

Re:Podcast about this (1)

stereoroid (234317) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965244)

The piece on This American Life is basically the same as the Planet Money piece mentioned in the Economist article - the same Planet Money people did both. When TAL did their award-winning show on sub-prime mortgages [thisamericanlife.org] , it was a compilation of Planet Money shows from the foregoing months.

They're the go-to guys when it comes to clarifying these financial issues. I've been listening to them for years, and can highly recommend them. I mean, how many other journalists actually went out and bought a toxic asset [thisamericanlife.org] ?

The Economist? (1)

srussia (884021) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964604)

I wonder if they feel the "copyright regime" is absurd too.

Re:The Economist? (4, Informative)

MetalliQaZ (539913) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964914)

Copyright isn't absurd the way software patents are.

Pretty much everyone, including OSS software developers, desire the benefits of copyright. The way that the MPAA/RIAA goes about enforcement is definitely out of control, but the fundamental issue is okay.

Software patents, on the other hand, are (at least) well in the the grey area surrounding "what should be patentable". A business process, a mathematical formula, a procedure, an idea? How ethereal can something be and still be someone's property?

The MAFIAA are trying to change the rules to suit their own interests. Patent trolls, on the other hand, are functioning just fine with the rules the way they are.

Re:The Economist? (1)

bky1701 (979071) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965468)

"Pretty much everyone, including OSS software developers, desire the benefits of copyright."

Don't confuse the use of copyright with wanting copyright. A good number of open source developers use licenses to prevent their code from getting into copyrighted corporate products, but wouldn't object to just doing away with the whole system. I am one of them.

Re:The Economist? (2)

Cogita (1119237) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964994)

The point of the Economist's article is not that Patents are inherently completely useless. It is that patents, as they currently work, slow innovation. They point out that innovating individuals are no longer able to proceed with their inventions because they are being attacked with patent infringement lawsuits as soon as they prove they have a viable product.

One of the interesting points they bring up is the inherent fallacy in the "defensive patent". Since patents are by definition supposed to be given only for things which take unique insight to develop, if your opponent is infringing on your patent by accident, it did not take unique insight to develop it.

I guess my point is, the Economist is advocating Patent Reform, not abolishment of patents. While I am not associated with them, I believe they would likely advocate Copyright Reform, but not copyright abolishment.

It can be fixed (1, Offtopic)

sqrt(2) (786011) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964612)

The solutions are simple, but not easy, for political reasons. End software and genetic patents, reduce the length of remaining valid patents. It's clear that the vast majority of businesses that have a stake in producing imaginary property wish for nothing to ever enter the public domain ever again--these same corporations are also the most effective lobbyists in the debate and have controlled the message for years, or decades depending on which specific industry you look at.

Re:It can be fixed (1)

the_greywolf (311406) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964740)

Even outside the area of software and genetics patents, it's hard to make a case that patents meet the requirements of the Constitution, which states that they must exist to encourage invention for the betterment of culture and society. Patents do not engender innovation (invention does happen without patents), and the monopoly protection they afford does not improve culture and society, and in fact results in lower quality, higher prices, and less innovation (since no one is truly permitted to improve on an invention).

Re:It can be fixed (1)

sqrt(2) (786011) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964882)

Which is why the patent protection time limit needs to be shortened. Absent patent protection, a firm will simply keep their advancements as trade secrets for as long as they are able to keep it hidden. The trade off with a patent is that in exchange for telling the world how you did something clever, you get exclusive rights to make economic use of that invention for a time, and then when the patent expires anyone gets to use it and improve on it.

Re:It can be fixed (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965422)

The problem with many patents, especially software patents, is that they do not tell you enough to 'tell the world how you did it'. They are just vague handwaving descriptions of usually pretty obvious methods. They are overly broad, unremarkable and of little inherent value.

Re:It can be fixed (1)

sqrt(2) (786011) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965672)

Yup, which is why they should be banned outright.

Learn from History (2, Insightful)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964642)

The exact extent of how much this can impact an Empire's economy can easily be seen by looking back a little bit into history. A couple of hundred years ago a major world-spanning power had quite restrictive and onerous patent and copyright laws (to the point where certain types of boats could only be constructed in particular home ports), and one of their upstart colonies took advantage of that with much more open and innovation-friendly rules.

The countries in question of course are England and the USA.

Re:Learn from History (2)

Swanktastic (109747) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964876)

The Rise and Fall of the British Empire has absolutely nothing to do with it's patent regulations.

Re:Learn from History (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965346)

But you didn't deny the correlation. Absurd patent systems could simply be a symptom rather than a cause of failing empires.

Re:Learn from History (1)

kj_kabaje (1241696) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965402)

Economic power was very much at the core of the British Empire.  Read "Open Veins of Latin America" to get a taste of that from another perspective if you haven't already.  I think the original posters point, though perhaps over-reaching and misunderstanding the motivations of the rich, white land-owners who started the revolution, is still fairly accurate.

Re:Learn from History (2)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965952)

I mostly think it was a piece of the puzzle. And I don't believe it was a major influence in the why of the split. But it did provide a major benefit after the split that the USA didn't have to abide by England's patent system any longer. In certain industries, (notably shipbuilding) this had major impacts, and basically revived US industries. I think it correlated more closely to the decline of the economic power of the British Empire than anything else, probably as a part of a self-feedback loop like we are seeing the start of in the USA.

Sorry, not enough graft (1)

Freddybear (1805256) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964666)

There just isn't any interest among politicians in changing the patent system (or copyright either) until they get nice fat juicy campaign contributions from the people who are screwed by the current "intellectual property" regime.

What other option is there? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36964668)

From the article:
"And we should be denying patents on the vast majority of the most important inventions, since most seem to involve near-simultaneous invention."
How the hell do we do that? How can a patent office ever possibly determine (1) what are the most important inventions and (2) if a simultaneous invention is taking place elsewhere?
A lawyer friend once told me, "Sure, the legal system in the USA sucks, but it's the best we have, and it's probably the best in the world." That applies to the patent system as well.

Re:What other option is there? (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964844)

Abolish patents outright. It would be better than what we have today. If you discover something first, your reward is being first to market.

Re:What other option is there? (1)

coastwalker (307620) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965840)

unless they steal the source code of your implementation then I think all patents are shit for humanity as the only people who benefit are blood sucking parasite lawyers who should be working on assault and fraud cases rather than taxing the working people of the world. Death is too good for them. Chopping them into little pieces and jumping up and down on them should be a civic duty.

Re:What other option is there? (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965742)

"And we should be denying patents on the vast majority of the most important inventions, since most seem to involve near-simultaneous invention."
How the hell do we do that?

For starters, if another application comes in for essentially the same invention during the period between the first patent application and publication, it should produce the rebuttable presumption that the invention is obvious to one versed in the art, invalidate both, and be recorded as prior art to invalidate future applications. Rebutting the presumption would require one party to show that the other had stolen their technology.

(Aside: I think software and business method patents should not be granted, as separate issues. The above is directed toward fields where patents are appropriate, which are also suffering.)

They should call it the "Wright-Effect" (5, Interesting)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964720)

The Wright brothers may have been the first to build airplanes that could be adequately controlled and sure they patented it. However, the Americans were the only nation who didn't have operational airplanes during WWI because the patent protection basically prevented improvements of the flaws in the Wright brother's patent protected design. They ended up buying French airplanes instead.

Re:They should call it the "Wright-Effect" (3, Interesting)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965986)

And no current airplanes are direct decedents of the Wright brother's planes. All current planes are derived from competing models that didn't violate the Wright brother's patents.

Re:They should call it the "Wright-Effect" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36966058)

And that lasted until the patents were seized by the government and released to the public.

Doesn't matter (5, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964752)

The US government plainly does not care whether their policies make sense, or help the people they ostensibly intend to. All that matters is that the right people get kickbacks and that politicians get reelected.

See the War on Drug Users. This has always been an absurd effort. There has never been an honest argument in favor of criminalizing drugs, and every effort to define a rational policy(from LaGuardia in 1939 to the present day) has recommended decriminalization. Still, the US has waged war on its own citizens for decades, refusing to even allow serious discussion on alternative policies.

You can expect to see the same here. There will be a war on patent infringers and a war on copyright infringers. They will be devastating to individual liberties, and they will be a drag on our economy. Still, the US will not consider alternatives, and will even put the full force of the US propaganda machine against those who do.

Re:Doesn't matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36965234)

Still, the US has waged war on its own citizens for decades, refusing to even allow serious discussion on alternative policies.

War on its own citizens on one hand... Cocaine Importing Agency on the other...

Re:Doesn't matter (2)

iMadeGhostzilla (1851560) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965384)

War on drugs is different. America is puritan and most politicians are afraid to take a stance that the electorate could see as not being morally pure. But with patents, majority of people either wouldn't care or would favor the little guy. So if a compelling case is made and an anti-software-patent lobby starts pushing (led by Google maybe?), things may change.

Simple -- too many lawyers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36964832)

Lawyers, (aka attorneys) as a dear friend of mine puts it, exist to "Protect the Man and Preserve the Status Quo". That is, they produce nothing. Given that how can they be anything but a drag on productivity? The patent system was created so people would share out their ideas for the price of a little protection -- enough to give them first mover advantage in a world of physical production. The root of the problem is the absence of sane decision making concerning computer implementations and "obvious to one of reasonable skill in the art". When the patent system made sane decisions and the courts backed those up, then there was a throttle on the lawyers so their drag on the system was limited. Insanity in the courts has broken the USPTO which has fed back to create an army of lawyers who only have the purpose of using patents that should not have been issued to extract money from companies that could better use it to advance their respective arts.

Time for a Benevolent Dictator? (1)

neurocutie (677249) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964870)

So how exactly is the US going to fix these problems, given its current political, economical structure and corporate culture? Is there any hope of fixing all the big problems from within the system?

No such thing. (1)

Freddybear (1805256) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965226)

There is no such thing as a benevolent dictator. The concept is self-contradictory.
Can we "fix" the system from within? Sure, as long as we don't resort to stupid solutions like setting up dictators.

Re:No such thing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36965976)

I think the GP's point is that the system may well be irrevocably broken. Of course, I'd say that would more make it time for a second revolution than a dictator.

Me, though, I think the flaw is simple enough to fix. No one really thought that any organization would have more influence than the government, so there wasn't really any attempt to defend the government as a whole from outside influence - just from one or two corrupt officials. So eliminate private election funding: every candidate with enough signatures gets a certain amount of time to speak to the relevant section of the population via each of the major channels of communication, and a section of a government website devoted to elections - no personal website. Federal (and possibly state) elected officials aren't permitted to have children, nor hold any non-government jobs at any point in the future, but are given a generous pension. That would eliminate most of the vectors for corruption.

I'd also suggest eliminating lobbying organizations, but it's hard to do so and also provide the legislature with a means of learning about the topic at hand. Capping corporate income to at most 5 or 10 percent more than costs would probably be effective enough, though - no need to squeeze more money out of everyone when it'll just get taxed away.

good and bad are relative (2)

obarthelemy (160321) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964872)

the patent system is good for lawyers, who are disproportionately represented in the pools of elected officials, lobbyists, and political contributors. The current system is extremely good for them, and mildly good for politicians in generals as it helps finance the whole lobbying/contributions rigmarole.

since both parties benefit, and have no balls anyway... things will stay that way.

Too much rhetoric over the wrong things. (3, Insightful)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964888)

It is true that software patents, such as the one mentioned in the article, should never have been allowed in the first place. They have done almost nothing but damage.

But aside from the bad decision of allowing software patents, the big problem has been the apparent incompetence of the Patent Office itself: issuing patents for things it never should have (because of things like prior art for example).

If we want to have rational debate about the matter, we have to distinguish between bad laws (software patents), and bad administration of good laws (just about all the rest).

Other than the software patent ruling, the system per se isn't flawed. It has just been badly administered, and in some cases abused. Those are not the same things.

If you're playing poker, and somebody cheats (or fumbles while dealing the cards), that is not a flaw in the rules of poker. Similarly, the fact that our "patent system" is currently being abused in some cases and badly implemented in others is not a flaw in "the system", per se. It's just failure of the responsible parties to do it properly. There is a rather big difference.

Re:Too much rhetoric over the wrong things. (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965366)

I agree. Would you like to add isolated genetic material [slashdot.org] to your list of never-should-have-been-patentable patents?

Re:Too much rhetoric over the wrong things. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965438)

Yes, I would. In my opinion that was another mistake. Genetic material is not "altered" and therefore no longer "natural" because it has been taken out of a cell. A dolphin in an aquarium is not "not natural" or "patentable" for that reason, why should DNA be?

Re:Too much rhetoric over the wrong things. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36965434)

Are you sure about this? It seems to me like at least some economics seems to indicate that almost no patents are useful. See, for instance, http://blog.mises.org/6930/revisiting-some-problems-with-patents/

Of course, that doesn't mean that that patents (like proletarian dictatorships) can't work. However, the current system is clearly flawed. I think it isn't even clear that it is beneficial in areas that are considered the prime examples of their utility -- like drug research. Sure, the patent system is great for coming up with more substances that increase libido, which I'm sure is great for many, but the current incentive structure makes it economic suicide for pharma companies to invest a lot of money into new antibiotics.

Re:Too much rhetoric over the wrong things. (1)

Trintech (1137007) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965436)

But aside from the bad decision of allowing software patents, the big problem has been the apparent incompetence of the Patent Office itself: issuing patents for things it never should have (because of things like prior art for example).

History [wikipedia.org] paints a slightly different story. The Patent Office initially refused to allow software patents and the total number of patents granted per year was fairly small. After being overruled by the supreme court in Diamond v. Diehr, the Patent Office was forced to change its policies. From the wikipedia article:

In the 1981 case of Diamond v. Diehr, the United States Supreme Court upheld the CCPA's reversal of the USPTO, and ordered the grant of a patent on an invention, a substantial part of which involved use of a computer program which used a well-known formula (the Arrhenius Equation) for calculating the time when rubber was cured and the mold could therefore be opened. The Supreme Court stated that in this case, the invention was not merely a mathematical algorithm, but a process for molding rubber, which was therefore patentable. In the Diehr case, there was no concession that the implementation was conventional, and the process did effectuate a transformation of substances (from uncured rubber to cured rubber). After this point, more patents on software began to be granted, albeit with conflicting and confusing results. After its creation in 1982, the CAFC charted a course that tried to follow the Diehr precedent. Patents were allowed only if the claim included some sort of apparatus, even rather nominal apparatus at times, such as an analog-to-digital converter front end, or in one case a scratch-pad memory for storing intermediate data. A representative decision from this period is In re Schrader, in which the CAFC set forth probably its best and most detailed formulation of the rule it was attempting to follow. Dissatisfaction with the perceived artificiality of this rule erupted, however, in rulings beginning with the en banc 1994 decision in In re Alappat, in which the CAFC majority held that a novel algorithm combined with a trivial physical step constitutes a novel physical device. Therefore, a computing device on which is loaded a mathematical algorithm is a "new machine", which is patentable. This ruling was followed up in In re Lowry, which held that a data structure representing information on a computer's hard drive or memory is similarly to be treated as a patent-eligible physical device. Finally, in State Street Bank v. Signature Financial Group, the CAFC ruled that a numerical calculation that produces a "useful, concrete and tangible result", such as a price, is patent-eligible.

Re:Too much rhetoric over the wrong things. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965466)

"History [wikipedia.org] paints a slightly different story. The Patent Office initially refused to allow software patents and the total number of patents granted per year was fairly small. After being overruled by the supreme court in Diamond v. Diehr, the Patent Office was forced to change its policies. From the wikipedia article:"

You must have misunderstood me or gotten my context wrong, because I do not (and did not) disagree with any of this.

Re:Too much rhetoric over the wrong things. (1)

Trintech (1137007) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965684)

You must have misunderstood me or gotten my context wrong, because I do not (and did not) disagree with any of this.

Sorry, I should have clarified my point after the except. Basically, what I was trying to point out is that, per the new policy, the addition of an 'apparatus' makes an idea novel. Thus, adding the word 'the internet' to another patent already granted is technically a valid, patentable idea. While anyone with common sense can see its not novel or can think of similar things that have already been done, the fact is the USPTO must follow these ridiculous policies and blaming them for this mess when there is little they can do about it, i feel, is unwarranted.

Re:Too much rhetoric over the wrong things. (1)

scamper_22 (1073470) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965538)

I'd love for you to explain in detail with real world examples what makes software patents so much worse than regular patents. With brothers in both chemical and mechanical engineering, they deal with the same crap we do.

The problem is not with the patent office itself. Its 'easy' for us to decide what is and is not a valid patent in hindsight looking back on history and dealing with abstracts.

It's much harder to figure out what a patent is when reading the claims section of an actual patent when an industry is blossoming and they get thousands if not millions of applications. Each of course having to be looking at with rigor and written by lawyers for the purpose of confusing the patent agent into thinking their idea is unique.

And no, I absolutely don't think you should ever separate the laws from the administration of said laws. I think this is one of the absolute WORST things you can do as a public official.

Hey, wouldn't it be great to control drugs so people don't get addicted (good law)... oh damn... its not working, we're ruining people's lives, sending people to jail for smoking a plant, spending god knows how much on police resources and prison guards... (bad administration)

No, the law IS the administration of said law. The law is all the details and all the processes that the piece of legislation has.

ObamaCare is not just a title of a law that says making 'making healthcare affordable'. It is the thousands of pages of details in the law that will either make it or break it.

We shouldn't be making laws without a reasonable means of administrating them in a sensible fashion.

If the patent process is broken... the patent law is broken.

If you want a term for 'ideas' we think are good... these are called ideals or goals. It might be a goal that we protect intellectual property just as it might be a goal to provide healthcare to people or eliminate poverty.

The any piece of legislation or law is defined by the letter of the law and the details in its administration.

Re:Too much rhetoric over the wrong things. (1)

CobaltBlueDW (899284) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965730)

We agree that software patents are bad. That's a good start. However, we do not agree that the patent process is otherwise only plagued by a bad patent office, or that the patent system is good.

Patents not only cause harm, they don't cause good. Let's start with the main argument FOR patents, which is that they create a supply of inventors/producers/artists/etc. This argument is unproven, and clearly (as we agree with software patent) circumstantial at best.

Patents don't encourage inventors to keep inventing, they encourage inventors to become producers. In every situation I can think of; Pharma, Art, Software, Mechanics, etc. they attempt to encourage I.P. creators to continue creating I.P., but instead only succeed in encouraging them to shift their resources into goods production, and patent leveraging. Thus, they fail at creating good.

Now for the harm. Patents are exactly a government issues monopoly. Monopolies and Unions are the Sith Lords of free market economics. A monopoly is less efficient than an unrestricted market at producing the proper quantity of goods. Not only are goods priced higher than they should be, but less goods are produced than needed, which is a double whammy when viewing the situation at the social level. Not to mention any break-down of equitable wealth distribution.

Not only does it cause the monopoly issue on the consumer end, patents are also the absence of collaboration. If you patent the cup, and I patent the ball, our society can never invent the cup-and-ball game. This notion is very prevalent in software, but it certainly isn't limited to software, it's just a bit more of a glaringly obvious example.

Re:Too much rhetoric over the wrong things. (1)

trout007 (975317) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965838)

The flaw in your logic is the same as all centrally planned things. It is easy to describe something in a law or paper but impossible to administer in the real world. It stems from the fact lawyers write laws to be confusing because it gives politicians mo power since you never know if you are violating one.

Engineers deal with this all of the time with project requirements. A real requirement needs a way to verify it has been met. So a requirement that an assembly machine should run quickly and scrap a minimum number of parts is not a requirement. A real requirement would read more like ,the machine should produce 1800 parts that are within specification with less than 1 scrapped part per 1000 parts within spec. This can actually be checked. Unfortunately most laws read like the former.

  The idea of a patent sounds good. The first people to invent something useful get a monopoly on it. The implementation of this is impossible. It would be best to do away with it all together.

Case in point (4, Insightful)

msclrhd (1211086) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964896)

Let's look at two areas of technology: video quality and JavaScript performance.

With video quality, the relevant technologies for modern techniques are patented. This means that competing products are of a poorer quality or are artificially restricted. The companies that hold the patents are less likely to innovate and build on their existing work (except to create more patents), so the state of the art gets held back and is slow to advance.

Now with JavaScript performance, take a look at the competition between Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera and Internet Explorer. All these products are competing against each other without resorting to patents. The net result is that you end up with faster JavaScript on all products, allowing for more advanced and interactive websites to be used. It also makes the competitors (Firefox and Internet Explorer) to improve and advance as the other products compete for user share. The net result is that the users of all web browsers benefit and the technology advances rapidly.

So which one is better for innovation?

Re:Case in point (1)

mcmonkey (96054) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965232)

With video quality, the relevant technologies for modern techniques are patented. This means...

...competing companies have incentive to innovate and build on their existing work to compete with the patented technologies, so the state of the art is fast to advance.

Re:Case in point (2)

suutar (1860506) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965558)

The catch, though, is they have to make _every single step_ of the process completely new and unrelated to anything that has gone before. That means lots of basic research, which is expensive and unreliable. What company is going to spend that kind of money on something that may not pan out (probably won't) instead of on improving something they already have some control over?

Re:Case in point (2)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965658)

With video quality, the relevant technologies for modern techniques are patented. This means...

...competing companies have incentive to innovate and build on their existing work to compete with the patented technologies, so the state of the art is fast to advance.

The key part of your sentence is "build on their existing work". They can't build on the existing work of the patented standard. They can only duplicate effort. And if, by chance, the patent in question covers a mathematical algorithm that is provably the most efficient, then it is inevitable that they will come to the same result (the patent), either intentionally or accidentally, and be unable to continue. Meanwhile, the owner of the patent knows this, and takes his jolly good time improving the patent. How exactly does this translate to faster innovation?

I'm curious: what evidence do you have to refute the OP's claim by showing that the state of the art is progressing faster than it would if there were no video codec patents? His claim was that the patented algorithms essentially cover all possible means for improvement, denying many people the chance to contribute.

Re:Case in point (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36965752)

Except with uncertainties as to what is patented and with the existence of "patent pools/trolls" - aka MPEG LA - that exist solely to block innovation. This should be illegal, they don't produce any useful technology.
From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MPEG_LA):
"MPEG LA, LLC, is a Denver-based firm that licenses patent pools covering essential patents required for use of the MPEG-2, MPEG-4 Visual (Part 2), IEEE 1394, VC-1, ATSC and AVC/H.264 standards"

How sir, can this toxic environment possibly encourage innovation with the constant fear of accidentally infringing on another patent for something that is obvious to people working in the field (Amazon "one-click" anyone?)?

Iffy example. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36965900)

One could take your case and argue that if JavaScript "innovation" had been hampered by patents, we might benefit from true innovation rather than a benchmark pissing war that has created a safety net for crappy, derivative web design.

This is news? (1)

XScB (240898) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964912)

Have you only just noticed?

Re:This is news? (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965500)

The news is that mainstream publications are reporting on it. That hasn't happened before.

I could... (1)

kakyoin01 (2040114) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964950)

...eat a bowl of alphabet soup and--actually wait, I couldn't produce a more obvious article than this, nevermind.

And in other news, the rent is too damn high! Story at 11.

Re:I could... (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965820)

... wait, I couldn't produce a more obvious article than this...

The point of the shashdot article is not the obvious problems with the current patent system.

The point is the news about this information finally becoming visible to, and absorbed by, the policy makers.

Easy Fix (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36964952)

What are patents supposed to do?
Protect investment in research and development until a profit can be recouped in production.

Simple fix:
Require all patent applications to show documented proof of investment.
The more money you spend to develop the idea, the more investment protection you get.
Spend $10 million, you get the monopoly on production until you net $50 million.
If another company wants to make your product tomorrow, they can cut you a check for $50 million.
Spend only $150 and file paperwork to troll, someone could cut you a check for $750 to free your patent ... which will maybe cover a quarter of your lawyer's fees.

Investors get protection, ideas get created for the public good, courts are not overloaded, patent trolls starve under their bridges ... sounds like everybody wins, except the patent trolls ... but fuck 'em.

Re:Easy Fix (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36965294)

Not a bad system, but it screws legitimate startups a bit. I have a patent on a sailboat autopilot that ended up costing me more in paperwork than in development costs.

Re:Easy Fix (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965352)

So protection only for the rich. Basically the same as the current system then?

Move out of the country! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36964966)

As an American software engineer, it's quite clear that I cannot, in my lifetime, become successful with any software I write, without a fairly high chance that some patent troll will take me to the cleaners and bankrupt me for something obvious. You may think the chance is low, but it's growing all the time at an alarming rate. The business plan of patent trolls is solid, they can squeeze the little guy with impunity, and it's perfectly legal to erect these tollbooths around every obvious software concept you can ever dream up.

The only solution I can see is to move out of the country and immigrate somewhere else. That is, all of us, all software engineers who don't work for really large corporations and are thinking of writing something really useful that might become slightly successful enough to be noticed by anyone... With all the trillions of dollars invested in the current patent system, no reform is coming in my lifetime, the big companies will not allow it. Not until we all move out and the USA is way way behind the rest of the world technologically!

Re:Move out of the country! (1)

coastwalker (307620) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965954)

Move to China, that's where you can truly benefit from the fruits of your own labor. Ironic eh?

Double standard (1)

MPAB (1074440) | more than 2 years ago | (#36964968)

A big company or even a ghost company can blow up your proyect because it looks like the application of a concept they patented but never developed. On the other hand, China is allowed to mass produce copies of western products and never face the consequences.

Without Patent Lawyer their is Anarchy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36964990)

Clearly this is another Slashdot anti-capitalist, anti-lawyer, left-wing socialist diatribe. When will you people realize that money makes the world go round. If you aren't smart enough to profit from other peoples ideas and inventions, then you just call those people who are smart enough to take advantage of the financial instruments of capitalism "Trolls".

I suppose you'd rather have us all living in some idealized world where everybody has access to affordable health care, and banking executives don't receive cash bonuses for convincing congress to have the tax payer in the sub-$200000 income range fund the bail outs (which keep the economy moving by keeping Wall Street executives employed). I don't think Slashdot gets it.

I'm telling you, it's not the programmers that run this country, it's the lawyers, so get used to it.

Remember, you can tell how civilized a country is by the number of patent attorneys it has.

- ULW

A big part of the problem is an imbalance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36965028)

between the assumption the court makes that the patent is correct
      and the ease with which one can obtain a questionable patent.

Adopting the Business Model (2)

RenderSeven (938535) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965052)

As a small business I have a few patents. Nothing earth-shaking but they're OK and make me a little coin. I dont have even the slightest whiff of the finances to fight off a challenge, or patent war, or even outright theft from any substantial company. So I figure if that ever happens my best recourse is to sell the IP to a Troll in exchange for a percentage of the winnings and let them battle it out.

Maybe thats the new paradigm, grant a Troll say 20% of future revenue of any patent in exchange for them defending it. Not much different from insurance. Such an arrangement might make someone else think harder before infringing.

And sorry for using the word 'paradigm' in an open forum.

Re:Adopting the Business Model (1)

Urkki (668283) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965524)

Why would patent troll settle for 20%, when a patent is becoming useless to the inventor, and they're expected to take the risk of losing in court? They might give you 20%, if the patents are especially exploitable. Likely you could only use them as a means to exact revenge, giving all financial gain (and risk) to the patent troll.

Re:Adopting the Business Model (1)

RenderSeven (938535) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965890)

Im just throwing out the 20% number. But the Troll would get 20% of every patent and all future royalties and gains even if its never challenged. Thats not bad money for doing absolutely nothing except expressing a vague threat to potential infringers. But point taken it may not be much compared to litigating. Perhaps sweeten the deal so that the Troll gets 100% of damages and 50% of anything else collected? I cant believe there isnt a new business model in there somewhere for a disreputable lawyer to finesse a profit from.

But your bigger point that patents are becoming (have become?) useless is a given, I agree.

The real hypcrisy is calling them "patent trolls" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36965058)

If you subscribe to the notion of "intellectual property", then certainly owning said property is sufficient reason for demanding pay when others want to use it. You can't have it both ways. I'll agree that patent trolls highlight the absurdity of monopolizing ways of doing things, but if your conclusion is to just work towards eliminating patent trolls, then you haven't fully grasped why patent trolling is absurd in the first place.

Quit whining (-1, Troll)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965122)

The people I read whining about this aren't the ones coming up with original ideas. They seem to be people who want to clone someone else's successful idea. Or are just whining.

Look who's getting hit with patent problems - Spotify, which is yet another streaming music service. Hulu, which is yet another streaming video service. Rovio, whose Angry Birds is a clone of an old "attack the castle" game. These are not innovative companies.

Even Linux isn't very original. It's basically a UNIX clone. It's not an original OS, like PenPoint or QNX or BeOS. OpenOffice is as much like Microsoft Office as it can be made to be. Apache started as a clone of the NCSA web server.

Come up with something new, and you have far fewer patent problems. I have four issued software patents myself, all in areas where the existing technology didn't work but mine did.

Re:Quit whining (2)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965324)

I have four issued software patents myself, all in areas where the existing technology didn't work but mine did.

So your software did ONLY new things, and did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that someone else did before?

You invented a completely new data storage system, display system, input system, processing system, operating system, help system, feedback system, purchasing system, and so on, and you still only managed to get 4 patents?

Re:Quit whining (1)

Whatsisname (891214) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965514)

Inventions that are "completely new" are virtually non-existent. Virtually all progress is incremental improvements over what already exists.

Microsoft Office was hardly an "original". Excel took most of its ideas from Lotus 1-2-3 which took its ideas from Visicalc which took its ideas from paper spreadsheets. Other Office products have similar histories. The NCSA web server started as a clone of the CERN http web server.

The patent system operates from a fundamentally improper idea of how invention takes place: that inventions are unique "eureka" type moments. That's not how they actually come into existence.

Re:Quit whining (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36965528)

I tend to come up with more or less original ideas anytime I open a text editor and start coding. If I patented everything I wrote, I'd have lost count long ago. And I don't consider myself to be particularly great (I've met people from MIT. Holy MOLY are they good). Now those are the kinds of people you mostly hear 'whining' about patents.

Re:Quit whining (2)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965530)

Spotify, which is yet another streaming music service.

They're being sued the original streaming service, right? The one that had the original idea, original implementation, based on never-before seen algorithms, data structures and math? Right?

Hulu,

See above.

Rovio,

See above.

Come up with something new, and you have far fewer patent problems.

Wrong. Come up with something new, and hope that you have deeper pockets than anyone threatened by your patent.

I have four issued software patents myself, all in areas where the existing technology didn't work but mine did.

Unless you used new math, you copied many, many ideas while creating your software. The only reason no one has sued you over those patents is because they're either not used, not in areas anyone cares about, or no one cares that you have the patents.

Stagnation (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965326)

Is /. so stagnated now that they've resorted to just reporting basic facts!?

This is news? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36965546)

We already know this.

and the other side AKA china is just as bad where (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965616)

and the other side AKA china is just as bad where any thing can get ripped off with little to no recourse.

Will Wilkinson (1)

AmElder (1385909) | more than 2 years ago | (#36965768)

The author of the linked blog post is Will Wilkinson [willwilkinson.net] . That wasn't immediately obvious to me when I clicked through, so I thought I'd share it. Wikipedia describes his approach [wikipedia.org] as libertarian and "a mixture of John Rawls's principles and Friedrich von Hayek's methods".

Interesting guy and a good writer.

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