×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Google's Patent Lawyer On Why the Patent System Is Broken

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the but-that's-absurd dept.

Patents 260

The San Francisco Chronicle features an interview with Google's patent counsel, Tim Porter, who argues that "... what many people can agree on is the current system is broken and there are a large number of software patents out there fueling litigation that resulted from a 10- or 15-year period when the issuance of software patents was too lax. Things that seemed obvious made it through the office until 2007, when the Supreme Court finally said that the patent examiners could use common sense. Patents were written in a way that was vague and overly broad. (Companies are) trying to claim something that's really an idea (which isn't patentable). There are only so many ways to describe a piston, but software patents are written by lawyers in a language that software engineers don't even understand. They're being used to hinder innovation or skim revenue off the top of a successful product." Porter is speaking in particular about the snarls that have faced (and still face) Android, based on Microsoft patents; he blames some of the mess on a patent regime where "you don't know what patents cover until courts declare that in litigation. What that means is people have to make decisions about whether to fight or whether to reach agreements."

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered

260 comments

Preaching to the choir? (2, Insightful)

Naerymdan (870497) | more than 2 years ago | (#37969942)

Nothing new here; forget for an instant that it's our beloved Google behind this lawyer, and it's simply someone under patent fire saying that patent aren't fair. Not to say I do not agree, but if Google was at the top patent-wise, would we see that article?

Re:Preaching to the choir? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970174)

Exactly! If Google were primarily IP creators rather than IP poachers, we wouldn't be reading this self-serving spiel. We'd be reading the opposite self-serving spiel.

Re:Preaching to the choir? (4, Insightful)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970534)

That thought did run through my mind, but I really do not care. I hate software patents because they screw over the "small business" everyone seems to be so worried about.

Lets just say I write some code, this code turns out to be a part of a piece of software for a small company. The small company releases it and 5 years later are sued because the code infringes on a patent that no one knew about.

The funny thing is, the code was simple enough that I could have written it a different way avoiding this issue. But because the small business didnt have lawyers out the butt to find this out.

The question I wonder is, did the company reverse engineer the software to find out? Isnt that illegal as well? Why were they doing that?

Re: Well fuck my ass and call me your bitch. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970562)

Google = JEWS

Re: Well fuck my ass and call me your bitch. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970594)

Silence, goyim . Do not question the motives of the Chosen People.

Re:Preaching to the choir? (4, Insightful)

RazorSharp (1418697) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970572)

Ah, the old Clockwork Orange argument: an action isn't good without good intent.

When it comes to the patent wars, I think those on the losing end of things are bound to be the ones to petition for reform. We might as well support them, regardless of what drives them to this position.

yup (4, Insightful)

arbiter1 (1204146) | more than 2 years ago | (#37969946)

Most new products come out and they don't even know they violated patents for years in most cases cause companies that hold the so called patent even know they could claim anything til years later.

Re:yup (1)

FyRE666 (263011) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970580)

Why shouldn't it be the responsibility of the patent owner to contact the company intending to develop a product, before they sink resources into it?

Much like building planning works (in the UK at least) the company involved must declare their intentions in the local papers, and posters around the area, so that anyone with an concern or complaint can find an avenue to raise their objections.

If there were a site where any company could post details of what they were intending to produce, then the patent trolls... sorry, I mean innovators with patent portfolios would be responsible for contacting the company. This would effectively prevent a "crime" and obviously save the patent troll... I mean innovators with the patents "millions of dollars" worth of damage to their business. Surely we'd all like to prevent crime right? Of course, this could cost the patent trolls (ah hell, I'll leave it) money scanning the site for things that could infringe on their highly valuable patents, but I won't lose any sleep over that, personally.

This would obviously only work where the invention is blatantly obvious and the company intending to produce the product is not concerned with their idea being out in the public (think: making a a cog, writing a quicksort algorythm, a web browser, etc)

At the moment the whole patent system is designed to criminalise people who often have absolutely no way of knowing they're commiting any crime. How on Earth can the law support that position?

Still is bad (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37969948)

The issuance of patents is *still* bad, it wasn't just some period in the past.

The problem stems from the core software patent problem, trade secrets work so well in software's case that no patent examiner can be aware of the body of prior art that exists. Likewise he can't know if it's an invention, or just an incremental change from what already exists.

And he may be fooled that the patent office has changed its spots, it hasn't. It still defaults to issuing patents when in doubt.

Re:Still is bad (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970030)

Likewise he can't know if it's an invention, or just an incremental change from what already exists.

My favorite personal infringement was "use of XOR to draw a cursor" - wow, like, can I patent the use of a coin in a random game of chance with 50/50 outcome, too?

The only possible benefit of the trolls is that, 17 years after they've done their trolling, it is then clearly in the public domain. That XOR patent expired sometime in the 1990s.

XOR cursor from 1977 (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970618)

My favorite personal infringement was "use of XOR to draw a cursor"

To be fair the XOR cursor patent was filed in Jan 1978. Perhaps in 1977 when folks were working on this it was not quite so obvious as it is to us today. I'm just adding some context, I'm not saying it was necessarily patent worthy. I think we would need to know more about raster graphics used in TV, it may be more relevant than computer graphics.
"In the late 1970s and ’80s raster graphics, derived from television technology, became more common, though still limited to expensive graphics workstation computers."
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/491818/raster-graphics [britannica.com]

Re:Still is bad (4, Insightful)

billcopc (196330) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970250)

That is the fundamental problem. To the average human, a patent is total gibberish. To an expert, it is still gibberish. The only people who can "read" patents are lawyers, and they lack the subject matter expertise to make any real sense of it.

I say patent writers need to "sell" the patent examiner on the merit of their patent. You want an exclusive license to extort the world with an idea ? Ok, prove to me that you've actually created something new. If it's a tech patent, it needs to be reviewed by an examiner with at least 5-10 years of experience in the field. That way they will be better equipped to tell if the patent covers something trivial.

If the greedy hypercapitalist swine who support the patent system aren't willing to abolish it, then we should at least require that the patents be written in such a way that a novice can understand it. It's like usability testing. I don't expect my 80-year-old grandparents to understand (for example) FTP, but even a first-year CS student should be able to figure out from the first paragraph that it is a file transfer protocol that copies bits from one networked computer to another. By extension, an examiner with 5-10 years of applied experience should be able to identify which parts of a proposed file transfer protocol are painfully obvious, and which parts are innovative and potentially patent-worthy.

I personally can't think of any such innovations over existing protocols, but that's why I don't hold any patents. To a one-trick tech wizard like me, everything is obvious, as it should be. Just like my father thinks I'm a retard for not knowing that light flutter in my car's hum is caused by a bad fuel line pump, because he's a freakin' mechanic - it's obvious to him. We need to ditch obvious patents once and for all so the lawyers can find something better to do, and leave us experts in peace so we can start innovating again.

Re:Still is bad (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970488)

I was with you up until the phrase "greedy hypercapitalist swine" which made me stop paying attention, which is a pity because when I went back and looked at it you started making sensible points again. A hint for the future: try and avoid introducing over-zealous adolescent "political" faux-terminology into otherwise sensible posts. In this situation, "corporations" would have worked just as well, without revealing your clearly strongly-held biases. Shielding your biases while making a reasoned argument is an extremely useful, and powerful, tactic to learn.

I'm glad to see concern (2)

jbolden (176878) | more than 2 years ago | (#37969980)

I think we are close to serious patent reform which is going to be good for everyone. Everyone agrees the system is broken and everyone agrees there are insane patents.

Re:I'm glad to see concern (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970072)

I think we are close to serious patent reform which is going to be good for everyone. Everyone agrees the system is broken and everyone agrees there are insane patents.

Unfortunately, it seems to me like it will take executive (Presidential) action to get reform moving, and I can't see patent reform as an issue worth fighting for, from the perspective of a President running for re-election, or a newly elected President, or even a President in mid-term. It's just not as painful for people as the other issues that currently need addressing.

Re:I'm glad to see concern (2, Informative)

jbolden (176878) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970244)

First off congress is on this issue. And it is bipartisan. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) are the two leading the charge. As for Obama, he was a big supporter of the 2009 Patent reform act Patent Reform Act of 2009 (S. 515), whose modified version went into law in September. While nowhere near enough this is progress.

Re:I'm glad to see concern (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970524)

Yes, lots of talk, but when it comes to making it actually happen... I hope they're better than their records suggest.

Re:I'm glad to see concern (2)

RazorSharp (1418697) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970652)

Fortunately, congress has been busy passing a lot of important legislation lately. [nytimes.com] I'm sure we can trust these wonderful representatives to continue to stand up for the issues that matter as they diligently work to bring this country back to the prominent state God intended it to be in. I'm sure that once congress has passed comprehensive patent reform, they'll soon get to on other digital issues such as legally enforcing net-neutrality and guaranteeing that using the internet does not void one's fourth amendment rights.

Re:I'm glad to see concern (2)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970480)

No, it won't take some presidential action.

Did you read the petition to end software patents? The president's office said clearly: this is a matter of congress.

So whoever is president will have zero to do with the situation. So a president, no matter who it is, is not going to fix this.

Re:I'm glad to see concern (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970538)

Oh yeah, I forgot about that... Well, then, we just have to get 535 squabbling politicians to get behind this and make it happen... I do hope they surpass my expectations.

Re:I'm glad to see concern (5, Interesting)

anubi (640541) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970728)

< sarconal >

Somehow, when I read of all this patent fury, I think of the kids who got to the playground first and "put dibs" on all the playground toys. They could extort other kid's lunch money to play. The kids who got there first liked this arrangement and bribed the teacher to let them do this, and the teacher would enforce their "rights".

Problem is some of the other kids started building more stuff that wasn't under control of the kids who had the "rights" to the existing stuff. But how to you claim rights to keep other kids from doing it?

Simple! Laws already exist for Property. Call it Property!

Now, we have property tax, but we want to make sure that this new property can be claimed, yet we shouldn't be taxed on it because ... uh... why?

With today's sore need of government revenues, why isn't this taxed? I own a house. I pay over 2% of the market value of my house every year for tax.

Wouldn't this stop the patent trolls dead in their tracks if each patent was taxed on the value its owner assigns to it? In the event of an IP "violation", a property owner can sue up to the value he placed on his IP, at which case,upon paying the IP holder his valuation, the sue-ee ends up holding the so-called property and he is free to value it at whatever he thinks its worth.

We love to privatize the gains and socialize the losses.

Stuff like this will get the people benefiting from our method of protecting monopolies to help pay for the people deprived from building things. Think of it as one of the costs of living in a society where armed police will enforce highly profitable monopolies and keep competition at bay. The American Way. Just as pioneered by Al Capone.

The American Way will work as long as we control the world's reserve currency, and can depend on the fruit of our printing press to exchange for our needs.

< /sarconal >

Re:I'm glad to see concern (1)

whoever57 (658626) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970114)

think we are close to serious patent reform which is going to be good for everyone. Everyone agrees the system is broken and everyone agrees there are insane patents.

Unfortunately, I believe you are deluding yourself. Lots of large companies (eg. Microsoft and Apple) display no sign of agreeing that the system is broken.

Re:I'm glad to see concern (3, Informative)

jbolden (176878) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970276)

Horacio Gutiérrez, the deputy general counsel in charge of Microsoft’s intellectual property group is a major proponent of patent reform including the bill passed in September. For example

I think we’ve come a long way, but there remain some areas where the practices in the context of litigation as well as in some administrative proceedings could be adapted to really try to curb the abuses of the system by nonpracticing entities [polite term for patent trolls]..There is currently debate emerging over whether nonpracticing entities should be entitled to obtain an injunction either in court or in the International Trade Commission.

Microsoft is on our side on this one.

As for Apple they are one of the founding companies in the Coalition for Patent Fairness [patentfairness.org].

So I'm not sure where you are getting this idea they support the current system from.

Re:I'm glad to see concern (3, Insightful)

jonwil (467024) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970474)

Microsoft and Apple may not support the system as it stands. But anyone who thinks either company wants the kind of patent reform that many others in the tech industry (including the Google guy posting in TFA) want is deluded. Both companies would think nothing of spending whatever it takes to lobby against any bill that actually made software un-patentable or that tightened up the criteria for what is and isn't patentable in the software field.

Re:I'm glad to see concern (3, Interesting)

jbolden (176878) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970502)

What makes you say that? I can point to them having taken positive steps towards trying for meaningful reform and complaining about the patents. Microsoft and Apple have both been harassed by patents and mostly are pretty successful in innovating. Since their self interest may very well be better served with a less aggressive patent structure, I take them at their word.

Re:I'm glad to see concern (3, Insightful)

jonwil (467024) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970560)

Microsoft makes big money using its patent portfolio for lawsuits and FUD surrounding Linux and Android so it has no incentive to push for reform that makes those patents easier to challenge, harder to get or harder to sue with.

Apple right now is on a mission to crush Android in any court that it can get a hearing in, they dont want to see change that makes it harder for them to do that.

Re:I'm glad to see concern (1)

jbolden (176878) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970602)

Microsoft isn't making big money on those lawsuits. Mainly they are attempting to make sure there is space for the Windows 8 mobile, that Android isn't seen as an obvious cost saving maneuver. And Apple has gotten sued by manufacturers as well.

I'd agree that Android is taking more blows right now from Apple and Microsoft. But both of them, Microsoft especially have had to pay quite a lot for "patent violations".

Re:I'm glad to see concern (4, Interesting)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970640)

Microsoft makes big money using its patent portfolio for lawsuits and FUD surrounding Linux and Android so it has no incentive to push for reform that makes those patents easier to challenge, harder to get or harder to sue with.

You forget that Microsoft also pays licensing fees to other companies for the use of their patents in its products (IIRC, one of them is Oracle's patent on JIT compilation that they've used against Google). You need to look at the balance of those fees to see whether it is profitable for the company. Then also account processing fees on company's own patents - building up a portfolio of your own is not free, and it is necessary to be able to retaliate. Indeed, the latter is the biggest reason why no-one's really happy about it - it's not just about being patent trolled, it's also about all the time and money wasted to keep on par with everyone else in the patent MAD game.

To the best of my knowledge, pretty much no tech companies that actually produce something are in favor of software patents as they stand. Most would prefer some reasonable middle ground (i.e. keep patents, but significantly raise the bar of what's patentable), but I think that many of them would ultimately prefer no patents to the current situation if those were the only two choices.

On our side my ass (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970776)

Any of these companies not calling for outright abolition of all software patents IS NOT ON OUR SIDE.

Re:I'm glad to see concern (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970396)

I think we are close to serious patent reform which is going to be good for everyone. Everyone agrees the system is broken and everyone agrees there are insane patents.

All in all, yes, I agree with you.

Only problem is, "close", in terms of something federal, is anywhere from ten to fifty years out...

Re:I'm glad to see concern (1)

jonwil (467024) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970456)

The only people who make money from software patents are patent trolls, lawyers and companies who would rather litigate than innovate (Microsoft being one example, Apple being another)

Isn't it ironic? (3, Insightful)

scottbomb (1290580) | more than 2 years ago | (#37969988)

Some of the companies that are most innovative are doing everything they can to stifle innovation.

Re:Isn't it ironic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970036)

If you had the power to create a temporary monopoly on the ideas you have, would you? The entire patent process is just a mess and creates just an insane waste of resources. It limits competition and free market forces. It drives prices way up--just consider the drug industry. Ideas should be shared, all ideas. If you don't want to share an idea, then don't publish it.

Re:Isn't it ironic? (4, Insightful)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970160)

I think patents make a lot of sense, for some things [nytimes.com] and not for others [wikipedia.org].

On balance, there are a lot of really bad software patents, simply because you can sit down with any one of a hundred people "skilled in the art" of whatever area of software and ask them "is this obvious?" and they will almost always say yes, though when you ask "why hasn't it been done before?" the answer comes back a little more murky, usually something about it just not having made sense before because of the user base or available hardware or whatever, and during the period of 1995-2005, the patent office seemed to be in rubber stamp mode for software.

If you go back to something like barbed wire [archives.gov], there were probably a half-dozen wire manufacturers crying "oh, that was so obvious, we were about to do that" when the patents issued, but today with software, you literally have millions of individuals who are capable of implementing these things that are getting patented - it's a different scale, and the standard for obviousness and prior art should be equally higher.

Re:Isn't it ironic? (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970070)

Amen to your comment. Ironic to see Google complaining about this given that they are among the few giants who are simultaneously "innovating" in their own interests (favoring innovations in maximizing profits over innovations in improving information) whilst effectively stifling the abilities of other competing organizations to operate competitively in the marketplace.

Re:Isn't it ironic? (1)

Doctor_Jest (688315) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970414)

Some of the companies that WERE most innovative are doing everything they can to stifle innovation.

There... FTFY. :)

When lawyers speak, they are advocates (4, Interesting)

mveloso (325617) | more than 2 years ago | (#37969990)

Tim Porter may be a nice guy and all, but if it was Google with all those so-called bogus/lax patents he'd be up there talking about how the patent system is fine and the problem really is more that the enforcement process depends on endless litigation and how the determination of infringement needs to be more streamlined.

He's a lawyer, his job is to be an advocate/mouthpiece for his employer's interests.

Re:When lawyers speak, they are advocates (3, Insightful)

aiken_d (127097) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970144)

This. There is some value in well-articulated arguments and having a company with Google's clout bringing attention to the patent mess, but the moment Google stands to make more money from the system, this same guy will cheerfully advocate the other side. Which is fine, it's his job.

Re:When lawyers speak, they are advocates (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970708)

Which is fine, it's his job.

It's not fine. Intellectual property is bullshit.

Re:When lawyers speak, they are advocates (4, Insightful)

williamhb (758070) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970436)

Tim Porter may be a nice guy and all, but if it was Google with all those so-called bogus/lax patents he'd be up there talking about how the patent system is fine and the problem really is more that the enforcement process depends on endless litigation and how the determination of infringement needs to be more streamlined.

He's a lawyer, his job is to be an advocate/mouthpiece for his employer's interests.

They (and most companies) play both sides of the fence. At the same time as saying how bad patents are for impinging on their products, they are buying as many companies with far-reaching patents as they can get their hands on -- "Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio", Larry Page. It's a genuine tragedy of the commons -- many of the same people who think patents are bad news are also having to go out and register or acquire them at ever increasing rates so they are armed with them. And the first person to lay down their patents and walk away would be the big loser (as Android nearly found out with its previous strategy of not having many patents, and wound up on the wrong end of so many patent lawsuits).

Re:When lawyers speak, they are advocates (4, Insightful)

kermidge (2221646) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970554)

True enough, but just because he's "got a dog in this race" doesn't preclude him from having a useful view, no?

Re:When lawyers speak, they are advocates (-1, Troll)

cryptoluddite (658517) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970586)

Right, what he meant to say is that Android is having all sorts of patent problems because it's a complete rip-off of previous new work and designs by other companies (Apple and Sun). The real testament to Google's lack of innovation is they had to pay $12 billion for Motorola Mobility in order to get some patents of their own. If they had actually invented things themselves they wouldn't have needed to do that.

It's just sour grapes. Patents are supposed to 'skim off the top' if you're using somebody else's inventions. It's the "ripoff tax" and it's good for society.

Re:When lawyers speak, they are advocates (4, Insightful)

Riceballsan (816702) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970588)

Agreed, but you also have to look at one thing. Google is not the company with tons of bogus lax patents, and from my observations that seems to be more or less by choice. Does it seem imposible that a company google's size with google's legal budget, that they could not have say squeezed through enough pattents to keep microsoft in court for years trying to fight to get bing across. Or say patented their circles following feeds etc... in a way that facebook would have had to wait a few months for a court to invalidate patents before facebook could match every feature of G+. I agree a lawyer speaks in the interest of the client, but I do have to point out, the client specifically chose not to be a patent troll. If someone asks for harsher sentances for serial killers, is your first response "Yeah but if he were a serial killer he'd probably think differently"

Re:When lawyers speak, they are advocates (2)

AchilleTalon (540925) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970726)

What's the problem being a lawyer paid by someone? Is the argument valuable? Yes or no? If yes, then value it. What does it change from who's mouth the argument came? Of course, everyone is paid by someone and everyone is having interests and nobody is objective in this life. It doesn't mean everybody should shut up.

Let me count the ways (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 2 years ago | (#37969992)

I didn't know Google Lawyers were fans of the Bard

Re:Let me count the ways (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970234)

I've never heard that title applied to Elizabeth Barrett Browning [wikipedia.org] before.

Re:Let me count the ways (1)

victorhooi (830021) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970292)

heya,

Lol, why the heck did the parent get downvoted.

He/she is right, "How do I love thee, let me count the ways" is from Elizabeth Browning's Sonnet XLIII.

However, then again, I'm not sure where in this article the "Let me count the ways" reference is even from...?

Cheers,
Victor

Re:Let me count the ways (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970372)

Interesting. A cusory Google search suggests AC is right and the quote is often misattributed to Shakespeare but was written by Browning. I stand corrected, excise me while I wipe the egg off my face.

Re:Let me count the ways (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970466)

I'll get my internet scalpal.

It's not just software... (5, Insightful)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#37969996)

software patents are written by lawyers in a language that software engineers don't even understand.

That's been true across many industries, at least since the 1970s (which is as far back as I ever researched prior art...)

The real indicator of what's broken in the patent system can be read in the patent numbers themselves... in 1992 we were at 5 million and something, since the start of the United States Patent Office, now we're roughly double that number?!

Sorry, everything useful hasn't already been invented, but something is just out of synch. I think an ex-CEO of mine (ex high school football quarterback too) summed up the problem in his own words: "Our competitors were granted 62 patents last year, while we got three, can anybody tell me what that means?" I'm told there was stunned silence in the boardroom. "It means that WE'RE 59 BEHIND, now let's get going!" Patents have been turned into fuel for lawsuits, and they're reaching a scale where even a crappy little $100M/year company can hire a small army of patent attorneys to stock their powder magazine.

Re:It's not just software... (5, Informative)

backslashdot (95548) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970170)

The best example of overbroad patenting is the fact that Apple got a patent for Mag-safe (the breakaway connector on their laptops). Magnetic breakaways had been invented in the 90s and were used on deep fryers. They took the existing work and added the words "computer or electronic device". And guess what now they have a 20year monopoly on magnetic connectors for laptops.

Re:It's not just software... (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970224)

That's the loophole in the patent office: application areas. If you're working in a "new field," you can dig up the steam engine and patent the application of the steam engine in your field.

Somehow, a neighbor of mine got a patent on a "passive braking light," the idea being that when you lift your foot off the accelerator, you slow down, and thus, should flash a warning lamp to traffic behind you. Funny thing was, before he even filed the patent, city buses had this feature: both amber turn indicators would illuminate when the driver got off the throttle, seems that engine braking on the buses was both highly effective and frequently used by drivers, so the bus manufacturers just came up with the idea on their own and implemented it. As you might have guessed, his patent issued, first try with no objections about prior art. Of course, if he ever went after the bus manufacturers, they could flick him off with a simple date of their first use of the idea, but I wonder if his estate was ever successful in licensing that patent to somebody who didn't know about the buses.

Re:It's not just software... (1)

aenigmainc (739876) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970378)

this won't matter too much longer now that we are going to implement "first to file" patents. previous art be damned. if i file, then its mine. so..... tell me your best ideas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_to_file_and_first_to_invent [wikipedia.org]

First to file does not abolish novelty (5, Informative)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970486)

First to file affects only conflicts between one patent application and another patent application. It does not affect the novelty requirement, which is patent application vs. prior art.

Re:It's not just software... (2)

pipedwho (1174327) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970540)

this won't matter too much longer now that we are going to implement "first to file" patents. previous art be damned. if i file, then its mine. so..... tell me your best ideas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_to_file_and_first_to_invent [wikipedia.org]

No. First to file only differs from the previous system (ie. first to 'invent') in that two equivalent patents filed with in a year or two used to go to the inventor that could prove first invention date; whereas with 'first to file' it goes to the one with the earliest filing date.

They also dropped the ability to file within 1 year of prior publication of the invention. This makes prior art much more effective as a defence. It also makes it harder to file patents based on someone else's (or your own) publication.

So, as long as people don't "tell you their best ideas" in secret, your patent can be effectively invalidated with that prior art. In the old system, they'd probably have been screwed if they didn't maintain fully witnessed and officially notarised log books.

Re:It's not just software... (1)

pipedwho (1174327) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970484)

This has also existed on trucks for decades in what is known generically as the 'engine retarder'. There are many different types of retarders from just using engine compression, hydraulic systems and regenerative braking systems. Most trucks have options to augment the brake lights when the vehicle is decelerating due to use of the retarder.

Human beings are.. (3, Interesting)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970004)

... too incompetent to judge the quality of patents anymore, especially regarding software and mathematics. There is an infinite amount of work to be discovered/yet undone. Over time the complexity of modern products/etc has out-stripped human capability and human judgement so we have just ridiculousness things getting patented. Companies will just patent the low hanging fruit which are the foundations of all future work and hang everyone else with it. It's time to put the system down and severely restrain it. We have copyrights that go on forever and the public domain has been completely stolen by corporations.

This is especially apparent with abandon/out-dated/breakware video games or companies that can't afford and whose teams have long since left/died/moved on. Games and IP just sits collecting dust when it should be able to be used by others. I often wonder if take say a hot property universe for the sake of argument say: Transformers, let companies compete on making good games instead of trying to lock down licenses. It's time to get these companies competing on product quality instead.

I think we've all seen companies just lock down stuff and then make mediocre crap with it, it's time for a more sane system.

Re:Human beings are.. (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970048)

... too incompetent to judge the quality of patents anymore, especially regarding software and mathematics. There is an infinite amount of work to be discovered/yet undone.

I've always thought that the peer review system would be a good patch for the system. If you want to patent something in a very narrow field, file your application, but know that it will be your competitors reviewing the patent application and pointing out prior art for the final review by the patent office.

Re:Human beings are.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970146)

I've always thought that the peer review system would be a good patch for the system. If you want to patent something in a very narrow field, file your application, but know that it will be your competitors reviewing the patent application and pointing out prior art for the final review by the patent office.

In the ideal world - yes. Now such a system would completely ignore what it is supposed to be protecting - the little guy.
If you invent something and your "peer" ends up being M$ et al, I wonder how long would it take for them to cough up some documents showing that they were working on this for 96 years. (replace M$ with any major player in your field)

Re:Human beings are.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970424)

If you invent something and your "peer" ends up being M$ et al, I wonder how long would it take for them to cough up some documents showing that they were working on this for 96 years. (replace M$ with any major player in your field)

First to File fixed that already. After FtF went through, claiming that you invented something before the other guy but didn't bother to publish or patent it will only get you a "so what?" from the USPTO. If MS publishes a document or tries to file a patent after the little guy's patent is still in review then they won't get anywhere, prior art only works if it was prior and MS' patent will be rejected as based on the prior art of the patent already being reviewed.

Re:Human beings are.. (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970260)

The scary part is thanks to Citizens United I bet things will get a hell of a lot worse, not better. Remember once upon a time we had relatively sane copyright laws as well, then the megacorps saw some of their cash cows were headed into PD territory and through treasonous bribery ended up with Valenti's "forever minus a single day" copyright laws.

I wouldn't be surprised if the MSFTs and the Googles and the Apples end up getting together and deciding no matter how much they dislike each other its in their own best interests to keep their patents and just cross license and then they'll start pushing for extensions and with citizens united they can just write a check and get it.

Hell I bet ya I can even predict what the spin will be as they ram it on through. It'll be "In this troubled economy companies are at risk of losing position and being forced to lay people off (gotta bring up job losses to scare the masses) because they simply can't make enough in a down economy to pay back the incredible expenses the research and development of cutting edge technology brings. Therefor we are going to enact new legislation which will give them a 10 year extension to existing patents so they can keep innovating, just until the economy gets back on its feet again".

Don't be surprised if you see some politician parroting those exact words in a year or two. If I can think of it big pharma and big tech can think of it as well and it'll allow them to keep their cash cows and make it a "good old boys club" where they can just "compete" with each other and not worry about the little guy with a new idea fucking with their cash flow. it'll be followed by back room cross licensing agreements between the big boys so you won't be seeing any money costing "Apple VS Google VS MSFT" lawsuits any more.

And the sad part is thanks again to Citizens United making corps better than you I doubt anyone in the MSM would say a word, except maybe in praise of the idea. The only reason this guy is bitching is because he is on the wrong end of the MSFT patents but a cross licensing agreement makes that butthurt all go bye bye while making sure Google doesn't have done to them what they did to yahoo and Altavista, have some young upstart come in with a better product and kick their ass.

Re:Human beings are.. (1)

aenigmainc (739876) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970420)

the end of this will happen when a large country, say China, says screw IP and Patents. IP and Patents help companies in the US and Europe stay on top but since a lot of Chinese companies are government owned whats the incentive for enforcement. I would bet that as soon as China can say "screw you" to patents, they will.

Re:Human beings are.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970362)

it's time for a more sane system

Holy jesus! Are you crazy or something?

Re:Human beings are.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970392)

Sorry but your IP rant is pretty off-reality. You can't just grab or reuse "Transformers", "Donald Duck" or "Sonic" for example and use them in your product/game/app or share it on some thieves bazaar site while pocketing undeserved sales or ad-revenues. That is just wrong on so many levels...

On the other hand technical innovation and software patents are often based on collective buildup of knowledge, public funded research or university works so it is questionable to protect those "innovations" often claimed and attributed by some dodgy corporations.

Preaching to the choir? (2)

Xanny (2500844) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970024)

I'm pretty sure 99% of developers visiting Slashdot know the patent system is broken. You should not be able to patent mathematics. We know this. The problem is, to fix it, we have to not only teach people who have no clue what computer science even is how code works and how it is all mathematical formulas at the end of the day, but the people that need to know that patenting software is akin to patenting a paragraph of a book have been listening to lawyers and patent trolls for years, and those are the ones profiting from the broken system.

Re:Preaching to the choir? (1)

ocratato (2501012) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970672)

Unfortunately there is now too much money tied up in the existing software patents. If governments tried to abolish them now there would be a good case for a lot of compensation. The only way forward that I can see is to somehow devalue the software patents so that they are seen as worthless, or better still a liability.

Why should patents be special? (3, Insightful)

afabbro (33948) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970042)

you don't know what patents cover until courts declare that in litigation

Same thing is true for civil liberties.

Same thing is true for torts and liabilities.

Same thing is true for criminal law.

Etc. It's the nature of our English law system. It provides extreme flexibility at the cost of being vague.

On the other hand, various continental systems are much more exact, but less flexible.

Of course, if every time there's a question of law, it takes hours and hours to research (at $500/hr), lawyers tend to get rich. Which means the chances of reform in the US are nil.

Re:Why should patents be special? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970184)

 
 

you don't know what patents cover until courts declare that in litigation

Same thing is true for civil liberties.

Same thing is true for torts and liabilities.

Same thing is true for criminal law.

Etc. It's the nature of our English law system. It provides extreme flexibility at the cost of being vague.

On the other hand, various continental systems are much more exact, but less flexible.

Of course, if every time there's a question of law, it takes hours and hours to research (at $500/hr), lawyers tend to get rich. Which means the chances of reform in the US are nil.

Civil liberties used to be pretty clear. The past thirty years, and especially the last ten years have seen a massive erosion in civil liberties. Just because civil liberties are vague today doesn't mean it is okay.

Torts and liabilities are the one thing in your list that should be deferred to the courts. Torts occur when one party negligently injures another. The ways this can happen are so broad that it would be overwhelming to define it all by statute. If you shift all of your gutters to run onto your neighbor's land and it leaks into their basement you can be held liable for the damage. These sort of issues would be very difficult to define by statute.

Criminal law is spelled out in statute. The issue in criminal law is whether or not the defendant actually did what they are accused of. It is rare for a defendant to argue the alleged actions were legal.

Patents are supposed to be more like the example of criminal law where everyone is put on notice as to what is restricted. In practice no one understands what the patents say so a third-party, the court, has to make a decision on what it says.

Misleading headline (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970054)

Headline: Google's Patent Lawyer On Why the Patent System Is Broken
Quote: "there are a large number of software patents out there fueling litigation that resulted from a 10- or 15-year period when the issuance of software patents was too lax"

Proper headline: "Google's Patent Lawyer On Why the Patent System Was Broken, and How to Manage the Aftermath"

Re:Misleading headline (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970312)

Headline: Google's Patent Lawyer On Why the Patent System Is Broken
Quote: "there are a large number of software patents out there fueling litigation that resulted from a 10- or 15-year period when the issuance of software patents was too lax"
Proper headline: "Google's Patent Lawyer On Why the Patent System Was Broken, and How to Manage the Aftermath"

Longer quote: "But I think what many people can agree on is the current system is broken and there are a large number of software patents out there fueling litigation that resulted from a 10- or 15-year period when the issuance of software patents was too lax."
Proper headline: As the original.

Emphasis mine. My interpretation is that Porter believes the system remains broken, but was more broken before 2007.

Could have been worst! (0)

InspectorGadget1964 (2439148) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970060)

We are fortunate the “patent system” is a relatively new concept. Just imagine what would have happened if Mr Daimler and Mr Benz had filed a patent for a horseless carriage with four wheels or if the Wright brothers decided to file a patent for a device that produces lift as it moves forward (Aeroplane wings) or Edison decided to file a patent for a piece of cooper wire that conducts electricity. We would still be in the middle ages (And the church would control the world)

Re:Could have been worst! (1)

bysin (173686) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970156)

if the Wright brothers decided to file a patent for a device that produces lift as it moves forward (Aeroplane wings)

They did, that's a bad example. They were the patent trolls of the 1900s.

Which company is the worst offender? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970074)

I'm curious about which company is the worst offender of producing these types of garbage patents. I've seen plenty of these junk patents linked to (and made fun of) on slashdot, but I don't recall thinking one company was doing it more than others.

Thoughts?

The problem is the existence of software patents (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970104)

The problem is not the laxity of the software patents.

The problem is in their existence.

We could never patent the use of English in communicating from one person to another.

Hence, we could never patent the use of a precise algorithmic language in communicating from one person to another.

Hence, we could never patent the use of a precise algorithmic language in communicating from one person to another person who shares no common language except that precise algorithmic language.

Hence, we could never patent the use of a precise algorithmic language in communicating from one person to a computer.

Hence, we could never patent the use of a precise algorithmic language in communicating from one computer to another.

Programs are communication, period. If you don't patent communication, then you don't patent programs -- period.

Don't you dare allow someone to patent my poems.

Re:The problem is the existence of software patent (1)

gorilla_au (912640) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970190)

Too bad that you posted this as A.C.. I claim the copyright to it. Thanks.

Apple patents are all old stuff (0)

backslashdot (95548) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970152)

They took existing inventions and appended the words "on a mobile device". That's the extent of their patenting ... whether it's multi-touch or even their magsafe connector (which already existed on deep fryers).

Patent expiration period (1)

backslashdot (95548) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970196)

The other lie that everyone believes is that patent protection is only 20 years from filing date. This is a major lie. Since the patent office itself takes years to approve an invention the inventor can petition that the time taken to approve the patent be added on.. not only that the inventor himself can delay the actual approval of the patent and thus get even more time added on while "blaming" it on the patent office.

An example of this is the fact that there were some patents on HDTV technology that was recently granted though the filing date was 1990something .. the lawyers managed to tack on 10 years to the 20 years from filing patent expiration date.

Normally companies like Apple get about 3 to 6 years added on thanks to manipulating the patent system with their lawyers.

sale jerseys (0)

jersey123456 (2485408) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970228)

Basketball accessories can change the color based on the adaptation, a huge number of similar or naÃve implementation & Wholesale NFL jerseys [jerseymall.biz] implementation of open-air material. Appearance has become a foundation of opportunity, rich designer & cheers, admirers & buyers off. Bathrobe division of labor, MLB jerseys [jerseymall.biz] & whether NBA jerseys [jerseymall.biz] it's become a brand in the appearance of lots of sharp & will comply with NHL jerseys [jerseymall.biz] individual play, apple accents appear in the future.

MS vs. Apple (0)

sonicmerlin (1505111) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970232)

Google's right about MS's patents. They accrued them by buying companies with patents, and are now using them to attack Android. But Google ripped off Apple's iPhone, and did it again with the iPad. It's pretty obvious this is the case. The patent and trade dress/trademark systems are working fine for that purpose. The biggest issue seems to be the length of the patents. They're obviously too long. Developing new software is not the same as building a new jet engine. There should be differences in length that reflect this.

Re:MS vs. Apple (3, Insightful)

JackAxe (689361) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970442)

I just need to comment on one area.

I develop on both iOS and Android. I've been using Macs for decades and still buy them as my primary workstations. Anyways, no, Google did not rip of the iPhone or the iPad; no more than Apple ripped off Google, which is pretty obvious for anyone that works with both.

Software for software patents! (1)

pezjono (2370452) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970238)

I know! I will create software to judge if software is an original, legitimately patent-able idea! Now I will only need to patent the software for software patents...

Patenting the boolean value false... (1)

KonoWatakushi (910213) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970690)

God help us all if you ever receive that patent.

Innovation is nothing but the combination of existing ideas, which are very occasionally novel in some way. Even so, no innovation is deserving of monopolistic protections, which are inevitably harmful to all. The greatest of innovations, which are arguably most deserving, do the greatest harm by limiting or outright preventing widespread use of such ideas. Think of what would happen if key energy technology patents fell into the hands of a fossil fuel corporation? Even with a less hostile corporation, patents will inevitably impede progress, at a time in which the need is greatest. This has already happened with NiMH battery patents delaying electric cars. Also, the industrial revolution was basically postponed for 20 years on account of Watt's patent on the steam engine.

It will be bitterly ironic if the Chinese commercialize the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, and succeed in securing extensive monopoly protection on foundational innovations. All of the crusades of the US in exporting our draconion IP law, and for what? We will have locked ourselves out of our own energy future, for the sake of media cartel profits. No one deserves to profit at the expense of the rest of humanity.

Patents should not exist at all. In a world with billions of people, someone else would have thought of that "novel" idea anyway, and chances are, already has. It is not right to deprive the countless people arriving at the same ideas from also benefitting from their employment. It is unheard of for people to mine patents for ideas; they are the exclusive domain of litigators, and nothing but a damper on progress.

How to Fix the Patent Mess, maybe ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970298)

Patent lawyers often claim IP is "real" property.
So perhaps we should tax it like "real" property?
Just as real property taxes encourage owners to develop their land, a regular tax on IP would encourage individuals to develop their inventions in a timely manner instead of trolling.

Let us imagine the patent office charged $1,000 per year to maintain a patent.
Patents which were not maintained would be pass into the public domain.
If the patent holder didn't like the fee, they could suck it up, sell the patent, or let it lapse.

For real innovators, the tax would be no big deal - Its a small sum for a for an innovation from which they intend to profit.
For the trolls and squatters, the tax provides a carrying cost that will cause them to trim their portfolios significantly.
And it doesn't rely on patent examiners to have cognitive capabilities, as the patent market would be self-regulating.

I think would profoundly improve the patent situation, screw Intellectual Ventures, and allow thousands of patent
lawyers to seek more fulfilling, socially redeeming vocations. A perfect trifecta!

What do you think?

Re:How to Fix the Patent Mess, maybe ... (1)

rrossman2 (844318) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970472)

Wont help.. trolls will still just Sue for money like they do now, and pay the $1000. Pocket change tobthe IP lawyer trolls hoarding patents with no intention of making anything

Patent uncertainty as an economic incentive (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970340)

Leaving the patent system gray could be argued as an economic incentive, since it spurs so many financial limbs in various sectors. Between forced hardware and software engineering around worded patents, and the vast horde of lawyers that are available, I have to wonder just how much of the reason the patent system is left to its own devices is out of pure fear of what it would do to the indirect sectors.

What would all those patent lawyers do if they didn't have patent wording to argue over?

p.s. I don't agree with this sentiment, just that the system is dragging its feet for more than just the obvious reasons. That, and the US is lazy!

Ease of Adaptation (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970566)

In the physical world if I see a valve and think " Hey if I change this part it would leak less" it would cost me millions to create the prototype make a factory to make the valve and then sell it. These manufacturing costs prevent small iterations from small companies to be major factors in any physical world business.

In the software world, the originating creator could have spent months figuring out the best way for menus to cascade from a pull down and code it. Then any decent coder can see that idea say it is "obvious" and make the same menu but with a different color field for each level of cascade and declare it innovative and have it on the market in weeks.

There must be a way to protect the companies and individuals that invest time and money to improve a product, there will be no real innovation if everyone can copy any design without repercussions.

When Microsoft was the same "age" as Google they were not hitting patents, not because the laws were different, but they were creating new technology, not adapting other technologies and complaining when the originating creators call fowl. I am sure Google owns some interesting search patents, and when (if) BING is bigger then they are I am sure lawsuits will follow.

Just plain stupid (1)

englishstudent (1638477) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970582)

Even companies whose business it is to know, don't know. I recently made an inquiry at Codecanyon about copyright. It was a simple question. Can I use multiple instances of the software on a single website? To my horror they told me- "We are not qualified to give out legal advice and recommend that you contact a legal professional for assistance if you are unsure which license would be suitable for your needs. " If they don't know, how the hell am I going to know??!! And how are they going to find out if I'm violating their copyright? Ridiculous.

If we have to have patents... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37970638)

I'd rather not have software patents. However, if we must, here is an idea:

What if the patent office increased maintenance fees from a~$250 per year payable in 3.5 year installments, to $1,000 - $5,000 per year? This would increase fees around 4-20 times, it require annual payments, like some countries in Europe.

It seems this would encourage IP holders to:
    1. Pay the higher fee, and be encouraged to make the patent pay for itself
    2. Sell the patent to someone who wants to develop the idea
    3. Let the patent expire, presumably into the public domain

The fee should be acceptable to real innovators, since it is applied to a product from which they intend to profit.
Trolls would be encouraged to significantly trim their portfolios due to the high carrying cost.

Thoughts?

You know what it is? (0)

KlomDark (6370) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970658)

It is all bullshit, don't ya know?

Fuck man, it's all fucked up and if they want America to stay as the creator entity, they need to make it so the "little guy" can still make it off a good idea. As it is now, I've got ideas that I don't want to speak of (Let alone patent) as I expect to just get fucked around if I do try to release it.

I've REALLY got some original ideas, for some impressive shit, but until the patent system gets back in line with reality, I'm just keeping them in my head.

Perminant Expiration of patents (1)

RcCypher (1092155) | more than 2 years ago | (#37970782)

The usefulness of the patent system is obvious to anyone who has taken the time to file a patent and then had a company lease that patent. It should not be argued that a patent system is not a USEFUL construct. However, there are several issues within the patent system that needs must be addressed. Issue 1: Any patent that is broad in nature, IE: Does not give a detailed description of the exact method and means by which a task or methodology is being done, cannot be allowed to pass through the system. This cannot be allowed because as we all know there are a million ways to solve almost any problem, and as such any one company should only be able to patent their specific methods. This allows others to derive their own methods for accomplishing the same goal, without infringing on others. Issue 2: When a patent is filed, there should be a standard formula applied to all patents such that when a patent is granted, the cost of leasing that patent is public knowledge. Issue 3: The right to lease a patent and the terms and conditions by which that patent can be leased should be defined at the time the patent is applied for, thus when the patent is granted all interested parties have full disclosure of how they may use a given patent. In this way all patents should be available to the public for ANY COMPANY to use, as long as they abide by the terms and conditions, and pay the standard rate. Issue 4: A standard formula needs to exist by which patent terms are granted, there should be no appeal to this term, it should begin on the day the patent is applied for, and end on the date specified by the formula. Once that patent has expired, the technique becomes public domain and free for all to use. Issue 5: Once a patent has entered public domain, the public domain status cannot be revoked for any reason. If these issues are addressed and implemented, I believe that the patent system would finally actually work for companies rather than work against companies.
Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Sign up for Slashdot Newsletters
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...