Beta
×

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!

Study Suggests Patent Office Lowered Standards To Cope With Backlog

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the lowering-the-bar dept.

United States 96

An anonymous reader points out a story at Ars about how the "significant reduction" in the backlog of pending patent applications may not be all that it seems. "...a new study suggests another explanation for the declining backlog: the patent office may have lowered its standards, approving many patents that would have been (and in some cases, had been) rejected under the administration of George W. Bush. The authors—Chris Cotropia and Cecil Quillen of the University of Richmond and independent researcher Ogden Webster—used Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain detailed data about the fate of patent applications considered by the USPTO since 1996. They found that the "allowance rate," the fraction of applications approved by the patent office, declined steadily from 2001 and 2009. But in the last four years there's been a sharp reversal, with a 2012 allowance rate about 20 percent higher than it was in 2009."

cancel ×

96 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Maybe people are writing better patents...nope. (1)

a_big_favor (2550262) | about a year ago | (#43391395)

Dumber, faster, patent trolling. I love it.

Re:Maybe people are writing better patents...nope. (4, Insightful)

lorenlal (164133) | about a year ago | (#43391539)

I don't know what the proper term is relating to what I think are "patent departments." I'd like to see if there's a breakdown in the acceptance rates across various lines of expertise. The reason is because I have a belief that much of this is indeed because of patent trolling. If that were the case, I'd expect that a number of departments would still show about the same acceptance rate.

Since the Comp Sci patent applications typically invent and redefine their terms in the patent application (after all, they're creating new "ideas"), they've found more effective ways to get their "inventions" defined in a way that appears more patentable. Also, it looks like some work at Stanford showed that rejecting patents really just increased their workload for a variety of reasons. Path of least resistance will eventually win you know...

http://siepr.stanford.edu/?q=/system/files/shared/pubs/11-014.pdf [stanford.edu]

Re:Maybe people are writing better patents...nope. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43392471)

"patent departments" = technology centers, which are further divided into art units. Each art unit examines patents that are classified in certain art classifications. Different tech centers have different amounts of backlog, with the electronic technologies having the most at the moment.

Re:Maybe people are writing better patents...nope. (3, Insightful)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about a year ago | (#43391595)

Obama "reformed" patents to make them more "business friendly."

Damn that socialist!

It's hard to imagine anyone being easier on business than Bush Jr., but there you go.

Re:Maybe people are writing better patents...nope. (3, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year ago | (#43391675)

Damn it.

This time it is Obama's fault!

Re:Maybe people are writing better patents...nope. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43391903)

The patent reform was a good thing. It's the patent USPTO that's fucking things up.

Re:Maybe people are writing better patents...nope. (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year ago | (#43391981)

This time it is Obama's fault!

Everything since 2009...

Re:Maybe people are writing better patents...nope. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43392451)

This time it is Obama's fault!

Everything since 2009...

Precisely since then, in fact. Everything is. Weird part is that the previous guy had absolutely no long-term policies or cronies to carry on policies made during his time by his party! Man, he really WAS the best president we ever had!

Re:Maybe people are writing better patents...nope. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43392401)

Damn it.

This time it is Obama's fault!

Obama was always a wolf in sheep's clothing. You'd think someone with his childhood experiences would be more in tune with ordinary people, the proletariat if you will, instead of the ruling class, the oligarchs. Alas, for a law school professor and presumably an ABA licensed lawyer his lack of respect for the US Constitution and human rights rivals that of his predecessor, George Walker Bush (Messenger from God complex) and Cheney (Satan aka Michael, Archangel).

Re:Maybe people are writing better patents...nope. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43394175)

It's amazing, isn't it? You get the idea that this guy really has something, when you read his first book (the 2nd one is just a platform statement, not worth reading unless you want to count the number of promises broken). And then he gets elected and you say "Wait, this is the guy who wrote that? Did somebody put zombie potion in his drink or what?"

Re:Maybe people are writing better patents...nope. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43394511)

Obama's administration has played right into the IP's industry plan. There were powerful voices claiming a "patent stimulus" is needed to end the recession and give the "edge" back to the US creative industries.

http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2009/03/02/patent-stimulus-to-solve-great-depression-ii/id=2107/

If we really want to get out of this economic downturn we need a Patent Stimulus Plan. Yes, that is a PSP, not of the Sony variety though, a PSP of the get us the heck out of this miserable recession/depression variety.

  The nice thing about this Patent Stimulus Plan is that it will cost only a small fraction of the amount of money we have already wasted on failed economic stimulus. What we need to do is have President Obama issue an Executive Order directing the Patent Office to start allowing patents. A 42% allowance rate during the first quarter of 2009 is wholly unacceptable. So while you are at it President Obama, order the Patent Office to issue a patent UNLESS there is a reason to deny it.

We are now reaping the benefits of this brillant scheme.

Re:Maybe people are writing better patents...nope. (1)

caspy7 (117545) | about a year ago | (#43394793)

How did a purportedly non-partisan story like this get on slashdot?

Re:Maybe people are writing better patents...nope. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43392001)

Corporate welfare is no less socialistic than any other form of socialism.

”The worst thing that can happen to a socialist is to have his country ruled by socialists who are not his friends.” – Ludwig Von Mises

coincidentally, dumber patent lawyers submitting (1)

swschrad (312009) | about a year ago | (#43393313)

with broader claims. now you CAN have the salad dressing that is also a shampoo! and a lift bridge! and a three-finger-salute sidewipe!

Correlation != Causation (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43391409)

There's another perfectly reasonable explanation for this.

1. Allowance rate declines from 2001-2009 as standards increase.
2. Fewer marginal patent applications submitted due to increased standards.
3. Allowance rate increases as average quality of patent applications increases.

Re:Correlation != Causation (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about a year ago | (#43391567)

3. Allowance rate increases as average quality of patent applications increases.

You have to be a troll. A reasonable person can't think this...

Re:Correlation != Causation (5, Interesting)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#43392071)

3. Allowance rate increases as average quality of patent applications increases.

You have to be a troll. A reasonable person can't think this...

Someone whose beliefs about patents are based on what they read on Slashdot, will not believe this. But someone who actually looks at reality will see things differently. The quality of patents really has improved in recent years. Much of this is because of the Supreme Court ruling in KSR vs Teleflex [wikipedia.org] , which expanded and clarified the "obviousness" criteria, as well as invalidating many types of "combination" patents.

Another reason the backlog of patents has declined is that the USPTO is better funded, and has hired many more patent examiners. In 2005, there were about 7300 examiners. Today, there are more than 9500.

Re:Correlation != Causation (4, Funny)

theVarangian (1948970) | about a year ago | (#43393305)

3. Allowance rate increases as average quality of patent applications increases.

You have to be a troll. A reasonable person can't think this...

Someone whose beliefs about patents are based on what they read on Slashdot, will not believe this. But someone who actually looks at reality will see things differently. The quality of patents really has improved in recent years. Much of this is because of the Supreme Court ruling in KSR vs Teleflex [wikipedia.org] , which expanded and clarified the "obviousness" criteria, as well as invalidating many types of "combination" patents.

Another reason the backlog of patents has declined is that the USPTO is better funded, and has hired many more patent examiners. In 2005, there were about 7300 examiners. Today, there are more than 9500.

Stop ruining our patent bashing session with 'facts' ...

Re:Correlation != Causation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43403039)

>Stop ruining our patent bashing session with 'facts' ...

Seriously. And the quality of patent prosecution and litigation will likely also continue to veer in a positive direction over the next 5-10 years because of the many reforms of the AIA -- which, after just one year, are already showing some results. (See, e.g., recent detailed, scrupulously notated articles in the NYSBA's IP publication "Landslide") It continues to amaze me how presumably intelligent people, like the /. GeekPop and the editors of Wired, continue their "the patent system is broke, dude!" rants, focusing primarily on NPE's, without giving more than a passing mention to patent reform.

Re:Correlation != Causation (5, Informative)

bdwebb (985489) | about a year ago | (#43394039)

You are saying that in four years the quality of patent submissions has increased by at least 20% but the case you quoted terminated in 2006 which was at least 3 years before the trend has changed and there was no trending change in patent approvals vs submissions in that interim period. The submissions approval process should have shown that changing trend 1-2 years after the completion of the KSR v Teleflex ruling had been handed down that in some way follows a progression to today or at least to 2010 when Obama increased funding [worldipreview.com] .

Another reason the backlog of patents has declined is that the USPTO is better funded, and has hired many more patent examiners. In 2005, there were about 7300 examiners. Today, there are more than 9500.

It seems to me that we need to compare the numbers here [uspto.gov] . So looking at 2005 as you mentioned, there were 417,508 patents filed. That means a per-examiner average of 57.19 patents. Fast forward to today, in 2012 there were 576,763 patents filed which gives us a per-examiner average of 60.71 patents. Instead of showing a decrease in the average patents indicating a more acceptable workload for examiners, we instead find that the opposite is the case. Given even the budget increase that provided for additional examiners, the workload on each examiner has been increased by ~6.4% since 2005 which should indicate that the approval rate should be in the same ballpark as it has trended to in the past. I can see no way to account for the 20% increase in patent approvals when the workload has also increased.

I browse the USPTO approved patents occasionally just for fun because seeing what gets approved is laughable sometimes. Ultimately I haven't seen any difference in quality of those approved at all but I do not evaluate a significant enough subset of the total approved patents to say with certainty that this is the case. I find it very hard to believe, however, that in the face of increased workload the quality of overall submissions has improved so drastically in 3 years that 20% more patents are being approved. With such massive datasets, a huge trend change like this almost never occurs. You can't tell me that out of 276,788 approved patents 55,358 of them just suddenly got better than previous years when the ruling in KSR v Teleflex that should have spurred these changes happened ~4 years earlier. Again, there should be a trend to the changes that shows an upward swing in approvals rather than this:

2007 - 484,955 Total Patents / 182,899 Approved Patents / 37.71% approval
2008 - 485,312 Total Patents / 185,224 Approved Patents / 38.17% approval
2009 - 482,871 Total Patents / 191,927 Approved Patents / 39.75% approval
2010 - 520,277 Total Patents / 244,341 Approved Patents / 46.96% approval
2011 - 535,188 Total Patents / 247,713 Approved Patents / 46.29% approval
2012 - 576,763 Total Patents / 276,788 Approved Patents / 48.99% approval

Ultimately, just looking at the numbers comparisons, it is almost as though every additional patent to the total number of patents since 2009 has been approved. For example, in 2010 there were 37,306 more patents than 2009 but there are !!52,414!! more approved patents. Taking the same comparison but going 2011 vs 2009 (because this is the year that shows the marked trend change), we have 52,317 more patents and 55,786 more approved patents. Finally, in 2012 vs 2009, we have 93,982 more patents and 84,861 approved patents (the first time since 2009 there have been less approved patents than the increase of actual submissions). What intrigues me most about these numbers is that we see a huge increase in the number of submitted patents during 2010 and on...I have heard through the grapevine that this is because of the slackening in standards at the USPTO to bolster the agency's numbers which has spurred the patent trolls but IANAPL (patent lawyer) so I wouldn't know anything about whether this is reality or not.

Re:Correlation != Causation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43403243)

>Ultimately, just looking at the numbers comparisons, it is almost as though every additional patent to the total number of patents since 2009 has been approved. For example, in 2010 there were 37,306 more patents than 2009 but there are !!52,414!! more approved patents. Taking the same comparison but going 2011 vs 2009 (because this is the year that shows the marked trend change), we have 52,317 more patents and 55,786 more approved patents. Finally, in 2012 vs 2009, we have 93,982 more patents and 84,861 approved patents (the first time since 2009 there have been less approved patents than the increase of actual submissions). What intrigues me most about these numbers is that we see a huge increase in the number of submitted patents during 2010 and on...I have heard through the grapevine that this is because of the slackening in standards at the USPTO to bolster the agency's numbers which has spurred the patent trolls but IANAPL (patent lawyer) so I wouldn't know anything about whether this is reality or not.

But here's one factor you're ignoring. "Just looking at the numbers comparisons" reveals something significant about anything about quality unless you make the assumption that the overall average quality of applications prior to issuance remains constant. No basis for that assumption. Here's what I mean (and, yes, IAPL). At my firm, nearly all of our applications are eventually issued, but often only because we're forced to narrow the claims so significantly that the resulting subject matter is limited in scope. I can't recall a single patent of mine issued during the Obama Administration that was anywhere as broad as the handful that are repeatedly pointed to in this forum. But during this time, I also have never abandoned an app. So draw your own conclusions.

So here's a factor to think about: Given the enormous increase in PTO fees over the last decade (an RCE now runs about $2000!), it's not unlikely that applicants are becoming more willing to significantly narrow the scope of their claims in order to place an app in condition for allowance, when the only other alternative is to throw away $15,000 of prosecution costs in an abandonment. I'm certain, from first-hand experience, that this is a meaningful factor in these rising issuance figures.

And, although the statistical significance of the first-hand experience of a single patent lawyer is superior only to the first-hand experience of a person who is NAPL, I gotta say that, although I've seen a drop in the value of issued patents, I've seen no drop in the overall "quality" of patents, if you measure quality as a function of true novelty.

Re:Correlation != Causation (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43391589)

At my last company we got pushed into doing patent fillings to "build an IP wall" and increase the perceived value of the company to investors. Lots of patent applications flowed out of that effort and 90% of them were junk. Most of them got some sort of provisional rejection out of the gate, but after the lawyers got done mixing in some word salad (all of the "inventors" have left the company) almost everything has been accepted.

I'm going with the lowered standards.

Re:Correlation != Causation (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#43391599)

There should be a penalty for submitting bad patents.

Maybe they should keep a ratio of good:bad and base the number of patents you're allowed to submit per month on that.

eg.

Ratio of 100:1 means you're allowed to submit 100 per month
Ratio of 1:1 means you're only allowed to submit one per month

Re:Correlation != Causation (5, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#43391679)

There should be a penalty for submitting bad patents.

Is there a form to fill out for this? YOUR IDEA REGARDING [x] patents IS UNWORKABLE BECAUSE [x] It penalizes small applicants [x] It will be gamed just as much as the existing system.

The basic fundamental problem is that the patent office receives money to grant patents. Instead, it must receive money to evaluate patents. They get a small amount of money when you file, and a larger amount when they grant. The only solution I can see is a complete overhaul involving granting a lot less patents, but that's not going to happen without a complete overhaul of our society, because that challenges the mighty status quo.

Re:Correlation != Causation (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#43392107)

Is there a form to fill out for this? YOUR IDEA REGARDING [x] patents IS UNWORKABLE BECAUSE [x] It penalizes small applicants

Ummmm, if you've never submitted a bad patent you can submit as many patents as you like (divide by zero=infinite!).

[x] It will be gamed just as much as the existing system.

How? If the name of the inventor is required on the patent you can't submit them in a fake name.

Re:Correlation != Causation (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about a year ago | (#43392513)

The only solution I can see is a complete overhaul involving granting a lot less patents, but that's not going to happen without a complete overhaul of our society, because that challenges the mighty status quo.

You lost me at that last point. We need to "completely" overhaul society because we need to change one office?

Re:Correlation != Causation (1, Troll)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#43392935)

You lost me at that last point. We need to "completely" overhaul society because we need to change one office?

I lost you because I used too many big words. I said it won't happen without overhauling our society. What we choose to do about the problems endemic to our current system is outside the scope of this conversation. We have come to this pass because of our economic structure, however. If we fix this problem, another like it will be created.

Re:Correlation != Causation (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | about a year ago | (#43392893)

The basic fundamental problem is that the patent office receives money to grant patents. Instead, it must receive money to evaluate patents. They get a small amount of money when you file, and a larger amount when they grant.

This is how it already works, depending on your definitions for "small" and "large". You pay a fee to file your patent application, and when it's allowed by the examiner, you pay a fee to have the patent issued. Of course, there's always room for discussion about how much those fees should be.

Re:Correlation != Causation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43395417)

I'm pretty sure what he meant to say was this:

The basic fundamental problem is that the patent office receives money to grant patents. Instead, it must receive money to evaluate patents. Currently they get a small amount of money when you file, and a larger amount when they grant, which is obviously a bad idea since most of the work occurs regardless of whether the patent is granted or not.

When writing, it may be true that perfection is achieved when there is nothing left that you can remove, but at the same time, if you aren't going to invest the time necessary to communicate perfectly, it's best to err on the side of being too verbose. It only takes a few seconds to write that extra sentence.

Re:Correlation != Causation (2)

Theaetetus (590071) | about a year ago | (#43393397)

The basic fundamental problem is that the patent office receives money to grant patents. Instead, it must receive money to evaluate patents. They get a small amount of money when you file, and a larger amount when they grant.

USPTO Fee Schedule [uspto.gov] :
Basic filing fee: $280
Size fee (if applicable: $400
Search fee: $600
Examination fee: $720
Publication fee: $300
Issue fee: $1780
Total USPTO receives to evaluate patents: $2300
Total USPTO receives to grant patents: $1780

... there's a flaw in your math.

Additionally, if you read the article or study, one of the things they're complaining about is that an application can be examined multiple times with multiple rejections, through the filing of requests for continued examination... which cost $1200 for the first request and $1700 for each subsequent request. And, so, on average, the PTO is receiving somewhere between $3500 and ~$7000 to evaluate patents and only a mere $1780 to grant patents.

Sorry, but no: when you look at the actual fees involved rather than the ones you imagine exist, if economic concerns were behind this, then the allowance rate would be plummeting, not rising.

Re:Correlation != Causation (1)

ProfBooty (172603) | about a year ago | (#43394229)

The office gets money for almost every thing the applicant files. They also make additional money off renewals for allowances.

Strangely not every fee covers the costs of examination.

Re:Correlation != Causation (2)

Dragonslicer (991472) | about a year ago | (#43392849)

There should be a penalty for submitting bad patents.

There is. You don't get your money back if your patent is rejected.

Re:Correlation != Causation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43395243)

There's another perfectly reasonable explanation for this.

The Patent Office announced they were going to do this a long time ago, we don't need a study to confirm it or fish around for other explanations.

I'd dig up a link as a citation, but there's an incredible amount of link spam related to anything to do with the word 'patent', and I know it's been supplied on slashdot plenty of times before.

The revised procedure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43391419)

1. Take money, grant patent.
2. There is no step two.
3. Profi... oh wait, already covered in 1.

Causation (1)

schneidafunk (795759) | about a year ago | (#43391421)

Is it possible there is just more innovation in the past 4 years? I would argue 'progress' is exponential, not linear. Regardless, patents such as this [google.com] probably fall in the lower standard category, yet is was patented in the 90s.

Re:Causation (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43391489)

No.

Re:Causation (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43391507)

If progress and patents applications were exponentially increasing and the standard for acceptance remained the same then there should not have been a decline between 2001 and 2009.

Re:Causation (2)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#43391607)

If your definition of "innovation" is "number of patents submitted" then I guess patent trolls are the most innovative people around.

Cheap :-( (3, Funny)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#43391453)

Those bastards!

They just gave me a patent on clearing backlogs by relaxing standards, and they're not paying me to use it!

The more frivilous applications you make... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43391523)

the more likely they will be successful. Chaos expressed as a spiral. I'm patenting that.

Re:The more frivilous applications you make... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43391617)

strangely true, because there are more legitimate patents around non-frivolous topics, since smart companies aren't going to peruse patents that are frivolous and/or won't hold up in court.

Re:The more frivilous applications you make... (4, Insightful)

Qzukk (229616) | about a year ago | (#43392115)

smart companies aren't going to peruse patents that are frivolous and/or won't hold up in court.

Smart companies know the patent doesn't have to stand up in court, it just has to cost the competitor millions of dollars to prove it doesn't stand up.

Trolling companies know the patent doesn't have to stand up in court, it just has to cost their victim millions of dollars to prove it doesn't stand up in court so they'll pay a few hundred thousand to save money.

Re:The more frivilous applications you make... (1)

denis-The-menace (471988) | about a year ago | (#43392483)

Until you can sue the USPTO for granting a bad patent, this will never change.

Paging N.S. Sherlock (1)

redmid17 (1217076) | about a year ago | (#43391529)

Does this really surprise anyone?

Disgusting! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43391553)

If you absolutely HAVE to hamstring the march of human knowledge to the point of any new tech not being freely available for me to copy/use in my lifetime, for the sake of making a quick buck, then AT LEAST do a proper job managing said abomination!

It is sickening in the extreme to think that it's possible to deny other people access to information, simply because you thought of it first. Given the amount of research done every day around the world, it is not inconceivable that 2 people would happen upon the same idea independent from each other. Then what? You're not entitled to accreditation of your creation even though you didn't copy it?

Re:Disgusting! (1)

operagost (62405) | about a year ago | (#43391721)

The existence of patents do not "hamstring the march of human knowledge." I can't speak for everyone, but the fact is that there are a lot of creative people out there who don't create just for the joy of creating, or for altruistic reasons-- they do it for the money. I'm sure that altruism and personal accomplishment are high on the list, but the fact remains that if an invention is beneficial and its development was performed morally, we shouldn't care why it was done. And not having patents available to provide the creator with a REASONABLE period of time in which they can exclusively profit from their invention, there would definitely be fewer creators-- and fewer creations. I can guarantee that NOT having patents would not motivate more creators-- you can always eschew patents entirely and donate your inventions to the public domain as Benjamin Franklin did, or license the rights for free.

I can entertain discussion over how long a patent should be in force-- because in today's world they seem to be a bit lengthy. But I really can't fathom the side of the debate that would be OK with fewer inventions and fewer creators merely because of some perceived immorality or other rhetorical reason.

You're not entitled to accreditation of your creation even though you didn't copy it?

Nope. I know this is a shocking concept in our "everyone gets a trophy" world, but when you work hard and work well, chances are that you're going to get the jump on an idea before someone else does. It's a great personal accomplishment when people happen on great ideas independently-- and maybe worthy of non-monetary accreditation-- but while that may be personally fulfilling it's of no use to the rest of the world that benefits from progress.

Re:Disgusting! (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43391839)

Hamstringing the march of human knowledge is exactly what they are designed to do. For a limited time a person is granted a monopoly in exchange for sharing that knowledge. This slow progress, but in theory prevents the loss of that information. The concept is this trade off is worth that, in practice I don't believe it often is.

People don't create to get a pantent they create to make something they can sell or use. Without patents this would still happen, as the creator would have first mover advantage.

Re:Disgusting! (1)

operagost (62405) | about a year ago | (#43412683)

No, they are not. The Constitution states they are for the "progress of science and the useful arts." Your assignment of a negative moniker makes it to be an evil rather than a compromise.

Without patents, nearly no one would have a "first mover" advantage. In reality, big business would steal every new idea of every individual or small company. Most inventions and every work of art is easily copied. Robert Kiyosaki invented the surfer wallet, but because he did not patent it then everyone copied it. It takes a large expense of R&D to get most inventions in production, so if you don't have patent protection you just took on all the expense for some other people to copy you.

We need patents.

Re:Disgusting! (3, Interesting)

geoskd (321194) | about a year ago | (#43392519)

he existence of patents do not "hamstring the march of human knowledge." I can't speak for everyone, but the fact is that there are a lot of creative people out there who don't create just for the joy of creating, or for altruistic reasons-- they do it for the money. I'm sure that altruism and personal accomplishment are high on the list, but the fact remains that if an invention is beneficial and its development was performed morally, we shouldn't care why it was done.

I call BS. If there were no patent system, then inventors would bring their products to market anyways. Inventors don't bring products to market because the patent system protects them, they do it because if they don't, they are guaranteed not to make any money. Patents, like copyright are an archaic solution to a problem that doesn't really exist anymore, and possibly never did. A company that brings a novel product to market, will have at least a year before a competitor can copy it and bring the copies to market. This is all the protection an inventor should need. Anything more is a cancer to be removed.

On the other side of the coin, I can think of at least a few products which have not made it to market because of patents, and the inventors will not even try until the offending patents expire in another 10 years. For example, Touch sensitive trigger for paintball guns would be a very neat idea, but until recently were not viable because they required the paintball gun to use an electronic triggering mechanism, the patent for which was granted almost 20 years ago. The company that owned the patent was charging outrageous fees to use their technology, which was obvious technology to virtually every engineer that ever touched a paintball gun. Because of that one company and the patent system that supported them, paintball guns have remained largely in the dark ages for 20 years. The company itself long ago stopped innovating, and it wasn't until they went out of business under the weight of their own ineptitude that everyone else started making better products again. (They also managed to keep the cost of paintball equipment an order of magnitude higher than it should have been, and largely strangled the sport as a result).

Patents are bad. Most people with an IQ in the triple digits understand this intuitively, even if they cant put an explanation to it. They were designed so that novel inventions would end up being cataloged in such a way that the designs could be used for further development, but now they are used as a weapon to prevent companies from having to compete on their merits, and have far outlived their usefulness.

-=Geoskd

Re:Disgusting! (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | about a year ago | (#43393211)

I call BS. If there were no patent system, then inventors would bring their products to market anyways. Inventors don't bring products to market because the patent system protects them, they do it because if they don't, they are guaranteed not to make any money. Patents, like copyright are an archaic solution to a problem that doesn't really exist anymore, and possibly never did. A company that brings a novel product to market, will have at least a year before a competitor can copy it and bring the copies to market.

What industry do you work in? Because in software, you can get a team to reverse engineer a product and crank out a copy within 3-6 weeks. And if you think that the first-mover advantage is all anyone needs, go talk to NimbleBit about Tiny Tower, or Slashkey about Farmville. And copyright doesn't protect those, because the copyrightable assets - the sprites, the textures, etc. - are all new.

But you're both right and wrong - the problem is not that inventors would sit with their thumbs up their butts and make no money if they couldn't have patent protection. The problem is that, instead, they would keep everything under NDA and trade secret protection, with more DRM and harsh licensing systems to prevent copies from ever falling into the hands of a competitor. And that problem was the specific reason for the existence of patents: the rulers of Florence granted the first patent to Brunelleschi in exchange for him publicly disclosing his invention. All of the merchants wanted access to it, and this was in the era where you hire mercenary guards to protect your stuff and/or raid your competitors' warehouses. Rather than have a bloody and expensive conflict, Florence gave him a time-limited monopoly, in exchange for teaching everyone else how to do his invention.

So, yeah, it's not an incentive to get people to invent. It's an incentive to get people to destroy trade secrets, because those really stifle innovation.

On the other side of the coin, I can think of at least a few products which have not made it to market because of patents, and the inventors will not even try until the offending patents expire in another 10 years. For example, Touch sensitive trigger for paintball guns would be a very neat idea, but until recently were not viable because they required the paintball gun to use an electronic triggering mechanism, the patent for which was granted almost 20 years ago. The company that owned the patent was charging outrageous fees to use their technology, which was obvious technology to virtually every engineer that ever touched a paintball gun. Because of that one company and the patent system that supported them, paintball guns have remained largely in the dark ages for 20 years.

Oh, no, 20 years! We might as well all go back to living in caves, because, clearly we are in a dark age of invention.
Also, if true, then your story is really about bad legal and economic advice, not patents. Damages for patent infringement are limited to a reasonable royalty, which, by definition couldn't ever be more than your profits. As you correctly noted at the beginning of your post, people do things that make them money. If you can bring a product to market and pay an outrageous 10% royalty on your profits, you're still making profits. If you don't bring the product to market, as an intelligent commenter stated, you "are guaranteed not to make any money". So, the reason for not bringing the tech to market was, at most, bad legal and economic advice, or much more likely, other reasons such as market size, cost of parts, etc.

Patents are bad. Most people with an IQ in the triple digits understand this intuitively, even if they cant put an explanation to it. They were designed so that novel inventions would end up being cataloged in such a way that the designs could be used for further development, but now they are used as a weapon to prevent companies from having to compete on their merits, and have far outlived their usefulness.

Perhaps people understand intuitively that patents are bad because they believe in false histories like "patents were designed so that novel inventions would end up being cataloged", as opposed to the real reasons involving trade secrets.

Re:Disgusting! (1)

blackiner (2787381) | about a year ago | (#43393575)

What industry do you work in? Because in software, you can get a team to reverse engineer a product and crank out a copy within 3-6 weeks. And if you think that the first-mover advantage is all anyone needs, go talk to NimbleBit about Tiny Tower, or Slashkey about Farmville. And copyright doesn't protect those, because the copyrightable assets - the sprites, the textures, etc. - are all new.

Did you seriously bring up crappy social games in a patent discussion? First of all, games are unpatentable, second of all, Tiny Tower was just a crappy redesign of Sim Tower in the first place, and finally, the whole "Trade Secrets and NDAs!" argument is nonsense since the whole business point of games is to gain as much public viewership/ownership as possible.

Re:Disgusting! (1)

geoskd (321194) | about a year ago | (#43393883)

But you're both right and wrong - the problem is not that inventors would sit with their thumbs up their butts and make no money if they couldn't have patent protection. The problem is that, instead, they would keep everything under NDA and trade secret protection, with more DRM and harsh licensing systems to prevent copies from ever falling into the hands of a competitor. And that problem was the specific reason for the existence of patents: the rulers of Florence granted the first patent to Brunelleschi in exchange for him publicly disclosing his invention. All of the merchants wanted access to it, and this was in the era where you hire mercenary guards to protect your stuff and/or raid your competitors' warehouses. Rather than have a bloody and expensive conflict, Florence gave him a time-limited monopoly, in exchange for teaching everyone else how to do his invention.

To which invention are you referring? perspective? That silly barge thing? Some feature of architecture? I find it unlikely that not one other person could look at the works and figure out how it was done. Methinks they were dabbling a little much with their leaded paint, and held a little too much belief in the mystical arts to be doing any real thinking anyways... Otherwise I cant understand why duplicating any of those would be so difficult. If I put a block and tackle arrangement in front of my 5 year old and told him to make something similar, I'm sure he could, it just isn't that hard.

Oh, no, 20 years! We might as well all go back to living in caves, because, clearly we are in a dark age of invention. Also, if true, then your story is really about bad legal and economic advice, not patents. Damages for patent infringement are limited to a reasonable royalty, which, by definition couldn't ever be more than your profits. As you correctly noted at the beginning of your post, people do things that make them money. If you can bring a product to market and pay an outrageous 10% royalty on your profits, you're still making profits. If you don't bring the product to market, as an intelligent commenter stated, you "are guaranteed not to make any money". So, the reason for not bringing the tech to market was, at most, bad legal and economic advice, or much more likely, other reasons such as market size, cost of parts, etc.

When each little incremental improvement costs 20 years, then progress is being impeded. Furthermore, it is not the "cost of damages" that stopped competitors in the field, it was the massive legal costs associated with defending against BS patent trolling. The offending company was started and owned by two attorneys who used their knowledge of the patent process to get patents, and then litigated themselves. The legal cost of defending was prohibitive, even if they were going to win, they couldn't survive long enough to get to that point, so they simply did not use the electronic triggers. This rendered the vast majority of other incremental improvements impossible. All because of two lawyers, and a badly flawed patent system.

Perhaps people understand intuitively that patents are bad because they believe in false histories like "patents were designed so that novel inventions would end up being cataloged", as opposed to the real reasons involving trade secrets.

From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

A patent (/pætnt/ or /petnt/) is a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time, in exchange for the public disclosure of the invention.

Sounds to me like patents were designed to allow public cataloging of inventions in exchange for limited monopolies. Not sure what part of that you feel is a "false history", but perhaps you're not speaking the same English the rest of us are.

-=Geoskd

Re:Disgusting! (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | about a year ago | (#43394091)

To which invention are you referring? perspective? That silly barge thing? Some feature of architecture? I find it unlikely that not one other person could look at the works and figure out how it was done. Methinks they were dabbling a little much with their leaded paint, and held a little too much belief in the mystical arts to be doing any real thinking anyways...

If you don't even know what invention they're talking about, then are you really qualified to opine that they too busy thinking about the mystical arts? As a tip, Google exists nowadays. Invented in the past 20 years, too.

Otherwise I cant understand why duplicating any of those would be so difficult. If I put a block and tackle arrangement in front of my 5 year old and told him to make something similar, I'm sure he could, it just isn't that hard.

Then how come it took until 1500 for any of that stuff? Why did the Romans have it, or the Greeks, or the Neanderthals? A steam engine or internal combustion engine is pretty straightforward, once you've seen one. I bet most any engineer could sketch one out on a napkin if you asked... Most any engineer now that is. Amazing how everything looks obvious in hindsight, eh?

When each little incremental improvement costs 20 years, then progress is being impeded.

Actually, it sounds like progress is proceeding quite well with a series of incremental improvements. Your argument requires utter stagnation.

Furthermore, it is not the "cost of damages" that stopped competitors in the field, it was the massive legal costs associated with defending against BS patent trolling. The offending company was started and owned by two attorneys who used their knowledge of the patent process to get patents, and then litigated themselves.

Actually, the offending company was started and owned by two inventors who used their knowledge of engineering to get patents. They happened to also be attorneys.

The legal cost of defending was prohibitive, even if they were going to win, they couldn't survive long enough to get to that point, so they simply did not use the electronic triggers. This rendered the vast majority of other incremental improvements impossible. All because of two lawyers, and a badly flawed patent system.

All because of poor economic and legal advice, as I said. As noted in the previous post, they could have used the triggers and paid a reasonable royalty and pocket the rest of the profit. You don't have to go court to pay royalties. In fact, most people do so without ever setting foot in court. But apparently, the paintball manufacturers got some bad advice and missed out on a bunch of free money selling an invention that they didn't even have to research.

Perhaps people understand intuitively that patents are bad because they believe in false histories like "patents were designed so that novel inventions would end up being cataloged", as opposed to the real reasons involving trade secrets.

From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

A patent (/pætnt/ or /petnt/) is a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time, in exchange for the public disclosure of the invention.

Sounds to me like patents were designed to allow public cataloging of inventions in exchange for limited monopolies. Not sure what part of that you feel is a "false history", but perhaps you're not speaking the same English the rest of us are.

Considering that you admit you don't even know what invention was involved in the origin of patents, and you're basing the extent of your knowledge on one sentence in Wiki, I can see why you would think that. The truth is in that phrase "public disclosure". This isn't about making some giant catalog of novelty - and for what purpose? Historical significance? - but about giving an incentive to inventors to publicly disclose their inventions rather than keeping them trade secrets.

Re:Disgusting! (1)

inode_buddha (576844) | about a year ago | (#43393179)

Sure it does. The full force of the industrial revolution was delayed by 25 years due to patents on the crankshaft. Back when James Watt was developing his improves steam engine. No kidding, its a matter of historical fact. So yes, it does hamstring human progress.

Re:Disgusting! (2)

melikamp (631205) | about a year ago | (#43391795)

It is sickening in the extreme to think that it's possible to deny other people access to information, simply because you thought of it first.

It's worse than that. Patents don't deny access to information, but they curtail our freedom to help each other. And those who register patents almost never think of it first. Did Apple think first of a rectangular device with rounded corners?

As usual, Richard Stallman has a great solution:

We should legislate that developing, distributing, or running a program on generally used computing hardware does not constitute patent infringement.

This will work because a very similar law already works in the medical field. Just like surgeons, who can safely ignore procedural patents to save lives, programmers and distributors of free software deserve complete patent immunity because their work is entirely gratis, and benefits the whole world.

Wired article [wired.com] (gods help you if you don't use adblock and noscript).

Re:Disgusting! (3, Informative)

Theaetetus (590071) | about a year ago | (#43393271)

It is sickening in the extreme to think that it's possible to deny other people access to information, simply because you thought of it first.

It's worse than that. Patents don't deny access to information, but they curtail our freedom to help each other. And those who register patents almost never think of it first. Did Apple think first of a rectangular device with rounded corners?

Of course not, but then, they never patented "a rectangular device with rounded corners". This whole bit of FUD is based on taking two words out of context in a list of features that Samsung could have changed to not infringe in the German design patent infringement case. Specifically, Apple said that their patent claimed A+B+C+D+E+F+G+H, etc. with one of those things being rounded corners. If Samsung changed any of them - not having rounded corners, but having every other bit; or having rounded corners, but not having a flush bezel - then they wouldn't infringe. And that latter one is exactly what they did with the Galaxy Tab 10.1N: a device with rounded corners that does not infringe Apple's patent... so therefore, the patent clearly cannot cover "a device with rounded corners".

As usual, Richard Stallman has a great solution:

We should legislate that developing, distributing, or running a program on generally used computing hardware does not constitute patent infringement.

This will work because a very similar law already works in the medical field. Just like surgeons, who can safely ignore procedural patents to save lives, programmers and distributors of free software deserve complete patent immunity because their work is entirely gratis, and benefits the whole world.

Note that Stallman's solution doesn't include either of those requirements, and therefore lacks the same moral justification.

Re:Disgusting! (1)

organgtool (966989) | about a year ago | (#43393825)

Note that Stallman's solution doesn't include either of those requirements, and therefore lacks the same moral justification.

If you want to defend a law that prevents someone from creating, manufacturing, distributing, or selling a good, then the onus is on you to provide the moral justification for the existence of that law. Otherwise, the law is an unnecessary impediment to our freedom and should be promptly abolished.

Re:Disgusting! (2)

Theaetetus (590071) | about a year ago | (#43394011)

Note that Stallman's solution doesn't include either of those requirements, and therefore lacks the same moral justification.

If you want to defend a law that prevents someone from creating, manufacturing, distributing, or selling a good, then the onus is on you to provide the moral justification for the existence of that law. Otherwise, the law is an unnecessary impediment to our freedom and should be promptly abolished.

Sounds reasonable. The justification is that trade secrets are bad because they stifle innovation by requiring constant re-invention of the same concepts over and over, and prevent people from being able to improve others' work. Patents give an incentive to people to destroy trade secrets, by giving a time-limited monopoly in exchange for required public disclosure.

Okay, your turn to rebut that. Plus, while you're at it, quit dodging the question and answer why Stallman's solution, lacking any of the "free" or "gratis" requirements of the grandparent poster, still is morally justified. Frankly, this whole "I don't have to answer, you do" bullshiat is not a valid debate tactic.

Re:Disgusting! (1)

organgtool (966989) | about a year ago | (#43394513)

Sounds reasonable. The justification is that trade secrets are bad because they stifle innovation by requiring constant re-invention of the same concepts over and over, and prevent people from being able to improve others' work. Patents give an incentive to people to destroy trade secrets, by giving a time-limited monopoly in exchange for required public disclosure.

I fully agree with everything you have said for every industry except software. In industries other than software, engineers invent technologies that push limitations imposed by the physics and chemistry that make up our universe. In software, the only limitation placed on the software itself is the limits of the developer's imagination. I have never once read the headline to a software patent and wondered how the developer managed to push the boundaries to accomplish the task at hand. The challenge in software development is not how to find a way to get the software to do what you wish: the challenge is finding the best way to accomplish the task given all of the options at your disposal. While it may seem reasonable to grant a patent on the latter, the problem is that the best solution differs depending on your client and varies wildly on a case-by-case basis. And if you don't like that argument, then how about the fact that software patents contain no useful information about how the "invention" works, a.k.a. disclosing the trade secret. Instead, the "inventor" gets to keep the trade secret in the form of the source code. So they get the benefit of the patent protection on a very broad concept and they get to keep the specifics about how the invention actually works protected under trade secret. That undeserved protection of a very broad concept stifles more innovation in the software industry than it has ever protected. The best thing for software innovation is to keep the protection of copyright on the source code and allow developers to create whatever they want, even if it has been done before, as long as they do not illegally copy the source code of others. That appears to be the concensus among most software developers that are interested in true innovation instead of locking out competition.

Okay, your turn to rebut that. Plus, while you're at it, quit dodging the question and answer why Stallman's solution, lacking any of the "free" or "gratis" requirements of the grandparent poster, still is morally justified.

I will not defend Stallman's solution because I agree with you that his reasoning is flawed.

Frankly, this whole "I don't have to answer, you do" bullshiat is not a valid debate tactic.

In general, it is quite a shitty debate tactic. The reason I felt justified in using it in this case is because our legal system is based on a system in which everything is considered legal unless there is a law that explicitly forbids it (there is a Latin term that I can't remember that describes this). Therefore, if you wish to defend a law that is coming under fire for being considered unjust and outside of the scope of its intended utility by the people in the relevant industry (in this case, software patents), the burden is on you to defend its utility.

Re:Disgusting! (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | about a year ago | (#43395135)

I fully agree with everything you have said for every industry except software. In industries other than software, engineers invent technologies that push limitations imposed by the physics and chemistry that make up our universe. In software, the only limitation placed on the software itself is the limits of the developer's imagination. I have never once read the headline to a software patent and wondered how the developer managed to push the boundaries to accomplish the task at hand. The challenge in software development is not how to find a way to get the software to do what you wish: the challenge is finding the best way to accomplish the task given all of the options at your disposal. While it may seem reasonable to grant a patent on the latter, the problem is that the best solution differs depending on your client and varies wildly on a case-by-case basis.

Sure, but you aren't patenting the "best" mousetrap (or software equivalent), but an "improved" one. Maybe your new state machine-based sort algorithm works better in some instances where it can utilize a priori knowledge, but doesn't work well with completely random data. If you've still improved upon known sorts, isn't that the type of thing that we, the public, want you to tell us about, even if it isn't the best possible one?

And if you don't like that argument, then how about the fact that software patents contain no useful information about how the "invention" works, a.k.a. disclosing the trade secret. Instead, the "inventor" gets to keep the trade secret in the form of the source code. So they get the benefit of the patent protection on a very broad concept and they get to keep the specifics about how the invention actually works protected under trade secret.

They shouldn't require the source code, because you shouldn't need the source to understand the invention. They should, however, have pseudocode and/or flow charts - and they're required to do so under 35 USC 112 currently. But, I agree, there should be more disclosure and better flow charts. Most patents are written in ways that I, personally, find questionable from a written description and enablement perspective. But that's not just software patents - I think pharma patents have huge problems in that area.

I think the problem (at least for software) is on the litigation side of things... litigators want patents to be as vague as possible so that, in litigation, they can make the patent say whatever they want. It might be a tough fight to change that, but you could probably make good headway by including a rule that patents must include a clear description of an exemplary implementation that, while not being considered to limit the invention, still is helpful to explain it.

Re:Disgusting! (1)

organgtool (966989) | about a year ago | (#43395683)

Sure, but you aren't patenting the "best" mousetrap (or software equivalent), but an "improved" one. Maybe your new state machine-based sort algorithm works better in some instances where it can utilize a priori knowledge, but doesn't work well with completely random data. If you've still improved upon known sorts, isn't that the type of thing that we, the public, want you to tell us about, even if it isn't the best possible one?

The sort algorithm would contain enough detail to be something of actual value that the software development community would probably like to know, but I believe that would be considered a mathematical formula which does not enjoy patent protection. Besides that, the problem in general with patenting improvements to invents is that the patent on the existing invention is so broad that it covers all implementations of that invention (hence the reason software patents are counter-productive).

They shouldn't require the source code, because you shouldn't need the source to understand the invention. They should, however, have pseudocode and/or flow charts - and they're required to do so under 35 USC 112 currently. But, I agree, there should be more disclosure and better flow charts. Most patents are written in ways that I, personally, find questionable from a written description and enablement perspective. But that's not just software patents - I think pharma patents have huge problems in that area.

Pseudocode and flow charts are nice, but they fall far short of the documentation necessary to make the invention "able to be trivially implemented by another person in the same field." I have seen developers that were handed documentation more detailed than any software patent and watched them create something that matched the documentation but did nothing of value. By the time you start providing documentation detailed enough to create your own useful implementation, you are practically at the code level already.

I think the problem (at least for software) is on the litigation side of things... litigators want patents to be as vague as possible so that, in litigation, they can make the patent say whatever they want. It might be a tough fight to change that, but you could probably make good headway by including a rule that patents must include a clear description of an exemplary implementation that, while not being considered to limit the invention, still is helpful to explain it.

Believe me, I'm not one to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but software patents just don't make sense. They are frequently written before the software is even implemented so that they are filed before everyone else. What's worse, almost every software developer I know who has written any software of significance would do things differently if they had a second chance. Software development is a complicated process of attempting to balance functionality, performance, robustness, maintainability, cost, scalability, reusability, ease of use, etc. Having some patent about how one development shop implemented something is just about worthless since someone else writing it from scratch will likely have already used the original product, know its shortcomings, and would attempt to create something entirely different that lacks those shortcomings. That is if the company that produced the original product has not locked out competitors already with patents. With software, the code is just about the only thing that really matters and we have ample protection thanks to copyright.

Re:Disgusting! (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | about a year ago | (#43396011)

The sort algorithm would contain enough detail to be something of actual value that the software development community would probably like to know, but I believe that would be considered a mathematical formula which does not enjoy patent protection.

Depends how it's written. You can write it as a method executed by a computing device, and it's no longer just a mathematical formula. That a claim recites a non-patentable formula doesn't make the claim unpatentable, if it has other patentable elements. But that's a whole nother discussion.

Besides that, the problem in general with patenting improvements to invents is that the patent on the existing invention is so broad that it covers all implementations of that invention (hence the reason software patents are counter-productive).

You're arguing two different things here... Improvements are always patentable (see 35 USC 101), and it's the utmost hubris to pretend that every invention is entirely new and revolutionary and doesn't stand on the shoulders of what came before. You make a flying car, and, well, it wouldn't be there without the car, no? But it shouldn't be patentable, because it's an improvement? No...
Second, if the patent is so broad that it covers all implementations, then either (i) it's an incredibly awesome invention that really lays the groundwork for an entire field, in which case, shouldn't that be patentable; or (ii) it's not actually covering all implementations and people can still work around it, by inventing the next thing?
And third, why is this specific to software? Improvements (and field-blocking patents) exist in every industry, so why do you think it's a software-specific issue?

Pseudocode and flow charts are nice, but they fall far short of the documentation necessary to make the invention "able to be trivially implemented by another person in the same field." I have seen developers that were handed documentation more detailed than any software patent and watched them create something that matched the documentation but did nothing of value. By the time you start providing documentation detailed enough to create your own useful implementation, you are practically at the code level already.

The test is actually "without undue experimentation by a person of ordinary skill in the art", and I'd argue that a skilled developer should be able to write code from a detailed flow chart. Now, yes, I readily agree that many patents have sucky flowcharts and don't have enough description. But on the other hand, with a good functional spec, you should be able to code it, even with no source code in hand... and that should be the measure for compliance with 35 USC 112.

Believe me, I'm not one to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but software patents just don't make sense. They are frequently written before the software is even implemented so that they are filed before everyone else.

I don't agree with that. I am a patent attorney, and much of my work is software (and I realize this immediately opens up entire arguments based on ad hominems and accusations of bias, and I trust in your good faith to keep the debate on a civil and substantive level rather than collapse to name calling). Almost everything I get is after the software is implemented, at least at an alpha level. The very few where it hasn't been, those disclosures have been detailed enough that I could code it - and did, in one case, to check my math.
Now, this is all just anecdotal, and as I said, I agree that many patents may have problems with insufficient disclosure, but I don't think specific source code should be required. And how would you choose a language? Should all patents have code in C#? Or can they each have their native languages? And what do you do when languages change, or the inventor writes a new language? Not to mention, what if they write code in whitespace [wikipedia.org] ? Between odd syntax, unusual languages, and obfuscated variable names, wouldn't this just end up with complaints that the source code needs to be commented, at which point, aren't we really back to pseudocode and flow charts?

What's worse, almost every software developer I know who has written any software of significance would do things differently if they had a second chance. Software development is a complicated process of attempting to balance functionality, performance, robustness, maintainability, cost, scalability, reusability, ease of use, etc. Having some patent about how one development shop implemented something is just about worthless since someone else writing it from scratch will likely have already used the original product, know its shortcomings, and would attempt to create something entirely different that lacks those shortcomings.

Something like, dare I say, an improvement? :)
So, say they do - they use the original, learn from it, and create an improved product... Don't they owe something to the original that they learned from, at least for a while?

That is if the company that produced the original product has not locked out competitors already with patents.

Pragmatically, no one is ever really locked out with patents. Even if you have to pay a shocking 10-20% of your profits in royalties (shocking, because normally royalties for patent infringement are in the 1-5% range), you're still making profit. You aren't locked out, unless you're voluntarily giving up free money.

The real lock out is injunctive relief, where a court orders an infringer not to make product anymore... And those are getting to be impossible to get now, because courts have realized that, patents being an economic tool, money is always going to be adequate compensation for infringement, except in the most extreme of cases (exact copying of design patents that almost amounts to counterfeiting).

In other words, you can't actually lock someone out of competing with you, unless they make bad economic choices... You can just eat some of their lunch so that their overall profit margin is lower than yours. But they still get lunch too, and that should be a good thing for everyone.

With software, the code is just about the only thing that really matters and we have ample protection thanks to copyright.

Heh. Tell that to NimbleBit or Slashkey. You don't need to tell it to Zynga, because they'll readily agree with you, all the way to the bank.

Re:Disgusting! (1)

melikamp (631205) | about a year ago | (#43393899)

This whole bit of FUD is based on taking two words out of context in a list of features that Samsung could have changed to not infringe in the German design patent infringement case. Specifically, Apple said that their patent claimed A+B+C+D+E+F+G+H, etc. with one of those things being rounded corners.

Look at the patent [google.com] , which, by the way, has 1 content-free claim (you didn't know that?), and a few crude pictures. I remember drawing things like that in high school. All I claim is that it's been thought of before, but nice trolling.

Note that Stallman's solution doesn't include either of those requirements, and therefore lacks the same moral justification.

So his argument is flawed because he didn't chew it up for you like I did? Try again.

Re:Disgusting! (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | about a year ago | (#43394231)

This whole bit of FUD is based on taking two words out of context in a list of features that Samsung could have changed to not infringe in the German design patent infringement case. Specifically, Apple said that their patent claimed A+B+C+D+E+F+G+H, etc. with one of those things being rounded corners.

Look at the patent [google.com] , which, by the way, has 1 content-free claim (you didn't know that?), and a few crude pictures. I remember drawing things like that in high school.

It's a design patent - all design patents have only one claim, by law. However, it's not content free at all - rather, the claim is claiming exactly what's shown in the figures, which are not crude by any mention. And kudos for your high school for having an engineering drafting class. Mine did, too, and it has been very useful through several careers.

All I claim is that it's been thought of before, but nice trolling.

Nope, you did nothing of the sort. You asked a rhetorical question about Apple patenting rounded corners, and as I pointed out, they did nothing of the sort nor ever claimed to. And really, calling someone else a troll when anyone in here can scroll up and see what's been actually posted is laughable.

Note that Stallman's solution doesn't include either of those requirements, and therefore lacks the same moral justification.

So his argument is flawed because he didn't chew it up for you like I did? Try again.

Glad you agree that Stallman's solution lacks the moral justification you suggested.

Unless you disagree? It's not clear from your post. Maybe you're just trolling rather than wanting to have an actual discussion?

Re:Disgusting! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43391893)

It is sickening in the extreme to think that it's possible to deny other people access to information, simply because you thought of it first.

The default is to deny other people access to information because you thought of it first.

The patent system exists to help get the information into the public domain quickly, instead of having it kept as a trade secret for decades.

So when you're trolling on the patent system, try to understand its primary function first.

Re:Disgusting! (1)

Merk42 (1906718) | about a year ago | (#43392177)

It is sickening in the extreme to think that it's possible to deny other people access to information, simply because you thought of it first.

The default is to deny other people access to information because you thought of it first.

The patent system exists to help get the information into the public domain quickly, instead of having it kept as a trade secret for decades.

So when you're trolling on the patent system, try to understand its primary function first.

The problem is patent holders have forgotten the monopoly is supposed to be temporary, and then it's publicly available

Re:Disgusting! (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | about a year ago | (#43393433)

It is sickening in the extreme to think that it's possible to deny other people access to information, simply because you thought of it first.

The default is to deny other people access to information because you thought of it first.

The patent system exists to help get the information into the public domain quickly, instead of having it kept as a trade secret for decades.

So when you're trolling on the patent system, try to understand its primary function first.

The problem is patent holders have forgotten the monopoly is supposed to be temporary, and then it's publicly available

You may be confusing patents with copyright. Copyright is the one that keeps getting more and more extensions. Patent term has only been extended twice, and the latter was just to comply with an international treaty and changed "17 years from issue (plus a 3 year backlog)" to "20 years from filing". That latter one was actually a really good thing - it killed submarine patents in one fell swoop, because you couldn't delay and delay and delay and have a patent get issued decades later on something that had then become the standard and then still have another 17 year term to exploit.

Re:Disgusting! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43393477)

The patent system exists to help get the information into the public domain quickly, instead of having it kept as a trade secret for decades.

So when you're trolling on the patent system, try to understand its primary function first.

A trade-secret is worthless to the inventor if not used. If used, people can deconstruct it, take out the nice bits, and improve upon the design. Tell me, how are you going to keep a cake recipe secret if you want to sell cake? Scientific analysis will simply take apart the cake and recreate it, no need for a "secret sauce"-recipe locked away in a safe somewhere.

Yes, it would take time to do so. But if the market is there, then that's what would happen. And if there's enough of a market, then it would no doubt happen faster than at the current pace of patents. That time = the head-start you're entitled to as creator of something.

Re:Disgusting! (1)

geoskd (321194) | about a year ago | (#43393675)

It is sickening in the extreme to think that it's possible to deny other people access to information, simply because you thought of it first.

The default is to deny other people access to information because you thought of it first.

The patent system exists to help get the information into the public domain quickly, instead of having it kept as a trade secret for decades.

So when you're trolling on the patent system, try to understand its primary function first.

No one reads patents to try to figure out how things work. They simply reverse engineer them instead. Patents have mutated into such convoluted legalese as to be nearly impenetrable to someone wishing to learn how the invention actually works. It is faster and easier to simply buy a copy of the product you wish to duplicate, and figure out how it works on your own. This is especially effective for software, as the compiled code reduces down to a procedural description of the algorithm that is simply stunning in its precision. If source code were required it might have some value, but as it stands, the stated purpose of the patent system is null and void by virtue of deliberate obfuscation. The patent database is hopelessly corrupted, and is so thoroughly worthless as an engineering resource as to be ignored almost universally by everyone outside of the legal profession.

-=Geoskd

Surely that cannot be true. (1)

John Hasler (414242) | about a year ago | (#43391745)

It might imply something positive about the Bush administration, and that is not permissable.

Re:Surely that cannot be true. (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about a year ago | (#43391787)

I don't think this is an example of Bush Jr doing the right thing. I think it's an example of something he didn't think of.

Obama and Bush Jr. are both corporate shills, no matter what is said on TV.

Re:Surely that cannot be true. (1)

AliasBackslash (2719011) | about a year ago | (#43392017)

Can't that be said about the vast majority of modern politicians?

Re:Surely that cannot be true. (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#43392255)

It looks to me like a confusing use of 'the x administration' to designate a particular division of time, even when the subject at hand has little connection to event separating time periods.

Re:Surely that cannot be true. (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | about a year ago | (#43392659)

It looks to me like a confusing use of 'the x administration' to designate a particular division of time, even when the subject at hand has little connection to event separating time periods.

Yes and no - it may still reflect a legitimate difference between John Dudas (PTO director appointed by Bush) and David Kappos (PTO director appointed by Obama). While Bush/Obama may not care about the specifics (and may be more beholden to their corporate interests anyway), Dudas and Kappos had different concepts about how Examination should be funded, what the timelines should be, etc.

Smaller patents because prior art easier to find (3, Interesting)

IP_Troll (1097511) | about a year ago | (#43391953)

More likely this is a function of the internet, and the ability to search for prior art in a matter of minutes.

In the past a party looking to get a patent would go back and forth with the patent examiner at the USPTO a number of times, because the USPTO had a vast library of prior art that your average person doesn't have access to. Every time the examiner came up with prior art the patent would have to be rewritten to shrink it claims.

Now with the internet, anybody can search just about any database, this means the first draft patent will include more examples of prior art, a patent with less broad claims, and less for the patent examiner to object to.

A better measure of whether the USPTO is lowering its standards is the number of broad claims versus narrow claims in a patent. As well as the number of prior art examples cited in the patent, by definition if the prior art describes an aspect of the patent, that aspect is not patented, it is cited as a reference to what the patent DOES NOT cover.

Lower standards? (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about a year ago | (#43392037)

Like...below zero? Hey, wait a minute! I need to patent that!

Re:Lower standards? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43392485)

The tradition of lowering standards to half mast to honor the dead is long standing. A weakening of hearts and minds leads to laxness in arms which appears more as surrender and can cause those following the standards bearers to fall before their enemies. A weakness in leadership or treason perhaps? Corporations are playing capture the flag with our government, when attacked it is time to raise our standards proudly, not lower them.

Correct buried among incorrect bits in article (5, Informative)

Theaetetus (590071) | about a year ago | (#43392195)

Note - I blame poor journalism for these, not the study authors. Also, as a disclaimer, I am a patent attorney (as a further disclaimer, I am not your patent attorney, and this is not legal advice).

First, the incorrect or misleading:

But in the last four years there's been a sharp reversal, with a 2012 allowance rate about 20 percent higher than it was in 2009.

It can also be looked at as 12% higher [patentlyo.com] , since it went from about 58% to about 70% in that time. "20 percent higher" is misleading. "120 percent of the 2009 rate" would be correct.

Calculating the real allowance rate is tricky because inventors can submit the same application multiple times. "From the perspective of the patent office, a 'final rejection' doesn't get rid of an application," Quillen told Ars in a December phone interview. If an application is rejected, the inventor can make minor changes to the application and file it again. "The only way you can reduce your numbers and get rid of somebody is to allow the case," Quillen said.

There are a number of different ways to re-file applications, with names like File Wrapper Continuations, Continued Prosecution Applications, Requests for Continued Examination and Continuation-In-Part Applications. But in all cases, the upshot is the same: the applicant gets another shot at convincing examiners to grant him a patent.

These are talking about two different things, mainly because the journalist doesn't understand the distinction:

1) An application can be "finally rejected" by the USPTO (meaning that it was rejected on specific grounds, the applicant replied, and the Examiner wasn't persuaded and "finally" rejected the application on those grounds), and the Applicant can amend to narrow the claims and file a request for continued examination or a continued prosecution application (the same thing, but for design patents).
For example, say you were Toyota and were patenting the Prius, and you originally had a claim of "1. A car, comprising: four wheels, an engine, and a battery" and the Examiner comes back and says "duh, that's every car." If you tried to argue that you meant a battery running the engine, but the Examiner wasn't persuaded since that distinction isn't in your claims (and there's other prior art with electric engines), they'd finally reject it. If you then amended your claims to recite your novel planetary engine dual-powered transmission, you'd have to file a request for continued examination so that it could be considered.
It's not really "submitting the same application multiple times" but several iterations of narrowing the application and arguing that as narrowed, it's patentable, until it finally is narrow enough to be allowed.

2) New applications can be filed as continuation applications or continuation-in-part applications, but they're not the "same application" by definition. Continuations and continued prosecution applications have the same specification, but different claims. Like, say, to save money, you wrote a patent application that described two separate, but related inventions. Like say, a new machine for more efficiently turning horses into glue, and a new offset gearing system for use in that machine or others that has increased torque with reduced tension. You could file a single application describing both, but only claiming the horse part. Later, you could file a continuation application using the same specification and claiming the gearing system part.
This helps small inventors by not requiring them to file dozens of applications on day one, when they might be short of cash, but file one big one, then later file additional continuations as they're able to raise capital. Importantly, all of the applications have the same effective priority date for prior art, and any patents coming from the applications expire on the same day. This isn't some sneaky way to get more than 20 years out of a patent. It's just a way to save money and reduce filing costs.
Continuations are also used where the original patent was screwed up or overly narrow - you claimed your novel horse-glue machine and, for some reason, had a line in the claims that required it to be painted red. That may have nothing to do with patentability, but someone could not infringe by copying your machine completely, but painting it blue. So, you can file a continuation and remove that line. If it's still patentable, then it can get allowed. But again, it expires on the same day as the parent application, so you're not scamming anyone.
Continuations-in-part are even more explicitly not the same - by definition (the "in part" bit), they include additional inventions that weren't in the parent application. So it's not "refiling the same application" in any sense of the word.

The ease with which applicants can re-file the same application leads to misleading official statistics suggesting the patent office is pickier than it really is. If an examiner rejects an application twice before finally granting a patent on the third try, that might be counted as two rejections and one acceptance, for a 33 percent acceptance rate. But it probably makes more sense to consider the three filings as part of the same application process, for a 100 percent acceptance rate.

This is also misleading, since it leads to the incorrect conclusion that patents are "rubber stamped" as accepted, if you have a 100 percent acceptance rate*. That hides the fact that all* of those applications were stamped "rejected" twice and narrowed before being accepted.
*using their hypothetical numbers. The real rate is around a 90-95% initial rejection rate and a 70% finally allowed rate.

The correct bit is that, yes, allowance rates have gone up over the past 3 years. There are several possible explanations, including the one claimed by the USPTO which is that, due to the increased number of examiners, more applications are getting examined and allowed, rather than abandoned as being obsolete after sitting in the backlog for five years. One counterpoint to this is that the number of patents issued per Examiner [patentlyo.com] appears to be increasing... but then, look back at the period from 2001-2006 when that number was higher. Another, better counterpoint is that the rate of abandonment has been increasing, too [patentlyo.com] .

At least one possible explanation not mentioned by the article or the study, but that I've experienced, is that it seems that more Examiners are taking the second step of not just rejecting the application over prior art, but then saying "however, if you amend with X, Y, and Z, then it will be allowable." That tends to result in a substantial narrowing amendment to the claims, and allowance of the application. This wasn't typical a few years ago, and was encouraged by the "point system" that Examiners are rated on internally, in which they got more points (and hence more raises and better bonuses) for drawing out prosecution of an application longer. I don't think that this necessarily means that the quality of patents are lower - if you claim "a mouse trap" and it's rejected as being known, that's proper, but if the Examiner has you amend to include all the parts that make it a better mouse trap (sexy animatronic female mouse, ultrasonic mouse-pulp converter, Mr. Fusion runs-on-mouse-guts power supply, etc.) and that's allowed, does that make it a low quality patent? I don't think so.

Essentially, the numbers do show the rate of allowance increasing, but from just those numbers, I don't think you can draw any conclusions about quality. Instead, a further study should look at the actual claims involved, how the patents were narrowed during prosecution, how many items of prior art are cited against the patent (and how many were raised by the Examiner, as opposed to the applicant), how close those items are, etc.

Re:Correct buried among incorrect bits in article (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43393223)

As a patent examiner I'll throw in here too. There has certainly been a palpable shift in how we are encouraged to process cases over the last few years. It has much less to do with president 'X' and more to do with the current director of the PTO. Each one that comes in has their own priorities. From 2005-2009 the heavy focus was on quality. For examiners this translated into avoiding errors from the QA department. Every allowance submitted by an examiner is reviewed by QA while only a random sample of rejections are reviewed, so rejections are less likely to result in an error for the examiner than allowances. Examiners generally refrained from suggesting claim amendments to the applicants that we believed would make the claims allowable over the prior art because this was seen as sticking your neck out for the applicant.

Recently the focus has changed more to backlog reduction. One of the problems with backlog as you noted, and was discussed in the article, is that a 'final' rejection does not dispose of the case. Rather an applicant can pay for continued examination (RCE) of the case on narrowed claims. For large companies the fee for an RCE relatively inconsequential (a few thousand dollars depending on the number of claims) so there is little impetus to abandon the case or to make real changes to the claim language. Some cases can kick around the PTO for 7 or 8 years in examination which ties up examiners from working on new cases. We can't force an applicant to abandon a case (even when they really, really should), and the PTO doesn't have the authority to set a limit on the number of RCE's (it was tried), so the only real alternative is to try to make the cases allowable, thus disposing of them.

Whether this has caused a significant drop in quality is debatable, in a lot of cases, as you also noted , its the examiner taking the initiative to suggest claim language that gets around the prior art which probably would have been arrived at eventually . But, I cant deny that the fear of QA has also diminished a bit so examiners may be less likely to apply the more risky obviousness rejections (4 or references, obvious to try, etc) than they might once have.

Management has also started to track the examiners 'actions per disposal' metric, which should ideally be at 3 (non-final rejection, final rejection, allowance/abandonment/RCE), but any instance in which we must issue a 2nd non-final or several after final communications skews this number above 3, so direct supervisors sometimes encourage their examiners to work toward allowances to get this number down.

As to your point on continuations, they don't necessarily let an inventor extend a single patent longer than 20 years, but they can be used to file a sort of submarine patent. This works by disclosing, in the original (usually very extensive) specification some invention that will eventually be, but is not initially, claimed. Several years of delay ensue while the parent is backlogged, examined, then eventually allowed. Immediately prior to allowance a continuation is filed, on some portion of the spec not originally claimed which goes through the same process. This can be continued as long as there are more 'independent' inventions in the specification. As a result some patents filed in this decade have priority extending back to the mid 90's, but are not subject to double patenting rejections. The claimed invention is technically 'new' according to its priority date, and parent cases, but the obvious problem is that the technology described in the original patent has been built upon and entered the market, and these patents start to surface 20 years later but none prior art published between the original filing and the present can be applied to them.

As a last point please include a drawing of the sexy animantronic mouse in your next application. We examiners can always use a good laugh.

Re:Correct buried among incorrect bits in article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43393419)

Also I hadn't read the post immediately below by the other PE before posting this, but its scary how similar our responses are.

Re:Correct buried among incorrect bits in article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43395615)

Why not just hire additional people to handle the backlog? It seems pretty obvious. If you're getting behind, and if the fees for examination actually cover the cost of examination, then you simply hire enough people to do the work, which you can easily afford since the fees for examination cover the cost of examination.

If, however, their problem is that people are keeping bad patents in the system for decades by continuing to pay for additional examination, then that's a stupid thing to consider to be a problem, since the only thing you can really do about it is give people what they want so they stop bothering you.

Re: Correct buried among incorrect bits in article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43397323)

The PTO has hired lots of new examiners and continues to do so, it will eventually fix the backlog but it takes a long time for examiners to become proficient. Examiners also tend to have a low retention rate, meaning that many new hires leave after only a few years though this has been less of a problem since the economy tanked. Like I said its mostly about the most recent director of the PTO who decided that backlog was the biggest problem to be immediately addressed. I'm sure it will change again with the next director.

Re: Correct buried among incorrect bits in article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43404419)

This addresses a logistical problem with implementing the "obvious" (I agree it is obvious fwiw) solution of hiring more people to deal with the backlog. But it doesn't diminish that the solution is still the right one.

Problem: Large companies keep filing stupid patents making minimal changes to the original design and cannot be told to just gve up already. This causes patent examiners to have to waste their time continuing to deal with the stupid patents.

Simple solution: Assuming that the cost of evaluating a patent is the cost of the manpower needed to pay people well for this type of work, let the large companies continue to file their stupid patents, take the free money, and hire more people with the free money so that you can evaluate the backlogged patents.

Resulting logistical problem: Nobody wants to be a patent examiner and it takes a long time to train new ones.

Simple solution: Make it prohibitively expensive for the large companies to continue filing their patents. Probably, accomplish this by continually increasing the cost of filing continuations of the same patent. Do this until either a) they stop filing the stupid patents, thus resolving the problem or b) you are charging them enough money that you can offer patent examiners more competitive salaries.

Bureaucracy may make these solutions difficult, but it doesn't make them less obvious.

Examiner viewpoint (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43392201)

From the viewpoint of an Examiner here's what happened:

1 - The allowance rate was artificially low in the Bush years because the appointed director implemented a "quality" system where all allowances were subject to stricter scrutiny, but rejections were not. When you can get written up and indeed fired because someone who doesn't actually Examine your technology glances at something and says "oh that's obvious" then you have to spend a few hours (which you have to make up in production later) explaining why it is not and how combining things in the way they say to just straight up wouldn't work and still wouldn't meet the claimed limitations, yet writing a shitty rejection will just get the a Request for Continued Examination filed which actually helps you out on your quota... yeah you can see why the Allowance rate plunged.
2 - Applicants amend more readily. The reasons vary: Some just took some time coming to grips with what KSR v. Teleflex actually meant; some decided after the markets went kaput and patents became less valuable due to changes to injunctions to stop paying for endlessly filing for continued examination; and some just wanted a patent quickly on their new product.
3 - Newly hired Examiners have gotten better at searching, so things don't go in circles as much. This probably leads back into #2

90% of it is #1. It is a pretty textbook case of focusing on some random arbitrary metric while ignoring the real effect it has.

This is ultimately bad for Americans (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43392257)

Its generally accepted that we're in an IP economy backed by patents. As Americans and American companies file and win weak patents that enforced internationally that would never be issued in other countries, there will be a major backlash from these countries like China, India, Russia and Europe in general, who are generating valid and strong ip. When this happens these countries are not receiving the economic benefit of the IP of their companies and citizens as the money flows back to the US via issued but weak patents.

These are the things wars are started over.

So..... (1)

HangingChad (677530) | about a year ago | (#43392315)

Where does that leave my patent of exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide across a thin, moist barrier in a rhythmic process?

Re:So..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43392601)

Where does that leave my patent of exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide across a thin, moist barrier in a rhythmic process?

Scarily your "invention" would probably receive patent protection and every person, bird, animal, and many other creatures would have to pay up due to "patent infringement" making you very wealthy or the only living creature on Earth. Then you could file lawsuit against yourself except there'd be no lawyers and no judges.

Re:So..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43393585)

The tragedy of the story is, of course, that the judge would rule against it. Not because he thinks it absurd, or because of his will to live; but because some corporation stuffed his pockets in fear of their accountants choking to death somewhere in a low-pay, tax-sheltered country.

More about efficiencies? (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about a year ago | (#43392573)

The article made it sound like this more about the patent office being faster at responding to applications (even when rejecting them). And, faster rejections mean there's less likelihood of the filer abandoning their project. There was some dispute, but the counterargument in the article didn't wash w/ me.

The patent office has been hiring like crazy (1)

ProfBooty (172603) | about a year ago | (#43394191)

The patent office has been hiring 1,000-1,500+ examiners a year for the past few years. While an increased allowance rate is one factor, when the Office has trippled in size since 2001, its hard to ignore the effects of more examiners.

First step (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43394339)

Reject all software patents.

95% of the patents filed these days are crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43394423)

Working for an organization where filing patents is core business, I have to say that I am ashamed of what we file and how we file it.Just write something and hope it gets through the office. Patents make money ! Yeah right. We think we can sell patents, but forget that with everything we do we already violate a million """patents""". So anyone who wants access to our patents can simply sue us.

Wrong question (1)

Livius (318358) | about a year ago | (#43394597)

What everyone was wondering was not why the backlog declined; we were wondering why the standards fell.

This has been going on for at least a decade (1)

arglebargle_xiv (2212710) | about a year ago | (#43397961)

In the late1990s I worked in the research division of $large_corporation. Said corporation filed for a lot of patents, a few of which the researchers even considered patent-worthy (we had lots of lawyers who insisted on patenting everything). One day we got a chance to talk to an ex-USPTO staffer, and asked him about some should-never-have-issued patents in the area we worked in ("should never have issued" meant that they were patents on existing technology, for example one was on something that was at the time present in virtually every PC, laptop, and whatever other computing devices were around at the time). He looked a bit sheepish and said "Yeah, that was one of mine. We couldn't keep up any more so we just started rubberstamping patents until we'd caught up". Luckily this particular one was a defensive patent and the company who filed it (another $large-corporation) wasn't interested in enforcing it, but in just that one case it was only one of hundreds of patents that went through without any appraisal.

A bigger problem is that the examiners are rewarded based on how many patents they process. The "ideal" examiner is one who checks the name and date on the filing, verifies that the filing fee has cleared, and then approves the patent. They're likely to get the employee-of-the-year award for their high productivity.

The main problem with US patent office... (1)

i (8254) | about a year ago | (#43403589)

..is that there is a fundamental interest for US companies in general and the US government to grant patents to those companies as much and as easy as possible.
Foreign companies have also found that the courts in US in patent cases doesn't seems to be impartial to the fact that one part is of US origin and the other not.

There is maybe no difference in this to many other country's patent offices but as US legal and economical muscles is so strong they have such an advantage that they have no reason to change it.

This is yet another story about the attraction of protectionism.

Check for New Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

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>