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How Joel Spolsky Shot Down a Microsoft Patent In 15 Minutes

timothy posted about 9 months ago | from the method-or-art-of-taking-down-software-patents dept.

Patents 175

Thornburg contributes news of a story spotted on Techmeme, writing: "[Joel Spolsky of] Joel On Software has a story about how he found and submitted prior art for a Microsoft patent listed on Ask Patents in 15 minutes. The patent was rejected based largely on the document he submitted." Spolsky gives a very readable introduction to the patent system, and software patents in particular; I especially like this part: "Software patent applications are of uniformly poor quality. They are remarkably easy to find prior art for. Ask Patents can be used to block them with very little work. And this kind of individual destruction of one software patent application at a time might start to make a dent in the mountain of bad patents getting granted. ... How cool would it be if Apple, Samsung, Oracle and Google got into a Mexican Standoff on Ask Patents? If each of those companies had three or four engineers dedicating a few hours every day to picking off their competitors’ applications, the number of granted patents to those companies would grind to a halt."

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175 comments

Mutually Assured Destruction (5, Insightful)

Joining Yet Again (2992179) | about 9 months ago | (#44360389)

The big boys build weaponry to keep each other in check, and to eliminate all the smaller boys.

Works nicely for them all.

Don't know why they'd rock the boat.

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360555)

Works nicely for them all.

Not any more.

"The ‘irrelevance of Microsoft’ illustrated in a single chart
Microsoft’s share of connected device sales peaked at more than 90% in early 2009. Consider that for a moment — more than nine out of every 10 connected devices sold were powered by a Microsoft operating system. Fast forward to the first quarter of 2013 and Microsoft’s share of connected device sales has plummeted to just over 20%."
http://bgr.com/2013/07/22/microsoft-market-share-connected-devices/ [bgr.com]

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (3, Funny)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 9 months ago | (#44360637)

The irrelevance of who?

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (3, Informative)

jalopezp (2622345) | about 9 months ago | (#44360877)

of whom.

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (5, Funny)

cold fjord (826450) | about 9 months ago | (#44360905)

I tried watching Dr. Whom once. Didn't much care for it.

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44361425)

It was someone for whom I did not much care.

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (1)

cold fjord (826450) | about 9 months ago | (#44361547)

Dr. Who, on the other hand, I have enjoyed in the past. Future Doctors....?

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44361627)

That's nothing, I've already enjoyed Doctor Who in the future!

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (2)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 9 months ago | (#44360869)

Yes, but only because they started connecting a whole new class of devices. Microsoft isn't interested in making fridges, but some of those are connected to the internet now. They still have over 90% of the PC market, which is undergoing some shrinkage due to people not needing to upgrade as often, but MS still has a very sustainable market. They might need to lay off a few people, but it's not like MS is going to disappear completely. Even if they lost the entire consumer market because everybody wanted to use Android or IOS at home, they would still have a big market with the business market as Android and IOS seem to be completely ignoring.

Oops or Shill? (4, Interesting)

s.petry (762400) | about 9 months ago | (#44361983)

Are you just shilling? A quick 10 second Wiki search [wikipedia.org] shows that MS now owns less than 40% of the server market share, down from 80% in their prime. Desktops, it depends on who's stats you believe. Most rate Windows in the high 70% range%, but there is a rating of over 90. Since I see how many people are using MAC now days, I tend to disbelieve the 90%. I won't even get into the amount of PCs as a whole declining so causing MS to lose tons of market share to IOS and Android.

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (2, Insightful)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 9 months ago | (#44360885)

That's alright. Microsoft owns a piece of Apple and all the other players. Only the Microsoft name 'loses' something in this shell game.

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (3, Funny)

bondsbw (888959) | about 9 months ago | (#44361005)

Funny, even though the article says that Windows 95 was the peak for Microsoft, the same article says

PC sales were 59m units in 1995 and rose to over 350m in 2012

I'll be glad to take some of that failure off their hands.

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (1)

shentino (1139071) | about 9 months ago | (#44361555)

What worries me is that this boat might only get rocked one way and that political favors from the USPTO pushed down from on high result in a one sided disarmament that screws over everyone else that didn't grease the right palms.

There's a reason we don't completely disarm our nukes. We can't trust that everyone else will do the same.

Also, there's still the risk that a wild patent troll, err...terrorist will nab a loose nuke and launch it anyway.

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (4, Interesting)

jeffmeden (135043) | about 9 months ago | (#44360575)

The big boys build weaponry to keep each other in check, and to eliminate all the smaller boys.

Works nicely for them all.

Don't know why they'd rock the boat.

This, thread over. It "would be cool" as Joel points out, if the patent gorillas did their own policing via Ask Patents but it will never happen, they are in a profitable standoff now, why would they ever want to trade it for an unprofitable one?

Come up with a way to force peer review with proper incentives (maybe for every one you submit you must read and sign off on three more, and the more you shoot down the higher on the list yours goes for priority granting if it passes) and you might have a system that starts to work in a quasi-normal way.

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (2)

samwichse (1056268) | about 9 months ago | (#44361441)

Because the first one to send an FU to its competitors will trigger a hot war?

It's the prisoner's dilemma really, all it takes is one of the competitors to realize its sinking by maintaining its patent truce with the others and try to get a first-mover advantage by sniping the others patents. Things after that would quickly escalate.

Just look what happened with the patent lawsuit and Apple.

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (5, Interesting)

farrellj (563) | about 9 months ago | (#44360601)

So let's change the rules...create a Kickstarter campaign to fund a patent-bounty system. If funded, the fund pays out $10 per-patent that is squashed. Suddenly, it becomes a game for people to compete with each other to kill off patents. Even if a person can only do one an hour, that is better pay than minimum wage in many US States, or around the world. And once a year, they can throw a conference, and give out awards to the top "sharp-shooters" who kill off the most patents!

Turn killing bad patents into a game where you can make money, and we can have the patent-trolls slain in short order!

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360879)

40,000 x 10 = $400,000. But what if more than one person helped kill the patent. Who gets the bounty?

Who is paying for this. You say kickstarter, but is that a reliable form? The people who would pay for this are mostly the people who would want to be paid for this.

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (5, Insightful)

robot_love (1089921) | about 9 months ago | (#44360983)

A bunch of small minded people are going to tell you this is impossible, but that's because many people react to new ideas with "I can think of a problem with your idea, therefore it won't work" rather than "let's see how we can make this work".

I think you may well be on to something. It could be the most important thing you do in your life. Explore this further. If you need someone to write some software for it (a web app?), let me know, and I'll contribute.

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44361045)

If funded, the fund pays out $10 per-patent that is squashed. Suddenly, it becomes a game for people to compete with each other to kill off patents. Even if a person can only do one an hour, that is better pay than minimum wage in many US States, or around the world.

You say that as if someone educated enough to understand a patent AND locate/document suitable prior art could/would work for $10/hr... We have student loans to pay off!

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (1)

alen (225700) | about 9 months ago | (#44361095)

its not that hard considering the fact that most of the current tech was developed in the 1970's and 80's by uncool companies like Apple, MS, AOL, Cisco and a few others.

people are just lazy and think that google invented everything and don't want to bother searching

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (5, Insightful)

DarkOx (621550) | about 9 months ago | (#44361245)

If you really want to tear down the system of software patents though what you want to do is disrupt the balance of power. Right now big industry rivals share patent pools etc because it keeps new guys from entering the market; the pools work because they know if they don't all cooperate anyone of them could totally derail the business of the other.

So what really really want do is identify the pools, and players. Take a group like RIM/Apple/Google and focus your energy on just one of them. If you invalidate enough of Apple's key patents it puts them in a position where RIM and Google could use theirs as a club to gain market advantage, so Apple will be forced to take swipes at invalidating RIM and Google's patents in order to disarm them. You'd get a force multiplier effect.

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (4, Insightful)

rjstanford (69735) | about 9 months ago | (#44361471)

Even if a person can only do one an hour...

You do realize that one per hour is the great exception rather than the rule, right? It probably takes over an hour to read and understand most patents well enough to determine what exactly what nuanced change is being described as novel - not because of obfuscation, but because non-obvious things are non-obvious to explain.

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (5, Insightful)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 9 months ago | (#44361137)

Also they're taking the sea urchin approach.

Sea urchins spew out sperm and eggs into the ocean, making millions of embryos. The numbers is the advantage. Each individual embryo is incredibly weak and defenseless, most will be gulped up by some predator. Doesn't matter, enough will get through for the sea urchin to successfully reproduce.

This guy shot down a MS patent in 15 minutes? Every bit helps, but until we do something about the thousands of parasitic, idiotic patents that people aren't catching, it won't be much.

For this metaphor to REALLY fit, sea urchins would have to attach to computers, mobile phones, and technology and eat it. But fortunately they don't. That would be really annoying and gross.

Re:Mutually Assured Destruction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44361203)

INB4 Joel Spolsky becoming the equivalent to Saddam (or Iran) who "supposedly" has or wants to acquire WMDs, and therefore must be stopped... according to the ones who already have shitloads of those very same WMDs and sometimes even sold them to him in the first place.

"Hashtag IRONY, Hashtag COGNITIVE DISSONANCE" as the (uncool) kids* say nowadays.

___
* And with "kids" we mean: Actually only 45-year-old losers in their mid-life crisis and marketing companies, who both thought Twitter was "the cool thing that kids do", even though no kid would even touch it with a pitchfork exactly because of those losers hanging around there.

Use AI? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360413)

Maybe Google can come up with an "AI" search engine to help speed up that process (invalidation of patents with prior art) - keyword search etc.

Re:Use AI? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360849)

If it's done by Google, how can you trust it if the patent in question was filed by Google?

Re:Use AI? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44361573)

you don't, you rely on Microsoft and/or Apple doing something similar vs Google.

Seriously? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360417)

People are still saying "Mexican Standoff "?

Re:Seriously? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360443)

What's the correct term now? Home Depot standoff?

Re:Seriously? (4, Funny)

MightyYar (622222) | about 9 months ago | (#44360539)

I Welched on my bet and it led to a Mexican standoff with another guy who was an Indian giver. In the end we settled it with a game of Russian Roulette. It was chaos, a real Polish Parliament. In the end, the gun didn't go off and we all felt like we were Gypped.

Re:Seriously? (2)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 9 months ago | (#44360661)

I Welched on my bet and it led to a Mexican standoff with another guy who was an Indian giver. In the end we settled it with a game of Russian Roulette. It was chaos, a real Polish Parliament. In the end, the gun didn't go off and we all felt like we were Gypped and the Canadians were sorry about the whole mess even though they were not involved at all.

Re:Seriously? (2, Funny)

Spudley (171066) | about 9 months ago | (#44360969)

I Welched on my bet and it led to a Mexican standoff with another guy who was an Indian giver. In the end we settled it with a game of Russian Roulette. It was chaos, a real Polish Parliament. In the end, the gun didn't go off and we all felt like we were Gypped and the Canadians were sorry about the whole mess even though they were not involved at all.

That whole post was Double-Dutch to me. As confusing as a game of Chinese whispers.

Re:Seriously? (1)

asliarun (636603) | about 9 months ago | (#44361329)

I Welched on my bet and it led to a Mexican standoff with another guy who was an Indian giver. In the end we settled it with a game of Russian Roulette. It was chaos, a real Polish Parliament. In the end, the gun didn't go off and we all felt like we were Gypped and the Canadians were sorry about the whole mess even though they were not involved at all.

That whole post was Double-Dutch to me. As confusing as a game of Chinese whispers.

That's because the game being played by the big boys is like Chicago style politics. They give you the illusion of choice but in reality, it is a Kansas City Shuffle. You work hard, you work the system, you work the work, if you catch my drift, and you feel like you have a leg up on everyone else. You hear everyone laughing, you laugh along making fun of the other suckers, but the reality is that you are the one that was getting conned all this time.

Re:Seriously? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44361151)

Did anyone else read this in a James Cagney, Film Noir voice?

You'll never get me, Copper!

Re:Seriously? (1)

Russ1642 (1087959) | about 9 months ago | (#44360831)

Just because it references an ethnicity, culture, or race doesn't mean it's a derogatory term.

Re:Seriously? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 9 months ago | (#44361085)

Everything offends someone, somewhere. You need to strike a balance between empathy and not going out of your freaking mind. :)

Re:Seriously? (3, Funny)

Xenx (2211586) | about 9 months ago | (#44361679)

It's a simple balance for me.. if they can beat me up, their opinion matters.

Illegal Patents (0)

shawnhcorey (1315781) | about 9 months ago | (#44360439)

All software patents are illegal. All software is algorithms and by patent law, algorithms cannot be patented. Someone should sue the US Patent Office for allowing them.

Re:Illegal Patents (1, Insightful)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 9 months ago | (#44360519)

Can you imagine how far back computing would be if we were all stuck with using bubble sort because all the other sorting algorithms were patented? Sure the quicksort patent would have been long expired by now, being developed in 1960, but it would have set us back quite a bit to not be able to use the more efficient sorting algorithms.

Re:Illegal Patents (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | about 9 months ago | (#44360597)

Can you imagine how far back computing would be if we were all stuck with using bubble sort because all the other sorting algorithms were patented? Sure the quicksort patent would have been long expired by now, being developed in 1960, but it would have set us back quite a bit to not be able to use the more efficient sorting algorithms.

wat? The post you replied to pointed out that you should _not_ be able to patent algorithms... error, retry from start.

Re:Illegal Patents (1)

shawnhcorey (1315781) | about 9 months ago | (#44360683)

What makes you think that the current patents will be allowed to run out? After all, copyrights have been extended forever; how long before patents follow? And can you imagine what computers would be like if Knuth's books [wikipedia.org] were patented?

Re:Illegal Patents (1)

Sique (173459) | about 9 months ago | (#44360775)

Donald Knuth once mentioned that there are maybe 500 really fundamental algorithms out there (and he mentioned the Bresenham algorithm as one example of a non-trivial one), and everything else is just derivative and nothing new. So this means that there should about 500 softwarepatents at a maximum (and most of them expired), and everything else is just invalid.

No Cher Act (1)

tepples (727027) | about 9 months ago | (#44361831)

What makes you think that the current patents will be allowed to run out? After all, copyrights have been extended forever

The fact that 17 years after grant (or 20 years after filing, which is in practice the same thing given how long a patent takes to issue) has stood for several decades is a large part of why there isn't likely to be a Cher Act [kuro5hin.org] any time soon.

Re:Illegal Patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360783)

Just because something is patented doesn't mean it can't be used. If you propose that patenting the sorting algorithms would be bad for the public, then you're assuming the "inventors" desire control over the algorithms they came up with. I'd imagine the alternative to patenting in that case would be trade secrets. You'd have sorting libraries that you could buy (or maybe bundled with your compiler), and they would all have their own sorting algorithms, but you wouldn't be able to tell how they work. For things that are easy to come up with it is better for the public to have no patent because someone charitable will trivially reproduce the algorithm and give it away. For things that are genuinely very difficult to discover or work out, a company may wish to keep a trade secret anyway to keep the competition from keeping up in R&D.

For that middle ground of things that aren't trivial, but would be reproduced eventually, the patent system accelerates the pace of progress by giving everyone free access to all the technical details of the discoveries of others nearly as soon as they are made. Sure there are more bad patents (trivial reproduction) out there than you can shake a stick at, and I'm in favor of patent reform, but I'm convinced that patents in some form are incredibly valuable to the public good.

Re:Illegal Patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360993)

Counter-conjecture: Not being able to use quicksort while it was under patent would have spurred mathematicians and computer scientists to develop other sorting algorithms sooner.

There's an easy example of this happening in recent history, where Unisys' assertion of the LZW patent as it applied to GIF spurred the development of the far superior PNG format.

Re:Illegal Patents (1)

Rockoon (1252108) | about 9 months ago | (#44361199)

There's an easy example of this happening in recent history, where Unisys' assertion of the LZW patent as it applied to GIF spurred the development of the far superior PNG format.

The flaw here is that PNG didnt use any new algorithms. PNG was superior in that is allowed more than just 8-bit images, and supported alpha channels, but PNG simply used the same DEFLATE (LZ77 + Huffman) compression algorithm as already well known and implemented in PKZIP v2.0 archives.

Re:Illegal Patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360693)

There's a better way to attack software patents, since the powers that be have decided that "sufficiently complicated" ones are "unique enough" to be patented.

Software cannot run without hardware. It's just a process that the hardware can already do, codified into a set of instructions. And that hardware is patented. The hardware is prior art for any software that runs on it.

And if you try to patent an algorithm without specifying the hardware it runs on, then you're attempting to patent an idea rather than an implementation. That's not allowed, either.

So instead of calling software "algorithms" or "math" (which most people, even smart ones, won't understand properly), call software what it is: an extension of already-patented hardware. Then it becomes blindingly obvious that software isn't patentable.

Re:Illegal Patents (1)

Ash-Fox (726320) | about 9 months ago | (#44361577)

And if you try to patent an algorithm without specifying the hardware it runs on, then you're attempting to patent an idea rather than an implementation.

So, they just add the phrase "on programmable hardware" which encompasses modern computer systems, big deal.

Re:Illegal Patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360921)

That's not quite right.

The statute governing what may be patented is actually, by design, quite wide-ranging: "Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title" (35 USC 101). This was at one point characterized by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as "anything under the sun made by man".

Now, it's generally true that *pure* algorithms cannot be patented. The courts have consistently held that abstract ideas do not qualify for patent protection, on the basis that they are not something a person can make, and pure algorithms are one form of abstract idea. They exist independently, whether they are exploited or not.

But most "software patents" don't claim a pure algorithm. Rather, they claim a machine or system that implements the algorithm, in conjunction with other acts. Or they claim a method of using a machine to carry out the algorithm. And the courts have repeatedly held that this necessarily qualifies for patent protection since the overall invention is, after all, something a person made.

Suing the USPTO would be a futile exercise. The PTO doesn't really get to decide what constitutes patentable subject matter. They have some discretion, sure, but ultimately the law is made by Congress and the courts.

They want an oligopoly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360457)

Where they can cross-licence their portfolio's at prices that will block market entry.

Huh? (3, Insightful)

Type44Q (1233630) | about 9 months ago | (#44360463)

If each of those companies had three or four engineers dedicating a few hours every day to picking off their competitorsâ(TM) applications, the number of granted patents to those companies would grind to a halt.

Why would these arguably-sociopathic organizations engage in what amounts to mutually-assured destruction for the sake of leveing the playing field?! :p

Re:Huh? (1)

somersault (912633) | about 9 months ago | (#44360501)

That's why some companies even build patent portfolios. They wouldn't engage in this for a standoff.. if they're really smart then they already have employees doing this kind of thing to block competitors' patents..

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360739)

Staying anonymous for obvious reasons :)

My patent attorney spouse does this for some of his clients. He sets aside a portion of his week to poke around the patent databases of where his clients have business operations, sees what their competitors are up to, and sets up prior art portfolios. Sometimes, he tries to block the patents from being issued; usually he keeps the portfolio around for ammunition in case his clients get sued. Meanwhile, the patents can be used on third parties.

The prior art portfolio can be used as leverage in negotiations.

I.e., if you're Apple, watching MS and Google duke it out is pure entertainment.

Re:Huh? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360627)

They wouldn't. Because then they would know about any patents that survived and be liable for three times the damages for willful infringement.

Re:Huh? (1)

Ksevio (865461) | about 9 months ago | (#44360691)

Because their competitor got an upperhand and they feel the need to level it again. No one thought Apple and Samsung would unleash their patent arsenals on each other for the same reason

Re:Huh? (1)

korgitser (1809018) | about 9 months ago | (#44360699)

Why would these arguably-sociopathic organizations engage in what amounts to mutually-assured destruction for the sake of leveing the playing field?! :p

Because the first one to start doing it might gain a competitive advantage for a few years?

Not new (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360505)

This outfit [articleonepartners.com] (previously covered on /. though I didn't find the link as quickly as I'd wanted it) does something similar, though with a different money model.

(Full disclosure: No connection to either, though I had email contact with article one at one time.)

Probably Collective Efficiencies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360521)

as more than one brings mind work to bear on the problem, it would probably get more and more efficient

to the point where "the only winning move is to not play the game.."

patents might finally and completely be halted

even outsourcing it might be possible, pay a finite warrant for every false patent blocked

at the very least it would stir innovation in the quality of patents submitted for approval

finally, a job for old people (1)

alen (225700) | about 9 months ago | (#44360533)

hire some old burnt out developer who started back in cobol and assembly. maybe basic as well
feed him patents to read and shoot them down because he had probably done the same thing or read about it

the kids these days, all the know is dragging boxes in an IDE and typing a few words to connect them together

Read the article. (4, Interesting)

stewsters (1406737) | about 9 months ago | (#44360561)

Here is some more prior art: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mipmap [wikipedia.org]

Re:Read the article. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360801)

Good catch.

IIRC even the 16-bit Windows API allowed developers to package desktop icons with different resolutions to fit the installation. That was in the early '90s. Chances are Apple had them too, but I didn't use Macs.

Re:Read the article. (1)

91degrees (207121) | about 9 months ago | (#44361065)

Not quite the same though. The patent is about selecting single specific elements based on explicit pixel density. Mipmaps are based on selecting individual texels based on area covered.

Re:Read the article. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44361675)

You're thinking way too literally ("It's not the same, because it's a much more powerful technique.")
If you use an orthographic projection, suddenly mipmaps accomplish exactly what the invention claims.

Standoff? (3, Insightful)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about 9 months ago | (#44360591)

It already is a standoff. The big companies have an unwritten agreement not to assault each other's patents. When one things it has the upper hand it might start a battle such as Apple vs Samsung, but these are rare. This allows them to use their patents to crush smaller companies without being in danger of having their own patents assaulted.

Pixel Density != Resolution (1)

Luthair (847766) | about 9 months ago | (#44360595)

I didn't bother reading past the point the author claims that pixel density and resolution are synonyms, when the patent at least in the summary appears to be using pixel density correctly.

Re:Pixel Density != Resolution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360707)

well if you have size in addition to resolution then they are synonymous or if the display is of fixed size for the examples..

Re:Pixel Density != Resolution (1)

91degrees (207121) | about 9 months ago | (#44360895)

Well, it's true that Joel isn't as smart as he likes to think he is. Aside from this though, the rest of thwe article is worth reading.

Re:Pixel Density != Resolution (2)

hAckz0r (989977) | about 9 months ago | (#44361007)

Pixel density can only be a measure as applied to a physical device, because 'density' is a measure of pixels per square cm/mm/um or other standard unit of measure. This is not to be confused with an image comprised of binary bits that can be displayed on anything having the total number of pixels necessary to hold the bits in its display storage, regardless of physical size of the device. A display in time square can have the same number of pixels as your cell phone, but they are orders of magnitudes different in pixel density! Pixel density makes no sense in the manner in which the patent uses it, as this terminology was only meant to obscure the true nature of the patent at issue.

Re:Pixel Density != Resolution (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 9 months ago | (#44361407)

Given a screen size, they are "equivalent" and somewhat interchangeable. Also, when dealing with scaling images, you really cant talk of pixel density without meaning "resolution"; on-screen widgets arent going to be aware of or able to interact with the pixel density.

Re:Pixel Density != Resolution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44361861)

No I think you are wrong. Resolution is just dealing with the number of pixels. Pixel Density is the physical size of the pixels. If the physical size of the pixels is a size that the image at it's current resolution would be hard to view, or have undesirable features wrt aesthetics then picking a different hand crafted image that looks better under that density makes sense. Pixel Density may not be variant for the user, but it is variant for the OS vendor.

The reasoning is very similar to how text glyphs can be rendered differently depending on the physical layout of the RGB components of a physical device to give sharper text. The goal is to work with the displays properties to give the best visual results, instead of a one size fits all approach (which is the only thing you can do with resolution).

None of them try very hard (5, Informative)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 9 months ago | (#44360613)

I still don't understand it, but there was a patent issue a few years back, where the smaller player put up a plea to the community for help invalidating a certain patent that the megalocorp was wielding against it.

Being curious, I did a quick Google Groups search (Splotsky's 15 minutes sounds about right) and submitted the prior art (a then-defunct software package that was announced on a Usenet group which had the same functionality years before).

A few months later, I got a note from council, asking if I had any contacts with that software company and that they were using my submission as the basis as their challenge, which they ultimately won a couple years later.

Anyway, the surprise was how easy it was for me to find that prior art when the company hadn't managed to. The work I do overlaps with what they do, so, yeah, I had some domain expertise, but so did their employees.

FWIW, they never offered me a token copy of their software or anything for my help. I wasn't expecting it (I'd have no use for it anyway - they make complex proprietary configurations of open source software, while I tend to use the simple-blocks model), but it was also surprising to me that there was no follow-up or loop-closing after the fact. So, if you get into this kind of hobby, do it for the knowledge that you're helping defeat a dangerous patent system.

Re:None of them try very hard (3, Interesting)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 9 months ago | (#44360915)

I am very sure some engineer out there wanted to say thank you and legal stepped in and squashed it saying, "no no no, that guy might sue us for money! If we acknowledge we got some benefit from them, they might ask for huge sums of money. It is better to be thought as selfish jerks than to expose the company for huge claims!"

Re:None of them try very hard (2)

alen (225700) | about 9 months ago | (#44360919)

i've had a computer since my first coleco vision in 1982 or 1983 and i'm always surprised how these start ups don't find prior art. we had the cloud back in the 80's

its probably a symptom of being a dumb 20 something where you think the old people are dumb and you are creating something cool and awesome for the first time and you are too lazy to do some of this boring grunt work like researching AOL and CompuServe from the 80's. i mean people of this generation will get the pox just thinking AOL

Re:None of them try very hard (1)

Schroedinger (141945) | about 9 months ago | (#44361397)

Not quite sure why the focus is so much on prior art. Sure an idea that has prior art can serve as proof of the obviousness of something, but at some point in time someone is, in fact, the first to propose some blend of existing ideas and call it new. Do we really need to permit that person a patent? For most low lying fruit this is basically the equivalent of a land grab.

The way I see it patents need to be granted in proportion to the amount of work required to explore the possible parameter space to find that new unique useful combination. It shouldn't just be about being first to something, it should be about expending a lot of effort to get there. And the reward for that should be temporary and in proportion to that amount of work. Shouldn't it be fairly easy to offer up objective proof of spending that effort (and have it peer reviewed)?

Re:None of them try very hard (2)

JazzHarper (745403) | about 9 months ago | (#44361931)

The lawyers aren't really interested in prior art until they think they might actually have to go to court. These days, it's all about licensing (or cross-licensing, between companies that have comparable portfolios), using the _threat_ of litigation. Coming up with prior art to invalidate a patent is absolutely the _last_ thing they consider, when all else fails.

You don't get to use prior art as a defense unless and until you actually go to trial, which is extremely expensive.

Not a difficult task... (4, Informative)

Theaetetus (590071) | about 9 months ago | (#44360645)

... by Joel's own logic. FTFA:

Have you ever seen a patent application that appears ridiculously broad? (“Good lord, they’re trying to patent CARS!”). Here’s why. The applicant is deliberately overreaching, that is, striving to get the broadest possible patent knowing that the worst thing that can happen is that the patent examiner whittles their claims down to what they were entitled to patent anyway...

An example might help. Imagine a simple application with these three claims:

1. A method of transportation
2. The method of transportation in claim 1, wherein there is an engine connected to wheels
3. The method of transportation in claim 2, wherein the engine runs on water

... Now, suppose you invented the water-powered car. When you submit your patent, you might submit it this way even knowing that there’s prior art for “methods of transportation” and you can’t really claim all of them as your invention. The theory is that (a) hey, you might get lucky! and (b) even if you don’t get lucky and the first claim is rejected, the narrower claims will still stand.

What he's done is equivalent to finding "a method of transportation," knocking out the ridiculously over-broad claim, which Joel describes as "a long shot lottery ticket". The narrower, dependent claims may still be patentable.

Additionally, this was the first office action in this patent application (not an issued patent, contrary to the /. summary). Would the Examiner have found this piece of prior art or another piece of prior art that knocks out that over-broad claim? Almost certainly, again according to Joel's logic. In fact, the Examiner went on to using 5 other pieces of prior art to address the dependent claims. Any of those could well anticipate the independent claim too.
Is it a good thing to crowdsource prior art searches? Absolutely. But people doing the search can't stop at just a single piece of prior art to knock out the one over-broad long shot lottery ticket claim. In Joel's example claims, finding prior art describing a method of transportation may allow you to run a victory lap and get a Slashdot story, but it does nothing for invalidating the claim to an engine that runs on water, which is really what the patent is about.

Re:Not a difficult task... (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 9 months ago | (#44360959)

I think this is actually a bad example, because to infringe on a patent, you actually have to infringe on all the claims. This is actually a less broad patent, because it would only cover cars, with wheels, that used the engine that ran on water. So if you then took the engine that ran on water, and used it to make a generator (which isn't a method of transportation), you would no longer be in violation of the patent. Similarly, if you used it to make a boat motor, you wouldn't be in violation of the patent, because your boat most likely doesn't have wheels.

Re:Not a difficult task... (2)

Theaetetus (590071) | about 9 months ago | (#44361179)

I think this is actually a bad example, because to infringe on a patent, you actually have to infringe on all the claims.

That's absolutely incorrect. You have to infringe each and every element in a claim, but only have to infringe a single claim to infringe the patent.

But I think that was just a misstatement, because you have it right here:

This is actually a less broad patent, because it would only cover cars, with wheels, that used the engine that ran on water. So if you then took the engine that ran on water, and used it to make a generator (which isn't a method of transportation), you would no longer be in violation of the patent. Similarly, if you used it to make a boat motor, you wouldn't be in violation of the patent, because your boat most likely doesn't have wheels.

To paraphrase, if the claims are:
1. A.
2. The method of claim 1, further comprising B.
3. The method of claim 2, further comprising C.

... then to infringe claim 1, you need only do A. To infringe claim 2, you need to do A+B. To infringe claim 3, you need to do A+B+C. If claim 1 is invalid and too broad, then you can still infringe claim 2 by doing A+B (if it's not invalidated over other prior art). You don't need to do C to infringe claim 2 or infringe the patent.

completely inaccurate (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 9 months ago | (#44360647)

"If each of those companies had three or four engineers dedicating a few hours every day to picking off their competitors’ applications, the number of granted patents to those companies would grind to a halt."
There is absolutely zero correlation between those two items. Invalidating a bunch later doesn't reduce the amount they file in the first place. If anything, they'd file more or re-file more specific versions.

It's all about quantity not quality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360745)

Big companies, Apple, Samsung, Oracle, Google, Microsoft, etc, don't 'need' valid legal patents. They only need an unlimited legal department to drag 'any' patent through court long enough to delay and/or financially destroy a competitor.

The patent is just a tool to start a costly legal process. It really doesn't matter what quality of the patent is, or that it can be shot down in 15 minutes. The battle was fought and won long before it comes to light that the patent is invalid.

So yes, "Software patent applications are of uniformly poor quality". Because the companies filing patents don't really care what's in the patent. And for this there will always be an infinite supply of bogus patents.

And in related news (2)

twoears (1514043) | about 9 months ago | (#44360757)

A patent application has been filed for "Single Seating Furniture Anger Relief System", submitted by, you guessed it, Steve Ballmer.

incest (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360785)

Has anyone ever detailed the relationship between this guy (J.S.) and Slashdot (editors, readers, seemingly everyone). He (not necessarily undeservedly) has gotten a steady stream of love from this site for many years.

Re:incest (2)

gauauu (649169) | about 9 months ago | (#44360913)

Has anyone ever detailed the relationship between this guy (J.S.) and Slashdot (editors, readers, seemingly everyone). He (not necessarily undeservedly) has gotten a steady stream of love from this site for many years.

There's no relationship. Joel's just a well-known blogger that writes fairly intelligently about computing topics. A sort of micro-celebrity in the programming world. People like that end up being quoted and talked about in places like slashdot. Particularly when they do things that relate to the general categories that slashdotters love to get angry about (patents, microsoft, etc).

Mexican standoff? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44360867)

I don't know what world he lives in, but the patentocalypse has already begun.

State-Sponsored Patent Appeals? (1)

McGruber (1417641) | about 9 months ago | (#44360881)

How cool would it be if Apple, Samsung, Oracle and Google got into a Mexican Standoff on Ask Patents? If each of those companies had three or four engineers dedicating a few hours every day to picking off their competitors’ applications, the number of granted patents to those companies would grind to a halt."

What, if anything, is stopping other countries (Russia, China, or even Venezuela & Cuba) from sponsoring engineers to pick off patent applications from US companies?

Goes to show ya (2)

catfood (40112) | about 9 months ago | (#44360923)

If each of those companies had three or four engineers dedicating a few hours every day to picking off their competitors’ applications, the number of granted patents to those companies would grind to a halt.

The fact that not one of them is doing that is evidence of collusion. They're using patents to protect their circle and keep lesser entities out.

Re:Goes to show ya (2)

Tawnos (1030370) | about 9 months ago | (#44361253)

Not quite. If we start reading patents, it opens up liability for treble damages should we be found in violation of a patent. For example, we're investigating patents, there's that doesn't have prior art, a few months/years later we're found to be in violation of that patent. At that point their lawyers say "hey, you guys were looking at patents and should have known about this one. Triple the damages!"

Marketing (1)

kegon (766647) | about 9 months ago | (#44361125)

So Joel Spolsky writes about how efficient and wonderful his own website [stackoverflow.com] is and no one here notices ? OK, sterling work on shooting down a rubbish patent, but that is how the US patent system has been working for a long, long time. If any one had come after me with a claim of infringement on such a patent I would have laughed.

Pattent Officers (1)

RogueLeaderX (845092) | about 9 months ago | (#44361503)

I imagine with a little extra funding the USPTO could hire folks like Joel in order to find prior art for these patents.

The issue, as always with government services, is funding.

Perhaps we should consider a frequent filer fine. That would avoid increasing the costs for small businesses or independent engineers.

Alternately we could decide as a society that all of us chipping in some more money each year to improve the USPTO is a reasonable sacrifice to make, but that strikes me as less likely and it punishes the many for the sins of the few.

Re:Pattent Officers (1)

wiredlogic (135348) | about 9 months ago | (#44362083)

The issue, as always with government services, is funding.

The issue is that the USPTO is 100% funded by application and maintenance fees [uspto.gov] so they have a conflict of interest in regards to denying new patents. Fewer active patents means fewer patents to renew and less revenue for the USPTO. The whole reason why they allow software patents in the first place is because the USPTO saw what a gold mine they would be for their agency. It took an act of Congress [wikipedia.org] to get them to change their system, making it possible for Ask Patents to exist.

Finally (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44361919)

We've established an upper bound on the amount of time patent office clerks spend on evaluating patents: 15 minutes.

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