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Nobelist Gary Becker Calls For an End To Software Patents

timothy posted about a year ago | from the gary's-good-gnus dept.

Patents 147

GigaOM notes that (excerpting) "Gary Becker, a Nobel-prize winning professor at the University of Chicago, stated this week that the U.S. patent system is ”too broad, too loose, and too expensive” and called for the end of software patents: 'Disputes over software patents are among the most common, expensive, and counterproductive. Their exclusion from the patent system would discourage some software innovations, but the saving from litigation costs over disputed patent rights would more than compensate the economy for that cost.'" Here are Becker's comments, from the always-fun Becker-Posner Blog.

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Points at Gary Becker (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361133)

Hideki!

No Nobel prize in Economic, Wrestling, orAstrology (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361147)

There is no Nobel prize in Economic, Professional Wrestling, or Astrology

Re:No Nobel prize in Economic, Wrestling, orAstrol (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44362873)

There is in economics, but there shouldn't be.

how to delineate software patents? (5, Interesting)

Joining Yet Again (2992179) | about a year ago | (#44361153)

Is it a mere algorithm? An algorithm with a specific realised implementation?

Since I'm not currently in a country where mathematics can be owned, it seems weird to me.

Does any software company actually indicate that they would stop work if it were not for software patents? I.e. is there any company which says that it relies on software patents to do business in software, rather than as a defensive/offensive mechanism?

Re:how to delineate software patents? (4, Insightful)

faffod (905810) | about a year ago | (#44361363)

[...] is there any company which says that it relies on software patents to do business in software, rather than as a defensive/offensive mechanism?

Yes, they are called patent trolls.

But patent trolls are not software companies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361493)

Though a few act trollish.

Re:how to delineate software patents? (1)

Crimey McBiggles (705157) | about a year ago | (#44362669)

rather than as a defensive/offensive mechanism?

Yes, they are called patent trolls.

I think you missed half of the question there. Patent trolls by definition use patents as an offensive mechanism.

Re:how to delineate software patents? (3, Insightful)

mwvdlee (775178) | about a year ago | (#44361387)

Does any software company actually indicate that they would stop work if it were not for software patents? I.e. is there any company which says that it relies on software patents to do business in software, rather than as a defensive/offensive mechanism?

And if any software company says it needs software patents, are they actually telling the truth or just lying to maintain a position of unfair power over small competitors?

Re:how to delineate software patents? (3, Informative)

Firethorn (177587) | about a year ago | (#44361561)

I have a two part thought on this:
Start with that Software is already protected under copyright law. This prevents others from simply copying your code and calling it their own. Ergo, a software patent would need to be more generic, protecting a process, not a implementation.

Take something like bittorrent. The application itself would be copyrighted, it would be the idea of peer to peer sharing that would be the patent. Well, at least if you want to get overly generic about it. More specific would be the idea that you utilize a 'seed' file that contains initial information about the sharing, files, hashes and whatnot to make the system somewhat secure.

But bittorrent is something that, while they benefit from the copyright, they actually increase their own share by making the protocol open via helping 'bittorrent' win over other file sharing methods because people aren't locking into one application.

I agree with the op on the whole - software patents are a bad idea and cost the economy/people more than it benefits them.

Re:how to delineate software patents? (1)

stabiesoft (733417) | about a year ago | (#44362373)

At least in my industry, copyright has worked well to litigate real thefts. Lately my industry has done like all the others and used patents to protect their turf from newcomers. Sad really, and it is slowing innovation. Startups get clobbered before they get traction. Even copyright can get misused though, see the berkeley design automation case with cadence.

Re:how to delineate software patents? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361543)

mere replace mintz YuM tasty.

Re:how to delineate software patents? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361593)

like abyah ABCDEF cadaber Bonewits yahh

Get it, keep the banksters up and they win.

KEEP OUR IDEAS UP AND PROTECTED BY THE 4TH AND WE WIN.

Re:how to delineate software patents? (2)

ackthpt (218170) | about a year ago | (#44361617)

Is it a mere algorithm? An algorithm with a specific realised implementation?

Since I'm not currently in a country where mathematics can be owned, it seems weird to me.

Does any software company actually indicate that they would stop work if it were not for software patents? I.e. is there any company which says that it relies on software patents to do business in software, rather than as a defensive/offensive mechanism?

The delineation would be among Do Lawyers Profit and Do Lawyers Not Profit. Win, lose or draw, lawyers always come out on top in a patent dispute and will oppose an end to their milk money.

As to patenting in the very first place there's only so many ways to do something in software. While a look and feel of a finished product can be quite distinct, like the melody of a tune, getting there requires assembling code to produce the look and feel, respond to actions and such in very much the way a person could go to the well to get a bucket of water - directly, indirectly, lollygagging along the way (in code this would be Bloat) patenting the process of making a trip to the well for a bucket of water is absurd, so to would be patenting instructions to perform some task in an electronic machine (computer).

Another way of looking at it, a spreadsheet could be patented as it was a new application, but the code for making the spreadsheet work could be done dozens of way. Filing a patent for a macro for calculating a sum or percentage is ridiculous, but that's what we're getting.

Hope reform isn't long in coming and throws this whole stupid concept of software patents out.

Re:how to delineate software patents? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361801)

Possibly Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG), among others. On your other point, everything can be reduced to math. Software just translates more directly.

Re:how to delineate software patents? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361869)

Only whiny ones that do not produce anything that is worth buying or is even used by people. 99% of the whiners are shareware programmers that cant get a job programming to begin with.

Re:how to delineate software patents? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44362835)

I'm not sure why "merely an algorithm" is fundamentally different than "merely a hunk of metal". There are many things wrong with patents in the US, but I've never understood this weird line people draw between "software patents" and all of the other ridiculous patents we have for non-software things.

Re:how to delineate software patents? (0)

The End Of Days (1243248) | about a year ago | (#44363083)

It's a simple, although logic-free, line of reasoning

Software is easy to copy, therefore the entitlement generation and their antecedents in thought process from prior generations feel like they should be allowed to take whatever they want for free. The justification for this desire is that their personal greed is more compelling than the greed of others.

At least this is what I've gathered from seriously querying various Slashdotters over the last 10 years. Every single answer led to that justification. Those with a modicum of cleverness dressed it up in the "benefit to society" clothing, and those who didn't really pay attention to what they were saying touted it as "innovation." That last one always makes me laugh - clearly it's the height of innovation to take something someone else made without recompense.

Re:how to delineate software patents? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44363057)

Since I'm not currently in a country where mathematics can be owned, it seems weird to me.

And that's what makes America the bestest and greatestest country in the whole wide world! Here, you can own anything you want if you train your lawyers really really hard to fight other lawyers!

I'd drag this out to an even more blatant Pokemon analogy, but that'd be pushing the joke too thin, I think.

Nobelist? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361165)

That's a new one. I did a double-take and had to check to see if you weren't spelling novelist wrong.

The dangers of software patents are many and well-documented. They frequently serve little purpose except as legal ammunition in cases that do nothing but punish businesses for attempting to make a good product. Computer code is not an invention -- if it was we'd have patents on the programming language. What you can do is copyright your work as an act of expression, like a how-to book.

Re:Nobelist? (4, Interesting)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | about a year ago | (#44361185)

I believe the generally accepted term is "Nobel Laureate". Who wrote "Nobelist"?

Re:Nobelist? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361285)

A personal friend, who knows that Gary Becker is a stanch believer in the doctrine of Alfred Nobel.

Re:Nobelist? (1)

gsgriffin (1195771) | about a year ago | (#44361297)

New terms are coined all the time. I prefer Nobelian.

Re:Nobelist? (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | about a year ago | (#44361669)

I like the way nobelian sounds, although it's giving me more of an adjective vibe. Like, you could buy a nobelian lamp for your end table to make your living room look classy.

Re:Nobelist? (1)

gsgriffin (1195771) | about a year ago | (#44361955)

I would think most references to people could be used that way. You could get a nobelian bonus at the end of the year from work...if you happen to be popular enough. Term 'American' is often used in both ways as well.

Re:Nobelist? (1)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | about a year ago | (#44361299)

Who wrote "Nobelist"?

This is Slashdot. Find comfort in the fact it wasn't spelled NodeList();

Re:Nobelist? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361519)

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Re:Nobelist? (2)

klapaucjusz (1167407) | about a year ago | (#44361439)

I believe the generally accepted term is "Nobel Laureate".

Becker is actually a laureate of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences [wikipedia.org] , which is not the Nobel Prize [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Nobelist? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361933)

So he's like an Analrapist.

Pedantic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44362097)

Isn't that a bit pedantic? It's commonly referred to as the Nobel prize in economics.

Re:Nobelist? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44363055)

Yes, he writes books, but he has a cold.

Here here .... (4, Insightful)

pollarda (632730) | about a year ago | (#44361191)

It boggles my mind that the Government expects that software developers will do patent searches as they write their code rather than simply implementing what is obvious at the time to implement. Software patents are written in such a way as to make them difficult to interpret and appear broad even when they aren't. It simply isn't practical for software developers were to do their "due diligence" as they write their code, and if they did no appreciable amount of code would be written.

It is quite likely that most if not all software written violates at least a small handful of patents (remember the XOR patent?) -- creating an unfair advantage for the companies who have enormous in-house legal councils who can pursue purported patent violations.

Re:Here here .... (4, Informative)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | about a year ago | (#44361231)

The prevailing advice AFAIK is to deliberately NEVER do a patent search. Why? Because if you knowingly infringe a patent, that's triple damages. Even the suggestion that you did a patent search could be sufficient evidence.

As you rightly point out, everyone knows it's impossible to write any significant (or possibly even trivial) piece of software without infringing something ; since this is the case, it just doesn't make any sense to do any kind of patent search at all.

Obligatory : IANAL.

Re:Here here .... (1)

almitydave (2452422) | about a year ago | (#44361251)

I've come to the conclusion that there's just no way to guarantee innovator's rights via software patents. I agree with Becker, some harm will come, but less than is being done by a system which includes:
1) overly-broad patents
2) patent litigation by trolls not using their patent for anything besides litigation
3) perverse business incentive for people to abuse 1 & 2

I've changed my mind because I haven't heard a way yet that allows "good" software patents to exist without far worse elements in the system. Perhaps if you had an army of tech-knowledgeable patent attorneys working as examiners that could see through the BS, and yet were more competent and efficient than any American bureaucracy ever...

Can it be fixed?

Re:Here here .... (1)

Znork (31774) | about a year ago | (#44361429)

Yes, it can be fixed. Sort of. But only if the entity handing out the patents is the same entity paying the licensing costs for the patents. That's the only way there is a continuous incentive for the involved parties to award 'patents' for the right things and only the right things.

It would be possible to remake the system from ground up as a publication/invention incentive system without any exclusive rights that would pay out from budgeted funding to holders of granted 'patents' according to usage. That is, if it is truly needed at all, which I'm not convinced of. At least that way we'd get an actual price tag, instead of the nebulous but huge costs the current system burdens the economy with, it would probably mean much less litigation and it could actually be tuned to maximize incentive efficiency.

Re:Here here .... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361283)

It boggles my mind that the Government expects that software developers will do patent searches as they write their code rather than simply implementing what is obvious at the time to implement.

I don't think they do. There are many ways to invalidate a patent. If the patent describes an obvious solution it is invalid.
The problem is that it is harder to prove something as obvious than it is to find prior art.

Re:Here here .... (2)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#44361373)

There are many ways to invalidate a patent.

Yes, but are there any cheap+easy ways?

Re:Here here .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361339)

It's "Hear hear"

Re:Here here .... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44362857)

It boggles my mind that the Government expects that physical device designers will do patent searches as they design their devices, rather than simply implementing what is obvious at the time to implement. Physical device patents are written in such a way as to make them difficult to interpret and appear broad even when they aren't. It simply isn't practical for physical device designers were to do their "due diligence" as they create their plans, and if they did no appreciable amount of designs would be created.

There's nothing special about software. The patent system is broken *in general* not for the specific case of the industry you know something about.

No more SW Patents, but FW Patents.. yes (1)

yayoubetcha (893774) | about a year ago | (#44361197)

Pure software patents should be dropped. However, when the software is a required piece of a hardware system (aka, Firmware) it should be allowed.

The other problem is for software that does something that really is a an invention, such as LZW compression, and not a "drop-down menu".

Re:No more SW Patents, but FW Patents.. yes (4, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44361381)

Why should firmware be any different?

All your approach would lead too is software that requires a peripheral with some firmware in it to run.

Re:No more SW Patents, but FW Patents.. yes (3, Insightful)

Nerdfest (867930) | about a year ago | (#44361405)

The funny part is that that's a specific algorithm and explicitly excluded. It's the trivial crap that's getting patented.

Re:No more SW Patents, but FW Patents.. yes (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361427)

I would say the actual firmware should not be able to get patent protection, maybe the complete machine.

Also anything that can be put in an FPGA should not be able to get a patent. Seeing as those are just algorithms that you put in those.
Yes that would also exclude most electronic circuits, at least the digital ones.

Analogue circuits are maybe an exception, since those are perfect because of noise and inaccuracy. Therefor you may make an invention on how to use analogue circuits which is not a direct implementation of an algorithm.

All digital circuits are analog... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361567)

It is how you interpret the voltage levels that makes it digital. If a circuit operates between 0 and 1 v, then a voltage 0= v = 0.25 might be interpreted as a 0, and a voltage .75 v 1 could be interpreted as a 1.

If the voltage is between .75 and .25, then you don't know what it is.

There is no such thing as a discontinuous function in electronics. Not until you get into quantum physics do things seem to change.

Re:All digital circuits are analog... (1)

Joining Yet Again (2992179) | about a year ago | (#44362635)

Only a digital system has a finite number of states, no?

Re:No more SW Patents, but FW Patents.. yes (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#44361477)

Even LZW compression is fairly obvious to a skilled programmer. I remember there were several similar compression algorithms around at the time it was patented. It's not an especially good algorithm, it's just more famous (mostly thanks to the patent wars that surrounded it).

If you want "non-obvious" you need to go to something like this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burrows%E2%80%93Wheeler_transform [wikipedia.org]

Radical thinking like that is worthy of a patent IMHO (although that algorithm wasn't patented...go figure)

Obviousness is a different argument (2)

Theaetetus (590071) | about a year ago | (#44362039)

Even LZW compression is fairly obvious to a skilled programmer. I remember there were several similar compression algorithms around at the time it was patented. It's not an especially good algorithm, it's just more famous (mostly thanks to the patent wars that surrounded it).

Leaving aside the argument of whether LZW is obvious or not, that's not what the article is talking about. Basically, in an incredibly simplified nutshell, there are 4 separate and independent requirements you have to pass to get a patent, and failing any one of them will result in a rejection or invalid patent. They come from four different statutes:
35 USC 101: the invention must be a useful method, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter;
35 USC 102: the invention must be new - i.e. never done before;
35 USC 103: the invention must be non-obvious;
35 USC 112: the invention must be sufficiently described in the patent application to enable someone to make and use it.

You're saying that LZW fails the 103 requirement in that it was obvious... that's a different argument. What this argument is about is whether all software should be excluded from the definition of "method" under 35 USC 101: whether the most novel, most non-obvious, most freakin' revolutionary bit of software in the entire universe should still be ineligible for a patent, because it's software.

The GP post says that yes, maybe that revolutionary software alone should be unpatentable under 101, but if it's part of firmware for an EPROM, then maybe it should be allowed.

Re:Obviousness is a different argument (1)

Rockoon (1252108) | about a year ago | (#44362781)

It is easily argued as well that LZW was non-obvious since its an extension of a 1978 compression method yet wasn't considered by anybody until 1984. People often confuse "simple" which the Welch enhancement to LZ78 was, with "obvious" which the Welch enhancement to LZ78 was not (it was not obviously an enhancement.)

Given the number of compression patents handed out during the period, it is quite clear that there was aggressive competition with regards to compression technology and anything "obvious" was immediately picked up on (ex: LZ77 vs LZ78 .. the LZ78 enhancement of using a preinitialized dictionary was obvious, and no surprise came less than a year after LZ77)

Re:No more SW Patents, but FW Patents.. yes (1)

TemporalBeing (803363) | about a year ago | (#44362563)

Pure software patents should be dropped. However, when the software is a required piece of a hardware system (aka, Firmware) it should be allowed.

The other problem is for software that does something that really is a an invention, such as LZW compression, and not a "drop-down menu".

And how do you define Firmware when the worlds of Embedded and non-Embedded computing are mixing so well?

Would Android ROMs be considered embedded? Or would it be limited to the ROM uploaded to your wireless card? or CD/DVD/BD Burner? Where do you draw the line?

I currently work on a system that is for-all-intents an "embedded system" yet we load "normal" software onto it.

While IANAL, SCOTUS has ruled that a non-patentable compont can be part of a larger patentable component, but the sum of non-patentable components do not a patentable component make. That is, software for a rubber curing machine can be part of the patent for the rubber curing maching even if the software is otherwise unpatentable by itself; however, that also precludes someone from being able to sue for patent infringement when someone took that software and used it in another device entirely - f.e, a device to lay rubber on the road - should the software apply there too.

holy crap, Timothy does it again! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361217)

You missed that novelist was mispeeled in the freakin' title! Moron editors.

As a sortware patent holder... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361219)

I agree and I say we also cut the absurd lifetime of copyright at the same time.

Re:As a sortware patent holder... (2)

pollarda (632730) | about a year ago | (#44361265)

It is always a bit humorous for me when I think about the arguments that we need copyrights that are 70 years plus the life of the author but for patents, 20 years is adequate. What's more, that Congress can make copyrights retroactive. Just imagine the chaos that would ensue if they gave patents a similar term as copyrights and re-instituted patents retroactively as they did copyrights. While and enormous headache and make our economy come to a screeching halt, it would be a lot of fun to watch.

Re:As a sortware patent holder... (-1)

gnupun (752725) | about a year ago | (#44361947)

It is always a bit humorous for me when I think about the arguments that we need copyrights that are 70 years plus the life of the author but for patents, 20 years is adequate.

It's even more humorous that cheapskates like you balk at paying $10 to $50 for copyrighted content and would rather expect the creators to starve while you get free content. You can legally obtain books, music, DVDs at the public library for free.

And be glad the duration is 70+life years instead of hundreds of years. I mean imagine if you bought land or a house and you have rights to it only for 70+life years. After that, your children/descendants would have to vacate the place and it would be public property, perhaps a park. Does that seem okay to you?

Re:As a sortware patent holder... (1)

Mr.Z of the LotFC (880939) | about a year ago | (#44362223)

It would be more like if they could keep living there but could not stop other people from moving in. Well, if all the people living there could not see or interfere each other, that is.

Re:As a sortware patent holder... (1)

pscottdv (676889) | about a year ago | (#44362327)

And be glad the duration is 70+life years instead of hundreds of years. I mean imagine if you bought land or a house and you have rights to it only for 70+life years. After that, your children/descendants would have to vacate the place and it would be public property, perhaps a park. Does that seem okay to you?

Please... copyrights are a deal between the government and authors that in exchange for doing the hard work of creating, the government will offer a monopoly on REPRODUCING the content for a LIMITED period of time. The actual physical copies that the authors create (the manuscripts, for example) are still theirs to keep FOREVER. Just like me and my house.

Re:As a sortware patent holder... (1)

cpt kangarooski (3773) | about a year ago | (#44362591)

You can legally obtain books, music, DVDs at the public library for free.

Well, for now. There are plenty of copyright holders who are opposed to public libraries, stores that sell used copies of works, etc.

And be glad the duration is 70+life years instead of hundreds of years. I mean imagine if you bought land or a house and you have rights to it only for 70+life years. After that, your children/descendants would have to vacate the place and it would be public property, perhaps a park. Does that seem okay to you?

The duration should be whatever, in conjunction with the other aspects of copyright (e.g. the breadth of the rights) produces the greatest overall public benefit. Due to the peculiarities of the markets for copyrighted works (they typically make the vast majority of all the copyright-related money they ever will make very shortly after being published in a given medium), long terms don't provide much of an incentive for authors, and thus ought not to be granted. A grand total of 20-25 years would be 99.44% as good for most authors as a term of a million years would be. Since a copyright is a grant of something public (a right to assert exclusivity against the public) to a private author, there's nothing wrong with the public setting the terms to suit itself. If the author doesn't like it, he's free to get a job at McDonald's.

And also life estates are far from uncommon in the world of real property.

Re: As a sortware patent holder... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44362613)

Copyright law should be for a term of 1 year with a 90% tax on royalties.

Monopolies suck. Go get a real job.

Re:As a sortware patent holder... (1)

robot256 (1635039) | about a year ago | (#44362619)

That is a hilariously false analogy. Owning a copyright isn't like owning a plot of land. If anything, it is like owning a piece of the minds of everyone who enjoys your work. We have your ideas in our heads, but can't express them publicly without your blessing. With terms of 70+life, this form of thought-policing persists for multiple generations, only serving to make society forget your work as soon as it goes out of style. Non-profit or low-margin organizations that preserve niche culture rely on public domain rights to survive, so they ignore orphaned work still in copyright or risk being sued into oblivion.

And another thing. If you find a creator, or even a company, who makes the bulk of their income off original works more than 30 years old, I would be glad to hear it. Until then, please do not mention starving artists in the same breath as excessive copyright terms.

Re:As a sortware patent holder... (1)

cdecoro (882384) | about a year ago | (#44362755)

Don't be silly. Your house, like all tangible property, is a scarce resource: if someone else is allowed to use it, its utility to you decreases. No such situation exists with intellectual property. To the contrary, intellectual property is a restriction on the use of own's own tangible property (or one's own body, in the case of, e.g., singing "Happy Birthday") but one that we as a society tolerate for a limited time as an incentive to produce.

Moreover, the indefinite ("fee simple") ownership of property has, at its core, nothing to do with issues of fairness or seeming "OK" -- it is a very practical way of ensuring that valuable property is maintained indefinitely. When you have a time-limited ownership of property (such as a 99-year lease), the market value of the property is consistently decreasing over time. This means that you have, over time, less incentive to maintain it. When you have indefinite ownership, its value does not decrease simply by the passage of time; thus you have incentive to maintain it so that you can sell it for higher value later in life.

Count your blessings (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361239)

I'm thankful we are not governed by college professors.

Who is Gary? (nobel in econ, it turns out) (1)

kwerle (39371) | about a year ago | (#44361243)

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Becker [wikipedia.org]
Gary Stanley Becker (born December 2, 1930) is an American economist. He is a professor of economics and sociology at the University of Chicago and a professor at the Booth School of Business. He has important contributions to the family economics branch within the economics. Neoclassical analysis of family within the family economics is also called new home economics. He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1992 and received the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.[1] He is currently a Rose-Marie and Jack R. Anderson senior fellow at the conservative[2] Hoover Institution, located at Stanford University.

Re:Who is Gary? (nobel in econ, it turns out) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361749)

In other words unqualified to speak about software patents.

Very suspicious (0, Troll)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year ago | (#44361257)

Beware of anything where 'Chicago' and 'economy' appear in the same article.

Re:Very suspicious (0)

flyingfsck (986395) | about a year ago | (#44361483)

No, Chicago is fine. If you see Detroit and economy, then run away screaming.

Re:Very suspicious (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year ago | (#44361521)

It was Chicago 'economics' that did Detroit in.

Re:Very suspicious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361755)

No, what did Detroit in was spending more than they could afford, and particularly by stealing from its future generations to fund the profligacy of 30 years previous to now.

I'd query one of his suppositions (4, Insightful)

johnw (3725) | about a year ago | (#44361271)

Their exclusion from the patent system would discourage some software innovations

Can anyone point to a single actual instance of a software innovation which wouldn't have become public without the benefit of patent protection?

Re:I'd query one of his suppositions (2)

melikamp (631205) | about a year ago | (#44362889)

Of course not. But it gets worse. There is no way to point out any such instance of innovation, software or hardware, without getting into pointless "could haves". And all the economic research done so far fails to show that the level of patent protection correlates (not necessarily linearly) with the rate of innovation. So IMHO, it is not very helpful to divide patents into "hardware" and "software" (other than to showcase a particular area where patents are REALLY nasty). Most laws don't make this distinction.

And so my favorite argument against all patents these days goes like this: patents are supposed to do at least one of these two things in order to be useful to the public: either (1) they provide an incentive to invent things, build them, and bring them to the market, or (2) they provide an assurance that descriptions of inventions are eventually published and are freely accessible by the public.

(2) Publishing used to be costly, but since we have the Internet, where the costs of publishing are near zero, no one needs to be recouped for this task anymore. All devices should come with full specs anyway, or at least consumers should firmly demand that. If it becomes unprofitable to sell black boxes, either due to legislative restrictions or due to the consumers' awareness, then all companies will be on the same playing field, and none will refuse to spend a tiny sum needed to publish the specs they already have.

(1) With patents, only the patent holder and its closest allies are capable of manufacturing, and improving on a product for N years. Moreover, the patent itself gives them a clear incentive NOT to improve on a product for N years, because the research costs money, and the patent shields them from competition. Additionally, the patent itself gives them a clear incentive NOT to manufacture enough product for everyone who would buy it, as long as keeping the price artificially high maximizes their revenue (see anti-cancer drugs in USA). Without patents, things WILL be co-invented by first movers, and then the entire world can start manufacturing and improving on them. How can anyone think that patents improve the rate of innovation is beyond me.

Just software? (4, Insightful)

ubergeek65536 (862868) | about a year ago | (#44361277)

You can apply his arguments to more than software. Patents discourage innovation. Under the current system small companies and individuals end up with a huge disadvantage. Huge companies have enough resources to try to patent everything hope a few are approved.

Re:Just software? (0)

gnupun (752725) | about a year ago | (#44361631)

Yeah, just abolish all patents, in every field, not just software. Then see how the ensuing chaos, where copycats benefit more than inventors, destroy the market.

This is analogous to banning cars. Tens of thousands of people die in automobile accidents every year, so it would be reasonable to ban cars.

Re:Just software? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44362163)

Yeah, just abolish all patents, in every field, not just software. Then see how the ensuing chaos, where copycats benefit more than inventors, destroy the market.

This is analogous to banning cars. Tens of thousands of people die in automobile accidents every year, so it would be reasonable to ban cars.

Trade secrets are much easier to keep in other industries, where the method of manufacture is just as important as the final product. Corporations can (and do) require all employees with access to trade secrets to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and they insure against leaks. Or they purchase stock in other fields which will benefit from these innovations prior to release. I work in an industry where we rely much more on trade secrets than patents, and it's hardly chaos - we don't have to waste time on the legal nonsense which bores engineers.

"De-regulate something and CHAAAAOOSS will erupt!" is the argument an alarmist who lacks creativity, someone who thinks businesses are incapable of adapting. We don't need your "help".

You're the one who is banning cars - there's a wealth of car-related inventions which are being squatted upon, delayed because they don't yet fit the business model of their owners. And note how I don't need to rely on strawman hypotheticals.

Took an ethics class on this last year (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about a year ago | (#44361287)

The problem is that international law covers software patents just like tangible product patents under the dubious basis that software is an "arrangement of matter" at the microscopic level. I never appreciated how bad they are for innovation. The big boys sit around accumulating patents on everything and sharpening their lawyer-axes. The little guys scurry in the shadows waiting for one to drop on them.

Won't somebody please think of the lawyers (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361293)

You put an end to software patents and your streets are going to be crawling with homeless guys in suits asking your for $100 an hour so they can get a cup of coffee, or a thousand bucks to clean your windscreen at the lights. Who wants to be the one responsible for that? Obviously this Becker bloke just hasn't thought this one through.

Somewhat communist. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361311)

As more and more of society moves online, the combination of an end of patents and an end to copyright basically means that all property will be shared between all people, and there is nothing someone can produce that someone else cannot make use of. This is a bad thing as it removes a vital incentive for creation.

Re:Somewhat communist. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361895)

This is a bad thing as it removes a vital incentive for creation.

Rent seeking removes incentive as well, though.

Re:Somewhat communist. (2)

ultrasawblade (2105922) | about a year ago | (#44362157)

Maybe creation will just be so easy and commoditized that it isn't worth it to try to do it as profitable activity. Doesn't mean people won't do it. They'll do it for fun, or because they themselves need something. I'd love it if it was so easy to create a program I need that I could do it on my own without having to hire anyone or rely on someone else to come up with the idea and try to charge me for it. I don't ever see this happening, of course, but if it did, it's not a bad thing.

There isn't always a need for a middle man and no real reason to have one if one is not needed.

'tis a "theoretically" good idea. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361345)

unfortunately, and let me elaborate, it is not:
the modern economy is based on fiat money, but altogether by itself
is based on NOTHING, but we use it to pay for SOMETHING.
thus the best way to "base" fiat money on "something" is not
to dig out more gold from the ground, but to charge for everything and then some.
afterall, more money has to be "created" because there are more and more people using it everyday.
it the simplest form, it means building ..errr ... buildings. so you get money from the bank, which gets
it from the people who make the money and then this virtual money becomes real because it is tide
to something you can touch ... like a building.
the above can also be applied to something as ridiculous as "software patents".

Re:'tis a "theoretically" good idea. (1)

Sique (173459) | about a year ago | (#44361511)

Every money is fiat money. Even a Gold standard. The value of Gold exists only in the mutual agreement that Gold should be valuable, because it looks nice if used for decoration. Compare the (market perceived) value of Gold with that of Platinum -- both are metals, both are of comparable availability in the Earth's crust, and both are used for the same applications (mainly jewelry, some electronics and a little bit as chemical catalyst), but their values are highly volatile against each other and against every main currency, with the volatility much higher than that of main currencies compared to each other.

One could argue further that money itself has to be fiat money to actually work as money (e.g. as a medium to compare prices).

Blog has been Judged (1)

maroberts (15852) | about a year ago | (#44361453)

It appears to have been Slashdotted to death

1333.20 MOTHERFUCKER (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361463)

Your move COMEX

it solves itself (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about a year ago | (#44361469)

I've always seen it this way. If there's a source code leak, have ways in place that pin it down to one person then sue their asses off and there's your money for damages. Otherwise, with the latest anti-decompiling methods, I doubt someone is getting your actual code manually. So that leaves the fact that if someone can look at your program running and figure out the code behind a certain function then write it themselves, it was too simple to be patented. If they can't figure it out, it's darn good valuable IP and then they can't use it because they don't have the code or an idea how to write it. It solves itself.

Industry can survive without patents (2)

faffod (905810) | about a year ago | (#44361481)

Formula 1 has zero use for patents. If a team invents something useful they try to keep it secret. If a team were to apply for a patent for one of their inventions, the other teams would simply band together and change the rules to explicitly ban that patent from use in the race cars. Despite this, the teams spend tens of millions (if not hundreds of millions) every year on the development of their cars. Top teams bring changes and innovations every two weeks (average time between races). Relax Corporate America, innovation will survive just fine without software patents.

Now if someone points out that what F1 does is employ Trade Secrets, and the idea behind patents is that they allow for the state of the art to be shared in the public domain, I have to agree. But the actual result of the patent system is that no one reads about patents (knowingly infringing a patent results in triple damages), so the patent system isn't even achieving that goal.

Re:Industry can survive without patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44362249)

You really don't understand F1 or patents. The motor companies that supply many of the important parts (e.g., the motors) apply for patents on improvements ALL THE TIME. The technology that you see in F1 today is the same technology that gets put in a sedan 5 or 10 years down the road. Make no mistake about it, this technology WILL get patented.

But the actual result of the patent system is that no one reads about patents (knowingly infringing a patent results in triple damages), so the patent system isn't even achieving that goal.
Again, you don't understand the disclosure part. The patent system allows people to talk about their products ... in public, with reduced fear that their technology will be copied. You can do presentations about your products to potential/existing customers. You can do presentations to industry groups.

Re:Industry can survive without patents (1)

faffod (905810) | about a year ago | (#44362617)

Alright, here is a reference: http://www.jamesallenonf1.com/2012/01/patents-in-f1-explained/ [jamesallenonf1.com]

As to your point, sure, a part supplier might have a patent on something, but the teams do not use patents. The teams are the ones doing the innovation to the tune of multiple millions per year. They innovate with a vigor rarely seen in industries and have no desire to seek patent protection.

I also understand the disclosure part. Sure some people talk about their patents, but because of the risk of triple damages most try to avoid listening. I'm not saying that there is 0 public discourse, I'm saying that there is far less of it than intended or useful.

To recap - two big justifications for patents are
1) protect innovation
2) prevent trade secrets, to make the sate of the art public
I've provided a reference that clearly states that highly competitive industries can survive just fine without patents, [even if as you point out, related industries use patents]. And there are plenty of references here on /. that corroborate my statement that people do not look through the patent applications due to the risk of triple damages.

Re:Industry can survive without patents (1)

Joining Yet Again (2992179) | about a year ago | (#44362721)

It surprised me to learn recently that modern cars aren't that much more fuel efficient than many of nearly 80 years ago.

Proposal (2)

StripedCow (776465) | about a year ago | (#44361605)

Ok, let's be fundamental about this. Isn't it strange that we should consider "software" as different from other intellectual property? If X hours of work have been invested into the invention of a clever software routine, then, it would be strange if a patent could not be granted for that work while a patent would be granted for some physical apparatus that also took X hours to develop. (Don't think about the stupid "one-click-buy" software patents, but more along the lines of an ingenious differential-equation solver).

So, I don't think a law that says "patents are granted, but not for software" would be a good one. If we would abolish patents, we should do it in all fields.
Remember that the US has to rely on IP protection, for a substantial part of the work done in this country is intellectual. Therefore allowing software patents could in fact be beneficial.

As an aside: in the end, everything is mathematics. Software is mathematics; but also a physical apparatus, or even a medicine can be described mathematically. So, based on this argument, there should be no distinction in IP law.

What should happen, though, is that "stupid" patents should be rejected. I will explain how this could be accomplished.

First, split the patent-office in two parts. The first part, call it the "patent intake office", will *pay* an amount for each patent that they grant. The second member, call it the "evaluation office", will, after 5 years after issue of the patent, determine the societal impact of the patent. If the impact is large, an amount is paid to the intake-office.

(Note that the patent office will initially *pay* for patents that they grant. This is in contrast with the current situation, where the office receives money for each patent that is granted.)

This means that, under this model, the USPTO will not so easily approve simple things such as "one click shopping" because they might lose on it on account of a lack of social impact. Similarly, patent trolling will be actively barred by the patent office (no product means no social impact). However, a patent for a new medicine may be approved. And even software, if ingenious and useful, may be granted a patent.

Re:Proposal (3, Insightful)

pscottdv (676889) | about a year ago | (#44362407)

Ok, let's be fundamental about this. Isn't it strange that we should consider "software" as different from other intellectual property? If X hours of work have been invested into the invention of a clever software routine, then, it would be strange if a patent could not be granted for that work while a patent would be granted for some physical apparatus that also took X hours to develop.

Fundamentally, software is already different from other intellectual property as it also has copyright protection. Why should one body of work be allowed to be protected under two completely different IP regimes? Copyright protection is enough to encourage the advancement of the arts and sciences of software. Patents appear to be a hindrance.

Re:Proposal (1)

cpt kangarooski (3773) | about a year ago | (#44362737)

Ok, let's be fundamental about this. Isn't it strange that we should consider "software" as different from other intellectual property? If X hours of work have been invested into the invention of a clever software routine, then, it would be strange if a patent could not be granted for that work while a patent would be granted for some physical apparatus that also took X hours to develop. (Don't think about the stupid "one-click-buy" software patents, but more along the lines of an ingenious differential-equation solver).

So, I don't think a law that says "patents are granted, but not for software" would be a good one. If we would abolish patents, we should do it in all fields.

I disagree.

First, patents are not granted on the basis of the effort expended to invent a patentable invention. The sweat of the brow theory is just as much bunk for patents as it is for copyrights.

Second, the purpose of patents is to encourage the invention, disclosure, and bringing to market of inventions which otherwise would not be invented, disclosed, and brought to market, and where the restrictions on the public are as minimal as possible in both scope and duration. Patents have an inherent negative effect on invention, disclosure, and bringing to market, and so it is important that the incentive is large enough to spur on more of this behavior than it inescapably deters. Further, patents inherently limit the freedom of the public to practice the invention, and tend to have negative effects on the market due to the monopolistic prices the patent holder can charge, so it it is important that the positive benefits of the patent for the public also outweigh the inescapable negative effects it has on the public.

What's interesting about the software and business method fields is that there are many natural incentives for invention, and bringing to market. And while formal disclosure could still be useful, the system is gamed to make disclosures unhelpful and at any rate obervation of the patents in practice in these fields usually reveals anything that disclosure would. This means that the incentive of a patent amounts to little in these fields, but the negative effects of the patent are not mitigated at all. Thus patents here act to harm inventive activity more than they do to spur it on. Combined with the negative effects on the public, software and business method patents wind up producing more harm than good.

Someday, perhaps, the natural incentives in these two fields will diminish and there will be more of a role for an artificial incentive from patents. By all means we should watch for that so that we can revisit the issue when th time is ripe. But for now, software and business method patents harm more than they help. That's why we need to be rid of them.

Re:Proposal (2)

zzsmirkzz (974536) | about a year ago | (#44362785)

As an aside: in the end, everything is mathematics. Software is mathematics; but also a physical apparatus, or even a medicine can be described mathematically. So, based on this argument, there should be no distinction in IP law.

While a physical apparatus and/or medicine can be described mathematically, they are not, of themselves, math. Software, on the other hand, is math that can be described in special languages that are easier for humans to read. See the difference? The description (or the can be expressed as) is reversed. Software starts out and is math, period. It is a series of add/subtract/multiply/move statements, nothing more. If the algorithm for calculating a number's square root on paper is not patentable then neither should software.

Re:Proposal (1)

Bengie (1121981) | about a year ago | (#44362859)

Software is entirely a thought process. The code itself is not tied to hardware, only the compiled result is. As for medicine, that is one of the few real applications for patents. Most of the cost of medicine is in trail-and-error, along with lots of ethical restrictions before coming to market.

Software has no ethical restrictions and the only trial-and-error portion is with the math side of it. Software is just a throught process.

They fouled their own bed (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about a year ago | (#44361671)

If software patents hadn't been so badly abused, often by some of the biggest, most powerful corporations, then there might have been a place for strictly limited patents. But we've learned in the past decades that you cannot trust corporations to behave well. Given the opportunity for fast profit, they will gladly abuse every aspect of the law. As a stockbroker friend of mine puts it, "They'll throw a baby off a bridge for a dollar". They say they want "free markets" and "competition" but not for themselves.

And this bad behavior by anyone with the last name of "Inc" is why we just cannot have nice things.

Re:They fouled their own bed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44362331)

You think the big companies are going to behave better when there are no patents/intellectual property?

You are a small development company and you've developed a new software product. If you were smart and patented the key features, you stood a chance against the big boys. However, you cannot compete with their distribution/engineering/marketing/etc. What was once a new product that could be separtely marketed becomes just one of a hundred of features included in X bloatware. Why should a consumer pay you when they can get it for free?

The issue of whether or not patents should exist seems to depend upon whether people like to get things for free or whether they don't mind paying for them. People who think things should be free don't like the patent system. It doesn't fit with their world view.

Re:They fouled their own bed (1)

Bengie (1121981) | about a year ago | (#44362913)

you've developed a new software product

This never happens. No on ever develops anything new in software, what they develop is new expressions of something that already existed. Use copyright.

What innovations would go away? (2)

ggraham412 (1492023) | about a year ago | (#44361885)

'Disputes over software patents are among the most common, expensive, and counterproductive. Their exclusion from the patent system would discourage some software innovations, but the saving from litigation costs over disputed patent rights would more than compensate the economy for that cost.'

I'm trying to think of some examples of software innovations that would be discouraged by excluding them from the patent system.

If one wrote software that made some process more efficient, wouldn't one want that process to be more efficient anyway, regardless of the patent status?

Re:What innovations would go away? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44362919)

But it might not be cost-effective to make it more efficient unless you can also have a monopoly. That's the whole purpose of patents -- to grant a temporary monopoly.

Imagine you invent a new process that 2.3% more efficient. But it has a $100 million one-time investment from the first implementor, and only a $10 million investment required from the second and subsequent implementors. If you can't keep second-actors out of the market you may not want to spend $100 million -- you'd be $90 million behind your competitors. With a patent you can spend that $100 million knowing that you'll have a period of protected monopoly, where you'll be able to maintain your 2.3% lead for a number of years and recover that investment, rather than only have a 2.3% lead for a few months until someone else copies you.

Re:What innovations would go away? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44362931)

It has been claimed that universities, for-profit research labs and other quangos, employing a significant portion of the top comp. sci researchers, wouldn't be so eager to let those boffins work on e.g. cutting edge video compression - x265, if there wasn't the carrot of patent gold at the end of the road..

Headline (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361953)

I don't care what the character limit on the headline is, if I never see the word "Nobelist" again it will be too soon!

...discourage some software innovations? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44362151)

The current system doesn't discourage innovation, it actively prevents it. Any new product is guaranteed to violate some patent or other; if it happens to be successful, the trolls strike between there being enough money to be worth looting and enough to mount a defense.

Not to mention how "first to file" effectively hands the system (even more than before) over to organizations that can afford legal teams and lots of filing fees.

Innovation would NOT slow down (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44362301)

It is the great lie that patents encourage innovation. They do not.
-money (profits) encourage innovation
-the sheer joy of 'inventing' encourages innovation

Patents aid the first SOMETIME, but so do a thousand other business models. Companies use whatever is available. No patents, no problem.

Anyway, with software, there isn't even the slightest argument in favour of patents. XOR a bitmap onto the screen was patented. Having a zero at the end of a string was patented. Any 3D on a computer screen for gaming was patented (in Japan). Pure abuse by established players trying to lock out the competition.

Software patents are protected by giants like Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft and Apple paying off politicians. Do YOU put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the pockets of key US politicians? Do YOU give key politicians insider-trading tips, so said US politician can use his/her immunity against insider-trading laws to earn millions from the speculation?

The fundamental WRONGNESS of software patents will never lead to reform. The system breaking actions of psychopathic patent trolls (mostly ex-Microsoft people funded by Bill Gates) will most likely cause some reform to happen.

A current patent settlement tends to earn major percentage points from the targeted project. Say 2%. But that losing project contains THOUSANDS of potential code targets. Even those of you with really weak maths skills know that 1000 x 2 >>> 100. You can't have more than 100% of anything. Current settlements effectively pretend a software product consists of little code beyond that which is being challenged.

So, unleash the full blown Bill Gates patent troll wars, and what happens? Commercial software becomes impossible to create. A 14-year-old, given a clean-room programming education, and exposed to knowledge about standard algorithms, could create a fairly substantial software product if sufficiently talented. That product would infringe literally tens of thousands of software patents. THINK ABOUT THIS. 99.999% of all software patents contain ZERO innovation that a reasonably talented programmer could not spontaneously deduce if exposed to current state-of-the-art IT teaching (the sort that actually encourages programmers to read books on algorithms and data structures in use since the 1950s).

Of course there are exceptions. How many ordinary programmers would have created the algorithms behind MP3? But MP3 is still just the mathematical theory behind sound compression. There is, in truth, not a lot of this useful maths research- so actually we should have a system where it is accepted that the university work that creates most of it is a gift to the world, and that governments fund there universities to make the world a better place.

It should ONLY be the exploitation of fundamental ideas that is a function of the capitalistic system. The fundamental ideas themselves should belong to everyone. For instance, the creation of MP3 as a standard helps the whole sound industry. Of course standards cost money to create, but when so many companies are going to benefit from the stability and growth standards bring, their costs are chicken feed. No-one should be making big money from 'owning' a standard.

in today's climate... (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about a year ago | (#44362709)

...he'll just be called a socialist and that's that.

We are an era of NO debate. The pro-corporate lobby will smear him and there will be no discussion. Being a Nobel Laurette isn't going to matter much to knownothings in Congress.

you f4il it! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44362957)

are incom4Atible [goat.cx]
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