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The New Yorker on Business Process Patents

michael posted more than 11 years ago | from the bending-is-patented dept.

Patents 315

caledon writes "The New Yorker has a clear, concise, nontechnical essay by its finance columnist James Surowiecki criticizing business process patents: Patent Bending. 'Although we have always had a vibrant patent system, we've managed to strike a balance between the need to encourage innovation and the need to foster competition. As Benjamin Day, Henry Ford, and Sam Walton might attest, American corporations have thrived on innovative ideas and new business methods, without owning them, for two centuries. In the past decade, the balance has been upset.' Makes the argument persuasively."

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*swish* right over the head (+5 Interesting) (-1, Offtopic)

mao che minh (611166) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393242)

Sorry, that article just "sounds" too smart for the Slashdot crowd. Worse, it seems like it may actually contain facts. We don't require an expertly written dissertation to have our opinion swayed. Just mention the RIAA, SCO, and Amazon and we're sold.

First post you greedy Microsoft loving capatilist GNU/hippies. SCO RIAA MPAA SCO RIAA MPAA SCO RIAA MPAA SCO RIAA MPAA SCO RIAA MPAA SCO RIAA MPAA

FP! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393247)

What would GOATSE say? [goatse.cx] Oh, first post!

Re:FP! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393258)

YUO FAIL IT SUCKA!!! Mao owns u FAGOOT ANONMYASS COWTURD

Re:FP! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393381)

Heyyyyy, goatse didn't say ANYTHING. He just stood there with his anus hanging open. It was a pretty big anus, though. All big and gaping.
Kind of like this:

*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_
g_______________________________________________g_ _
o_/_____\_____________\____________/____\_______o_ _
a|_______|_____________\__________|______|______a_ _
t|_______`._____________|_________|_______:_____t_ _
s`________|_____________|________\|_______|_____s_ _
e_\_______|_/_______/__\\\___--___\\_______:____e_ _
x__\______\/____--~~__________~--__|_\_____|____x_ _
*___\______\_-~____________________~-_\____|____*_ _
g____\______\_________.--------.______\|___|____g_ _
o______\_____\______//_________(_(__>__\___|____o_ _
a_______\___.__C____)_________(_(____>__|__/____a_ _
t_______/\_|___C_____)/______\_(_____>__|_/_____t_ _
s______/_/\|___C_____)_______|__(___>___/__\____s_ _
e_____|___(____C_____)\______/__//__/_/_____\___e_ _
x_____|____\__|_____\\_________//_(__/_______|__x_ _
*____|_\____\____)___`----___--'_____________|__*_ _
g____|__\______________\_______/____________/_|_g_ _
o___|______________/____|_____|__\____________|_o_ _
a___|_____________|____/_______\__\___________|_a_ _
t___|__________/_/____|_________|__\___________|t_ _
s___|_________/_/______\__/\___/____|__________|s_ _
e__|_________/_/________|____|_______|_________|e_ _
x__|__________|_________|____|_______|_________|x_ _
*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_

Yup, that's one GAPING anus, it is. It's all big and red and gaping, like a big red gaping anus. And the guy's just holding it open with his hands. Wow, it's pretty amazing that someone could do that sort of thing with their own ass. I mean, come on. Wouldn't YOU like to be able to gape your anus that much? Then you could make a website about it, and tell all of your friends to go there, and they'd be like, "LOL! Wow! That's one big red gaping anus! Wow, what a big anus!" (oh nos, lameness filter!) Yup, that's one GAPING anus, it is. It's all big and red and gaping, like a big red gaping anus. And the guy's just holding it open with his hands. Wow, it's pretty amazing that someone could do that sort of thing with their own ass. I mean, come on. Wouldn't YOU like to be able to gape your anus that much? Then you could make a website about it, and tell all of your friends to go there, and they'd be like, "LOL! Wow! That's one big red gaping anus! Wow, what a big anus!" (oh nos, lameness filter!) Yup, that's one GAPING anus, it is. It's all big and red and gaping, like a big red gaping anus. And the guy's just holding it open with his hands. Wow, it's pretty amazing that someone could do that sort of thing with their own ass. I mean, come on. Wouldn't YOU like to be able to gape your anus that much? Then you could make a website about it, and tell all of your friends to go there, and they'd be like, "LOL! Wow! That's one big red gaping anus! Wow, what a big anus!" (oh nos, lameness filter!) Yup, that's one GAPING anus, it is. It's all big and red and gaping, like a big red gaping anus. And the guy's just holding it open with his hands. Wow, it's pretty amazing that someone could do that sort of thing with their own ass. I mean, come on. Wouldn't YOU like to be able to gape your anus that much? Then you could make a website about it, and tell all of your friends to go there, and they'd be like, "LOL! Wow! That's one big red gaping anus! Wow, what a big anus!" (oh nos, lameness filter!)

THE SUBSCRIBING LOSER KARMA WHORE GOT IT (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393649)

Then again I suspect "mao che minh" IS the goatse guy given that only an anus-spreading fag would actually pay Slashdot money and spend all that karma whoring and tacoknobsucking.

an elegant solution (0, Troll)

Thinkit3 (671998) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393248)

Abolish patents. It's a wonder few bring up this possibility.

Re:an elegant solution (5, Insightful)

usotsuki (530037) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393268)

I wouldn't abolish them altogether, but they should be restricted to physical devices that must be built from components. Not chemicals, not software, and most certainly not business methods!!

-uso.

Software? (4, Interesting)

phorm (591458) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393304)

I think to a certain degree software should be patentable. If you go out and develop new, innovative, and suddenly popular software - you should have a time when you don't have to worry about being deluged with copycats. That being said, a more intelligent idea might be to have time limits with variance per the item being copyrighted.

Software (methodology) patents could be what, a few years, and business methods perhaps one. It allows the creator to enjoy the fruits of his/her labour for awhile, while still allowing competition to foster and innovation to flourish in later years.

Oh yes, and you should not be allowed to patent something that already exists in a previous medium (online XYZ based on real XYZ).

Re:Software? (3, Insightful)

eddy (18759) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393364)

You have time automatically, software doesn't just suddenly "appear" -- it takes time to write, lot's of time, even if you're trying to copy the workings of someone else -- especially so if how the software works is very novel. If someone could just clone it in a year or two then its implementation wasn't very special after all.

You're talking about implementation, right? Patenting "concepts" is just to scary for me to think about.

Whatever happened to simply being the best and levering being the first one to be on the top?

Re:Software? (2, Interesting)

Joey Vegetables (686525) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393422)

You can't stop people from copying. Trying to is like trying to outlaw gravity. And enforcing "laws" against copying would require constant surveillance of every human activity, contrary to even the flimsiest notions of basic privacy rights.

I don't think true reform of the IP system (including patents, copyright, trade secret law, etc.) can really move forward until this is recognized.

Software, like music, art, etc., can be reduced to a bunch of 1s and 0s . . or (equivalently) a very large integer.

If you don't want your work to be copied, you really have only two choices. Either don't disclose it without strict NDAs, contracts, etc. (i.e., make it a trade secret). Or do work that does not consist of a very large and easily copyable integer.

The days of profit owing solely to artificial scarcity are over, and no amount of wishing or legislating to the contrary is going to change that.

If you want to make a living, then produce products or services (not just large integers) that people are willing to pay for.

Re:Software? (1)

pyros (61399) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393517)

1. 9e1908123471290384012734172394871923874
2. PROFIT!!!!

Re:Software? (1)

Chris_Jefferson (581445) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393537)

If you don't want your work to be copied, you really have only two choices. Either don't disclose it without strict NDAs, contracts, etc. (i.e., make it a trade secret). Or do work that does not consist of a very large and easily copyable integer.

The problem is making good versions of those "large integers" requires a lot of skill, dedication and time, often with huge teams of people.

The days of profit owing solely to artificial scarcity are over, and no amount of wishing or legislating to the contrary is going to change that.

Surely the advantage of "large integers" is that there isn't a scarcity, I can always make another copy. If what you mean is "I think I deserve all software and music for free, because I find that copying it doesn't take much effort" then I think you have to think a bit more about what you are saying...

Just because a crime is easy to get away with doesn't make it any more right. I've just finished playing Zelda:The Wind Waker. I thought it was an excellant game. I'm sure it took a large number of people a long time to write. In the future everything is going to be "a big integer", so if anything it is more important we get the ideas of how to protect them down correctly. We don't want to go overboard, but we have to protect people who work hard on these things too.

Re:Software? (2, Informative)

tassii (615268) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393652)

I think to a certain degree software should be patentable. If you go out and develop new, innovative, and suddenly popular software - you should have a time when you don't have to worry about being deluged with copycats. That being said, a more intelligent idea might be to have time limits with variance per the item being copyrighted.

Basic mistake here.. a patent is not a copyright.. they are two separate things.

Software should be copyrightable.. not patentable.

Re:an elegant solution (2, Insightful)

Farley Mullet (604326) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393393)

I have to take issue with your suggestion that chemicals should be non-patentable. Given the commercial exploitability, R&D costs, and relative ease of copying once the R&D heavy lifting has been done, chemical compounds are exactly the sort of thing that patents should protect. Why would companies sink millions into R&D for potentially useful compounds (say, enzymes to metabolize oil spills, or self-repairing fabrics) if anyone could exploit that R&D latterly?

In general, patents and IP are a more complicated issue than can be dealt with in the sort of single-sentence answers (like "Ban patents!" or "Ban patents on chemicals, software, and business methods!") that are popular here on /.

ban patents? (1)

Thinkit3 (671998) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393598)

I'm one of the few saying to ban patents/copyrights. Hmm, maybe people think I patented the idea to ban patents. Or copyrighted the words "abolish copyright" (c).

Re:an elegant solution (4, Insightful)

mgs1000 (583340) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393272)

Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The total lack of patents would put the indivual inventor out of business, because he/she would never be able to compete with large corporations.

Re:an elegant solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393292)

is there such a thing as an 'individual inventor' anymore?

Re:an elegant solution (1)

darth_MALL (657218) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393323)

It seems that the chokehold a patent-holder has on their idea/thing/whatever is destrying the competition process. The patent office seems to be nothing more than a hopeful money grab for people too lazy to do anything but put forth an idea until some fool comes along with the implementation and you litigate him poor and you rich. Seems to antithesize the whole idea of patents.

Re:an elegant solution (1)

Java Pimp (98454) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393601)

It seems that the chokehold a patent-holder has on their idea/thing/whatever is destrying the competition process.

Perhaps this would be true if patents lasted as long as copyright. If I were to come up with a new technology and not be able to hold my "temporary" monopoly on that technology, some big corporation say (Microsoft, IBM, SCO,...) could take it and profit from it, regardless if I were credited and there would be nothing I could do about it. As an individual, I would be left in the dust unable to compete with the giants. Lazyness has nothing to do with it. If I can't afford to market, produce and distribute an invention, I should be at least able to license it to someone who can and be rewarded for my inovation.

The temporary monopoly gives the inventor the reward of profit for the new inovation, spurs inovation for those unwilling to license the technology to come up with an alternative solution, and eventually expires entering the new technology into the public.

A good example of this is the recently expired GIF patent. The existence of this patent provided the motivation for the push to adopt the PNG format as a royalty free replacement. PNG a superior technology or not, now that the GIF patent is expired, that leverage to push the replacement is gone.

Re:an elegant solution (1)

darth_MALL (657218) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393640)

That clears a lot of things up for me...cheers. I find the discussion of patents/IP/copyright is very volatile around here. It seems there is considerable discussion and angst about intentionally securing the rights to vapourware as cash in the bank. Nice to see a clear point to the contrary.

Re:an elegant solution (1)

daveaitel (598781) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393352)

Speak for yourself.

Dave Aitel Immunity, Inc.

the individual inventor is purely apocryphal (4, Insightful)

abe ferlman (205607) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393551)

There are no individual inventors tinkering in their garages without corporate sponsorship anymore, except maybe Dean Kamen.

The vast majority of patents are held by coroporations. The inventions of individual inventors are owned by corporations because of an employment agreement or are sold to a corporation for a pittance for fear that the corporation will win any legal battle owing to their superior financial resources, regardless of the merit of their claims.

Individual inventors already are out of business. Make patents non-transferrable and make ip agreements that assign ownership invention to corporations illegal and they'll be back in business.

Re:an elegant solution (5, Interesting)

PickaBooga (578529) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393586)


The idea that patents help the individual inventor is a myth.

The best resource I know is Don Lancaster's "The Case Against Patents" [tinaja.com] :
For most individuals and small scale startups, patents are virtually certain to result in a net loss of time, energy, money, and sanity.

One reason for this is the outrageously wrong urban lore involving patents and patenting.
A second involves the outright scams which inevitably surround "inventions" and "inventing".
A third is that the economic breakeven needed to recover patent costs is something between $12,000,000.00 and $40,000,000 in gross sales. It is ludicrously absurd to try and patent a million dollar idea.
Don Lancaster is a old-school hardware/AppleII hacker. On his website he lists a lot of alternatives to patenting that are actually helpful to the individual inventor.

Re:an elegant solution (3, Interesting)

aborchers (471342) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393319)


Abolish patents. It's a wonder few bring up this possibility.


Abolition of patents is a simple-minded, reactionary solution, and if you think it hasn't been brought up plenty of times, you apparently haven't been reading this board for long.

Patents serve a valuable purpose to spur development through economic incentives while ensuring ultimate constributions to the public domain. That they've been abused and overextended is not a reason to throw them away. I agree we need massive changes in how patents are granted, but I've yet to hear a single compelling argument for their abolition that wasn't tinged with drool...

i want links (1)

Thinkit3 (671998) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393519)

I've been tagging abolish copyright/patent posts. Like this [slashdot.org] . But they are fedw and far between.

Re:an elegant solution [US Constitution] (1)

fkittred (97072) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393489)

If you are speaking of the United States, then it is going to be real hard to abolish patents, as they have been a fundamental basis of our law
for well over 200 years. Abolishing them would be very, very messy, not elegant at all.

The US Constitution is an example of an elegant solution. It is concise, yet includes the specific legislative power to set up a patent office:

"To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;"

I am not a constitutional lawyer and don't know if it would require a constitutional admentment to outlaw patents. I am sure that the legislature could pass laws limiting what can be patented and the length of the patent...

slavery/intellectual property (1)

Thinkit3 (671998) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393562)

How funny the similarities are. DMCA=helping possible runaways. One involves owning a sentient being, the other owning an idea. Both highly illogical. And then there's the compromisers. No more slave imports! Lower copyright length! And both apparently will require an amendment to the constitution.

Bent -- not wrong. (4, Insightful)

cait56 (677299) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393582)

The article clearly points out that the problem is in patenting business procedures, rather than true inventions.

If you review the history, there were two changes in the recent interpretation of patent law.

  • A presumption was created that an invention was innovative, and that it was almost up to the examiner to prove that it was not. Before the 80s patents were rejected on the sole grounds that while the applicant may have been the first to develop the technique, anybody researching such a product would have done the same thing. We need to get back to that interpretation.
  • Software patents were allowed. More precisely the artificial preference for solutions realized in hardware was removed.

The problems are related to granting patents for things that are a) not specific solutions, merely statement of problems, and b) obvious.

So I believe we need to restore the orignal presumption that a proposed patent is not sufficiently innovative. The other thing that has changed since when the patent system was mostly considered to be working is that the world has sped up. A 17 year period may have made sense in the 19th century, it is way too long for the 21st.

But none of those are arguments against the inherent ideas of patents. Citing the current abuses of the patent system as an arguments against patents in general is like citing Windows 95 as an argument against having an OS.

Nice to see in popular media (4, Interesting)

Chris_Jefferson (581445) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393275)

Not really a lot I can say, but seeing as I seem to be first(ish) here, I'll say some stuff anyway :)

It is nice to see this kind of coverage in the popular media. It no longer seems as ridiculas as it did to imagine a general shake-up of patents, which is good. The article also describes the problem well, with good examples (as opposed to some of the more usually used stupid examples).

I don't think we should get rid of patents, I don't even think "software patents" are a bad thing (if anyone tries quoting the 'all software is produced by a turing machine, so is all obvious argument, I'll hit them!), but hopefully we can reach a sensible system!

Re:Nice to see in popular media (1)

aborchers (471342) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393341)

(if anyone tries quoting the 'all software is produced by a turing machine, so is all obvious argument, I'll hit them!)


Sorry, but you'll have to pay me a royalty because I have a patent on hitting someoone via Web discussion boards.

Re:Nice to see in popular media (1)

azadism (578262) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393342)

I agree with what you are saying. Patents have a place and a purpose. The systems just needs to be adjusted to meet the demands of the current situation. As more mainstream media begins to discuss this maybe something will get done to resolve the problem.

Re:Nice to see in popular media (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393513)

All software is produced by a turing machine, so it is all obvious.

Re:Nice to see in popular media (1)

Chris_Jefferson (581445) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393566)


Damn you!

*thwack*

Re:Nice to see in popular media (5, Insightful)

siskbc (598067) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393525)

(if anyone tries quoting the 'all software is produced by a turing machine, so is all obvious argument, I'll hit them!),

Best comeback to that inane crap is "Turing thought the brain was a Turing machine - therefore, all innovation of any kind is obvious and unpatentable." See how they like that.

MOD PARENT UP! (1)

intermodal (534361) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393631)

insightful, informative, interesting, anything!

Past Two centuries? (1)

Quasar1999 (520073) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393277)

Why 2???

Re:Past Two centuries? (1)

Chris_Jefferson (581445) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393330)

The bicentennial of the patent office was in 2002, so it's close enough to two centuries.

whitehouse.gov [whitehouse.gov]

Re:Past Two centuries? (1)

darkscorp (194918) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393441)

I guess the real question is (at least for me)... Why two? What was the process before the patent office was put in place?

Re:Past Two centuries? (1)

IvyMike (178408) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393639)

I guess the real question is (at least for me)... Why two? What was the process before the patent office was put in place?

Remember, the US is only slightly older than 2 centuries (the constitution wasn't ratified until 1788). Prior to that, well...this page has some info on inventor protections before the modern patent office. [myoutbox.net]

Re:Past Two centuries? (1)

ip_vjl (410654) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393501)

Because the quote was:

American corporations have thrived on innovative ideas and new business methods, without owning them, for two centuries.

It didn't say that companies in general have done business for two centuries ... it was specifically speaking about American history, which only goes back (formally) a little over 225 years.

Nothing to take any notice with here.

Hey, everyone! Let's sing the GOATSE song! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393287)

Re:Hey, everyone! Let's sing the GOATSE song! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393318)

lol

Business patents and time to railroad (2, Insightful)

PhysicsGenius (565228) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393297)

When MP3's hit the scene, record companies started to moan about how their profits were being eroded and how Napster (etc) needed to be shut down. The entire userbase of Slashdot (including me) said that there was no legally guaranteed "right to profit" and that if they couldn't make it in the "New Economy", they should get a different business model. "That's how capitalism works" was the libertarian cry.

Now technology has struck again--people are inventing new ways to make money. Instead of applauding their innovations and acknowledging their right of first use on ideas they made up, we are demanding that they share them with us. Instead of being free market, laisez-faire capitalists, we (by which I mean you, I don't subscribe to this) have turned into whiny littly communists. "It's too hard to make money when the other guy has a shiny new business model. Mommy, make him share!" Bah.

Re:Business patents and time to railroad (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393317)

I didn't know that you sucked cock? We should get together for a huge troll fuck-fest! What's your phone number?

Re:Business patents and time to railroad (3, Insightful)

s20451 (410424) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393348)

there was no legally guaranteed "right to profit" and that if they couldn't make it in the "New Economy", they should get a different business model. "That's how capitalism works" was the libertarian cry.

Heh ... I remember the new economy.

There's no legally guaranteed right to share music or copy software, either -- quite the opposite. Don't forget that without strong intellectual property laws, the GPL would not exist, and it would be in nobody's interest to share code or ideas for fear that they would get stolen. Beware the law of unintended consequences.

Huh? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393492)

The parent post wasn't about copyright laws...so what are you talking about?

Re:Business patents and time to railroad (4, Interesting)

DarkSkiesAhead (562955) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393575)

Don't forget that without strong intellectual property laws, the GPL would not exist, and it would be in nobody's interest to share code or ideas for fear that they would get stolen. Beware the law of unintended consequences.
I don't think people are calling the principle of strong IP laws into question. That's a different issue. The issue is the breadth these laws have been expanded to in recent years. It's one thing to say "my innovation should be protected for a reasonable time." It's another thing to say "my vague idea should be given absolute power in my field for the next 120 years."

Re:Business patents and time to railroad (2, Insightful)

nametaken (610866) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393379)


For the most part, you raise a good point... but I think that the regular argument is more along the lines of poor administration of the patent system. I can't argue with people functioning within the framework of the system, I can only complain about the system itself. That's my right and responsibility.

Re:Business patents and time to railroad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393421)

A physics genius you may be but if companies cannot compete in a market without patent (monopoly) protection then the entire enconomy is a scam. So which is it Einstien, competitive market or patent protection for redundant business models?

Turned right back at you, "Einstien" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393449)

A business model patent patents only a business model, not a product. So there's no danger of monopoly.

Re:Turned right back at you, "Einstien" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393493)

no? amazon have a monopoly on one-click ordering don't they? Netflix have a... why bother?

Those aren't prod...forget it (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393536)

(Fascdot won't let me post an empty comment--yet another reason to use Kuro5hin)

No Empty Comments? You must be new here (1)

Trigun (685027) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393655)

See above for the goatse song (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393451)

sing it to yourself a few times

Re:Business patents and time to railroad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393491)

What are you talking about?

If you're a liberarian, then WHY WHY WHY do they get this artificial government monopoly on their idea?

Re:Business patents and time to railroad (2, Insightful)

Creep73 (647258) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393523)

I can't disagree with you entirely however I can't agree all together. Some items need to be shared. If some things are not shared innovation will tend to stagnate. Many times the greatest innovation comes after some company shares some piece of information or some design. The problem is that now companies and individuals are trying to make money off anything and everything. If I add a sent to toilet paper I need to patent the idea. We are not talking about any new revolutionary products here. We are talking about ideas on how to run a business. Innovation comes from multiple people working to expand the work that has already taken place by others. If no one shares information, if everything puts a price on every idea that comes forth it drives the cost of that innovation and eventually the price of any product that is a result of that innovation. If every thought that came out of any head had a price we would be living in a world where no one could afford to live. As with most things balance is the key.

Oh, I get it (-1, Troll)

PhysicsGenius (565228) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393573)

Businesses need to share the things you want a piece of, but it's OK if they keep anything you don't want. At least, for now.

Re:Business patents and time to railroad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393539)

In what way is a government granted monopoly laissez faire capitalism?

The foundations of modern intellectual property doctrine are more political special pleading than the constitution or free market theory.

Re:Business patents and time to railroad (3, Insightful)

ralph_the_wonder_lla (582153) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393614)

Instead of applauding their innovations and acknowledging their right of first use on ideas they made up, ...

Had the US Patent Office granted Henry Ford a patent for the assembly line, the world would be a very different place indeed. But then again, under the way we are doing things now one of Henry's competitors would patent it and then sue him for using his own idea.

The core of the problem is that we have a legal system that does not understand nor fully comprehend the impact of its decisions and has allowed anyone who can think up and idea (even after the fact), grab an attorney and go out and blackmail buisnesses into paying them off.

The net effect of this is to chill the competitive business environment. When a business finds a new and successful method of doing business it forces their competition to a) copy them and try to do it better b) find a different way to beat the competition or c) fold up and go out of business.

The way that patents are being awarded for business methods is more akin to the Microsoft Business Model. Dismiss the innovation, create a pile of FUD over the innovation and then buy up the innovator and close them down/assimilate them into the collective. Stifiling isn't it.

Re:Business patents and time to railroad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393618)

Dear Sir/Madam
Your use of sarcasm infringes upon my intellectual property, as defined under U.S. Patent #xxxxxxxxxx. Please remove your Comment and forward all Karma earned by said Comment to myself as the rightful patent holder, so that this may be resolved without requiring legal intervention.

Thank you in advance,
anonymous slashdot process patent holder.

Re:Business patents and time to railroad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393644)

Now technology has struck again--people are inventing new ways to make money. Instead of applauding their innovations and acknowledging their right of first use on ideas they made up, we are demanding that they share them with us.

I think one of the main issues is that a lot of the "innovations" being patented are basically ideas that have already been used in brick-and-mortar businesses in one form or another for years, but now, taa-daa, it's done on the internet.

The other issue brought up by the article is that many of the patents issued are for seemingly trivial ideas, not what a reasonable person would consider "innovation". For example:

"One inventive soul won a patent for a system of using pictures to train janitors. Another got one for describing a way to cut hair with both hands."

I don't know about you, but I don't consider those "innovative business models" deserving of patent protection.

Greed != Good anymore. (5, Insightful)

Trigun (685027) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393298)

Previously, there were checks and balances placed in society to prevent the atrocities of the Industrial Revolution from happening again. And life was good.

As more and more people forgot about the conditions of labor which were impressed upon the workforce, these checks and balances were overlooked and neglected, and big business took over. Like a kid in a candy store, these entities destroyed the system which fostered competition, and made it a tool to oppress the people. Big Business became Government, and further cemented the position as our overlords.

The current patent system is just a tool used for this purpose.

Re:Greed != Good anymore. (2, Funny)

Surak (18578) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393469)

I, for one, welcome our corporate overlords!

Hail the mighty Gates! Glory to Oppenheim! DISNEY IS MY GOD!!!

Oh wait...wrong movie...

First Post (3, Funny)

Lew Pitcher (68631) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393306)

Patent pending, 2003, All rights reserved

YOU FAIL IT! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393359)

J00 FAIL IT!

... oh ... wait ... :(

Re:First Post (1)

druske (550305) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393413)

Sorry friend, somebody just demonstrated prior art... :)

Alright then: Frist Psot ! (2, Funny)

mechant_evil (687517) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393656)

Frist Psot, Patent pending, 2003, All rights reserved

I'm sure i'm gonna be able to fool a bunch of customers with something similar to First Post.

onward through the fog... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393309)

The author of the article makes all the right points, I'd say. Is there any point in further regulating our society and simultaneously enriching the legal profession? Discuss...

Finally!!! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393326)

Someone who knows to use "its" in the possessive form. Goobers who use "it's" should be castrated to keep the gene pool clean.

GOATSE GOATSE! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393335)

Troll Tuesday nigs

Re:GOATSE GOATSE! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393414)

lol goatse

I support business process patents (3, Interesting)

Nick of NSTime (597712) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393340)

I think it makes sense to patent business processes, to a certain extent. If I have a company that manufactures low profit margin widgets, and I have a competitor who manufactures low profit margin widgets, and I devise a business process that streamlines my manufacturing to eke out more profits, I won't want my competitor to have that business process.

At the same time, I think there are pitfalls. Take Netflix for example: the idea of renting DVDs over the Internet does not seem unique to me. As a matter of fact, I thought of the very same thing in 1997 but couldn't get capital.

The more I reply to these topics, the more I realize that there is no clear answer, so I begin to wonder why I reply at all.

So where do you draw the line? (5, Insightful)

beavis88 (25983) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393468)

Using your example, if you've implemented your new process properly, you should have a BIG leg up on the competition -- even if they do copy your innovation. While you're selling your cheaper-to-produce widget (either undercutting your competition, or reaping higher margins), they are scrambling to work the new business process into their existing assembly lines, figuring out how to pay for it, etc.

You say that "the idea of renting DVDs over the Internet does not seem unique to me" -- to which I say, a streamlines manufacturing process to produce widgets does not seem unique to me. You're still producing the exact same widget as your competitor, albeit at a lower cost.

I could see patenting a method of creating a widget with the same functionality, but using different components. But I'd have to drink an awful lot to be convinced of the merits of patents on business processes.

Black and white solutions rarely work as well as was intended, but this is one place where I think a gray area may be a killer.

Re:I support business process patents (2, Insightful)

rhfrommn (597446) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393518)

One big problem I see with patenting business products is how do you ever prove you came up with it? In a competitive industry all the businesses will constantly be looking for ways to streamline their procedures to lower expenses. So what gives you the right to patent something everybody in your industry is working on at the same time? Who gets the patent - the guy who first thought of it, the manager who first approved it, or the company who first implemented it? And if my company has written the procedures and plans to implement them next Monday, can you get a patent because you did it first on Friday?

It is too messy. With a physical invention you can make the object, construct diagrams of it, and prove you are the first to invent it. In business processes it is way too "mushy" to define when a process is invented and when it is just a idea in somebody's head.

Re:I support business process patents (1)

rhfrommn (597446) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393561)

Oops, obviously in the first line the should say "One big problem I see with patenting business PROCESSES" . . . not "products".

Sorry. And I even used preview! Amazing how you can miss simple errors like that in reviewing your own writing but they are obvious a few minutes later.

Re:I support business process patents (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393592)

I think it makes sense to patent business processes, to a certain extent. If I have a company that manufactures low profit margin widgets, and I have a competitor who manufactures low profit margin widgets, and I devise a business process that streamlines my manufacturing to eke out more profits, I won't want my competitor to have that business process.

But what happens if you're a widget maker who has been using the business process in question for years, and suddenly finds that the process has been patented? Or a customer who suddenly finds that widgets cost more because your widget maker has to pay licensing fees on the business process. Business patents don't look so good in those cases.

I think there's a couple good reasons not to patent business processes. First, if the process is better, then it'll save the company money. Ie, there's plenty of existing incentives to create business processes. Second, business processes are relatively easy to copy (ie, discover what the competition is doing and copy it), hence there's no real concerns that the information won't make it into the public domain (ie, a worker can bring the knowledge with him to another company). Ie, the reason for patents doesn't exist here. There's no need to provide incentives to innovate nor to bring the information into the public domain.

Re:I support business process patents (2, Insightful)

Creep73 (647258) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393607)

So what you are saying is that Ford is the only company that should be allowed to use the production line? I am sorry but these are things that need to be shared in order for capitalism to thrive. This promotes competition by bringing companies on equal footing. If everything had a price one company with the money would end up owning everything.

Case Law (4, Interesting)

petronivs (633683) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393347)

But in July, 1998, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit did away with that principle.

I wonder if this case (or a similar one) ever made its way to the Supreme Court. It might help matters, and it would be much more likely than waiting for Congress to do something about the situation. Any action in Congress limiting these kinds of patents would certainly be opposed by entrenched corporations (which might not control Congress yet, but do have substantial influence in it).

Now everyone wants a turn... (5, Insightful)

TWX (665546) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393350)

"As Benjamin Day, Henry Ford, and Sam Walton might attest, American corporations have thrived on innovative ideas and new business methods, without owning them, for two centuries."

Yes, and now every idiot who went through business school wants to get in a piece of the action, despite frequent majoring in "Business" is more like highschool++ rather than serious post-secondary education for many. I'd have a lot more respect for "businessmen" if several of the small businesses that I've worked for didn't ignore their employees when it came time to make technical decisions, and would consider long term effects. These people even have a financial stake in what they're doing, compared to those that control other peoples' money, and they still are screwups. I don't see why we should let any company or business person patent a business plan, when they think that one good idea without heavy technical implementation should be something that they can solely profit on.

Besides, most of the actually successful business people that I have met don't feel a need to patent business ideas or processes. Of course, these generally are people who liked working in a field and started their own companies because of that, and knew the tech and work, not simply how a spreadsheet worked.

Re:Now everyone wants a turn... (1)

Bull999999 (652264) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393588)

How about this? Since business majors are like highschool++ get yourself a business degree in 1 or 2 years (shouldn't be hard for you if idiots can do it in 4 or 5 years), and you can be the one who gets to control other people's money.

It's all in the perspective (3, Insightful)

Jack Wagner (444727) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393392)

As an independent consultant if I don't have the ability to patent my work then I lose my ability to compete in the workplace. There is no way for me to go up against all these major corporations unless I can patent my innovations and leverage that patent in a court of law.

I've devised many algorithms that could save companies many man hours by speeding up their applications by Olog(n) however I refuse to use them unless I can be certain that they won't simply take the algorithm and use it elsewhere. I'm not talking about reverse engineering code mind you, I'm talking about the actual ideas that go into the code. For instance lets say, hypothetically, that I devise a sort routine that works anywhere from 35 - 40% faster than the quick sort in with all datasets. I would have to be a fool to just give this away after spending months of research on it when my time and my intelligence are the only things I have that I can charge for.

I think the patent system is pure capitalism at it's best and may the best and brightest and first to market be the guy who wins. Patents are as American as Apple Pie and Baseball as far as I'm concerned.

Re:It's all in the perspective (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393544)

What if this was the case years ago, and hence every sorting algorithm other than bubble-sort was patented. Yeah, that would be fantastic.

Re:It's all in the perspective (4, Insightful)

ip_vjl (410654) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393583)

That's what contracts between you and that company are for. You specify in the contract what rights they have with the work you provide, anything outside of that and they can be sued for damages.

In your example, if another person independently came up with the same method went to use it on his jobs (without even knowing about you) he'd be infringing on your patent and could be sued. That example has NOTHING to do with you protecting your work from companies with which you do business.

Sounds like you're looking for the goverment to protect you from your own poorly-written contracts.

Re:It's all in the perspective (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393587)

If you spent those months of research on this thing in the pay of a client, then you have been paid for it already, in the wages they paid you. If you want to keep something algorithmic proprietary, make it s Trade Secret. Otherwise, it's like addition - a simple mathematical fact in the Universe, and unpatentable.

Re:It's all in the perspective (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393629)

But if I come up with an algorithm identicle to yours and have no knowledge of you or your patent, why should you have any more rights than me? We both spent the same amount of time to find a solution to our problems. Nobody has invented anything here, we just solved a problem because that's what engineers do!

Now suppose everybody starts patenting, time it takes you to find a new algorithm becomes prohibitive and you need to cross-license 50% of your algorithms. Now hows your business model looking when paying for algs that are OBVIOUS to anybody who looks hard enough?

I hereby patent... (0, Redundant)

GillBates0 (664202) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393401)

The office says on its Web site that its role is "to grant patents," but surely its role should be to distinguish between innovations that are worth patenting and those that are not.

I hereby patent the idea of granting patents and distinguising between innovations that are worth patenting and those that are not.

I'm torn (4, Insightful)

tbase (666607) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393434)

This is such a tough issue for me. On the one hand, this post makes a very valid point - businesses with new methods have thrived without the help of patents. But these days, there are so many more businesses where the business model essentially is the product, so why not have some sort of protection? Look at NetFlix. Nobody (including them) could make a go of online rentals, until they came up with a new method. Now if they have no protection, they can be wiped out in a matter of months by a corporate behemoth that has the resources to basically take their business out from under them once they're sure it will work.

Before you slam me for defending business model patents, understand that I'm just voicing the other side of the coin - and I don't mean that big companies should be protected - this can protect the little guy that can only become big with at least some temporary protection. I agree that there are massive abuses in all areas of patent law, but I don't think wiping out certain types or all of them is the answer. While big corporations may have perverted the patent system into being its bitch, if it's obliterated completely, then only the largest companies with the most resources will profit from innovation, and when that happens, there will be far fewer innovators.

Re:I'm torn (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393620)

It's a fact of business, that the small guy can almost always be outgunned by the big guy. Look at Dell and the local computer shops - who can get better prices on the new stuff? the one who makes millions of sales, not the one who makes dozens. I find it difficult to justify business method patents on your argument.

Besides, who will have more BM patents? The little guy, who cannot afford many of the $5K fees, or the corporate behemoth, who can patent nearly everything they do without blinking?

Persuasively? (3, Insightful)

dpille (547949) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393442)

Makes the argument persuasively.

I'm not so sure there's anything persuasive in the article. All it really asks you to do is agree that patentability of fast food is ludicrous.

You can make a short persuasive analysis and reach the same conclusion, just by hitting those same sort of historic ideals: a patent system was created to 'promote the useful arts' with (among others) limited monopoly justified by getting ideas clearly into the public domain sooner and allowing for further innovation. The first steam engines were patented, from there you get internal combustion.

A patent for selling auction items at a fixed price, or many of the business method patents we see, however, are dead ends. (Oooh, I know, I'll sell fixed price items at a fixed price!!) By failing to promote further steps on a technological ladder, business method patents don't give back to the public what the patent system was created to do.

Maybe this is way [they weren't patented before] (4, Insightful)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393446)

The mail-order catalogue, the moving assembly line, the decentralized corporation, the frequent-flier mile, the category-killer store--none of these radical ideas were patented.

Perhaps in the beginning such radical ideas weren't even considered for patenting because they were so radical who ever thought they'd work out so well.

And afterwards it was too late.

Most people trying to make a radical idea work are usually too busy to think about patents.

Constituency problem (1)

ccmann (118714) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393456)

In a way, the litigation mentioned in the article is a good thing. A big problem for patent reform is that there is a small group of highly motivated people who benefit from these overbroad patents and a much larger but much more diffuse group of people who are hurt by them. The former exert continual pressure on the system and the latter don't pay much attention -- you see this in firearms politics, where for better or worse a large majority of the country thinks more legislation is needed but the majority will is thwarted (again for better or worse) by a relatively small group of dedicated opponents. (I am ignoring the constitutional arguments here, of course.) The best way to get some money and motivation behind reform is for these patents to start burning enough business interests to create the same kind of interest in this issue on the other side. If eBay, Viacom, Amazon and the like start getting hurt, maybe we'll see some action.

Excuse Me, But Prior Art (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393502)

the frequent-flier mile

Wouldn't this have been subject to prior art considerations from S&H Green Stamps. A bonus system for customer loyality rewarding the customer with valuable and/or useful items.

Fast Food ... (4, Interesting)

Tranvisor (250175) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393524)

For all you people who think that McD's came up with everything, remember that the first fast food place to come up with the drive-thru window was Wendy's. May seem obvious now, but back then it was huge that you could get your food in less then 10 minutes.

Who knows how long we wouldn't have the drive-thru had McD's stifled all the Wendy's and Burger Kings out there from making their own innovations.

Re:Fast Food ... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393602)

May seem obvious now, but back then it was huge that you could get your food in less then 10 minutes.

Thankfully I can now get my 1400 calorie cheeseburgers without even taking the effort to haul my fat ass out of the car these days. Woohoo! Way to go Wendys. I'll take a biggie size triple cheeseburger and fries please!

Patenting ideas as business methods (4, Insightful)

Alomex (148003) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393526)

The biggest problem is that business patents essentially open up patenting ideas, which you are not supposed to be able to. Over a hundred years ago, you actually needed to build one of your gadgets and bring it to the patent office to be able to patent it. This became unpractical and the USPTO allowed diagrams instead. But now I can walk up to the patent office and patent the idea of using computers for selling sex services over the internet and it would get a green light as a 'business method' patent.

In reality the hard part of selling sex over the net is coming up with the actual mechanical interface (ick!). That is what is worthy of patent protection.

Ditto for one-click purchase. This is trivial. What is not trivial is coming and should be patentable is a specific method for tracking state using a cookie with enough security features to make it fool proof.

Ridiculous (1)

geekmetal (682313) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393527)

Those were the days. Now the first thing someone with a good notion does is press the government to protect it. Priceline patented its reverse-auction method for selling cut-rate airline tickets. I.B.M. patented a method for keeping track of people waiting in line for the bathroom. Last month, Netflix, a company that runs an online DVD-rental subscription service, got a patent covering, among other things, the way its customers request titles and the way it sends out DVDs. And eBay is now in court appealing a verdict that it infringed on a Virginia man's patent. The crime? Selling auctioned items at a fixed price. What gall.

A few years back a company in the US tried to patent the medical use of turmeric, which is prevalent in India.
The mind is boggled by the complication brought in by the patents on simple and prevelant ideas, is it not possible that two people can think of a simple idea at the same time and it certainly is preposterous to claim an existing an idea. The patenting process surely should be limited to ideas and products which have been through a considerable research process, just a thought.

then... VOTE (2, Insightful)

*weasel (174362) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393570)

call your representatives, amass a constituency who is educated on the issue and bring it up. VOTE out people who aren't responsive and VOTE in people who are.

heck, run for office and get the thing on the agenda.

you can't complain about litigation if you don't get involved in the process.

odds are a staggering percentage of people who read /. don't even vote. i mean, what's great vote turnout anymore? 40%?

(those who participate are exempted from my rant).

Re:then... VOTE (3, Interesting)

CrackHappy (625183) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393605)

You have a good point. If you don't like the system, find a way to change it. That takes active participation. Bitching about the political system in an online forum does NOTHING to change it. Getting off your lazy ass and getting down to the voting booth, or working for a political party takes guts, but it gets YOUR agenda taken into account.

Regardless of what I think of the people running for office, I STILL VOTE, even if it's for NONE OF THE ABOVE.

No Easy Answers (3, Interesting)

rward (48255) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393628)

Congress is where the change has to come from because our court system normally avoids deciding cases based on broad public policy concerns where narrower issues can decide matters. Also, the Court of Appeals defers to their precendents and is rarely inclined to overturn them.

Unfortunately, the patent system is based more on who gets there first with an application for an idea rather than who invents first - although that still is an important factor. As a result, while a method idea may be applicable in many different areas, i.e. algorithms can be used to model financial transactions as well as used in code, he who files first wins. And applications are filed with claims designed to provide as broad protection as possible.

Patent applications are published after 18 months from the filing date or on the date they are granted, whichever comes first. With a publication before the grant, a party can file an interference with the PTO but they have to KNOW about the filing. Most small concerns do not have time or the money to do this.

Furthermore, with the way that Congress has extended the terms for copyrights in the last 10 or 15 years something tells me that enacting such legislation would be an uphill fight.

Alas, if you have what you believe is a novel method or process, write it down, date it, have it notarized, and protect it as soon as you can.

The End of File Sharing (4, Insightful)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393651)

And if someone had managed to patent connecting two computers together over the internet to exchange data, would that have been considered a good idea?

Or how about the idea of digitally compressing music using a computer program to result in much smaller file sizes with minimal loss of quality, and then refused to license the patent for use. (Note: Macrovision has done something similiar when they patented all the ways they could think of to beat their system, and refuse to permit their use.)

I believe no one should be allowed to patent something in order to prevent its use. Compulsary licensing under fair terms should be enforced, or we all will be worse -- not better -- off from this system intended to foster inovation.

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