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EFF, PubPat Each Seeking Some Patent Sanity

timothy posted more than 10 years ago | from the needs-more-shooters dept.

Patents 201

AbstracTus writes "According to Wired, The Electronic Frontier Foundation is trying to get the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to re-examine 10 patents that were selected from public submissions. We slashdotters often curse patents that should have been rejected, but are not. Do you think that the EFF can have any influence on the U.S. Patent Office? Are there other actions that are more likely to work?" And sharkb8 writes "The Public Patent Foundation is searching for people with experience in all technical fields to help examine patents. This is the perfect chance for attorneys, law students, and geeks in general to do some pro bono work. PubPat is the group that recently challenged one of Microsoft's FAT patents."

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Influencing the PTO (5, Insightful)

amliebsch (724858) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570416)

Do you think that the EFF can have any influence on the U.S. Patent Office?

The best way to influence the PTO is probably through Congress.

Re:Influencing the PTO (3, Insightful)

mirko (198274) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570437)

Exactly : the EFF can only be heard as a benevolent counseilor, not as something more legitimate... at this moment...

Re:Influencing the PTO (5, Funny)

Tuffsnake (767507) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570491)

And the best way to influence congress is through "donations"

Re:Influencing the PTO (1)

double-oh three (688874) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570660)

Sadly, this is more insightful than funny. This government seems to run off of "donations" instead of "logic".

Re:Influencing the PTO (2, Funny)

Alsee (515537) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570884)

This government seems to run off of "donations" instead of "logic".

Hmmm, well there's so keen on it there must be something to it. Maybe we should try out the same system with computers? Redesign a CPU to scrap all the logic circuits and replace them with donation circuits. Just imagine the power of donation circuits processing cache at gigahertz speeds! Of course you'd want to pair up such a CPU with DDR(Double Donation Rate) RAM.

And then stick in a Trusted Computing chip and watch as the entire universe annihilates in a quantum paradox collapse.

-

Re:Influencing the PTO (1)

chmod000 (123913) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570679)

Or, as Ronald Reagan observed, they'll never see the light, but they can feel the heat. (paraphrased)

Re:Influencing the PTO (4, Insightful)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570768)

Showing up to vote, especially in an organized fashion, can be more effective than campaign contributions.

Candidates want money so they can spend it on TV ads which they hope will create votes. Given a hypothetical choice, politicians would rather have votes than money.

Look at the most effective pressure groups in this country. What they have in common is large memberships full of people who log off from their computer and vote.

Re:Influencing the PTO (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9570582)

The best way to influence the PTO is probably through Congress.

Most congress-critters are lawyers, have
friends who are lawyers, and/or are indebted
to lawyers.

Who profits the most from silly patents?
Lawyers.

What makes you think they are ever going to
do anything to change that situation?

Re:Influencing the PTO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9571137)

Who profits the most from silly patents?
Lawyers.

Actually, businesspeople profit the most from silly patents. Where do you think licensing fees go -- straight to the lawyers? Certainly not.

Re:Influencing the PTO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9571248)

> Where do you think licensing fees go -- straight to the lawyers?

No, of course not. But who pays the lawyers? Maybe, just maybe, people with licensing fees for silly patents.

Look at it this way. I recently hooked up with an old friend from 20-odd years ago. For the past few years, he's been doing what could best be described as a 'talent agent' collecting roughly 10% off whatever the 'talent' makes. Is each individual amount much? Nope. But, after 10 suck^H^H^H^Hclients, he's pulling down a good salary.

The golden rule (5, Insightful)

arth1 (260657) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570635)

The best way to influence the PTO is probably through Congress.


Pro is to Con like Progress is to Congress.
Unless you're a CEO of a large corporation or otherwise are a Man Of Means, there's no chance in hell to influence congress. And not only do you have to influence congress, but you have to influence a majority, and influence it *more* than your opponents. Which are the big companies holding the patents.
Yes, we have the best government money can buy.

Regards,
--
*Art

Re:The golden rule (1)

slashjames (789070) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571232)

I thought the golden rule was "He who has the gold makes the rules." Oh, wait. That's what we have here already...

Re:Influencing the PTO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9571065)

Maybe this is a question for Groklaw, but why is software patentable at all? For example, several compression algorithms are patented. Aren't they just that though, algorithms? I didn't think equations were patentable. I can understand an implementation being copyrighted, but the algorithm itself should be 'free' shouldn't it?

Next they'll get proteins! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9570431)

Just like Microsoft to patent an essential component to life...

Good (5, Insightful)

BigDork1001 (683341) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570433)

It's good to know that there are people out there trying to do away with some of the really stupid patents. But what really needs to be done is there needs to be change at the patent office. If these stupid patents aren't allowed to be created in the first place then groups like the EFF wouldn't have to fight to get them overturned later.

Patent squatting should be illegal (5, Insightful)

Morgaine (4316) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570933)

If these stupid patents aren't allowed to be created in the first place then groups like the EFF wouldn't have to fight to get them overturned later.

It's not just stupid patents that are bad though. Patent squatting (just sitting on patents) should be 100% illegal, as it just impedes the use of certain ideas by making them more costly than others.

Patents were intended as a means of helping inventors get novel products to market by creating a brief and artificial "honeymoon" period. Patent squatting is a complete corruption of that idea.

If you are not bringing product to market, you have no moral right to sit on an idea in the hope that someone else will do the hard work of developing a raw concept into a working reality. Companies with teams of lawyers that merely patent squat and actually create nothing are simply scum.

Patents should expire by default within 3 years unless you confirm in writing to the patent office that you are actively working on something that uses the patented idea as a central component or feature. And *all* patents should expire within 10 years, regardless, because skewing the market this way should only be a temporary condition.

Increasing the cost of ideas is not in the interest of humanity at all.

Re:Patent squatting should be illegal (2, Insightful)

dasmegabyte (267018) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571223)

This is ridiculous. Many, many incredibly useful new processes and products have been created by research houses whose entire livelihood is based on discovering new ways of doing things and then licensing them to others in the industry. This practice allows companies that might not otherwise be able to have the latest manufacturing technique to benefit without having to dump millions into research.

Not every inventor wants to be a marketer, too. Some want to sell their ideas and start work on the next thing. These inventors would be severely penalized under your scheme -- because their products would be worth less. Even twenty years is not that long to wait for some technologies...and if a business is faced with paying for a product or simply waiting three years for a patent to expire (knowing full well the inventor won't have the ability to market his own products), they're gonna wait.

Patents should be examined... (2, Insightful)

mrwiggly (34597) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570441)

By technical experts prior to be granted!

Re:Patents should be examined... (4, Funny)

tanguyr (468371) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570459)

Nonsense, next you'll claim that slashdotters should read artcicles before posting comments on them.

Re:Patents should be examined... (1)

Alsee (515537) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571000)

Even worse, he could claim slashdotters should read articles before submitting them.
Or that slashdot editors should read articles before posting them.

-

Re:Patents should be examined... (1)

bbrazil (729534) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570546)

Not a good idea. If the expert was doing research in the same field they would reject the patent so that they could get one themselves.

Also the Programmer from Mars would cause problems - something inovative seems obvious after it is discovered.

Re:Patents should be examined... (1)

Blindman (36862) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570857)

As I understand patent law, no one would be able to patent it, since it would be "known or used by others" before the invention by the applicant.

Re:Patents should be examined... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9571177)

That's right. As we all know, previously "known or used by others" ideas certainly havn't been granted patents in the past.

Re:Patents should be examined... (2, Funny)

scovetta (632629) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570634)

In other news.. PUBPAT received 414,600 applications for technical experts. PUBPAT is now soliciting technical expert application reviewers (pro bono).

Re:Patents should be examined... (4, Insightful)

Halo1 (136547) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571077)

Requiring experts to judge applications cannot prevent trivial patents from being granted. The problem is with patent law itself. It states that inventions must "not be obvious to a person versed in the arts". If one takes those words literally, then this is a very low threshold: after all, the "person versed in the arts" does not mean anything -of course the reference point is not a layman-, and "obvious" also does really mean obvious!

The following reasoning is also heard from time to time: if an invention is new (another requirement for patentability), this means it is consequently not "obvious", since otherwise it would have been invented already! Patent law is only a hair away from allowing one to say that it very clearly and literally allows trivial patents!

As the Deputy Director of the UK Patent Office once said:

I cannot speak for lawyers, but I can assure you that many Patent Examiners are programmers themselves. In my group, all the Patent Examiners who deal with software applications either write computer programs in their spare time or have been employed as programmers before they became patent examiners. They usually have a pretty good idea whether something would have been easy or time consuming for a programmer. However, they might express the communication problem the other way around -
it's very difficult to persuade programmers that just because an invention is "easy", does not make it any less patentable.

And the fact that until now few people complained about this in the field, and that those trivial patents cause a lot more problems in the software field than in other fields (and that there seem to be even more trivial patents in the software field than in other fields), once more shows that software indeed is different. Patent law is simply completely and utterly unfit to judge advances in pure logic with.

My application (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9570444)

The Public Patent Foundation is searching for people with experience in all technical fields to help examine patents.

As a prominent member of the computing community, I feel that I would be an excellent candidate for "patent examiner". My experience with operating systems, particularly, makes me an excellent choice for verifying technical details. Furthermore, I have a broad knowlege of existing patents, and will be able to discover so-called "prior art" easily. Please consider my application.

Sincerely,
Darl McBride

Re:My application (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9570465)

You know this won't get you hired. You must say in your cover letter that you have a big "YES" rubber stamp.

Finally... (5, Interesting)

Dozix007 (690662) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570445)

There is definetly a large need to stop the excessive Patents. Microsoft will go as far as to start Patenting Open Source code if no one else has. I have to say the Patent Busting Competition is one of my favorites. I am running a fight semi-assoicated with the EFF at http://www.uberhacker.com, we are trying to stop the CyberCrime treaty which may shutdown sites like Zone-H or Security-Focus

Clickable Link (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9570470)

www.uberhacker.com [uberhacker.com]

Re:Finally... (2, Informative)

mqx (792882) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570952)

"There is definetly a large need to stop the excessive Patents."

In fact, I have been wondering recently whether anti-trust can be used here. In the EU, at least, the competition authorities are pretty good at pursuing activities that are detrimental to competition, and I'm waiting for someone to make the argument that this blue-chip process of mass-patent-filing and mass-cross-licensing is tantamount to a cartel ("the tragedy of the anti-commons") that excludeds others from effectively using patents.

It seems to me that a lot of these "dodgy" patents are the result of companies with too much budget aimed at patenting anything the engineers and the patent attorneys can think off. I used to read IEEE publications and think a lot of engineers with numerous awarded patents, but now being a bit older and wiser, I realise that if you work in a big blue-chip, the patent attorney's will help you pursue patents on anything and everything, even the most trivial patent that never returns its value.

But what the sum of all these patents do is give the blue-chip a huge arsenal it can use in the cross-licensing stakes with other blue-chips: and if they don't continue to build piles of patents, they'll miss out on the cross-licensing opportunities and be really shafted as legal teams from other blue-chips aim infringement canons for patents that may be trivial, but can chew up $millions in litigation time and expenses.

The classic ways are always the best... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9570449)

Do you think that the EFF can have any influence on the U.S. Patent Office? Are there other actions that are more likely to work?

You go get the torches and pitchforks, and I'll round up the angry villagers.

Perhaps some sanity at last? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9570452)

I'm hopeful, but I can imagine all kinds of scenarios, such as discreet placement of Microserfs on various committees, boards, etc., to ensure that ludicrous patents stay in place...

Re:Perhaps some sanity at last? (1)

Schwartzboy (653985) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570715)

My first reaction was to make some kind of crack about you wearing a tinfoil hat, but then I thought about it for a second and asked myself: "How do you think some of these patents were granted in the first place?"

I'll just be in the corner, trying to position myself away from the mind-control rays, thank you very much.

I thought this was a dupe (2, Informative)

GillBates0 (664202) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570453)

but it looks more like a followup to this earlier story [slashdot.org] .

Re:I thought this was a dupe (1)

Alsee (515537) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570911)

Followup and dupe are synonyms around here.

-

Hmm (5, Informative)

Erwos (553607) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570455)

The problems with the US patent office are two-fold:
1. Patent examiners are EXTREMELY over-worked. My future brother-in-law is a patent examiner, and he's often told me of a draconian quota system that rewards being quick and sloppy.
2. The US government is pro-business (as it should be, IMHO). However, this translates into the default standing order at the USPTO being "accept", and not "reject" (whereas most /.'ers want to see "reject" as the default position).

The USPTO recently underwent some changes (new computer system, IIRC) that should allow patent examiners to be a little bit more effective in the future. But it's obvious to me the USPTO has problems - and they are management issues, not really idiot patent examiners.

-Erwos

Re:Hmm (3, Interesting)

EvilTwinSkippy (112490) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570542)

Management seems to be the problem everywhere. I seem stupid management decisions in Volunteer organizations. I see equally stupid decisions in Fortune 500 companies. The problem is that those in charge seek to have as little interaction with the folks who actually get things done, and/or the product to be manufactured as possible.

Heck, look at Nortel. They just announced that they are selling off their factories to focus on research. Not that they weren't making money. They weren't making enough money.

Can someone please explain this to me. If you are making a profit, you are making a profit. Money in hand. Mula. Black ink. Why a company can't simultaneously produce goods and research new ones is beyond me. Of course there are other companies that try to make everything from razor blades to condom testing equipment to cruise missile navigation systems. That seems like more of a stretch.

Re:Hmm (2, Insightful)

gr8fulnded (254977) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570741)

I'm scaling it down significantly here... but if your factory employs 100 people and makes a profit of $500 a year, but by closing it down and sending those 100 to a R&D lab they can discover new things they can make more money with the same amount of people.

Overly simplified, but its a matter of reallocating your resources more efficiently.

Re:Hmm (2, Insightful)

EvilTwinSkippy (112490) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570850)

Um, 100 line workers have a different skillset than 100 R&D engineers. And different salary requirements. I'd say the line workers are a bit cheaper than engineers. That's like hiring bus drivers to design a new bus. (Unless your town happens to employ mechanical engineers to operate busses.)

Not over-simplified. Business managers do the same thing every day.

Oh, and all your cost savings from laying off the factory workers is going to be more or less eaten by paying for their unemployment, and then paying for their replacements to be trained when you go to ramp up for production again.

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9571054)

I'd say the line workers are a bit cheaper than engineers.

Have y'ever heard of a union, son?

Re:Hmm (2, Insightful)

Smidge204 (605297) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571245)

I think what the parent was getting at is more along these lines:

You can have 100 factory workers producing products that net you $500 profit.

or

You can have 100 researchers developing prodicts that net you $1000.

His question is: Why can't you have 100 factory workers and 100 researchers make a profit of $1500? Is it really less expensive/more attractive to destroy and rebuild an otherwise perfectly good infastructure and workforce than it is to add to it?
=Smidge=

Re:Hmm (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9570814)

Can someone please explain this to me. If you are making a profit, you are making a profit. Money in hand. Mula. Black ink. Why a company can't simultaneously produce goods and research new ones is beyond me. Of course there are other companies that try to make everything from razor blades to condom testing equipment to cruise missile navigation systems. That seems like more of a stretch.

OK, it's a simple concept called profit margin. If it cost you $5,000,000,000 to make $1 of profit, then that investment is not generating a good return. You would almost certainly get out of what you're doing and focus your $5,000,000,001 in a market that will grow your business a little faster.

This is especially true of publicly traded companies that are issuing stock or stock options. Since each stock issue dilutes the value of the existing stock, you have to grow the business fast enough to offset the resulting decline in the stock's value.

Re:Hmm (1)

MattC413 (248620) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570896)

Of course there are other companies that try to make everything from razor blades to condom testing equipment to cruise missile navigation systems.


Combine the condoms with the cruise missile navigation systems.. EUREEKA! :)

And thus, a new and useful product has been born. (Just be sure the razor blades don't make it into the mix. *wince*)

Re:Hmm (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571055)

A company is accountable to its owners (shareholders) to maximise its profit.

This is fine until "profit" comes to mean just "short term profit".

Re:Hmm (1)

swb (14022) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571097)

Can someone please explain this to me. If you are making a profit, you are making a profit. Money in hand. Mula. Black ink. Why a company can't simultaneously produce goods and research new ones is beyond me.

In electronics, it's all about contract manufacturing. Owning your own factory only makes sense if you're the only one who can make your product (like an Intel chip fab) or you're the only one you want making your product. In the case of Nortel, their products may have been unique enough that there was some incentive to do it themselves, or at least inertia remaining from days gone by.

But they realize that the future of telephony is VoIP and that those components will be commodity -- with Nortel supplying chip designs and software at the most.

Where it gets scary is when the company becomes just a name, and EVERYTHING is contracted out -- you have a marketing and sales arm and that's it -- the product, the design, the manufacturing are all done outside.

Sue the PTO (1)

Zeroth_darkos (311840) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570550)

If your business suffers because of an invalid patent that your competitor holds then why not sue the PTO? That should make them change their default policy from accept to decline.

Re:Sue the PTO (2, Informative)

danheskett (178529) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570603)

Because you can't sue the government without their permission.

Re:Sue the PTO (1)

Zeroth_darkos (311840) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571152)

Well just trying might make people understand that bad patents actully hinders business. Only reasonable patents are good for the economy.
The companies that are being abused by stupid patents SHOULD make a fuzz about it.

Re:Hmm (5, Insightful)

mqx (792882) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570562)

"2. The US government is pro-business (as it should be, IMHO). However, this translates into the default standing order at the USPTO being "accept", and not "reject" (whereas most /.'ers want to see "reject" as the default position)."

FYI

Giving the benefit of the doubt to the inventor is not "pro-business", it's because (and the same principle is followed in the EPO, and probably elsewhere) when the examiner can't tell one way or another, it should lean towards granting the patent: and if the patent is dodgy, then it will be resolved later.

The real problem is just that: in the EPO and elsewhere, there is a decent opposition system, where anyone can file and participate in opposing the patent. In the USPTO, the "re-examination" procedure is very limited and very poor.

I mean, just think of the scientist that comes up with an amazingly new novel way of doing something, but the examiner (who, you have to admit, could never be as on top of the field as a star scientist) isn't "quite" sure: denying the patent would be outrageous. By definition, inventions are novel and non-obvious: and that means "they go where no man has gone before", thus it's not surprising that figuring them out can sometimes be a problem.

Re:Hmm (4, Interesting)

mopslik (688435) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570666)

Giving the benefit of the doubt to the inventor is not "pro-business"

But the majority of patents filed are not coming from independent inventors. They're coming from businesses either to try and take claim of some recent "innovation" (double-clicking or pushing a button) or as defensive patents. Patent fees prevent a significant number of indie inventors from getting patents, and they often go through businesses for funding, giving them a controlling force in the patent. Even where I work, a patent might be associated with my name, but it's very clear that the company would like to assume ownership of it.

By definition, inventions are novel and non-obvious

If that's true, then I'd say that the majority of patents today are not for "inventions", then. And that's just wrong.

Re:Hmm (1)

mqx (792882) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570840)

"But the majority of patents filed are not coming from independent inventors. They're coming from businesses either to try and take claim of some recent "innovation" (double-clicking or pushing a button) or as defensive patents."

We're talking about two separate problems here though. The problem of "giving the inventor the benefit of the doubt" is separate to the problem of "not effectively considering the patent against the state of the art".

We should never change the former, because it goes against the concept of the patent system, yet we should urgently fix the latter, because the lack of proper time/effort in assessing the patent is what is causing examiners to lean towards the former.

Getting rid of the former would be like changing the system from presumption of innocence to presumption of guilt. The problem with the latter is analogous to cops running around and stuffing people into shackles and prison cells without due cause ("shoot first, ask questions later"). The patent system is just as broken on the latter as is the law enforcement system wrt. ineffective anti-terrorism laws.

Re:Hmm (2, Insightful)

Halo1 (136547) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571187)

We're talking about two separate problems here though. The problem of "giving the inventor the benefit of the doubt" is separate to the problem of "not effectively considering the patent against the state of the art".

...

Getting rid of the former would be like changing the system from presumption of innocence to presumption of guilt. The problem with the latter is analogous to cops running around and stuffing people into shackles and prison cells without due cause ("shoot first, ask questions later").

The problem with your analogy is that granting patents is the same as giving out heavy weaponry (one patent can destroy the entire business of someone else). You have to decide whether always granting a patent when in doubt in general has better consequences than when denying it.

I can't say I find denying someone who has a (legal) right to a patent worse than giving one to someone who doesn't have the right. In the former case, one person's business/investment is hurt (with a small chance that he won't be able to do other research thus hurting society/innovation as a whole, but how many "lone-inventor-turned-super-innovating-company-tha nks-to-patents" stories do you know?). In the latter case, all other businesses and society as a whole are hurt. Keep in mind that there is no moral right to a monopoly on an invention.

Unlike copyright, patent law is a purely economical law, so unless you have proof that more patents = better economy under all circumstances, denying patents in case of doubt does not necessarily go against the concept of the patent system.

Re:Hmm (1)

Sepper (524857) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571166)

They're coming from businesses either to try and take claim of some recent "innovation" (double-clicking or pushing a button) or as defensive patents

True. And it's not something new. Want an exemple? Search for: 'company 10000 patents IBM'...

Someimes I think the world would be better without Lawyers...

Re:Hmm (1)

dave1791 (315728) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570791)

I would agree on principle, but I have reservations. I have seen too many patents worded in such a dodgy way that they could later come back and say "We own everything". They never really say HOW they would do whatever it is that they are patenting (or they say, "how, but not limited to"), just that it could be done. This kind of a "it could be done" patent should be turned down by default. They are the source of a lot of frivolous IP squatter lawsuits.

Re:Hmm (4, Insightful)

swb (14022) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570594)

2. The US government is pro-business (as it should be, IMHO).

No, it should be pro-*citizen*, not pro-business. USPTO being pro-business is the reason we're in the situation we're in. Patents and the patentability of ideas should reflect the good of the citizenry, not the business merits of the idea in question.

Re:Hmm (1)

eraserewind (446891) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570662)

2. The US government is pro-business (as it should be, IMHO).
I agree that they are, but it's not as it should be. They should be working to ensure a competitive market, not making things easy for corporate giants to establish monopolies, and directing business towards their personal favourites.

Re:Hmm (2, Funny)

Scratch-O-Matic (245992) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570706)

The USPTO recently underwent some changes (new computer system, IIRC)

Oh, you mean they have access to Google now? That should help.

Money can't buy happiness... (4, Interesting)

EvilTwinSkippy (112490) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570458)

But it can buy the process.

Face it, patents are screwy because certain large companies profit from that screwyness. It creates a world in which only the big dogs can play, because only the big dogs have the legal teams to field.

Reform Tort law. The patent system will fix itself.

Re:Money can't buy happiness... (1)

deathguppie (768263) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570691)

I do not see how stripping people of thier right to sue for damages will affect the USPTO. Scince that is the only way many individuals can even afford a lawyer.

Re:Money can't buy happiness... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9570816)

Did you know in england, lawyers are employees of the government and salaried? None of this suing for billions of dollars because the lawyer said to, so the lawyer can have 50%.

Re:Money can't buy happiness... (3, Interesting)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570908)

Don't assume that large companies are happy with the system. They lose money to anklebiting "intellectual property" shell companies all the time.

I had lunch recently with some corporate patent attorneys. They do not like the current system. They complain about the same problems as Slashdotters, plus a few more.

Their objections:
o USPTO issues patents too freely
o Once issued, courts assume patents are valid and it's too hard to convince them otherwise
o Awards in patent cases don't correspond to real economic damages
o Patents last much longer than the useful lifetime of computer technology.
o The system was designed to work with mechanical inventions.
o The court system puts decisions in the hands of people who lack the background to understand the issues, as opposed to the "person skilled in the art".
o Everything builds on what came before and patents jam up that process.
o Patents today can deter innovation because nobody can be sure whether a random jury will think their work infringes. The attorneys knew of a field where work has ground to a halt because of one litigious company.

Re:Money can't buy happiness... (1)

benhocking (724439) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570934)

patents are screwy because certain large companies profit from that screwyness

Hanlon's Razor:

"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."

Or, as in the case of the patent office, a lack of resources. (I am in no way claiming that the patent processors themselves are stupid, just the process. After all, a very prominent physicist was working in the Swiss patent office as a technical assistant while working on a somewhat significant theory of his.)

I'm a Bush Republican! (A poem) (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9570463)

I'm a Bush Republican
I got a small schling
I like to bomb niggahs
and make a lot o' bling

I got a bunch o' friends
in high up places
They helps me get dem
government graces.

You think I'm smart
I just know who's who
I couldn't run a fruit stand
without the red white & blue

I fancy myself
A brilliant tactician
But neither me nor m'buddies
Could even pass basic trainin'

See, I'm above all that
A fightin' and shootin'
I just say "Sic em!"
Then run the other direction

Don't need no history
Don't need no schoolin'
I got my ideology
To keep me a shootin'

If I get caught screwin'
Or tellin' wicked lies
"Hypocrisy!" I holler
And that justifies the crimes

Liberals! Faggots!
Commies and queers!
Socialist hippies
Full o' pussy tears!

I'll drop some crap
about Jesus the Christ
You'll buy it all
and vote for me twice

'Fact, Jesus is comin'!
Real soon, now!
So we gotta prop up Israel
That ol' sacred cow

Propaganda's m'friend
But I calls it "fact"
Even though I don't read
'Cept for Chick tracts

Facts? No! Don't need em here!
We're conservatives! We work on FEAR!
Don't like what we say?
Well FUCK YOU, bud!
We'll shove it down yer throat
and tell ya it's good!

Re:I'm a Bush Republican! (A poem) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9571064)

Completely flamebait and out topic...
But oh boy! So true...

Patents Profiting (1, Interesting)

JosKarith (757063) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570467)

The new millenium's fastest growing profit machine -
1) buy small company that has a few loosely worded patents
2) begin campaign of lawsuits and harrasment against legitimate businesses that didn't think they needed to patent a process used by everybody
3) Profit!!!

you can't tell which side of the argument I'm on can you..?

Re:Patents Profiting (1)

dave1791 (315728) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570829)

New business model:

1) Start a small company and cook up loosely worded patents.
2) Get bought out.
2) Profit!

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Re:Patents Profiting (1)

Blindman (36862) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570912)

New Business Model:

1) Come up with new plausible business model.
2) Hold conferences where you teach business model.
3) Profit!

Don't Forget About... (4, Insightful)

Nuclear Elephant (700938) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570484)

Don't forget to add Microsoft's Double Click Patent and Mcafee's patent on Bayesian spam Filtering (filed months after Paul Graham's paper was published). I'm not quite fond of AOL's patent on "evil points" either.

Re:Don't Forget About... (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570793)

Don't forget to add Microsoft's Double Click Patent and Mcafee's patent on Bayesian spam Filtering (filed months after Paul Graham's paper was published). I'm not quite fond of AOL's patent on "evil points" either.


Or Symantec's patent on "heuristic virus scanning", filed years after PD/SW software did the same thing.
The trick is that you don't have to mention non-commercial and/or non-US prior art.

Regards,
--
*Art

Evil points? (1)

Zeroth_darkos (311840) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571096)

What patent is that?

Re:Evil points? (1)

Nuclear Elephant (700938) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571146)

AOL's patent on instant messaging

Re:Don't Forget About... (1)

Alexis de Torquemada (785848) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571262)

I'm not quite fond of AOL's patent on "evil points" either.

You mean AOL hold a patent on the evil bit [rfc.net] ? But then it's no wonder that virus and worm epidemies are that rampant, no worm author will set the evil bit if he knows AOL might sue him for patent infringement!

Patent office needs to hire nerds (3, Funny)

cball2k (319068) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570494)

If they hired some nerds that have a CLUE(tm) this wouldn't be needed.

*by reading this you acknowledge all copyrights regarding the placements of letters and numbers in a manner to form meaningful structures for the intent of public communications*

Re:Patent office needs to hire nerds (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9570617)

CLUE(tm)

Hear that? That's the sound of Hasbro's [hasbro.com] lawyer's knocking.

lawyers 1, techies 0 (2, Insightful)

mqx (792882) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570504)


Great onefor the lawyers: they earn a lump in prosecuting the patents, then leave the s**t hanging around for the chump techies to do free patent busting work.

If this is going to happen, it should be based on an _actively_ votable (i.e. "polling booth") list of patents (or, at least, patent areas) corresponding to important open source projects, e.g. "patents relating to scheduling improvements in operating systems". I think these are more important than "1-cluck shapping".

More wool over your eyes (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9570551)

Seeking qualified patent examiners. Don't you think all the big corps will "donate" people with agendas, and the mess will continue?

I have the solution! (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9570579)

Patent the patent system then issue a cease and desist to the USPTO.

Headline: "Old Man Yells At Cloud" (2, Insightful)

mcmonkey (96054) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570583)

Do you think that the EFF can have any influence on the U.S. Patent Office?

No.

Look and feel... (5, Insightful)

mratitude (782540) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570608)

Patents for an idea makes sense, in part, when an inventor wanted to protect his or her ability to profit or control the result of their effort. Patents and intellectual property protections were designed to prevent people from using your idea or effort to their betterment at your expense. So far, so good. There's very little to argue with as nothing contained in the previous contains anything unreasonable.

Where the process has become abused is when the Patent Office began taking patent applications that didn't require a manifestation of some sort to "prove" your effort is unique or uniquely yours. There's nothing tangible in many of these contentious patents. They're just "ideas" and "descriptions". There's no "proof" or "gadget" that you can gin up to bolster what you're trying to protect. There's no math or engineering involved, such as programmatic effort or time in a machine shop.

That is where the demarcation should begin. When Xerox sued Apple and lost over the use of graphic icons on a 2D screen and similarly, when Apple sued Microsoft over "look and feel" and lost; That should have established the ground rules and in my opinion, neither Xerox nor Apple had a case. Instead, people have been testing the upper limits of what patents protections ever since based on nothing more than the motto, "You might get lucky.".

Re:Look and feel... (1)

Trurl's Machine (651488) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570972)

When Xerox sued Apple and lost over the use of graphic icons on a 2D screen and similarly, when Apple sued Microsoft over "look and feel" and lost; That should have established the ground rules and in my opinion, neither Xerox nor Apple had a case.

Quie contrary. The judge actually agreed with Apple claims, but also agreed that the contested UI elements were covered by the infamous 1985 licensing agreement between Apple and Microsoft (Apple allowed MS to use some of its innovations). It was a bit similar with Xerox vs Apple - Xerox allowed Apple to take a peek at what's brewing in PARC in exchange for some of its stock options. So actually the great 1980's trials did not prove that "look and feel" or even the general concept of UI is not covered by copyright laws. They rather prove how foolish great companies can be when they spot a "good deal" with a cunning player. To reiterate: both Apple and Xerox signed agreement "yes, you can steal our ideas" with their future competitors.

Re:Look and feel... (1)

mratitude (782540) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571211)

To be accurate there was an initial license agreement between Apple and Microsoft, much as there was between Xerox and Apple. However, what both suits got down to was "look and feel" and Apple (and Xerox) lost on that account as both courts had to contend with the contract issues. Neither was necessarily a "patent" fight from the start. The only slap that Microsoft received, for instance, was the one they should have recieved - Continued implementation and use of what they did receive from Apple via the agreement. Otherwise, Apple (and they probably got the idea from Xerox trying the same thing) continued to try to protect "look and feel" using nothing more than then their OS as "proof" in their claim. Neither court indicated they would entertain the idea of such broad based IP rights. Apples case against MS even went to SC review (and was denied if I recall).

Point of fact, Apple certainly copied "look and feel" from Windows later on and were free to do so.

Re:Look and feel... (2, Insightful)

kansas1051 (720008) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571116)

Where the process has become abused is when the Patent Office began taking patent applications that didn't require a manifestation of some sort to "prove" your effort is unique or uniquely yours

The USPTO has never required actual manifestations of inventions. The USPTO has always required "conception" and "reduction to practice", which is evidenced by a written description which is sufficient when it enables one "skilled in the art" to build / create the invention. Only in the rarest occasions (i.e. the Wright Brothers "flying machine") has the USPTO requested actual and physical manifestation of invention. The patent application itself, along with its specification and figures, is the "proof" the the inveniton is novel and non-obvious.

To require actual physical demonstration of inventions before the USPTO would ensure that only the richest and most powerful inventors (i.e. corporations) are able to receive patents, as only the rich and large would be able to afford the cost of sending attorneys (or other agents) for in-person arguments.

On a side note, IMHO all the problems continually articulated here on /. regarding patents can be solved by a better re-examination process. Currently, the fees for ex parte reexamination (where you pay the fee, and the USPTO reexamines someone else's patent) and inter parties reexamination (where you pay the fee and get to argue against the patent owner) are excessive, and thus are not used widely. If the fee for inter-parties examination was less, say a few hundred dollars, i would personally challenge many of the patents, as it would be cost effective. However, the fee is over $1,000 for inter parties reexam, and that doesnt include my time, which is why so many of these patents go unchallenged, and why so many companies simply pay royalties.

Re:Look and feel... (4, Insightful)

Alexis de Torquemada (785848) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571231)

Patents for an idea makes sense, in part, when an inventor wanted to protect his or her ability to profit or control the result of their effort. Patents and intellectual property protections were designed to prevent people from using your idea or effort to their betterment at your expense.

You're putting the cart before the horse. Patents and Copyright were not introduced in order to protect the business interests of inventors or authors, this was only the means. The ends were to encourage more innovation, as outlined in Section 8 sentence 8 of the US Constitution:

The Congress shall have power (...) 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;

These rights (patents, copyright, trademarks and trade secrets, which are only contractual) are now being gathered under the collective, misleading name of intellectual property [wikipedia.org] , in an effort to bypass the original justification of these rights, formerly referred to as exclusivity rights, in order to turn the means into the ends.

So first there were exclusivity rights, which were meant to serve the public, and whose benefits to the inventor/author (or rather, the patent or copyright owner) are merely incidental. Now justification and means are to be reversed. Intellectual property is meant to serve the rights holders, and benefits to society are merely incidental. More importantly, it does not even matter if society as a whole suffers from IP legislation. Logic patents and copyright are or are now intended to be perfect instruments of power for corporations. Large stashes of patents allow large software companies to lock out competition by smaller companies, and monopolize markets. Likewise, large music labels, which now are the copyright holders [recordinga...lition.com] to almost all songs they release, are successfully lobbying for ever more severe copyright laws in an effort to shut down alternative promotion channels like P2P and independent [powerpopradio.com] internet radio [kuro5hin.org] stations. The big labels are afraid that, while airwaves are scarce and can easily be controlled by payola [howstuffworks.com] , Internet traffic is basically unlimited in range. You cannot have 500 national radio stations since the frequency bands are limited, but you can easily operate 5000 Internet radio stations without any bandwidth collisions. Incidentally, while the RIAA claims to have suffered massive losses due to Internet "piracy", many independent labels have experienced benefits [csmonitor.com] from increased promotion of their music via P2P and other channels such as (the former) mp3.com and independent internet radio.

I see the intellectual property movement as part of a general neoliberal self-referential justification of capitalism, where the original goal of improving living conditions for the population is increasingly irrelevant. Today's capitalism is intended to be implemented for capitalism's sake, not because it would make lives of men better as compared to marketplace economies with a stronger balance between public and private property. The manipulations of the Californian power market, or the privatization of water supplies into monopolists' hands in South America are just two examples of many.

Did anyone here actually read the article? (4, Insightful)

kamelkev (114875) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570648)

None of the items on the "patent hit-list" is what I would consider a high-profile "stupid" patent. These are all patents that are out there being enforced on a daily basis and are causing problems with business

They make no mention of the plethora of inane patents that have been granted (double-click patent, spam filter patent, swinging sideways patent).

The approach they are taking seems less likely to cause a big stir, because they are going to be hard fought with little gains in patent approval procedures

It seems to me that the easier way to get things to change (for the better) would be to gather up a list of 100 patents and systematically prove that every single one of them was extremely foolish to grant. Embarass the USPTO in the media with obvious claims of prior art.

Basically what we are looking for here isn't a few patents to be overturned, which is what the EFF is trying to do (its a nice start, don't get me wrong), but rather we need a change to the system, and unfortunately it appears it can only be done through an act of congress or through repeated abuses of the USPTO in the court system...

Re:Did anyone here actually read the article? (3, Interesting)

malchus842 (741252) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570783)

Unfortunately, embarrassing a government employee almost always guarantees that you will get shafted somehow. There are just too many ways for them to "get even" with people who interfere in their little "kingdoms."

Congress has to change the law - they are the ultimate caretakes of Patent and Copyright law. And Congress is beholden to a few major copyright holders (Disney, anyone?) and major corporations who WANT the status quo. Think Microsoft is going to encourage Congress to change? Or any of the IP pseudo-companies?

The problem is that it's hard to get the electorate interested in this problem, and unless the masses start chasing Congress-critters with placards (or worse), things aren't going to change.

Re:Did anyone here actually read the article? (1)

dave1791 (315728) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570873)

"Unfortunately, embarrassing a government employee almost always guarantees that you will get shafted somehow. There are just too many ways for them to "get even" with people who interfere in their little "kingdoms."

Or it could cause that government agency to become the whipping boy of the week. Congressmen score brownie points by overseeing that agency. It happened to the IRS a few years ago. IIRC- they do fewer audits now.

Re:Did anyone here actually read the article? (4, Informative)

Sloppy (14984) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570796)

hey make no mention of the plethora of inane patents that have been granted (double-click patent, spam filter patent, swinging sideways patent).
One of the criteria for EFF's project is that they wanted patents that aren't just stupid or obvious, but also where the patent holder has actually been aggressive about threatening people, thereby really stifling innovation, rather than just passively allowing fear to spread.

As dumb as the swinging-sideways patent may be, it hasn't actually caused any real harm, other than to undermine the credibility of the patent office. If people on swings were getting C&D notices, then maybe it would have been more appropriate for inclusion in this project.

Very Simple (1)

Egekrusher2K (610429) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570683)

Just blow the whole patent office up. Problem solved. Seriously though, it is going to take some drastic measures to get any sort of change to go through. The U.S. Patent Office is full of technophobes and techno-idiots.

Re:Very Simple (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9570747)

The U.S. Patent Office is full of technophobes and techno-idiots. Listen to my crappy techno!

Fitting?

I wonder how they will get them rejected. (1)

eraserewind (446891) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570685)

Because ultimately if it's for prior art, all it means is that someone else should have patented it earlier. It would be far better to get them rejected for being trivial or obvious.

Re:I wonder how they will get them rejected. (1)

vidarh (309115) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570871)

"Should have" does not mean they can patent it any more. In most countries patents must either be filed for prior to making the invention public, or within a year of publication. Seeing as it usually takes well above a year to get a patent granted it is highly unlikely that any prior art identified to invalidate a patent would still be new enough to be valid basis for a patent application.

No reason not to patent (5, Informative)

Lars Clausen (1208) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570735)

Apart from the obvious reasons to patent things (others might get there first), there's no good reason not to. The fee to apply is very low, and there is no penalty for being denied or overturned. At the same time, the examiners (AFAIHH) get bonuses based on how many patents they pass. The way to go currently, especially if you're a big company, is to try patenting everything you can, you might not get all, but the drop-out doesn't hurt you.

One way to change this would be to institute some penalty for filing dodgy patents. Both for the examiner who passed it and for whoever got it. A fine at least and repayment of any license fees garnered on the patent. Covering of expenses for the challenger, perhaps? A system of extra checking of patents from companies/persons that have had patents overturned previously? Repeat offenders? Three strikes and you're out? The possibilities are endless, but frivolous patenting should be as serious an offense as infringing on a patent.

-Lars

Re:No reason not to patent (3, Insightful)

sharkb8 (723587) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571233)

There are good reasons for not patenting something. The tradeoff to patenting something is that you tell you have to tell the world how to make your invention, but Congress gives you the sole right to profit from your invention for 20 years from the time the patent application is filed.
On the other hand, you can keep something a trade secret. That means you can pofit from your invention for as long as you can keep other people from figuring out how to reproduce it. Trade secret law covers your employees selling the secrets, but your competitors may be able to legally reverse engineer your invention.
And you don't want to start fining poor patent examiners. These are usually recent grads with a tenuous grasp of the English language from crappy schools. Don't forget, they ARE government employees.
It's the process of getting patents granted that's the problem. Most patents get rejected the first time. However, an applicant can purchase an unlimited number of re-examinations, chagning the wording of the patent slightly every time. Patent examiners only get credit for examining a patent the first time, and when they finally close the patent. You bother them enough, and they'll eventually grant your patent, or part of it at least.
As for fining those with dodgy patents, if there's a real question of whether or not a patent is valid, it'll end up in court. And what happens when Microsoft starts threatening some Mom & Pop operation with having a patent overturned and massive fines? How easy would it be for Gates & Co. to say "We have thousands of lawyers, and if you try to stop us from infringing on your patent, we'll get your patent invalidated. If we do, you'll go bankrupt."

A patent proposal (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9570748)

Has anybody ever considered applying for a patent on the fact of granting a patent? ("Pat Ant+ is a revolutionnary technique aimed to grant an inventor a temporary advantage over bla bla bla...")

I remember some time ago, a anti-patent group of French guys applied (and were granted IIRC) a patent for... the reduction of work duration! (which was particularly funny since at that time the French government was in the process of reducing the legal duration of work -the so-called 35 hours - :-)

Weeding out 10 insane patents (5, Insightful)

Alexis de Torquemada (785848) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570754)

Wouldn't it be easier to actually find out what the 10 sane ones are?

tackling IP patents from a different angle (5, Interesting)

zogger (617870) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570771)

Frankly, I think granting non tangible IP patents is ridiculous. However, in the real world they aren't going to get rid of them entirely any time soon, not in the US anyway, and this MUST be admitted to I think to move forward in dealing with the problem. Taking them on a case by case by case basis in a retroactive review will be like herding cats. Theoretically possible, pretty dismal results in the real world and mostly a waste of time and resources.

I propose a different approach. Recognize the inherit difference between an intangible IP and a normal tangible product patent, and severely limit the patent exclusivity time limit with any that are IP. Make it a totally separate "class"of patent. Drop it down to two years, then that's it, in the public domain. Make it retroactive as well.

Here's a new idea... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9570795)

The way to beat patents... is to just ignore them and copy the idea anyway. If everybody ignores them, no-one will bother with them. Oh, wait, the OSS movement is already doing that with patents - and copyrights, and look-and-feel... etc. You can't sue a bunch of anonymous geeks who aren't making any money, now, can you?

Missed the key phrase (1)

beef curtains (792692) | more than 10 years ago | (#9570936)

I saw that PubPat was looking for technical experts to help evaluate potentially-bogus patents, and got all excited...I've been looking for a new job, and thought, "Hey hey, this would be sweet!" Then I saw that awful buzzkill of a phrase: "Pro Bono." BOOOOOOO! On a side note, I better file my ridiculously vague patent application quick, before any reforms go down. I'm thinking "Conversion of oxygen to carbon dioxide in order to fuel/maintain metabolic processes" or "The exchange of product or service for an amount of currency greater than the original cost of said product or service."

EFF's afraid of patent enforcement? (4, Interesting)

Scutter (18425) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571046)

So, after having read the article, it looked like the reason behind every one of those selections was because the owner of the patent chose to enforce it. There wasn't one word mentioned on why any of the patents themselves were a bad idea. For example:

1) "The EFF is worried that Acacia, which has already sued several large communications companies, is unfairly targeting small audio- and video-streaming websites."

5) "...said the EFF is afraid Ideaflood may try to go after LiveJournal members."

7) "The EFF is afraid Test Central will use its patent to scare off distance-learning organizations."

8) "But Nintendo is being a big bully."

And so on. Now, don't get me wrong. Some of those patents look dangerous to me, given the overly-vague and broad descriptions, but revoking a patent simply because a company is "a big bully" is ridiculous. What would be the point of having a patent if you couldn't use it? Furthermore, just because a technology is extremely useful (read: Kill App) doesn't mean it belongs in the pubic domain.

Let's consider #3 for a moment, Acceris Communication's voice over IP technology patent. Assuming it's much more specific than the article suggests, why should they not be able to benefit from creating that particular VOIP technology? So what if lots of people use it? Isn't that the whole point? Create a killer app, then sell it for tons of money. Then when the patent expires other people can copy it.

There's no mention of prior art anywhere in the article, which is a whole other argument. I mean, if I suddenly patented the wheel, for example, and started suing everyone who had ever used a certain geometrically shaped object, then I could see you having a case.

System's broken? Use the system! (2, Interesting)

0x69 (580798) | more than 10 years ago | (#9571173)

Is the PTO's business model the same as that of a diploma mill? Well, is there anything to stop you from applying for a boatload of abusive patents yourself, then launching swarms of lawsuits against all those vile corporations that are stealing your ideas to transport energy through metal wires, represent infomation as '0's and '1's, make money by selling above cost, etc.?

If you can transform the PTO into a national lottery for millions of little people, with the courts clogged with drawing the winners, and big business bankrolling the prizes, then the system might get fixed. Might.

On another front, the U.S. has signed plenty of treaties promising free trade. Can you argue that the PTO's cluelessness is, in effect, just another form of government subsidy for U.S. companies and/or a red-tape barrier to imports - and thus is a violation of a treaty? Can you find a foreign government eager for an excuse to yell "no fair!" and slap a retaliatory tariff on politically sensitive U.S.-made goods? Take a good look at the recent fuss over protecting the U.S. steel industry - Uncle Sam was forced to back down, eat crow, and change his rules.
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