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An Insider's View of Software Patents

timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the broken-record-indeed dept.

Patents 405

An anonymous reader writes "Ross Gittins at the Sydney Morning Herald has published an interesting insider view of software patents. This kind of thing is starting to be a hot issue down here with the US-Australia Free Trade deal about to be ratified and bring our intellectual property laws in line with Micros^D^D^D^D^D^D^D America's."

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405 comments

Nothing for you to see here. Please move along. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860124)

makes a change from error 500

welcome to slashdot

"Re:Nothing for you to see here." The answer is 42 (1, Funny)

Animaether (411575) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860136)

I got the same message - then wondered if it occurred more often.
So I turned to google :

site:slashdot.org "nothing for you to see here"

There are a total of... 42 ...results.

The answer to everything, indeed.

Re:"Re:Nothing for you to see here." The answer is (0, Offtopic)

mattjb0010 (724744) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860186)

Other neat tricks on Google:

1. Do a search on "1" and then "2" ... "9" and for each number plot the number of hits returned versus the number, and you end up with something like Benford's Law [cut-the-knot.org] .
2. On Babelfish, enter a phrase in one language, and keep translating it through the set of languages until you hit a limit cycle [wolfram.com] .

FP? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860125)

I claim this post in the name of Spain!

Premise Beach (-1, Offtopic)

Beardydog (716221) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860390)

I claim this post in the name of France!

hah (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860130)

i dont believe it

AmeriKKKa (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860131)

is the only rogue nation left in the axis of evil

Poster has the wrong idea (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860132)

...and bring our intellectual property laws in line with Micros^D^D^D^D^D^D^D America's
No. NO. Don't you EVEN fucking blame Microsoft for this mess. Blame the WIPO for having the idea, and Bill Clinton for whoring the United States into compliance.

Re:Poster has the wrong idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860181)

who's idea was it to allow software to be patented in the first place ?

Re:Poster has the wrong idea (4, Informative)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860234)

Software patenting has been driven by court cases in the U.S. brought by a number of companies that wanted to be able to patent software and business methods. Do a web search for State Street Decision.

WIPO has been driven by the U.S. (reacting to its corporations) to get the same bad software patent system going elsewhere.

If you want to blame Clinton for some intellectual property matter connected to WIPO, digital rights management and associated treaties requiring anti-circumvention law would be more accurate.

Bruce

Re:Poster has the wrong idea (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860330)

Software patenting has been driven by court cases in the U.S. brought by a number of companies that wanted to be able to patent software and business methods.

Of which Microsoft is conspicuous by its absence.

Re: Poster has the wrong idea (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860382)


> Software patenting has been driven by court cases in the U.S. brought by a number of companies that wanted to be able to patent software and business methods.

I read an analysis somewhere that claimed that it also stemmed from the creation of a single court to handle all the cases.

Monopolies are the only way to way money... (3, Insightful)

Sasha Slutsker (799836) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860141)

I agree with the writer of the article, software patents do do a lot of harm to programmers. Saying that monopolies are the only way to make money and should be encouraged is just crazy...

Re:Monopolies are the only way to way money... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860294)

It's sad when you try to be a karma whore and you still fail. It must be sad to be you.

I'll say it again.... (4, Insightful)

Sebby (238625) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860145)


Until we see the Patent Office being sued by someone/company that suffered financially or otherwise because of a bogus patent that the PTO granted, we won't see any significant changes to the way things work now. After a lawsuit or two they might finally get the hint to stop granting such bogus patents and maybe even (gasp!) start reviewing past ones once they realize those might become a liability.

And for those that say such lawsuits would be a burden on the taxpayers, well, I'd say these bogus patent infrigment cases are taking away needed resources to convict criminals.

And besides, the taxpayers might finally take action once they see the PTO's bogus-patent-granting actions is raising their taxes, instead of only bitching and whining all the time.

Re:I'll say it again.... (4, Interesting)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860206)

Can you even sue the patent office?

I didn't think you could sue the Federal Government or something like that. (since they are a part of the Feds anyways)

Re:I'll say it again.... (1)

Sebby (238625) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860237)

That's right I forgot: "The government can do no wrong", right?
</sarcasm>

Re:I'll say it again.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860305)

Can you even sue the patent office?

Probably not... as another poster said "the government can do no wrong" apparently...

Funny how the government can open up floodgates to make frivilous lawsuits possible, but washes its hands of any responsibility.

Re:I'll say it again.... (3, Interesting)

Bull999999 (652264) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860342)

I didn't think you could sue the Federal Government or something like that. (since they are a part of the Feds anyways)

The funny thing is that you can sue the federal government but the government must give you permission first. While there are cases where the government has given permission to sue, I'd imagine that suing the patent office may be more diffcult than suing a business.

Re:I'll say it again.... (4, Insightful)

NightWulf (672561) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860210)

Unfortuneatly what will happen is after said lawsuits, the Patent Office will just raise the fees to file a patent. They won't actually change anything, just keep raising prices. It will be even harder for regular people to file for patents, while the corporations still can afford it.

Re:I'll say it again.... (5, Interesting)

Sebby (238625) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860227)

Then we also need to have the PTO and IP laws changed: file all the patents you want, even the kitchen sink; when an infringment suit comes along, the patent is re-examined before any lawsuits are allowed to go forth. Then when there truely is patent infrigment and the patent holds up, let the lawsuit go forth.

This would avoid the common scenario where the defendant is sued out of existance even though the case has no merit!

Re:I'll say it again.... (1)

e9th (652576) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860339)

The courts will never allow that to happen. Whether a patent is infringing calls ultimately for a finding of fact, which the courts view strictly as their prerogative.

The PTO might have good standing to offer an expert opinion, but not to the degree that such an opinion would preclude bringing a lawsuit.

Re:I'll say it again.... (2, Insightful)

Sebby (238625) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860356)

Then the system is broken.

So much for freedom to innovate
So much for justice
So much for the "free world"

Re:I'll say it again.... (1)

e9th (652576) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860394)

The system is broken. But allowing the opinion of a bureaucracy (e.g., the PTO) to bar recourse to the courts is not an answer.

Re:I'll say it again.... (3, Interesting)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860337)

Its expensive enough already. I looked into the possibility of applying for a patent with the intention of freely licensing it to any GPLed product. A defensive patent really. But the patent, even without a lawyer, is expensive enough to put it out of my range unless I'm sure I can make money on it.

2 words: Sovereign Immunity (5, Informative)

ahbi (796025) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860223)

Until we see the Patent Office being sued

Remember, due to the concept of sovereign immunity you can't sue the government unless they say you can.
(Unless, you sue for injunctive relief claiming that the action is unConsitutional, and, after Eldred, I won't hold your breath there.)

Re:2 words: Sovereign Immunity (1)

Sebby (238625) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860249)

Who says it needs to be Americans or an American company doing it? I would love to see the EU or a group of UK companies sue the ass off the PTO

Re:2 words: Sovereign Immunity (2, Informative)

mikael (484) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860296)

Who says it needs to be Americans or an American company doing it? I would love to see the EU or a group of UK companies sue the ass off the PTO

This would be very unlikely, since we have companies like BTG Plc [btgplc.com] which license patents worldwide. Plus European contractors for government DBMS are extremely keen to maintain their monopoly. To quote David Blunkett on ID Cards "we have to keep the terms of the contract strictly confidential and away from the public in order to guarantee value for money".

Re:2 words: Sovereign Immunity (1)

Sebby (238625) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860315)

You mention only 1 company - I'm sure there are hundreds out there with a valid reason to sue for bogus patents, be it the PTO or a company that has abused the system

Re:2 words: Sovereign Immunity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860289)

Well that's not very fair now it is?

PTO grants bogus patents, opening the floodgates for frivilous lawsuits
Frivilous lawsuits destroys legitimate company because of bogus patents
PTO comes out scott-free

That total BS

Why not criminal law (2, Insightful)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860389)

Lying on your patent application is perjury. It's a federal crime, and you can do serious jail time. But nobody does. It might be possible to show a federal prosecutor that some of the more blatant patents were filed even though the filer knew they were not inventions, and that the filer should be prosecuted.

Bruce

^H^H (5, Informative)

hey (83763) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860146)

Er, it's control-H (^M) not control-D (^D) that erases. Control-D is eof. Get outa your GUI!

Re:^H^H (1)

Dwonis (52652) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860167)

Do you use a Dvorak keyboard layout?

Re:^H^H (3, Informative)

manabadman (589984) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860240)

Though control-H acts like backspace, and control-D is eof, in most Unix shells (and cisco's IOS) control-D will delete the character directly under (to the right of?) the cursor.

So ^B^B^B^B^B^B^D^D^D^D^D^D would work (^B moves the cursor on character to the left). If you really want to nitpick though, he deleted 7 characters even though 'Micros' is only 6 characters.

PS Only heterosexual gay chimpanzees support software patents.

The ghost of David Korn... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860420)

^D is only delete left if your shell is set to Emacs mode. In vi mode, the delete-left is 'X'.

Re:^H^H (2, Funny)

Xzzy (111297) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860260)

I hit ctl-s the other day, does it stand for "slow" or something? :( Been waiting 48 hours for a ps -eaf to finish.

Re:^H^H (2, Informative)

hey (83763) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860307)

Stands for Stop. Hit control-Q to resume.

Re:^H^H (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860415)

-1, Didn't Get the Joke.

As bad as software patents are... (2, Insightful)

Sheetrock (152993) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860147)

It does make sense to standardize on one set of intellectual property laws internationally.

It gets really confusing to try to figure out the different times at which copyright expires across different countries, or to know where your intellectual property is already protected and where you have to jump through additional hoops.

Settling on an international standard that is mutually agreed upon strengthens the companies within those nations because they don't have to cope with several sets of rules. Like the standardization on the Euro, it reduces complexity and ultimately is a good thing.

Re:As bad as software patents are... (2, Insightful)

gid13 (620803) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860214)

Uh... Would you standardize on one horrible dictator for the sake of strengthening the collective?

I mean, really. You're right that it strengthens the companies, but does the economic good of certain companies really balance out the evil of stupid patent law? Remember that when a company makes money, they make it from other people.

Re:As bad as software patents are... (4, Insightful)

lpontiac (173839) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860232)

It does make sense to standardize on one set of intellectual property laws internationally. It gets really confusing to try to figure out the different times at which copyright expires across different countries, or to know where your intellectual property is already protected and where you have to jump through additional hoops.

Here's the thing. I place more importance on having the laws of my country reflect the wishes of myself and my fellow citizens, than I do on making it easy for you to come over here and engage in commerce.

Re:As bad as software patents are... (1)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860303)

I suppose if everyone else in the world ate McDonalds and spoke english that things would be easier too.
Don't be such a retard though.

^D ? (-1, Redundant)

weiyuent (257436) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860150)

I thought ^H was left erase (aka backspace)

Re:^D ? (1)

azzy (86427) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860198)

What's more

Micros is 6 characters

^D^D^D^D^D^D^D is doing 'something' to 7 characters

Re:^D ? (1)

nazh (604234) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860245)

you have to take in count the extra whitespace, so its 7 with that.

Okay, but what's the alternative? (3, Interesting)

oostevo (736441) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860157)

Since this is a bit of a viscious cycle (the more patents that the Patent Office gets the more it says "Sounds good"), there obviously needs to be a change, but I've yet to see a truly plausible example of what would be a successful change to our patent system.

Patents, at times, actually are good things, so entirely doing away with the patent system wouldn't be a good idea, nor would adding more money to the patent office budget (the same problems we have now, just more of them), and making the patents harder to apply for would just benefit the offensive-patenting corporations with the money to hire expensive lawyers.

So what do we do about it?

here ya go... (3, Insightful)

zogger (617870) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860216)

...want an alternative? Anything you can physically hold in your hand or touch = OK to patent. Some theoretical concept, process, algorithym, arrangement, etc commonly referred to as an "intellectual property" = *not* OK to patent, but OK to copyright if the creator chooses to.

simple easy solution

Re:here ya go... (1)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860265)

I'll just throw in a "i agree completely" here.
It's amazing that such an easy and staightforward thing like that can get so f*cked by sleezy coprorations and politicians...

Re:here ya go... (2, Insightful)

Valar (167606) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860411)

The problem is that a patent is really better for an algorithm. Why? One way to think about it is that patents cover ideas and designs, whereas copyrights cover expressions of these ideas. The problem isn't that some ideas related to software are being patented, it is that the patent office is granting patents for obvious or trivial algorithms and ideas, as well as ones with substantial prior art. Without a significant overhaul of the way copyright works, however, patents are still the most appropriate ip protection for a lot of software related stuff. copyright protection for a concept, process or algorithm would easily be avoided by simply "rewriting" it differently (rearranging some code, or adding some minor steps to the process). and if you think patenting a process is crazy, think about chemical companies and manufacturers that have been patenting important innovations to their production processes for years.

Re:Okay, but what's the alternative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860221)

As one in the industry I am only too aware of the multitude of tenuously 'inventive' patents which are granted. However the problem does not only reside in the fact that there are _extremely_ few computing patent examiners, but in fact mainly stems from a different source. Court judgement! Although the Act states that to be patentable an invention should contain, inter alia, an inventive step, the Courts have defined this as requiring _only_ a 'scintilla of invention'. (Following the lead of the net IP exporting US, which has justification for such an approach) Therefore when a patent examiner looks at a case and says - 'bugger off' a patent attorney can simply respond with 'scintilla of invention'.

What constitutes this scintilla of invention, an extra radio button, a particularly visible background colour?!? Humbug!

Re:Okay, but what's the alternative? (1)

gid13 (620803) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860318)

Abolish them. Seriously. Children in grade school tend to get chastised for immaturity when they cry "I thought of it first". Why does this behaviour get rewarded as an adult?

Or, if you ABSOLUTELY cling to the idea that greed is the only way anything will ever get done, at the very least shorten terms to the point that patents aren't so lucrative that they're considered the only important thing about doing business. Also, require an implementation to be submitted along with patent applications (to help prevent patenting things to prevent others from doing it).

I tried to patent my time machine... (1)

NightWulf (672561) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860162)

But Microsoft beat me to it. But it's still useful for the early Slashdot posts! I may go back and patent the printing press though, that'll show you all.

I implore you all (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860163)

Can we _please_ have some unbiased reporting?

Nothing wrong with MS-bashing in the comments, but can we keep the stories themselves objective at least?

What? (-1, Redundant)

iamdrscience (541136) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860165)

^D? What are you doing, logging out? ^D is EOF, not backspace.

Re:What? (1)

Dwonis (52652) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860182)

Depends on your termcap/terminfo.

One quick way to improve the situation (5, Interesting)

theluckyleper (758120) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860173)

IANAL, but one way to improve the patent situation (and the IP situation too, for that matter), which I didn't see mentioned in the article, would be to impose a statute of limitation on infringement suits. This is how they do things in China [chinalaw.cc] .

China?! Yes, that's right. Some of their laws are better than ours...

This would prevent asshats like Unisys (and, if applied to IP, asshats like SCO) from suing for infringement WELL after they became aware of the issue. A statute of limitaion would ensure that underhanded tactics such as allowing the public to become addicted to GIFs [burnallgifs.org] , and then suing years and years later, would no longer be effective.

This wouldn't solve all of the problems with software patents, but I think it's a step in the right direction!

Re:One quick way to improve the situation (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860191)

What, may I ask, is an "asshat"? And where can I get one?

Re:One quick way to improve the situation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860222)

If you're asking the question, you're already wearing one.

Utah, maybe? (2, Funny)

theluckyleper (758120) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860235)

Go to Lindon, Utah [sco.com] , find Darl McBride, and get him to sit on your head. Instant asshat.

I bet that all you'd have to offer him is some evidence that Linux is infringing on SCO's IP...

Easy!

Re:One quick way to improve the situation (3, Insightful)

Unordained (262962) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860238)

... how 'bout we require patent holders to very obviously be seeking to do something useful with their patents, immediately? you don't get to sit on it, you don't get to hold it and wait for someone else to get the idea ... and you absolutely don't get to claim patent rights if someone else invents the same thing without your help (though it'd be hard to prove they didn't see your patent application, even if you don't document elsewhere.) regardless, patent holders should be required to obviously be trying to find buyers from day 1, or be building their own solution (not vaporware) based on the patent. the whole point is to give you a little extra time (advantage) to get your shit together before the competition comes in, -not- to give you a nice legal monopoly to sit on. besides, if companies are already innovating ... do we need patents? the point was incentives -- if they're going to create new algorithms and machines because there's a market for them (if there's no market within a few years of an invention, the patent is just an expense to you) ... then we don't need patents at all. (reminder: incentives of this sort are created out of the clear blue sky, and should be just as easy to repeal.)

Re:One quick way to improve the situation (5, Funny)

janbjurstrom (652025) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860262)

Or, they could make good on their implied threats (Mutual Assured Damage/Destruction).

I just hope that one of the big'uns start a fight! And we'll get to watch all the Microsofts and the IBMs and the Novells and all the rest of the patent pimps Mutually destroy each other. Oh, man, it would be so great:
"Feel the pain of our 'one-click-purchase'!!"


"You call that pain?! Taste our 'listing-photos-BY-DATE'!! *ka-boom*

"Ouch, DAMN YOU! Attack!! 'hold-down-mouse-button-to-make-something-happen'! !!!!!

"GAaaaaaaahhh, it burrnnnsss!!"

"Yes, the smell of burning IP in the morning!! Load another round of 'incentives-to-watch-ads'! Fire!!"

"AAAAAaaaaaaa...aa.. we can't feel our legal department... it's getting dark ... the stock is dropping ... *NO CARRIER*
Barring that, your thing might have some merit :)

Re:One quick way to improve the situation (1)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860281)

How about we simply VOID all the patents that are for retarded things, and ideas, and anything else that can't brought in and shown in their physical hands? This would work too.

What about all the money already spent on patents? Well, as my dad used to say, "life sucks, then you die".

Hmm... (1, Interesting)

bobhagopian (681765) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860175)

I'm all for free software and everything, but this article seems a little ridiculous at points. For example, it says the following:

"The whole idea of software patents is a bit strange, really. A traditional patent is for a mechanical invention that may have taken a long time to design, produce and bring to market, and provides protection for the original inventor while eventually allowing their ideas to enter the public domain.
Software, however, is mercurial. A good programming idea may only be useful for a few months and, even after the dotcom crash, it's still the case that after a couple of years generally there is a complete generational change in the tools, techniques and even programming languages used."


Despite my unreserved support for OSS, I can recognize a tenuous argument when I see one. Software development takes time and effort, just like the development of mechanical devices.

Re:Hmm... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860247)

But as the article also points out, it's not the developed, final product that is patented, it's the very idea of doing something. It doesn't take long to come up with a random idea, even if the implementation time is quite long. It's also worth noting that it wouldn't take more than a day for most programmers to implement a working test of the sort of small idea that gets patented. We're not talking about a full-fledged accounting system or operating system or something like that.

Re:Hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860351)

This is a problem with the patent system, not with software patents themselves. If software patents were granted only for non-trivial, non-obvious software inventions, then the problem you describe would go away. You have fallen for the "all software patents are evil" lobby group's biggest false dichotomy.

Re:Hmm... (4, Interesting)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860255)

I think the point about software being "mercurial" is vague, but what he was probably thinking about it that it's a medium better protected by copyright. Now having both patent and copyright apply to it is indeed strange.

Bruce

Re:Hmm... (1)

BiggerIsBetter (682164) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860362)

Maybe I misinterpreted your post, but I'd argue that's not quite what's going on. In my view, there's two things being protected here. The copyright protects the software implementation, while the patent protects the process behind the implmentation. Kinda like patenting the painting of a bowl of fruit on a table. You have a copyright on the resulting artwork, but you also have a patent on the process involved to stop others painting something similar.

It seems like a helluva good way to kill the industry to me.

Re:Hmm... (1)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860376)

My point was that if it is possible to protect the implementation, it should not also be possible to protect the process.

Bruce

Re:Hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860406)

Why? Because you say so? Implementation does not equal invention but you would have both lumped under the same weak copyright protection. Your statement is as weak an assertion I've seen on this topic.

Re:Hmm... (4, Insightful)

LordLucless (582312) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860286)

The real difference between software and hardware patents is the time taken to bring it to market. If you invent a mechanical device, if you want to market it, you need to find some way to mass produce it. Unless you are independantly wealthy, that means finding someone who owns a manufactuting plant or two, and getting them to make the device for you. This means that you have to let somebody into your confidence. After you've gone around having meetings with ten or twenty manufacturers, there's ten or twenty people who know a good deal about your invention. You need a patent to ensure that they can't just start ripping off your invention without cutting you in.

Software, on the other hand, as intangible data, is dead easy to replicate and distribute. Put up a website, buy a bit of bandwidth - and nowadays, setup a torrent, and bingo - the equivelant of mechanical "manufacture and distribution". You don't need a patent to protect you while you struggle to manufacture your software and bring it to market.

GREAT POST (1)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860332)

This is the best explaination for why software patents are retarded that I've read so far. Great stuff.

Re:Hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860418)

Because micropayment torrents are a great source of income these days. Yep - you certainly thought that argument through.

Follow the lead of the anonymous author! (4, Insightful)

YankeeInExile (577704) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860177)

This article brings up a point I have been thinking about for a long time: The OSS/FS community is losing sight of the trees for the forest with regard to software patentability.

We need to fight the patent war on two fronts - the first front: Lobby to make software patents more difficult to obtain.

And the second front, equally important: Until the rules change in our favor, we need to build up a portfolio of patents, to share and trade with our friends (which anyone in business will tell you is the true purpose of a patent).

Instead of screeching to the heavans, Software Patents Are EEEEEEEEEVIL, the movement would be better served by gaming the system. If a portfolio of patents is what is needed to keep Free Software Free, then so be it - put our minds to making the application and examination system as easy as possible, and assign patents to some organization (a role that would be well served by FSF if they could stop their jihad.

For the record, I do not think that software patents are intrinsically evil. I believe in my heart-of-hearts that algorithms are just as much an invention as a better mousetrap, and I disagree with the article author's assertion that the copyright protection granted to an implementation is sufficient protection for this inventive process.

Plus, you forget that one of the Principles of Free Software, transparency, is fundament in the patent process. The wisdom of the patent system is, In exchange for exclusive right-to-use on your invention, for a limited time, you must fully disclose that same invention.

I am seriously concerned that the patent process may suffer the same slow creep in the meaning of limited time that has happened surrounding copyright, but that is a separate problem for another posting.

Re:Follow the lead of the anonymous author! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860200)

A History of Software Patents

http://www.bitlaw.com/software-patent/history.ht ml

Re:Follow the lead of the anonymous author! (4, Insightful)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860273)

You may need to think this through a lot more.

First, going for our own patents in the Free Software community doesn't really help unless we have a huge legal fund behind us to 1) prosecute others and 2) defend ourselves from their patents.

Second, you should think through whether or not algorithms are mathematical in nature, and whether mathematics is discovered or invented.

Thanks

Bruce

Money talks (4, Interesting)

usefool (798755) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860192)

I think the core of the article implies that the company with most 'spendable' money will win by default in any case.

Patent Office will grant any plausible applications because "The feeling is that anything contentious can be sorted out in the courts."

And what happens in the courts? Small guys are burdened with legal fees, which is related to the time spent on preparation, which big guys can just throw a lot to you. If you don't hire enough lawyers to read each and every line properly, you might get caught even if you are the rightful owner of a patent.

So with or without a patent, big company will eventually monopolize the market by (1) holding a patent and scare everybody off or, (2) taking the patent-holding company to court or, (3) buy out small guys.

Does anyone else find it strange.. (4, Insightful)

ReidMaynard (161608) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860194)

It seems (on a very high level) the Lawyer has just found a new market. Look at the small effort he puts forth and all the income it generates for his firm. And he admits, the patents can be fought over later in the courts...more legal fees for him!! If I were your CEO I would feel a lot like the "SUCKER" in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. I'm sure there is *some* truth to his position, but I find it bad business to go for the "monopoly" brass ring. Its sad when our CEOs go for these get rich quick schemes. just shows you Lawyers and CEOs are greedy SOBs.

Not all lawyers.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860421)

Just patent lawyers.

Patents are for the rich (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860196)

The current patent system is borked. Its for big companies to squash little guys. This article [tyma.com] sums it up.

Tending the coals (3, Insightful)

acidrain (35064) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860229)

This article doesn't say anything we don't already know. Yes the American software patent system is fucked, and they are in the process of exporting it.

It is all very absurd, small companies won't be able to write code, hobbyist coders will need legal insurance.

What do we do? I am frothing at the mouth after reading the article (yayyyy slashdot) but really, is it worth thinking about without a realistic response? ... sigh ...

Personally as a Canadian working for a Canadian software company that is being sued with a FUCKING STUPID US software patent, I would be happy to invade the USA and blow up the patent office.

Would any of you Americans mind? Could someone provide GPS coordinates and photos with targets circled in red? Call it "compassionate terrorism."

Re:Tending the coals (0, Offtopic)

Mike Hawk (687615) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860310)

I have forwarded your offer to bomb a government building to John Ashcroft. Have a nice day.

Re:Tending the coals (1, Funny)

Rheingold (2741) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860326)

Ooooh... So you are the reason D. C. is at orange now.

Re:Tending the coals (2, Funny)

PepsiProgrammer (545828) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860334)

If we start putting sane restrictions on patents.... The terrorists have already won.

Re:Tending the coals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860384)

Obvious answer here: don't sell your product to anyone in the US. And make sure to tell these almost-customers *why* you can't sell your product to them. Of course, as a business you have to weigh the lawsuit costs against this geographical restriction, factoring-in licensing costs (assuming you lose/concede the court case), etc....
Not an easy maze to work your way out of.
Perhaps an easier solution would be to just wall-off the entire USA? Or at least the portion of it that contains most of the lawyers.

Contradiction (4, Interesting)

j. andrew rogers (774820) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860248)

People need to either accept the idea of all patents or no patents. You can't legitimately have it both ways and be consistent.

1.) The argument that software patents are bad because most software patents are frivolous is a strawman. Most non-software patents are also frivolous. This is not unique to software, people here only notice software patents because they work in software. If you don't like the frivolousness of patents granted then deal with the general frivolousness of the patent system, because "software" patents and "frivolous" patents only intersect and neither contains the other in its entirety.

2.) Software is hardware is software. If you can't patent software, then you shouldn't be able patent hardware either. This was settled the better part of a century ago, in case anyone was paying attention. Pretending that software is a special case that is different from hardware creates a distinction where none exists.

3.) A minority of software patents, just like a minority of normal hardware patents, cover inventions that took substantial research and development effort that no one could reasonable claim to be "obvious". This would seem to be precisely what is supposed to be protected by patents under ideal circumstances and I can't see a reasonable argument that says these inventions should be treated differently than all other patents. Otherwise we would be in the position of allowing frivolous non-software patents and disallowing heavy-duty substantive "software" patents.

That said, it seems to me that the biggest reason a lot of geeks don't like software patents is that it is inconvenient for them. Every rationalization that disallows "software" patents but allows other types of patents has been uniformly weak and inconsistent. If you think patents are bad, then ALL patents are bad, not just the ones you wish you didn't have to abide by.

Re:Contradiction (4, Insightful)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860291)

Inconvenient is an understatement. We are moving toward a point beyond which only the largest companies will be able to engage in software development. Forget about individuals doing it when the cost of defending a single patent suit is about $3 Million (American IP Law Association estimate).

So, I'd suggest that "discriminatory" is a lot more accurate than "inconvenient".

And yes, hardware is software these days. Which means that all would better be protected with copyright. Applying both patent and copyright to the same material is too much.

Thanks

Bruce

Re:Contradiction (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860379)

Too much because it happens to infringe on your personal beliefs as to how software should be developed. Which is no justification at all, IMO.

None of the anti-patent rhetoric bandied about these days ever addresses the topic of actually making software patents sensible by only granting patents for non-obvious, non-trivial, complete software inventions. Why? Because any kind of software patent threatens open source's competitive advantage and the anti-software patent brigade wants all software to be open source regardless of the rest of the world.

Hmm... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860257)

The whole idea of software patents is a bit strange, really. A traditional patent is for a mechanical invention that may have taken a long time to design, produce and bring to market, and provides protection for the original inventor while eventually allowing their ideas to enter the public domain.

Because we all know that developing software is low cost, low risk, and no protection should be afforded to anyone who invents software.

Software patents are evil. Just ask Google. No - wait...

Moral dilemma (5, Insightful)

r.jimenezz (737542) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860268)

From the article:

Since we receive a bonus of $8000 per patent, if all goes well we'll share well over $150,000. And there seems no reason we can't keep this game up indefinitely. We should be able to manage around 50 a year, and this nice little earner will see the mortgage paid off in no time.

Now I think that's interesting... This comes from a software engineer, not from the lawyer. Most developers (and presumably the one from the article too) despise this whole mess, yet this guy is being "gently persuaded" by his employer to play the game.

I'd rather not find myself in such a situation, for it's easy to say what I am going to say without having to actually face it. But I'd like to believe that I can be part of the solution and not of the problem; that I can be brave enough to stand by my beliefs and refuse to be part of something like this and still manage to pay my bills.

Re:Moral dilemma (1)

Bull999999 (652264) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860363)

Don't forget that for every evil businessman/woman, there's a team of staff (including IT) to do his/her evil bidding.

People who claim the US patent office is stupid.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860288)

Are looking at it from the wrong angle.

It seems to me someone has decided that it can only benefit the US in international agreements to have its citizens patent rubbish.

The Australian patent office, for example is very professional. None of the junk that is patented in the US would be allowed here. So, when the US/Aust FTA comes into existence, US companies have a huge advantage over Aust companies.

The only way for Aust to compete is to race the US patent office to the bottom of the barrel.

I think ou mean... (0, Redundant)

march (215947) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860302)

Micros^D^D^D^D^D^D^D

Micros^H^H^H^H^H

The ^D's just wouldn't accomplish what you want. :-)

EOF (1)

Morosoph (693565) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860317)

Hmmm. ^d. Isn't that EOF?

Re:EOF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860370)

i don't know, i just use the backspace and delete keys, so much easier. Your OS does support these keys, doesn't it?

Re:EOF (1)

Morosoph (693565) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860397)

No good if you want EOF!

Patents are worthless... (4, Interesting)

neil.orourke (703459) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860348)

... until they are tested in court. So says the lawer at the company I work for, and who is involved in patent (not software) battles on our behalf in a few countries.

Essentially, he says, the granting of a patent means that you were able to convince some guy in an office that your idea was new, un-obvious etc. etc. So the patent is granted.

The fun starts when your product hits the market and someone else tries to do the same thing. Then it goes to court, and only then is the validity of your patent tested.

What this is really about... (3, Interesting)

Goonie (8651) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860357)

Gittins is writing from an Australian perspective, where the debate whether the minority party should ally with minor parties in the Senate and block the FTA is getting particularly heated.

From an American perspective, however, what you should be concerned about is the kind of things that this FTA, and subsequent ones, are going to do to lock in the current, ridiculous intellectual property regime. This applies not only to software patents, but restrictions on generic drugs, copyright terms, and so on. In the next decade or so, it's highly likely that there will be serious attempts in Congress to fix some of these issues. What will likely happen, though, is that the executive will come back with the argument "You can't do that! We'll be violating the terms of the free trade agreements we signed with Australia, Albania, and Andorra" (to pick three countries of similar importance to the United States) and the bills will quietly die.

The EFF and other groups in the "less overbroad IP protection" crowd might do well to pay more attention to international treaties, IMO.

What if someone just said "no"? (1)

RayTardo (779153) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860366)

If you're a small developer being leaned on by a larger company that thinks you've used their patented idea, just tell them politely to go screw themselves. They'll take you to court. You defend yourself. You lose. You refuse to comply with the court order to stop producing the software. You're in contempt of court. You go to jail for a short time.

But your case will show the futility of the system, and the public outcry will be large enough to bring change.

It just takes enough victims to say "Hell, no!"

The mind of a Lawyer (-1, Offtopic)

CarrionBird (589738) | more than 9 years ago | (#9860367)

Full of shit.

"Look, if the examiners were any good they'd be in (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9860400)

"Look, if the examiners were
  1. any good
they'd be in industry"
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