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Patents Chilling Effect on Science

samzenpus posted more than 8 years ago | from the learn-to-share dept.

Patents 383

cheesedog writes "The American Association for the Advancement of Science recently conducted a survey on the effect of patenting on the sciences. The results are frightening: 1/5th or more of all research projects in the United States are being chilled by patent holders. The sheer amount of research being canceled because of licensing issues is astounding, but at the same time many of these researchers hold their own patents and therefore contribute to the problem."

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383 comments

FIRST POST?? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13994855)

Something in here

SECOND POST (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13994989)

Something else in here.

So much for patents fostering innovation (5, Insightful)

Trigun (685027) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994858)

So what's the reason we have them again?

Re:So much for patents fostering innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13994887)

Innovation != research projects.

Re:So much for patents fostering innovation (0, Troll)

Trigun (685027) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994953)

So they research things that have been thouroughly investigated? No wonder why there's nothing new being built in the U.S.

Re:So much for patents fostering innovation (1)

homeobocks (744469) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995192)

But innovation is directly proportional to research. In other words, innovation = (a constant 1) * research projects.

Re:So much for patents fostering innovation (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13994984)

We have them because the average American wants to believe in a world where he/she can one day strike it rich by inventing some widely used product.

The problem is, the patent system doesn't really work that way, no matter how much patent supporters pretend it protects powerless inventors. In practice, a small inventor gets screwed anyway, because 1) complex ideas tend to rely on other complex ideas (giving rise to widespread cross-licensing among already powerful corporations) and 2) even with a patent, a small inventor will need incredible financing to legally enforce the patent. How does a small inventor get such incredible financing? Yep, by essentially giving the patent to a powerful corporation in return for a relative pittance.

The dream of striking it rich with a patent is a nice one, but it's more like a lottery than anything. Extremely rarely, someone wins, but most of the time even those who invest large amounts (people who actually invent/create things) lose out.

Unfortunately, people don't like letting go of dreams, even if they've been tricked into believing them; even if actual progress in arts and sciences grinds to a halt, many will happily make that sacrifice for an imaginary reward.

Double Edged Sword (5, Interesting)

queenb**ch (446380) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994998)

Part of the problem is that patents have been expanded far beyond their original intention. They were originally set up to expire in 17 years with the option for one renewal. That means that knowledge would be locked down for a maximum of 34 years. At that point it was supposed to pass in to the public domain.

It was changed because large companies had the habit of offering a pittance for licensing someone's patent. If it wasn't accepted, they would simply wait until the patent expired and then use the technology for free. Many people don't realize that the relatively modern addition of variable speed windshield wipers were invented in the early part of the previous century. I forget the exact year.
Now, however, that the patent has expired this is a standard feature on most automobiles.

This is simply the pendulum swinging back the other direction. Invention and innovation will be stifled to the point that the companies will start going out of business, strangled on their own patents. They'll be unable to bring new products to market because everything will infringe on someone else's patent. Companies are already buying other companies in order to obtain "the intellectual propery". If its to the point that you buy the whole company just to get their patents, things are desperate indeed.

2 cents,

Queen B

Re:Double Edged Sword (2, Insightful)

InvalidError (771317) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995123)

Gotta love poetic justice.

Live off patents, get killed by patents. It has become one of those "the cure is worse than the disease" situations. The RIAA/MPAA/etc. are headed down the same roads with their lovely uninteroperable hardened DRM wet dreams, analog hole butt-plug and lock-in policies fantasms.

Re:Double Edged Sword (3, Interesting)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995134)

Don't they only last 17 years with no renewal now?

I am a little confused as to the rest of your statement with that a the premise that length is shortening.

Part of the problem is that discoveries are being patented (algorythems), and patents exist for vague concepts that don't have any real implementation (I think Dr Phil has one for a computer program that does not exist), and things that are covered by other protections (software), and the recent boom in technology (17 years seems longer).

The last one is most likly cyclic (the turn of last century saw automobile to flight in less then a generation), the others are real problems.

The scientists seem to be running into the problem of things that don't have a useful implementation, they can't build on the rudimentery concept because it is patented, so we need to wait 17 years for the next step to be developed, and then maybe again for something useful. This happened in the aeronoughtics (ugh that is spelt bad) industry in the US and allowed Europe a big advantage as the patents were more or less ignored.

One possible solution is to require institutions receiving public funds to open all research to everybody, but that has the risk of further commercializing universities, as larger public ones already get nearly as much from private grants as public funding. Another is to give pure research not for profit institutions amnesty from patent law and sort out the royalties on the back side. Patents could be built on almost light copyright, where the writer andartist both have a claim to a song, but more complexity is probably not the answer either.

Re:Double Edged Sword (2, Informative)

queenb**ch (446380) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995273)

Not true. Through a varieity of loopholes, they are almost infinitely renewable. My implication was that the period is NOT becoming shorter, but is instead becoming almost indefinite.

2 cents,

Queen B

Re:Double Edged Sword (4, Informative)

cpt kangarooski (3773) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995234)

They were originally set up to expire in 17 years with the option for one renewal.

What the fuck are you talking about? Patent terms in the US were 14 years from issue, then 17 years from issue, then 20 years from filing. No renewals; in fact, you generally have to pay up periodically just to get the full, single, term.

I think you're confusing patents and copyrights (which originally were 14+14 years)

That means that knowledge would be locked down for a maximum of 34 years.

Publication requirements ensure that knowledge isn't 'locked down.' It's not directly usable, perhaps, but it's commonly available.

Re:So much for patents fostering innovation (2, Insightful)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995051)

> So what's the reason we have them again?

Because when your capitalist economy begins devouring itself, you need to be able to use the legal system to trap people/companies into becoming victims to sustain the gluttonous beast you've created.

Re:So much for patents fostering innovation (5, Insightful)

fireweaver (182346) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995149)

Today, to establish monopolies on entire fields of knowledge and commerce. To make the barriers to entry by would-be competitors too high to contemplate. To parcel out, on a fee basis, knowledge and culture in driblets and drablets, with restrictions on how that knowledge or culture can be used. To ultimately licence knowledge itself, with the end result being the reinstatement of the medieval guild system.

All of this backed by the full force and power of a government that is as corrupt as the system it is backing up. That enough reason?

Welcome to the new serfdom.

Re:So much for patents fostering innovation (1)

Trigun (685027) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995186)

Wow, and I thought my tinfoil beanie was tight. I'm having flashbacks to Johnny Mnemonic. Thank you for that, I'm off to wash my brain with bleach.

By the way, I think that you're right.

fp (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13994861)

First post

fucktards (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13994863)

fucktards

Sheer (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13994906)

Shear means to cut. You meant to write sheer, which means unmitigated.

Monopolies are always bad (5, Insightful)

dada21 (163177) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994875)

Don't most government-endowed monopolies have chilling unintended consequences on the markets they're supposed to protect?

Copyright gives incredible power to the top publishers (with a lock on book stores), the recording industry, and the movie distributors.

Government's monopoly on violence prevents the average person from defending their property, and use of the monopoly outside of our borders causes anger towards our citizens.

Government's monopoly on prescription drugs causes the costs to skyrocket (death sentence for the poor) and useful drugs to be delayed for years.

Government's monopoly on patent licensing is no different. The playing field is far from level. Drug companies would initially have to charge more to sell their meds, or sell through doctors groups (where generics might be contractually offlimits for those doctors). Patents don't protect bootlegs anyway, which get more pervasive as the web gets larger.

For our society to grow, we need to accept that monopolies are always bad, and only government can create them. There are no natural monopolies. The 4 or 5 times there might have been in the past I'd argue weren't meant to last, but they're gone anyway.

Re:Monopolies are always bad (1)

silentbozo (542534) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994961)

For our society to grow, we need to accept that monopolies are always bad, and only government can create them. There are no natural monopolies. The 4 or 5 times there might have been in the past I'd argue weren't meant to last, but they're gone anyway.
 
Wha? You made a really good case that monopolies are really bad, and that we shouldn't have them. What makes a government sponsored monopoly (such as patents) any more palatable than a natural monopoly, and how is accepting that (the current default state of things) supposed to make the current situation better?

Re:Monopolies are always bad (1)

dada21 (163177) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994974)

Natural monopolies can't exist without government backing them up. The usual culprits creating monopolies are licensing, regulations, specific mandates and safety requirements.

Heck, even farming peanuts is illegal in the US without a license to grow them.

Re:Monopolies are always bad (5, Interesting)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994990)

I recommend you read this recent interview of Bob Young, one of the founders of RedHat [newsforge.com] and now heavily involved in lulu.com book publishing [lulu.com].

Specifically, this quote:
...I'm a big fan of both copyrights and patents, the problem was that our legislators didn't recognize the fundamental rule, which is: too much of a good thing no longer is. And so we're seeing things like the DMCA, like the idea that you could patent ideas, not just inventions, like the idea of taking copyright from 20 years to a hundred years with very little public debate on the topic and you sort of realize that it's a little bit like vitamin D -- you know, too little vitamin D and you get a variety of health problems. Too much vitamin D will actually kill you...
Don't most government-endowed monopolies have chilling unintended consequences on the markets they're supposed to protect?

No. Especially in cases where an overly large capital investment is needed to develop a technology, a temporary monopoly on the resulting deliverable is often needed to encourage or enable the investors in said technology to build it in the first place.

Copyright gives incredible power to the top publishers (with a lock on book stores), the recording industry, and the movie distributors.

Actually, it gives such power to me too, an independent software engineer. I can (and do) use copyrights to help me ensure that my time gets reasonably and profitably compensated. If this were not so, I would not develop nearly as much software, and that would be bad for all involved.

Government's monopoly on violence prevents the average person from defending their property, and use of the monopoly outside of our borders causes anger towards our citizens.

In the US, anyone can perform a citizen's arrest as a peace officer. In almost all jurisdictions, citizens have the right to lethal self-defense. (guns, etc.) I'm not sure if you're promoting the idea that US Citizens should be able to wage ware oversees without being part of the military? Your logic gets pretty weak, here.

Government's monopoly on prescription drugs causes the costs to skyrocket (death sentence for the poor) and useful drugs to be delayed for years.

Government monopolies on prescription drugs keep unsafe, sham products from flooding the marketplace. Take a look at your email inbox if want to see lots of examples of these: names like "Vi4gra" and "p3n15 3nl4rgemint".

Temporary monopolies granted by patents allow drug companies to invest huge sums of money (to the tune of 315 million dollars per drug) to research, develop and test (for safety) the numerous and highly beneficial pharmaceuticals available today. By keeping the patent term reasonable, "generic" drugs are available after the drug companies have reaped their profits to then make them affordable to the impoverished.

Government's monopoly on patent licensing is no different. The playing field is far from level. Drug companies would initially have to charge more to sell their meds, or sell through doctors groups (where generics might be contractually offlimits for those doctors). Patents don't protect bootlegs anyway, which get more pervasive as the web gets larger.

What are you saying here? I can't make heads or tails of it...

For our society to grow, we need to accept that monopolies are always bad, and only government can create them. There are no natural monopolies. The 4 or 5 times there might have been in the past I'd argue weren't meant to last, but they're gone anyway.

For our society to grow, we need to understand when monopolies are appropriate and when they are simply stupid. Like most GPL software, it's best when it's used for infrastructure (eg: highways, basic telecommunications, etc) and at its worst when used for end-use products. (eg: spatulas, carpets, televisions, etc)

Re:Monopolies are always bad (1)

RickHunter (103108) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995142)

No surprise he's against patents. As of about a year ago, Lulu was getting sued by some loon who claimed to hold a patent on print on demand systems.

Yes, you read that right. His patent is sufficiently broad that it covers all print on demand systems.

What a wonderful America the last 30 years of relatively uninterrupted Republican rule in either the Presidency, Congress, or both has created.

Re:Monopolies are always bad (1)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995213)

One could also say "What a wonderful America the last 30 years of relativly uninterrupted Democratic rule in either the Presidency, Congress, or both has created."

Maybe not quite as long, and not recently, but for a long while it was president one side, congress the other.

Hold that thought (2, Insightful)

dereference (875531) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994993)

Don't most government-endowed monopolies have chilling unintended consequences on the markets they're supposed to protect?

Yes, I agree they do. However, I think your major premise goes a bit too far:

For our society to grow, we need to accept that monopolies are always bad, and only government can create them.

Consider for a moment copyright law, which you noted (negatively) "gives incredible power" to the holder. Indeed this is true, but how exactly would you propose to ever enforce any type of open source licenses (such as GPL) without copyright law granting a limited monopoly to the original author? Are you suggesting that copyrights in this context are bad? Perhaps so, but if copyrights magically never existed, the world of open source would almost immediately crumble. Your favorite software giants would totally absorb any "free" software into their own.

I think we can't just go from one extreme to the other, and expect all the earlier problems to vanish.

Re:Hold that thought (1)

mrchaotica (681592) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995241)

Your favorite software giants would totally absorb any "free" software into their own.
They'd go out of business first, because everyone would be free to copy their software too. Moreover, any source code that managed to leak (e.g. Windows 2000, etc.) would be fair game to include in open-source projects.

China and India (4, Insightful)

xiaomonkey (872442) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994889)

This being one of the reasons why up and coming countries like Chine and India will probably surpass their western counterparts in both science and engineering.

Re:China and India (1)

dada21 (163177) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994913)

China and India have a huge savings rate (up to 60% in some towns) versus zero in the US. Wealth comes from savings not consumer debt.

China and India have a great deal of headstrong intelligent business people. In the US we have MBA students with no real world experience.

China and India have a rising standard of living but not a ridiculous one. In the US our government owes $50T ($166,000 per capita), meaning we're bankrupt.

Surpass yes, but lead? (5, Insightful)

carlmenezes (204187) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995067)

I'm an indian and have lived in India for 28 years. See, the thing is, countries like India and China learn from others' mistakes. The US has had to lead in terms of not just technology, but legislation controlling technology (patents, copyright, trademarks) and everything else associated with it (education, research, the internet). When you lead, there are no guidelines and the outcome is based on your best effort.
Throw in a free economy and lobbying into the mix and you end up where the US is today. Other developing countries can see this and analyse it and if they're wise, try to learn from it. This is what India is doing (and I assume what China is too).
The question remains however, is what will happen once these countries catch up to the US and overtake it (yes, that WILL happen, just not soon and no, I'm not trying to start a flame war). Then they will be left to their own devices and where they go from there will be based on the strengths of their governmental systems, the level of corruption at that stage, etc etc.

In a nutshell, it's hard to lead, but easy to follow.

So don't give your country too hard a time for where it is right now. You guys have done a pretty good job (with technology). Ofcourse, its not the fall that matters, but how you get up.

Times are a changin' (4, Interesting)

max born (739948) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994893)

If Newton or Leibniz had invented calculus today they would have incorporated it into a computer program and filed a patent under a method for finding rates of change.

Re:Times are a changin' (2, Funny)

Trigun (685027) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994936)

Leibeniz? Bah. A bloody hack. He couldn't derive his way out of a burlap sack. He never invented anything.

I. Newton

Re:Times are a changin' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13995064)

More likely Leibniz would have patented the method along with a fancy notation and Newton would have cried prior art with supporting evidence dating back almost 30 years before. Leibniz would have responded "Ish mein innovative calkulus" and Newton would have concluded "SCO bastard from hell, all your base are belong to us".

Money $$$ (2, Insightful)

Neo-Rio-101 (700494) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994894)

Perhaps slashdot geeks are a little different from the rest of the population because we're more motivated by advancing tech first, making money second. Unfortunately the rest of the world doesn't think like that. Science and research is only a means to a wealthy end for some people no doubt.

Shear (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13994898)

Obligatory spelling Nazi post:

From the summary: "The shear amount of research..."

According to Webster,
shear

Function: noun
1 a cutting implement similar or identical to a pair of scissors but typically larger -- usually used in plural.
2 chiefly British : the action or process or an instance of shearing.
3 internal force tangential to the section on which it acts -- called also shearing force

What I think they meant to say was:

sheer

Function: adjective
3 a: UNQUALIFIED, UTTER b : being free from an adulterant : PURE, UNMIXED c : viewed or acting in dissociation from all else

What's the point of research anyway? (3, Funny)

Simon Garlick (104721) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994899)

I mean, we don't need to know how stuff works. It just does, because that's how God made it.

inefficient! (1)

alphastryk (929216) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994904)

wow...way to be efficient...NOT

this is interesting though. thats probably why research costs so much and takes so much time...:)

Re:inefficient! (1)

proteonic (688830) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995177)

Clearly, you've never done any research. I'm not being derogatory. Research costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time because it's RESEARCH. As Albert Einstein said:
"If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research."
That's just the nature of the beast.

My New Patent (5, Funny)

Guppy06 (410832) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994909)

I wish to patent my technique for adding an apostrophe to a noun to make it posessive. For example:

Patents' Chilling Effect on Science

Re:My New Patent (1)

Evro (18923) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995193)

Hmm, the title of the page was "Slashdot | Patents Chilling Effect on Science". If you take out the pipe it makes sense!

shear? (1)

FreakerSFX (256894) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994910)

Baaa. I think it was supposed to be sheer.

In any case as someone stated, countries ignoring patents will thrive. Others will begin to suffer. Perhaps a trade war will result - and what will happen when large multinationals lobby powerful governments to crack down on those ignoring their IP rights?

Cease and Desist! (3, Funny)

meta-monkey (321000) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994911)

Slashdotters, I warn you that I have a patent covering the discussion of the chilling effects of patents on science. This discussion must end immediately or you will be hearing from my lawyers!

Recent idea (4, Interesting)

MarkEst1973 (769601) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994914)

This suddenly hits home for me. I've been thinking for a while about a new software-based product/service and I'm in the steps of developing a business plan in order to raise money.

As I step through possible scenarios in my head, patents come up. I believe I would be offering a genuinely new product, and that makes me think I can patent it and gain the entire market. Suddenly, patents don't seem so bad.

On the other hand, I understand that a patent would mean there's no competition in any given space, that innovation to reduce the price of said product/service (a net win for consumers everywhere) would never happen.

But wouldn't a company earning large profits from the patents expand, grow, create jobs, pay more taxes, and get the wheels of the economy going? Now that I'm in a position to possibly use a patent, they become easy to rationalize.

When they were only a theoretical exercise for me, patents seemed like they would have adverse affects on innovation.

I suppose the real danger is my unknowing infringement of another's patent and the hilarity that would ensue.

Re:Recent idea (3, Insightful)

wbren (682133) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994970)

But wouldn't a company earning large profits from the patents expand, grow, create jobs, pay more taxes, and get the wheels of the economy going?
You were going for a +5 Funny with that tax thing, right? Because where I come from, America, the larger our corporations get, the better they get at avoiding taxation.

Richard M. Stallman WARNED us about this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13995015)

For those of you naysayers and those who speak poorly or Richard Stallman. Once again, he has proven to be correct.

Tax not Patent (1)

dereference (875531) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995029)

Because where I come from, America, the larger our corporations get, the better they get at avoiding taxation.

True enough, but that's clearly a problem with the tax law (or perhaps tax law enforcement) rather than intellectual property law. GP is correct that, in theory, the limited monopoly of a patent is intended to enhance economic growth, not hinder it.

Re:Recent idea (1)

meta-monkey (321000) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995124)

Why would you want to tax corporations, anyway? Corporations never pay taxes...their customers do. I own a small business, which is set up as a sub-chapter S corporation. Taxes are simply factored into our cost of doing business, the same way insurance or office supplies or anything else is, and then passed on to our customers. Corporate taxes are just another way politicians hide your true tax burden from you. If it weren't for corporate taxes, the cost of goods and services would be lower (driven down by competition).

Re:Recent idea (1)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995253)

Why would you want to tax corporations, anyway? Corporations never pay taxes...their customers do. I own a small business, which is set up as a sub-chapter S corporation. Taxes are simply factored into our cost of doing business, the same way insurance or office supplies or anything else is, and then passed on to our customers. Corporate taxes are just another way politicians hide your true tax burden from you. If it weren't for corporate taxes, the cost of goods and services would be lower (driven down by competition).

Yep. Ignorance of economics, like when people call for windfall-profit taxes for big corps-- how is giving all that cash to the federal monster going to stop corps from "gouging"? How does that do ANYTHING for we, the citizenry? It's petty, absurd vindictiveness. The idiocy of schadenfreude. Quit calling for government to "tighten the screws"! Don't you realize that the actual screws are on us? But the harder they're crushed, the louder they shout "tighter"!

Re:Recent idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13995126)

But wouldn't a company earning large profits from the patents expand, grow, create jobs, pay more taxes, and get the wheels of the economy going?


Yeah, monopolies magically create more money for everyone out of nowhere. Is that seriously what you're trying to say? Or where do you think the extra money comes from?

Mabey... (1)

zivr (902393) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994916)

Mabey all of these copyrights will cause scientific research to be the first thing to reach absolute zero...

Lawyers are to blame (2, Interesting)

grumpygrodyguy (603716) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994920)

Lawyers are destroying this country, heck they practically own it. 90% of congress are lawyers, 9/10 medical suits are frivolous and the 'industry' of medical law is about playing the averages. In my home state of Georgia(USA) medical practioners have their own insurance union, they lose 1 Billion dollars a year defending against frivolous lawsuits. Only 1 in 10 of those suits actually stick...it's practically extortion.

Likewise, recent changes to IP are one of the worst things to happen to science and industry. Used correctly IP has its place in prompting innovation, but lawyers are turning IP into something strictly to leverage lawsuits with. That doesn't benefit customers, scientific organizations or industry leaders...but it does syphon mountains of cash to the IP lawyers.

Re:Lawyers are to blame (5, Interesting)

Teckla (630646) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995022)

Lawyers are destroying this country, heck they practically own it. 90% of congress are lawyers, 9/10 medical suits are frivolous and the 'industry' of medical law is about playing the averages. In my home state of Georgia(USA) medical practioners have their own insurance union, they lose 1 Billion dollars a year defending against frivolous lawsuits. Only 1 in 10 of those suits actually stick...it's practically extortion.

I'd like to see some references to your statistics. They seem too...convenient. 90% this, 9 out of 10 that, $1 billion here, 1 out of 10 there.

Likewise, recent changes to IP are one of the worst things to happen to science and industry. Used correctly IP has its place in prompting innovation, but lawyers are turning IP into something strictly to leverage lawsuits with. That doesn't benefit customers, scientific organizations or industry leaders...but it does syphon mountains of cash to the IP lawyers.

I know it's popular to hate lawyers, so what I'm about to say will probably burn my karma to cinders. But, the simple truth is, it's not the fault of lawyers. They're working within the system, getting paid by clients to do what they do. You want less patent lawsuits? Reform the patent system. Don't burn lawyers at the stake.

Your hate is misplaced.

Patent System not Patent Lawyers (1)

dereference (875531) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995093)

I know it's popular to hate lawyers, so what I'm about to say will probably burn my karma to cinders. But, the simple truth is, it's not the fault of lawyers. They're working within the system, getting paid by clients to do what they do. You want less patent lawsuits? Reform the patent system. Don't burn lawyers at the stake.

This is absolutely true. Every time something gets posted here about patents, somebody inevitably brings up failings of the system, and blames either the lawyers or the examiners. These folks are just doing their jobs according to the laws in place. If you don't like it, talk to the legislators, not the implementors. Blame the broken system; cure the disease at its source.

(...and you're probably right about the karma thing, too!)

Re:Patent System not Patent Lawyers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13995167)

These folks are just doing their jobs according to the laws in place.

So because child porn wasn't outlawed in the US until only half a century ago or so, exploiting children was peachy keen because the photographers and participants were obeying "the laws in place"?

Just because something is legal doesn't make it right.

Re:Patent System not Patent Lawyers (0, Troll)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995270)

I agree.

Everybody hate lawyers 'till there doctor accidently amputates their penis, and then a drunk driver leaves them paralyzed.

Re:Lawyers are to blame (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995166)

Reform the patent system. Don't burn lawyers at the stake.

I don't see these as being mutually exclusive and lets face it, reform is a lot easier to sell when you've just impaled and incinerated the oppositions's counsel.

Re:Lawyers are to blame (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13995188)

"I know it's popular to hate lawyers, so what I'm about to say will probably burn my karma to cinders. But, the simple truth is, it's not the fault of lawyers. They're working within the system, getting paid by clients to do what they do. You want less patent lawsuits? Reform the patent system. Don't burn lawyers at the stake."

Show me the money! SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!

Re:Lawyers are to blame (2, Insightful)

maggard (5579) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995216)

90% of congress are lawyers...
Oh no!

You're saying 90% of our highest elected law-makers are folks who received a reasonably difficult to obtain law degree and then got themselves admitted to a legal bar association or equivalent?

Say it ain't so!

No, we want folks writing laws who don't know jack-shit about the legal system, how it is constructed, how to be constructive within it, who couldn't be bothered to get themselves educated on it and then become certified. Apparently instead earning one's self a JD is automatically evil in your world? Right, instead we should have random folks ignorant of legal precedent & practice putting together the legal architecture for our nation.

Look, it ain't perfect, but as is often repeated it's better then the alternatives.

Next week, why we should replace all of the civil engineers designing bridges with 8 year olds who watched "Modern Marvels" on the Discovery Channel!

We live in a kleptocracy (3, Insightful)

rsborg (111459) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994921)

The wealthy/landed elites constantly dream up ways to make money of the backs of the innovative and hard working. In this sense, Microsoft and the RIAA Cartels pretty much symbolize the "American spirit"... from a corporation standpoint.

None of this will change unless and until we either get corporations to recognize that the US is losing it's ground due to stifling IP/Patent laws... or we vote in people who care.

Republican or Democratic, make sure your representative at least knows (and preferrably cares) about the current state of the patent system.

Oh, and donate to the EFF [eff.org]. I have.

Re:We live in a kleptocracy (1)

dada21 (163177) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994946)

Actually, the elite make money controlling the Central Bank (the Federal Reserve is a private corporation) and manipulating the money supply (M2 and M3) to legally counterfeit.

Once the money is created, only then is it doled out to their friends.

Re:We live in a kleptocracy (1)

rsborg (111459) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995021)

Actually, the elite make money controlling the Central Bank

Are you talking about this conspiracy theory [usagold.com]? If so, then do you have a rebuttal to my link? I'm honestly interested...

One must be careful not to overstate statistics (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13994923)

One must be careful about quoting the figures posted in the above article due to the fact that the survey reported only the proportion of researchers affected by patent and licensing issues that were forced to delay change or abandon their research projects.

However there were no figures given on the proportion of research projects that were adversely affected by licensing issues.

The survey is biased by the fact that those most adversely affected are the most likely to reply to the survey.

When you are talking percentage of a percentage of a percentage of the total population is can be a small fraction of the total population.

Yep... (5, Insightful)

vectorian798 (792613) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994927)

I am in a robotics research team here at UC Berkeley and we too found that often companies patent random stuff that they haven't even fully developed yet. Because patents can be overly broad (like the one on the hardware 'double-click') this can cause problems especially in cases where there is perhaps only one solution (or one cost-effective and viable one anyways) to a given problem. The solution may be blatantly obvious to the scientifically-inclined, but if someone holds a patent on it, what can you do...

I wouldn't complain as much if the patent system hired people halfway-knowledgeable or if they allowed patents only on something very specific (aka ethical to 'patent') and genuinely ingenious. But these concepts of ethics etc. are so hand-wavy that we might as well not even try to 'reform' the system, and instead just get rid of it because otherwise it will be hard to meet the standards we expect.

Perhaps another way to go at it is to have a board of scientifically-inclined folks to preside over the patent system and work at it with newer laws on what can and cannot be patented. Over time as new technologies and ways of thinking come about, such a board can continue to refine the laws. My bid for the people to serve on these boards: college professors from a mix of technical majors from various universities.

In any case, the other question is why would researchers who face this barrier file patents themselves? To do it before someone else does - it's not like prior art holds weight in today's patent system, so it is a quick solution to making sure you don't face problems in the future.

I'll leave you with that.

Re:Yep... (1)

JanneM (7445) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995066)

I'm in robotics as well (in Japan), but I haven't really felt the impact of patents on my work. Patents don't disallow you from doing research after all, but "only" commercializing it; having it made into product or processes.

But yes, there are numerous problems with the patent systems around the world. The bar for patents are usually too low (it's supposed to be non-obvious to practictioners, after all); the scope is far too wide; and there is no more than a nod anymore to the idea of prior art (usually, prior art is only searched for among previous patents, not the literature or practices in general).

One big problem, I think, is that time limits are too inflexible. 20 years or so is arguably OK for pharmaceuticals, say, where you do spend a large part of that just getting it out the door. It's far too long in a fast-changing field like computer science, where "new" goes to "established practice" in a year, and "the old, stupid way only old fogies still remember" in another five.

The second one is the difficulty and imbalances in actually challenging bad patents. No idea how to solve it properly; there are so many balances to take into account. The current system is broken, though.

Re:Yep... (2, Interesting)

cpt kangarooski (3773) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995198)

Patents don't disallow you from doing research after all, but "only" commercializing it; having it made into product or processes.

They do in the US. There is an exemption for research purposes, but it's too small to be all that useful AFAIK.

Re:Yep... (1)

wallitron (308146) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995156)

Perhaps another way to go at it is to have a board of scientifically-inclined folks to preside over the patent system and work at it with newer laws on what can and cannot be patented.

Great idea! I'm gunna patent it!

Re:Yep... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13995189)

The solution may be blatantly obvious to the scientifically-inclined, but if someone holds a patent on it, what can you do...
You can license it, idiot.

I can vouch for this first hand (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13994933)

I'm a graduate student working on a high profile computer engineering project. My advisor (let's call him Prof X) runs the group, and also has a small side company based on his research.

I recently experienced just this effect. I needed some realistic multi-threading code to use to test a visualizer I have been working on (actually, it's not a visualizer per se, but the intermediate analysis steps you need to go through before you use the visualizer). I found out that the code I wanted to use is actually owned (patented) by Prof X's company, and that I would not be allowed to see or use it unless I signed an NDA.

(Posted anonymously for reasons that should hopefully be obvious)

Re:I can vouch for this first hand (1)

afaik_ianal (918433) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995057)

That sounds like garbage: If the method is patented, then it is by definition published (Try www.uspto.gov). That's the whole point of patents. Sure, if you want their actual implementation, then you're going to need to deal with NDAs and all that garbage.

Also, (IANAL, and I am not American), but aren't educational institutions exempt from patents in the US?

Re:I can vouch for this first hand (3, Informative)

calbanese (169547) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995187)

(IAAL but I haven't done much work with software patents)

Either the grandparent is mistaken or confused, and you are correct. Patents are published so that others can use and improve them. You can not use them in commercial products, though. But if it is a valid patent it would be available on the USPTO website, available to researchers to use for research projects.

If the code is copyrighted, then you won't be able to see it unless you sign their forms etc. (assuming the source isn't just floating around online) as you do not need to submit the entire work to the Copyright Office to get a copyright, and even when submitted for registration it is not published online.

That being said, you could develop your own code that performs exactly the same function in exactly the same way and as long as you can prove you had no access to the original (or if the hardware requires constraints that everyone would have to use), then you are in the clear, even if it 'infringes.' Getting a registered copyright costs little more then a stamp - its nothing like a patent. Since they won't release the code to you without a contract, you have a strong case that you didn't have access to it and developed the code on your own. So there is no problem with you developing your own code, or, if it truly is patented, seeing the patent and implementing the code as long as its for research.

Sign the NDA (1)

everphilski (877346) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995095)

Choke your pride and sign the NDA. I fail to see what the problem is.

(I use code from work in pursuit of my thesis, they were more than happy to extend a NDA to me, I scratch their back they scratch mine...)

-everphilski-

Re:I can vouch for this first hand (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13995204)

As someone else posted, this should be published to be patented. It could be a "trade secret", which would require the NDA.


However, use of that code in your research would "taint" your research. You will not be able to publish anything related to that part of the project. I would recommend that you avoid this entirely and seek a new method to do what you want.


There must be "conflict of interest" guidelines at your institution which Dr X is violating. It is too bad that you discovered this so late (by the sounds of it, you are a fair ways into your project). "X" doesn't sound like a person with whom I would like to work with at all. If this is his process, I would also recommend that you cover your ass as thoroughly as possible.


Make sure that you have some control over what happens to your work. It could very well be that this secretive process was some other grad student's thesis and that other grad student couldn't publish it.

isn't this obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13994941)

It shouldn't take 'research' to arrive at this conclusion, just logic. Foster and promote a society of capitalist excess, greed, selfishness and litigation and of course real science and progress will falter.

I'm amazed anyone would call this 'news'.

Science is a waste, we should all be lawyers (1)

walterbyrd (182728) | more than 8 years ago | (#13994971)

I predict that in the future, everybody in the USA will earn a living by suing everybody else.

Leave that science stuff to other nations, we have better things to do.

Re:Science is a waste, we should all be lawyers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13995074)

Hello, everyone! I'm Pettie the Don't Sue People Panda!

Perhaps this could be a good thing (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13994983)

The chilling effect could be quite useful in the areas of superconductor research.

In my lab (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13995004)

In my lab, we use liquid nitrogen to chill our science. Should I keep this method? Or should I wander down to the law department, steal some law grad students and pack them around my experiments?

on that same note... (4, Interesting)

drewxhawaii (922388) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995010)

... a patent was recently issued for "an anti-gravity device"

http://news.com.com/2061-11204_3-5942862.html [com.com]

apparently you can get a patent on something you haven't developed

Re:on that same note... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13995255)

There is a good article on that [blogspot.com]:

Physicists argue that, theoretically, anti-gravity devices imply the availability of unlimited energy, which is not a tenable position. According to Robert Park of the American Physical Society, "If you design an anti-gravity machine, you've got a perpetual-motion machine."

"Patent law specifies that the subject matter must be 'useful.' The term 'useful' in this connection refers to the condition that the subject matter has a useful purpose and also includes operativeness, that is, a machine which will not operate to perform the intended purpose would not be called useful, and therefore would not be granted a patent."

But then, they did just grant the patent...

The whole point of the patent system (1)

aapold (753705) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995018)

is supposed to be that you would like, have an incentive to do research so that someone else couldn't screw you out of your work. If you don't develop it you should lose it.

Re:The whole point of the patent system (1)

drewxhawaii (922388) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995041)

you should only be able to patent things you have developed, or are in the process of developing, IMHO

then it would be a race to develop things, not think of them

a retarded 3-year-old monkey with downs syndrome could think up a space elevator, but it takes real brains to make it happen

Can't look at just the costs (1)

poppycock (231161) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995026)

I agree that the patent system can be improved, but this appears to be just an examination of the costs of the patent system without any discussion of the benefit.

In one survey last year, 99% of Americans reported that the ongoing costs of operating their cars impacted their bank account in a negative manner...

The Patent System Is Not Bad (5, Insightful)

MCTFB (863774) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995046)

It is the administration of the patent system that is bad.

The U.S. Patent Office is underfunded, understaffed, and underqualified. Much of this is intentional on the part of big business and "patent companies" who profit off of a dysfunctional U.S. Patent Office not being able to do its job. The reasons things are so bad are purely intentional. Also, if a patent examiner rejects a patent, then a few phone calls are made and the patent examiner (who is more than likely some kid straight out of college) is in hot shit by his superior. So, since the patent examiners just want to get paid like everyone else, they rarely blow the whistle on companies which have a lot of lobbying influence in Washington.

Without the patent system, you would basically have a wild west business climate where the only way to protect your inventions is to hire your own thugs to deal with people who infringe on your monopoly. Of course, someone else could hire their own thugs and just steal your invention (provided they had the expertise to manage it) as well. Neither situation is good for business or a climate friendly to inventors, so that is why we have patents.

I could go on and on about why patents are necessary as well as talk about my real world experience with the system, but I think any sane person would agree patents are a necessary evil to scientific progress in business and industry. Nevertheless, the current patent system is so poorly run and so politicized that it might as well be more of a roadblock to inventors than a safeguard right now.

If you want a functioning patent system for the future, maybe you might want to write to your congressmen about how you think it would be wise to reduce social entitlement payouts to retiring old farts in the forms of medicare and social security, and put the money to better use in the U.S. Patent Office where right it is perfectly OK for a patent examiner to work a couple years for the government and then work for a "patent company" or law firm specializing in patents right after that.

Until then you get what you pay for.

Yawn! Not new... (5, Interesting)

AB3A (192265) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995070)

It seems to me that this has happened before. Around the turn of the last century, Lee DeForrest patented a whole bunch of undeveloped ideas and nonsense concerning electron tubes on the theory that something might stick. He really didn't know what he had when he developed the very first triode. But that didn't stop him from trying to patent every conceivable circuit he could imagine.

Unfortunately, Armstrong did know what the tube was good for and actually developed some very innovative circuits that lead to the Regenerative receiver. However, DeForrest's lawyers sued him because they thought they had a patent on the circuit before Armstrong did. The court couldn't sort out the details because they didn't understand the technology all that well either. They awarded damages to DeForrest, whose lawyers were well fed...

Today, you can look at DeForrest's patents and decide for yourself whether he really had a clue as to what a regenerative receiver was. Most technically literate people agree that his patent was merely a fishing expedition.

So here we are today: The AAAS has just realized that there might be a problem with patents. Golly! They're about 100 years too late IMNSHO. This festering heap of a stupid idea called patents began to be a problem when it became apparent that no one person could know all there was to know about science as people could claim in Ben Franklin's day. Today, it's harder and harder to find people who know all there is worth knowing about even a small branch of physics.

This concept of patent reform is so overdue that the best thing we can do about it is to junk the whole edifice and start over. It's that bad. We've known it since the last century. Why is it still here?

Government-created problem (2, Insightful)

Venik (915777) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995075)

Intellectual property laws are long-overdue for a revision. A while ago I stumbled upon a site collecting information about the most ridiculous patents ever issued. It's hard to believe the kind of nonsense the US Patent Office is creating. Clearly, the problem is not just with the laws, but also with their implementation. Looking at some of the patents one can't help but wonder about the technical skills of people issuing these patents, or, indeed, about their sanity. It's all very funny until you realize that overly restrictive intellectual property laws are hampering scientific and technological progress. These kinds of restrictions give the edge to other countries that exploit our technological achievements while paying little attention to our patent game. It's time we think about this problem in terms of its impact on our economy and national security.

Innovation & patents (2, Insightful)

tiks (791388) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995096)

The whole idea behind patents is to make sure that the innovator gets 'credit' for the Idea/Innovation but In my view there are 2 very crucial elements in this process of protection/ownership of innovation, first is the definition of innovation itself & second is the duration of protection. The definition of innovation should come as a measure of new-ness of the idea/innovation i mean what the hell is one click shopping patent for!!.

Second is duration of protection, this has become very important in current times because duration of protection is basically a measure of 'how much time can one reasonably expect somebody else to come up with same/similiar idea given the present pace of development in this field'. Any lesser protection & you are screwing the inventor, any more & you are screwing the rest of society. In present times the pace of development has caught up & also the ability to innovate is also increased due to much better availability of information & resources (like computer/os/compiler) so the patent office should adjust the ability acquire patent protection accordingly. It really is as simple as that. Also, in not doing this patent office really is hurting itself because if everything one dreams of is patentable then effectivly the meaning of protection will be lost & it will just become another legal process that a company/institution has to go through ... of course individuals will be screwed as always :-(

Think logically people (0, Flamebait)

superspaz (902023) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995108)

How much more research is done in industry because patents exist? You think government officials are better at picking who to fund than the open market? Talk about a narrow-minded view of things.

Re:Think logically people (1)

superspaz (902023) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995137)

Also, I wonder how much of the delay comes from researchers filing patents to have a chance at making some money. They usually split any money that comes from their patents with the school. Patents are encouragement to do research and to release that information to the world. Works a lot better for academia than trade secrets.

Is current patent law unconstitutional? (4, Interesting)

Reality Master 201 (578873) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995109)

The Constitution sez:

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.

So the question is, if patents are now starting to impede the progress of science and technology (and I'm willing to bet plenty of people on slashdot could think of instances in which this is the case), there is a good case to be made that as it stands now, the law governing patents is no longer constitutional.

Just a thought. Feel free to flame.

Actual report (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13995120)

You can see the actual report here [aaas.org].

Shift (2, Insightful)

axonal (732578) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995130)

Perhaps this is why there is a shift away from science in the US? People say we need to "reignite" science here, but with such strong patent laws I could see why scientists would be more persuaded to research elsewhere.

Another way the USPTO is screwed up (1)

rgoldste (213339) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995136)

The patent bar is the only bar in the U.S. that allows practicioners to be non-lawyers [uspto.gov]. Sure, you're an agent, rather than an attorney, but you still practice before the USPTO. (And the practice is quite lucrative, if anybody is thinking of finding a new job.) The USPTO has tons of discretion to choose who practices before it, according to the Supreme Court in Sperry v. Florida [findlaw.com].

Just another example of how the USPTO has too much power for it to use effectively, and how Congress has failed to properly regulate the patent industry.

Re:Another way the USPTO is screwed up (2, Interesting)

cpt kangarooski (3773) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995251)

Actually, I understand that it's not really that lucrative unless you're also a lawyer. Then it's very good work indeed.

However, I don't see how this is a valid criticism of the PTO.

abolish patents! (0, Troll)

coward42 (929959) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995163)

And why we're at it, let's just abolish all private property rights. That way we could all enjoy the benefits that are now reserved for those money grubbing capitalists whose only contribution is to pay to employ us while we're inventing all this cool stuff. I don't care who owns it. I just want to be paid to try and fail and try and fail over and over until I finally have something that can be tried in the market place over and over and have a billion in one chance of returning any money at all back to the evil capitalist. Rather than the capitalist making money off it, I would rather GIVE my inventions freely to the world so that all mankind may benefit from my benevolence but of course still recognize me as the great genius that I am!

Re:abolish patents! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13995211)

damn straight.

Shear amount of research? (0, Redundant)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995206)

Research is being removed with clippers and/or scissors because of patents? Hopefully they do away with patents so we can go back to removing research by hand.

It's everywhere in science... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13995221)

I can add to this from the physical sciences, chemical synthesis of new compounds.

At present, I have three patents in the works, and another two in the pipe. The are a number of patents that are out there with a stereocenter change or an addition of a methyl group, which do not change anything in the active site (biological). There are no changes to the compound itself "actively" (take a look at the advertised pharmacuticals). This is very alarming to me, due to the proliferation of paper. In general, some patents should encompass one central theme and cover the other additions in general terms, therefore making a single patent out of many. Right now, (IIRC) there is a ~28 month waiting period for the USPTO to look at your patent. Another reason for the time lag is the amount of money that you can use to place your patent in front of the line. I am waiting for this to snap someone in the butt, because of the time lag and filed patents.

Exchange of knowledge is the way that science works. However, businesses view the exchange of knowledge as "losing your advantage in the marketplace." I am really getting tire of patents, due to the time lag and legal problems that you have to go through. On the other hand, patents are the best way to own and profit.

Yep, money is the reason.

The patent system's working just fine (1)

rsilvergun (571051) | more than 8 years ago | (#13995230)

for it's current purpose: stablizing the market. If you're an invester, the last thing you want is innovation making it tough to invest. All those people who lost boat loads in .com boom are pissed right now, and they're looking for a way to consolidate the market into a few big players that yeild consistent returns. No more Microsoft's stealing IBM's thnder, and no more Google's stealing Microsoft's thunder. Just smooth, steady earnings.
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