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42 comments

excess gasses (5, Funny)

mikerubin (449692) | more than 7 years ago | (#17590344)

Have they thought about the energy wasted in pursuing the lawsuits ?

Re:excess gasses (1)

EinZweiDrei (955497) | more than 7 years ago | (#17590632)

Or as the Second Law of Legal-Dynamics states: 'In any process to convert the heat energy that flows from a hot object to a colder object into work, there will inevitably be some loss. One cannot transform 100% of the heat flow into productive work.'

and the usefulness of the patent system... (2, Insightful)

3seas (184403) | more than 7 years ago | (#17590380)

... starts to crumble as far as its ability to bring the bestest and most advancedist products to the coinsumer.

Re:and the usefulness of the patent system... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17590574)

The synopsis is grammatically incorrect. "revolves around" is redundant, and the OP should have said "revolves on".

Re:and the usefulness of the patent system... (1)

McGiraf (196030) | more than 7 years ago | (#17590584)

"... starts to crumble as far as its ability to bring the bestest and most advancedist products to the coinsumer."

Damn thoze pesky pateants on speel chikers!

What? (1)

Per Abrahamsen (1397) | more than 7 years ago | (#17591132)

"bestest", "advancedist" and "coinsumer" are perfectly cromulent words!

They just haven't found their way into the dictionaries yet.

Re:and the usefulness of the patent system... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17596516)

Except that Transmeta does...what?

Oh, right...nothing.

Classic patent-plateau (5, Insightful)

steinnes (774991) | more than 7 years ago | (#17590392)

A couple of years ago I saw Stallman lecture about the dangers of software patents. A lot of his speech revolved around the busting of the myth of the "patent empowering the little guy", ie. the myth of the lone inventor walking down the street demanding money from the likes of Intel, IBM, Microsoft, because of his mighty patent. Stallman explained that if such a situation would arise, the large companies would simply find ways of countersuing for infringement of some of their numerous patents, thus forcing the smaller entity to give up it's claims, and possibly settle the countercase by giving up it's own patent.

This is something he referred to as a patent plateau -- where the large companies are all so far beyond the reach of smaller entities, be it individuals or companies, that patents in the hands of those not "on the plateau", are practically useless.

Re:Classic patent-plateau (3, Interesting)

loki_tiwaz (982852) | more than 7 years ago | (#17590630)

The scenario Stallman talks about is altogether too obviously possible. Patents are evil and should be eradicated.

The only way for the little guy to really fight the big guys is to release inventions into the public domain where they will be produced by whoever sees a market for them rather than whoever wants to pay the outrageous license fee and royalties. The only incentive for this is purely ethical, although one must consider the fame for this will most likely result in a R&D job somewhere. But who funds R&D departments that don't churn out patents?

One has to ask the question: if Transmeta had not sued Intel, would Intel have sued Transmeta?

Re:Classic patent-plateau (2, Insightful)

broller (74249) | more than 7 years ago | (#17590868)

One has to ask the question: if Transmeta had not sued Intel, would Intel have sued Transmeta

Thank you for not using "begs the question" here.

It seems likely that the answer is no. Transmeta was not a threat to Intel, so they had no pressing reason to sue. If Intel did decide to sue, and won, the bad publicity would far outweigh anything they could win in court. If Intel lost, the publicity would be worse, and they'd set a bad precedent for the other "little guys" out there. Transmeta forced the hands of Intel.

Re:Classic patent-plateau (1)

Ksempac (934247) | more than 7 years ago | (#17590904)

One has to ask the question: if Transmeta had not sued Intel, would Intel have sued Transmeta?

Of course not.

Intel doesnt waste time suing little unknown companies. This is just a way to force Transmeta to accept a settlement instead of going in front of the judge for an endless trial...

Re:Classic patent-plateau (2, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 7 years ago | (#17590878)

He's almost right. The little guy can go up against the big guy and win, as long as the little guy doesn't make the mistake of making anything first. If Transmeta had sold their patents to a shell company (in exchange for, say 99% of the royalties), then the shell company could have sued Intel, and Intel would only have been able to sue Transmeta, not the shell company.

Re:Classic patent-plateau (2, Interesting)

steinnes (774991) | more than 7 years ago | (#17590964)

Ah, thank you for pointing out an interesting solution to this problem -- however, the possibility of the larger company suing the company which owns the shell company still exists. So the only real solution is to develop a patent, and not intend to use it for anything -- ie. not intend to use this wonderful "new technology" to bring more prosperity to the human race (or however the patent system was first envisioned). Personally I think that the patent system as it currently stands needs some sort of overhaul.

Re:Classic patent-plateau (1)

Tim C (15259) | more than 7 years ago | (#17591032)

This is something he referred to as a patent plateau -- where the large companies are all so far beyond the reach of smaller entities, be it individuals or companies, that patents in the hands of those not "on the plateau", are practically useless.

Only if you go up against one of the big guys, and are unfortunate enough to have infringed some of their patents. If you don't actually produce anything, or if you otherwise manage not to infringe any of their patents, or if you only go after smaller companies, then you should be fine.

On the other hand, without patents, there would be nothing to stop Company A spending years and millions of pounds developing something, then brining it to market, then watching Company B spending a couple of months and a few thousand pounds reverse engineering it and bringing their own version to market at a reduced price (due to effectively zero R&D costs) and preventing them from recouping their costs. Given that companies are obliged to show a return on their investments and turn a profit, what incentive then is there to make the investment?

If you want to argue that the USPTO is failing in its duty of disallowing frivolous patents, or that patents are granted for too long a period of time, then I'd agree. However to say that patents are useless is rather missing the point.

Re:Classic patent-plateau (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 7 years ago | (#17598160)

On the other hand, without patents, there would be nothing to stop Company A spending years and millions of pounds developing something, then brining it to market, then watching Company B spending a couple of months and a few thousand pounds reverse engineering it and bringing their own version to market at a reduced price.

Ahh... but this is exactly the argument we're talking about as being invalid.

If company B is one of the "big guys", they can use their patent portfolio to force a cross-licensing agreement anyway. Company B being one of the "big guys" is one of the key points to the argument, because they're the only ones who can really leverage a superior production set up to out-compete Company A's first to market advantage.

Very simply, patents only have one real world effect: They segment the market into companies big enough to force cross licensing agreements (who get to use all the patented ideas) and smaller companies and individuals (who get to use almost none of the patented ideas). In most fields, it's impossible to build a useful device without using multiple ideas. Conceptually, this means that only big companies can safely bring products to market - in the real world, the large companies chose to let smaller companies play too and generally don't sue them, content in the knowledge that they can crush them like bugs with their numerous patents if they should ever become a real threat.

Re:Classic patent-plateau (1)

gnasher719 (869701) | more than 7 years ago | (#17592414)

'' A couple of years ago I saw Stallman lecture about the dangers of software patents. A lot of his speech revolved around the busting of the myth of the "patent empowering the little guy", ie. the myth of the lone inventor walking down the street demanding money from the likes of Intel, IBM, Microsoft, because of his mighty patent. Stallman explained that if such a situation would arise, the large companies would simply find ways of countersuing for infringement of some of their numerous patents, thus forcing the smaller entity to give up it's claims, and possibly settle the countercase by giving up it's own patent. ''

But he is not correct. If I find that Microsoft is infringing on my one and only patent in every shipping copy of Windows XP, and Microsoft finds that some software of which I sold 200 copies infringes on 100 of their patents, once damages are compared, I still win.

Re:Classic patent-plateau (1)

Darth (29071) | more than 7 years ago | (#17595602)

But he is not correct. If I find that Microsoft is infringing on my one and only patent in every shipping copy of Windows XP, and Microsoft finds that some software of which I sold 200 copies infringes on 100 of their patents, once damages are compared, I still win.

No, you don't. Long before you (maybe) win your patent suit, you are bankrupted and your patent is sold off to pay your creditors. Someone might actually get a payout from Microsoft, but your company is dissolved and you don't get anything.

Re:This is why patent trolls exist (1)

kansas1051 (720008) | more than 7 years ago | (#17594368)

You are exactly correct, but don't forget about patent trolls. Small company X can't sue IBM for patent infringement because Intel will counterclaim and destroy company X. So company X sells its patents to a patent troll and the troll then sues Intel. Because the troll produces no products, it is immune from Intel's counterclaims. Of course, everyone on /. would complain about the troll and say how unfair patents are, but company X (the small guy) still benefits from selling its patent to the troll.

Based on the above, I hope everyone can see why the large companies want "patent reform" to prevent trolls (those who do not make any products) from suing, because if trolls do not exist, large companies will be immune from patent suits by small companies.

who knew? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17590610)

Was Linus invovled?

Patent sharing agreement to follow (1)

toybuilder (161045) | more than 7 years ago | (#17590718)

It seems more likely to me that this thing will eventually blow over with the two sides agreeing to a patent portfolio sharing agreement. It's worked for AMD, and I suspect Trnasmeta would like to reach that point as well.

You *can* sue the big guys for patent violations (4, Insightful)

Per Abrahamsen (1397) | more than 7 years ago | (#17590958)

But only if you don't have a product of your own.

The patent system can serve two groups:

1) The big companies, who can keep newcomers out.
2) Litigation companies, with no purpose other than suing.

It can not serve the little guy with an innovative products, as all products build on older ideas, and the lifetime of a patent is much longer than the generation gab between products.

If you have a great patentable idea, and want to make money on it, here is what you must do: Patent it. Distribute it widey, for example, if applicable, as source code under a BSD/MIT style license. Watch others build products on it. Sue them. Never, ever, make the mistake of creating a product of your own. The time where you could get rich by identifying a need, and selling a product to fulfill it, is long gone.

Nonsense (1)

FallLine (12211) | more than 7 years ago | (#17596812)

But only if you don't have a product of your own.

The patent system can serve two groups:

1) The big companies, who can keep newcomers out.
2) Litigation companies, with no purpose other than suing.

It can not serve the little guy with an innovative products, as all products build on older ideas, and the lifetime of a patent is much longer than the generation gab between products.
Nonsense. I've personally known "little guys" (several million in funding, family members of mine, friends, etc) that have successfully gone up against much bigger companies (multi-billion dollar businesses) in the same industries with innovative products protected by patents. Contrary to your position, large established businesses have the most to gain (on average) from losing the patent system. All the small company has to its advantage is a few innovative ideas and the ability to respond quickly to changing events. The big company has at its disposal a ton of cash, lots of infrastructure, large sales/marketing forces, and often a large pool of existing customers. Big companies often spend money on significant amounts of money on R&D and many of them come up with good ideas, but they lack the vision and spine to follow through with a polished product (see PARC/Xerox, Bell Labs, etc). However, once some upstart comes along and starts taking 5%+ of the market from them, they stand up and take notice. Once they do it's all too easy for them to incorporate the innovations of the small company into their product and push it through their pre-existing pipelines and destroy the window of the opportunity for the innovator -- unless that small company has strong IP.

There are certainly problems with the patent system, primarily insofar as it has allowed too many low quality patents through (overly broad and obvious). This problem is particularly bad in areas that the patent office understands little due to its relative novelty and when there is a rapid growth in applications (e.g., internet tech). However, many slashdotters also grossly overstate the scale of the problem because they have no idea how to read patents and because they themselves have never been involved with sizable entrepreneurial activity. All they see are reports of the problems (about half the time with grossly inaccurate information) and they never hear about companies of all sizes using patents to secure real innovation (or small companies/entrepreneurs licensing their tech to much bigger firms for $$$).

Yes, some guy with just a few thousand dollars to his name/idea is going to have a difficult time filing a _strong_ patent today(many people have weak patents which are easily worked around). But he sure as hell can file a provisional patent application with a little research (cheap) which can then give him the legal leverage and confidence to talk to other engineering types, VCs, etc to seek out funding, assistance, and guidance. What's more, if that (really) little guy can't obtain funding from anyone, the odds are that he won't be able to develop the idea in the first place. Most competent investors won't even invest if you don't have or can't obtain a strong patent (there are some exceptions)

The Litigation Tactic (2, Insightful)

wjcofkc (964165) | more than 7 years ago | (#17591164)

The laywers at Transmeta must surely have seen how the SCO battle recently ended. It's remarkable that they haven't taken that as lesson learned for them by someone else.

This tactic of trying to make a bunch of money via litigation before tanking a failed company is so uncertain - and with such a potential for backfire - I can't image why anyone would go that route.

If they wanted to make money before closing up shop, they should have sold thier patents.

-W

Re:The Litigation Tactic (3, Funny)

hotdiggitydawg (881316) | more than 7 years ago | (#17591208)

Personally I'm waiting for SCO to wigh in here, and sue Transmeta for infringing on SCO's patented business model...

You shouldn't be able to patent energy efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17591436)

You shouldn't be able to patent energy efficiency. If one company can tell another that it cannot make something that is energy efficient that is just wrong.

Power efficient? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17591926)

Somehow the words Intel and Power efficient in the same sentence seems to strike me as funny!

I think Transmeta is the good guy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17592010)

I am a chip designer (not working for Intel, AMD or Transmeta). Here is my take:

Having studied Transmeta designs, I can tell you that a large number of Intel improvments when they suddenly jumped from 100-300 MHz to 800MHz - 1.3GHz (in terms of architecture, not available consumer chips) is due to ideas they stole from Cruse.

Now I understand that we dont like sueing and lawyers here at slashdot, and I hate SCO as much as the next guy. But in this case, I think it is obvious that Intel stole a large number of design ideas from Transmeta.

I dont think Transmeta will win, but I beleave they are the good guys here and _should_ win.

how about no fault insurance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17592116)

simple: legal requirements could easily implement a mandatory requirement that patent cases be settled by the patent office and established levels of compensation would remove the financial incentives which drive the legal community to exploit this to their own benefit

the Romans didn't allow lawyers to charge fees, as they believed it prostituted the legal system

Transmeta is today's Netscape (2, Insightful)

transami (202700) | more than 7 years ago | (#17592922)

You people floor me. You mash all day long about how poor the patent system is, and then when someone tries to uphold legitimate patents you label them money-grubbing losers. Doesn't anyone remember what happened? Transmeta comes along with a revolutionary new perspective and implementation of teh CPU based on the idea of power efficiency and the big wig Intel just cuts them out of the picture by copying them. Now, power efficiency is the new "MHz" and the company we have to thank for it is being kicked about and compared to scoundrels like SCO. This has all the same characteristics of Netscape vs. Microsoft, but we can see by the results of that case people really care about.

It makes me sick.

Re:Transmeta is today's Netscape (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17594670)

I agree with you 100%. The Slashdot Linux fanboi culture has no respect for business, capitalism, or corporation so the reaction is not really surprising.

Transmeta didn't build their CPU from scratch (1)

Per Abrahamsen (1397) | more than 7 years ago | (#17594954)

They used technology pioneered by others before them. And those people also build on older technology. Given that Intel really is one of the major pioneers in CPUs, it is quite likely that the Intel patents are as legitimate as the Transmeta patent.

The Netscape vs Microsoft is totally inappropriate, neither company was pioneer in anything but the commercializing of existing technology.

a pro-Transmeta comment, redux (1)

aschoeff (864154) | more than 7 years ago | (#17595366)

I personally am an adherent to something akin to the RMS philosophy. I believe information wants to be free, and that patents and copyrights should be gradually phased back to their original very limited focus and scope.

That said, the facts show that Transmeta decided to play by the rules and compete in the chip business. The facts also show that they received the standard treatment from one of the two biggest technology monopolists of our age, Intel (our friend M$ being the other). Intel has a long history of anti-competitive illegal abuse of their dominant position in the marketplace.

We know this through contracts with distributors and partners that have been periodically leaked and reported on, as well as a mountain of articles detailing their abusive platform tie-ins and deceptive marketing techniques. A look at the current antitrust case brought by AMD alone is damning. Separately, each piece of the puzzle isn't blatantly illegal, but that's the game monopolists (and the mafia) play; it's hard to prove collusion and/or conspiracy.

If Transmeta had never successfully fabbed a chip, or had never found a major distribution partner, you could rightfully call them a troll. The important point is that even if this was the case, Intel still stole their technology and called it their own, and is liable for massive patent violations.

But that's not the case. Transmeta tried, made a pretty damn good go of it, and was squashed. I think the only part of this in dispute is if Transmeta could bring an antitrust case like AMD against Intel as well. I wish they would, because without companies like AMD and Transmeta, today we'd be paying $2000 for a (t)Itanic clocked at 300MHz or so with no backwards (32-bit) compatibility, power saving, or other performance innovations. Instead we get to pay $100-$200 for a multi-GHz chip with all these features.

Now Intel shows us exactly why they are the poster child for patent reform after rummaging through their bin of monopolist patent bombs for a few months and countersuing.

Re:a pro-Transmeta comment, redux (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 7 years ago | (#17598282)

Without AMD, Transmeta, Cyrix, and any other x86 clone manufacturers that failed along the way the CPU market still wouldn't be as bad as you seem to think. You're forgetting about all the other companies that make microprocessors. I hear IBM makes some pretty nice stuff that you could easily run a desktop-grade computer off of. The other company that you shouldn't forget about is Motorola. Beyond that there are around 50 other companies that currently have fabs that you could make a decent microprocessor at.

If Intel hadn't had solid competition in the x86 market, the competition for embedded microprocessors and server processors wouldn't have slowed down one bit. We might be using Power or Sparc today - perhaps 6 months behind on performance for the changeover, perhaps ahead because of the architecture advantages.

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