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Companies Asked to Donate Unused Patents

Hemos posted more than 7 years ago | from the bring-out-yer-dead dept.

Patents 140

Radon360 writes "There are countless patents that are promising but sitting idle, stowed in the corporate file room. In fact, about 90 percent to 95 percent of all patents are idle. Countless patents sit unused when companies decide not to develop them into products. Now, not-for-profit groups and state governments are asking companies to donate dormant patents so they can be passed to local entrepreneurs who try to build businesses out of them. "

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Why donate? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18401613)

The whole goal of filing tons of patents you won't develop is to wait for someone else to do the work for you. If you donate the patent someone else will complete the work but you won't get to capitalize on their success. (as was I'm sure the original goal)

Re:Why donate? (1)

db32 (862117) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401663)

Well it could also force them to do something with them or admit they are nothing more than submarine patents. Not likely, but it would be interesting to see what happens with this.

Re:Why donate? (2, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403233)

Uh, a submarine patent is one that is submitted knowing that it will not be accepted, then revised every year (or was it two?) and resubmitted, knowing that it still will not be accepted. When someone finally develops technology that a good version of the patent would address, the patent is revised into a form that will pass muster, then resubmitted. The patent's grant date corresponds not to the date of first filing, but to the date when the submission is approved. This is a huge problem with the system. Besides shortening the duration of all patents, we should be dating the patents to the date of first submission.

Re:Why donate? (1)

db32 (862117) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403359)

I was under the impression it applied to patents that were submitted with no real intent of doing anything with the technology, but rather waiting for someone else to develop it and then attacking (RIM vs NTP for example).

Re:Why donate? (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402039)

The whole reason for patents is to stiffle competition and product improvements.

Re:Why donate? (1)

osgeek (239988) | more than 7 years ago | (#18404101)

That's a bit extreme. The reason for the patent system is to encourage people to invent new things rather than just copying the ideas of others. The problem is that congress (and therefore the public in general), thinks that it's just a set and forget type system that doesn't need to be revised. Maybe throwing out the whole thing would be the best solution. I would think that paying attention to it and correcting some of its problems would be more useful.

What about donating Anti-patents? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18402109)

I have anti-patented my two algorithms - Hyperluma 2 and Luminaplex http://ronja.twibright.com/hyperluma.php [twibright.com] - which, when implemented, mean better television, better DVDs, better porn videos for everyone. They are actually improvements over a method that solved the same problem with worse quality and was patented.

So in this case I donated an anti-patent and not a patent, and not to some enterpreneur, but to the public :)

Re:Why donate? (2, Informative)

Dan Ost (415913) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402121)

According to the article's example, the company that owned the patent was paid a 5% stake in the start-up in exchange for letting the start-up use the patent.

Not a donation in the strictest sense of the word, but still, they're letting someone use a patent that they weren't going to pursue.

Re:Why donate? (1)

jank1887 (815982) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402719)

exactly. that's basically a funded-up-front licensing agreement.

they don't need to donate the patents, they need to open up visibility. maybe even 'shop' for developers using a bargain-ish licensing fee as described above.

Re:Why donate? (1)

LifeWithJustin (969206) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402861)

Admittedly I didn't RTFA ..

But I see a new business model being made here...

Step 1: Get patent from company X
Step 2: Donate recently acquired patent to company Y
Step 4: Profit

Note: We will not speak of step 3.

Redundant, I know... (2, Funny)

chihowa (366380) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403865)

Don't worry, I've got step three all figured out: Step 3: ???

No patents go unused (2, Interesting)

argoff (142580) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402995)

The whole goal of filing tons of patents you won't develop is to wait for someone else to do the work for you.

In truth, the stealth patent strategy is only used by a tiny minority of vultures. The vast magority of companies (eg. IBM,HP) use them to get into cross-licence agreements, or use them as ammunition to defend against lawsuits. In the industry, patents are almost never used to "protect" invenstions, but only to protect against lawsuits. So in that way, no patent goes unused.

Re:Why donate? (1)

partenon (749418) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403297)

Yeah, but it is *not* the basic idea of the patents system, which is to protect the entrepeneur willing to invest time and money on developing new things to improve our livings, in exchange of money.

If a company did a research, filled the patent and is not able to continue, move on. World/society must succeed, not a specific company. Maybe some sort of money compensation should be given to the original "creator", but the development of new technologies can't stop just because one particular company is unable to finish it's first commercial project.

Why donate? (3, Interesting)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401617)

If companies would be interested in doing something with the patents they could have enter sharing agreements with anybody willing, so they would split the money between the owner of the patent and the entity that actually does the work of implementing the patent.

Re:Why donate? (4, Insightful)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401751)

they could have enter sharing agreements with anybody willing, so they would split the money between the owner of the patent and the entity that actually does the work of implementing the patent.

Or they could just sit on the patent and sue the entity that actually does the work and get all of the money.

Re:Why donate? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18401913)

Or they could just sit on the patent and sue the entity that actually does the work and get all of the money.
Does the work? Surely *they* did the work - that's how they ended up with the patent. They just decided it wasn't profitable to pursue and wrote off the initial investment.

Sure, it'd be great if there was a way to offer these patents up to people who want to pursue them but the original patent-holder - who did all the R&D and wrote it up ready for the newcomers to just use - deserve compensation.

Re:Why donate? (1)

partenon (749418) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403549)

Not sure if I agree with you... *Maybe*, some sort of compensation is deserved. But just *maybe*. Think about it for one second...

The company already spent this money on R&D and *decided* to fill up a patent AND not to continue with the project. So, the company is not expecting to earn money by developing and/or selling the product. By doing so, it is blocking other companie's innovation in this field/subject for some years. So, the fact of not receiving a single buck for the patent is a kind of penalty for abusing the system.

Re:Why donate? (1)

salec (791463) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401755)

Yes, this is actually like "one man's garbage is another man's treasure" kind of thing - it promotes "vultures' sitting", waiting for a useful patent to be thrown away... err, donated.

If it is a matter of price (apparently, it is) then "dormant patent" holders should have equivalent of "annual garage sale" for their patents. Perhaps even an "Unused Patents (International?) Fair" should be established to promote putting dusty ideas to good use.

Re:Why donate? (1)

PinkPanther (42194) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402069)

"dormant patent" holders should have equivalent of "annual garage sale" for their patents.
Though a neat idea, the pragmatist/pessimist in me wonders what benefit there is to a corporation to participate in such a thing?

What is the benefit to the corporation to participating? The costs are:

resources needed to research its patent base and ensure that given patents are unused and irrelevant to the company (this would be both a legal and corporate-political issue; in a large corporation, the politics alone could be a nightmare to navigate)

resources needed to package up and sell the patents (and at "garage sale" prices no less??)

potential risk that a competitor picks up the patent (why give away a competitive advantage, even one that is unused?)

Think about it: would the typical manager/executive sign off on the budget to offload properties that don't cost anything to keep laying around? Would they absorb the potential risk of giving up an offensive or defensive legal shield?

Re:Why donate? (3, Insightful)

PinkPanther (42194) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402127)

(sorry...must actually look at the preview to make the "preview" function useful...)

"dormant patent" holders should have equivalent of "annual garage sale" for their patents.
Though a neat idea, the pragmatist/pessimist in me wonders what benefit there is to a corporation to participate in such a thing?

What is the benefit to the corporation to participating? The costs are:

  • resources needed to research its patent base and ensure that given patents are unused and irrelevant to the company (this would be both a legal and corporate-political issue; in a large corporation, the politics alone could be a nightmare to navigate)
  • resources needed to package up and sell the patents (and at "garage sale" prices no less??)
  • potential risk that a competitor picks up the patent (why give away a competitive advantage, even one that is unused?)

Think about it: would the typical manager/executive sign off on the budget to offload properties that don't cost anything to keep laying around? Would they absorb the potential risk of giving up an offensive or defensive legal shield?

Re:Why donate? (1)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403153)

In other words, the person making the decision within a company only has downsides for them. Many decisions are based around not doing something wrong.

Re:Why donate? (2, Interesting)

Kaboom13 (235759) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403229)

This seems like a perfect argument for making large patent portfolios cost a lot of money to keep. Perhaps a system where you get 1-2 years free then increasingly large fees after that to keep your patent. Of course, the problem would be to find value for the fees that would be affordable for small busninesses while still giving an incentive to large businesses to abandon/sell unused patents. The money could even be put into examining new patents more carefully. Of course thats how a working system would work, sadly as long as the average voter (and your average congressmen for that matter) don't know the difference between a patent and copyright there is little incentive to change a system that rewards the big players so much.

Re:Why donate? (2, Insightful)

Falstius (963333) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403509)

You're certainly right in suggesting that no company is going to do this out of the goodness of their cold black hearts, however these same corporations donate millions of dollars each year. If the donated patents could count as a charitable donation, it would be much more appealing. Start-ups get the legal protection a patent offers without spending a ton of money, large corporations get a tax write off without giving away actual capital.

There would have to be some legislation that says the write-off value of a patent has to be reasonable, but this is similar to whenever physical goods are donated for a monetary write-off.

Hmmm (5, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401645)

This is good. I was wondering what I was gonna do with my peanut-butter-powered horse launcher.

Re:Hmmm (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18401785)

I was wondering what I was gonna do with my peanut-butter-powered horse launcher.

I'll bet McGuyver can claim prior art
   

Re:Hmmm (1)

nanio (937692) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402357)

I was wondering what I was gonna do with my peanut-butter-powered horse launcher. Lay siege to the Babylonians? Department of Homeland Security will contact you shortly.

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18402497)

So you're the bastard that bought up all the peanut butter! The store shelves around here are still bare.

I never knew there was such a demand for horse-launching. Wooden Rabbits, yes... horses, not so much.

Re:Hmmm (1)

mikehilly (653401) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402785)

It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

Is this really a good idea? (5, Insightful)

J.R. Random (801334) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401649)

Take an old, dusty patent that isn't doing anyone any harm, and then give it to an entrepreneur who now has an incentive to sue anyone else whose product violates the patent.

The only reason it's possible to do business in the United States at all is because 90% of patents are left lying in a drawer rather than being rigorously enforced.

Re:Is this really a good idea? (2, Informative)

AutopsyReport (856852) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402491)

The only reason it's possible to do business in the United States at all is because 90% of patents are left lying in a drawer rather than being rigorously enforced.

Oh come on, could you have possibly made a more generalized statement? Since when do all American businesses rely on patents, or rely on a patent remaining in hibernation? This nonsense sounds like its coming straight from the mouth of someone who has their head buried in an industry held above (or beneath) the water by patents.

Did you wake up this morning and forget about the doctors, plumbers, programmers, McDonald's employees, sales reps, and many other factions whose doing business is not forcibly restricted by patents?

It is no doubt that many industries are affected by patents, but to say that this applies to all areas of business is just ridiculous.

Re:Is this really a good idea? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18402863)

I doubt there is any industry free from patents. The ones you listed all have patent problems. For example, it is illegal to look at someone's homocysteine levels and decided they are low on B-12 without a license from the patent holder. Plenty of plumbing parts are more expensive because of patents. Programmers? Have you not heard of software patents? Ok, McDonald's employees don't worry about patents, but they company does. Those kitchens are pretty high tech as are the means of making processed foods. Sales reps? Got me. The closest I can think of is the one-click patent, but calling sales reps and industry is a bit of a stretch.

Re:Is this really a good idea? (1)

AutopsyReport (856852) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402935)

All industries are affected by patents, but being able to conduct business, for many firms, has absolutely nothing to do with patents. You can't patent the ability to sell a product, charge for labour, and so forth. The original poster conveys the idea that it would be impossible to make a buck if all patents were actively enforced, which is obviously not true.

Even better... (3, Insightful)

dattaway (3088) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401669)

Bury them. Let them rest in peace.

Tax break for donating patents (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18401683)

Perhaps giving companies a tax writeoff equal to the amount in revenues that a donated patent generates would work out.

Re:Tax break for donating patents (4, Informative)

mpe (36238) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402487)

Perhaps giving companies a tax writeoff equal to the amount in revenues that a donated patent generates would work out.

The original article mentions that tax breaks were actually stopped because they were abused.

Re:Tax break for donating patents (1)

MaizeMan (1076255) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403475)

But the problem cited in the article was companies donating patents that wouldn't lead to effective business models, basically junk patents. If the tax write-off is tied to the success of the company recieving the patent (I think a percentage, rather than the total revenue generated) then the potential for abuse is much more limited.

pfft (1)

Thaelon (250687) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401691)

Not going to happen. Companies are greedier than individuals despite being comprised of them.

Re:pfft (1)

N3Roaster (888781) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402509)

It already does happen. We have an organization in town that's a partnership between one of the local universities and a local economic development corporation. Already (they have been operating for a few years now) they have gotten patents donated and got them to startups which in some cases are starting to get to market. When a business gets big enough, they start to get ideas that they won't follow through on because it might only be a million dollar a year idea. It just isn't worth the investment in developing the patent into a product, especially if the patent is in an area that they don't do business in. It isn't worth it for big business, but in the hands of a startup a million dollars a year might be pretty good.

Hahahaha.. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18401719)

This isn't news or stuff that matters... But it certainly is the most naive and funniest article ever.

Invalidate them (5, Interesting)

simm1701 (835424) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401725)

Wouldn't it be a lot simpler to make patents only valid while the holder is actively exploiting them (ie using them to build the device in question - filing suits against anyone that looks like they might be using it shouldn't count) - allow a 3 year grace period between filing the patent and when they first start using it to cover developement to market window

Re:Invalidate them (5, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401841)

Wouldn't it be a lot simpler to make patents only valid while the holder is actively exploiting them

Bingo!

Let's be clear about this, for the benefit of the libertarians: patents (and other forms of protected IP, i.e. trademarks and copyrights) are government interference in the market. They are a form of government-granted monopoly which interfere with the normal operations of a free-market economy. As a matter of principle as well as practicality, this should only happen when the benefits clearly and greatly outweigh the costs -- "to promote the progress of science and the useful arts," as the Constitution defines the purpose of IP law. Granting government protection to unused patents clearly does nothing toward this end.

Re:Invalidate them (5, Interesting)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402083)

Doh! The USPTO already has a mechanism for this - maintainence fees. If you don't pony up $$$$$$ every few years the patent automatically expires. Companies, being greedy bastards don't maintain patents that they have no interest in. Which is probnably why this entire article and discussion thereof is stupid.

Re:Invalidate them (4, Insightful)

PinkPanther (42194) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402287)

Companies, being greedy bastards don't maintain patents that they have no interest in.

Maybe small companies where the CEO or CFO are signing off directly on such expenses. But in larger corporations where "legal" is nothing more than a faint blip on the accounting radar, these types of decisions have been lost in the process.

Who is going to go to all the trouble of tracking down which patents in the portfolio are actually not in use (and that would mean completely unused). In a large organization, tracking that down could be nearly impossible, especially when patents are coming from aquisitions, etc. The individual would have to have pretty good grasp of the technologies covered by the patent, the technologies used in all of the company's products (and those of its subsidiaries, etc...), have a good grasp of who in the organization "owns" the patent, the history behind its application, etc...

This would be a daunting and expensive task. It may simply be cheaper to pay the annual renewal fees rather than (a) do the legal and technical research to know that the patent is truly unused, and (b) understand the risk that someone else (e.g. a competitor) could not use the patent against the company giving up the patent.

Most patents are renewed, even the unused ones (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18402895)

Remember, everyone needs a war chest of patents to cross-license to other companies. And nobody knows for sure which patents might become useful in the future (no matter how useless they might seem today). Therefore, everything gets renewed. Also, I suspect the non-renewal of a patent would trigger the immediate write-off of all research done to acquire it. There might be some tax benefit, but somebody's internal budget is going to clobbered with accelerated depreciation expense.

Re:Invalidate them (4, Insightful)

DirePickle (796986) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403373)

The maintenance fees aren't really all that enormous, though. The first 11.5 years of maintenance total $3200. Also, the fact that 90-some percent of patents lay unused suggests to me that companies will, in fact, maintain patents that they have no interest in.

Re:Invalidate them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18403381)

Yep, that stops the little guy (you know, the one patents were originally designed to protect) from keeping his patent quite nicely, while ensuring that it is trivial for the mega-corporation to keep hundreds or thousands of patents sitting idle as potential weapons should the little guy ever try and encroach on their territory.

A financial penalty to prevent patent expiration doesn't work. The only penalty worth considering one should be based on whether a patent has ever been enforced or used by its owner. Say, five years without a product based on the patent (or a successful legal challenge based on the patent), and your patent is invalidated *and cannot be reapplied for, by anybody* - making the patent public domain knowledge.

Reality Collision (2, Insightful)

asphaltjesus (978804) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402269)

The patent was never perfect but the principal and general application was sound. It allowed for actual innovation, protected it temporarily, and offered some transparency in the business world to value novel ideas.

The problem with the libertarian black-or-white view of marketplaces is that humans _always_ screw it up. Not sometimes, always. I imagine the number of people that screwed this one up is relatively small, but isn't it always the few who make misery for the rest.

History shows time and again that all unregulated markets mature to monopolies. From fish mongers to real estate agents, there's rarely an exception. The libertarian view then either accepts the monopoly or performs some logical gymnastics to allow regulation.

The libertarian ideal _will_ be as abused as every other political ideal that has come before it. Please consider a more moderate approach.

Re:Reality Collision (1)

jelle (14827) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402811)

"History shows time and again that all unregulated markets mature to monopolies. From fish mongers to real estate agents, there's rarely an exception."

The exception is markets where there is innovation. Unless of course, there is an artificial monopoly created by regulation in the form of patent or copyright law...

Re:Reality Collision (1)

Dog-Cow (21281) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403799)

If there is limited capital, there will be monopolies. Innovation is worthless unless the means to produce are attainable. Monopolies become that way by erecting barriers to entry, not by being luddites.

Re:Reality Collision (1)

mOdQuArK! (87332) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403125)

The patent was never perfect but the principal and general application was sound.

Since the very fundamental basis of "patent protection" is enforced by stifling competition, how can you possibly claim that the "principle" is sound?

Patent proponents keep stating that "it's obvious that patents encourage innovation" like a mantra, but I've never heard of any kind of evidence that this is so - and I've seen mention of a few academic studies showing that patent systems tend to retard innovation.

Can you point me to anything other than anecdotes & demagoguery showing how a patent system encourages innovation? I'd settle for a few peer-reviewed "behavioral-experiment-done-on-college-students" as proof there might be a valid point to patents. So far, I haven't seen it.

Re:Invalidate them (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18402305)

Patents allow the government to prevent freeloading in the market. Millions of dollars of Research & Design money is spent for companies to create a unique product to sell. If another company can simply steal the design stamp a new label on it, and undercut prices due to the fact they didn't have to spend their money on R&D, then no company would benefit from research.

Re:Invalidate them (2, Informative)

Strangely Familiar (1071648) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402595)

"patents (and other forms of protected IP, i.e. trademarks and copyrights) are government interference in the market. They are a form of government-granted monopoly which interfere with the normal operations of a free-market economy."

You would be correct if you were only talking about bad, invalid patents. Otherwise, you miss the point of patents. Patents are supposed to deal with inventions that, were it not for patents, would not exist. For example, without patents, Viagra would likely not exist. If pharmaceutical companies knew they would be immediately copied, research would be entirely dependent on government grants. Many, many devices and innovations would have gone uninvented, if all research was dependent on the Government. Civil Libertarians should shudder at the idea of much or all of innovation being sponsored by the Government. Do you really think Intel could survive, if AMD, Cyrix, VIA, Transmeta, HP, IBM, Alpha, Cray, and all the others were allowed to copy their chips exactly? No, money would not be pouring into Intel, to keep doing what they've been doing, buying new fabs, and pushing the envelope. There would be no Core Duo. You can argue exceptions until the heat death of the universe, but you will be arguing against the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, who were no slouches when it came to civil liberties.

If the "normal operations of a free market" wouldn't create inventions such as the Core Duo or Viagra, then your point that patents "interfere" is weak. If by "interference" you mean "add to", then you have a point. Yes, yes, there are bad, awful, despicable, embarrassing patents out there. Far too many, and THOSE are hurting the free market. So, to sum up: Bad, invalid patents = soapy dirty bathwater. Good patents = freshly washed, newly created baby.

Re:Invalidate them (1)

Teppy (105859) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403147)

Actually, most Libertarians think that a system of intellectual property *is* one of the legitimate functions of government.


A strictly libertarian approach to patents is that if you invent something, then you have the right to licence that to others, for eternity, and if someone steals your idea, then you can sue them. If someone else independently invents the same thing, then they also have the right to licence it to others, for eternity. The two of you would be in competition, or you could collude to keep the license price high. As soon as someone declares that their invention is free to use, then that invention is in the public domain, and the other inventors' licensing business is over.


In software, this would probably happen in a matter of weeks or months.


Perfect implementation of the above system is probably impossible, but as a Libertarian, I would evaluate proposed changes to our current system based on how closely they approximate the above.

Re:Invalidate them (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403199)

Perfect implementation of the above system is probably impossible, but as a Libertarian, I would evaluate proposed changes to our current system based on how closely they approximate the above.

A perfect implementation of a flawed system can be superior to a flawed implementation of a perfect system.

A perfect system can only work in a perfect world.

Ask yourself if you REALLY want a half-assed version of a good idea. Usually it's worse than what's in place already.

Re:Invalidate them (1)

Teppy (105859) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403247)

It may be that "no patents" more closely approximates the above ideal than our current system does. I would argue that "no software patents" certainly approximates the ideal more closely than our current system.

Re:Invalidate them (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403327)

I agree. I would far rather see no patents than the system we have today. Doing away with patents would do more to encourage innovation than anything else I can think of. I DO think that there is some merit to having drug patents, although they would have to last for a more limited time. In fact I'm not really against patents, but I think they should have MUCH shorter terms. That is enough to let you get up to speed, at which point you will have to compete on some basis other than a government-granted monopoly. You can still get a head start, which is what patents ostensibly accomplish.

The current duration of patents may have been a good idea once, but one of the truisms about technological development is that it accelerates (given an otherwise growing system, for example increasing commerce and population.) It doesn't make sense for patent terms to stay the same while technological development accelerates.

Absolutely (2, Interesting)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401873)

This is part of the patent system that is broken. There is no incentive to not squat on the patent and wait for someone else to do the work. Invalidating the unused patents and passing them to the public domain will increase (IMO) the ability of small and agile businesses to do something with the previously patented item. When it passes to public domain, it removes the ability of anyone to use it just for suing others.

If the patent is not being used, it doesn't need patent protection! The grace period length may be up for debate, but the idea of passing the invention to public domain should not be in the case of unused patents.

Re:Absolutely (1)

mpe (36238) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402437)

This is part of the patent system that is broken. There is no incentive to not squat on the patent and wait for someone else to do the work.

Or even squatting on a patent to prevent someone creating a competing product. As well as groups of companies acting as a cartel to keep anyone else from entering "their" market.

Re:Invalidate them (2, Interesting)

FredDC (1048502) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401927)

Unfortunately it's not that simple I'm afraid...
 
The time between patent filing and product on market is not the only criteria you would need to check. There could be many reasons why a patent is still valid, and because of the tremendous amount of patents applied for and (maybe not yet) given the work involved would be too great to deal with. It's simply not feasible to apply such a check to all patents within a reasonable timeframe. You would never be able to do only a part because the patent holders that are damaged would cry murder over the fact that they were targetted and others not...
 
The entire patent system as it is in the US is rotten to the core. I'd rather see the way patents are handed out change first before taking a look at existing ones. What's the point of evaluating crappy patents when you are handing new crappy ones out every day...

Re:Invalidate them (1)

harryman100 (631145) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402623)

How about about a system where a patent could be released if it has been dormant for a certain number of years. However, in order to get a patent released, you (as a company who would like to make use of the technology it describes) would have to request it. It would then be the filer's responsibility to prove they are implementing the patent within a reasonable timeframe. If they cannot, then the patent would be released to the public domain.

This would effectively mean that companies would only be required to release a patent if someone else has come up with an idea which requires that technology. This means that innovation is not prevented by patents. It should be that the process of getting a patent released from a company is no more complicated than applying for a patent in the first place.

Re:Invalidate them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18402157)

US patent law has AFAIR two ways to invalidate a patent: Either because of discovery of prior art (including that the patent is too vague/not innovative enough) or because the patent is not being used. I have never heard of the second way being used, though.

Agreed--ASKING won't work (3, Insightful)

WebCowboy (196209) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402281)

Wouldn't it be a lot simpler to make patents only valid while the holder is actively exploiting them

EXACTLY. How terribly naive to think that those companies that own many "stale patents" would donate their "valuable IP". Those who are truly interested in innovation rather than exploitation will make the effort to get the invention to market (either themselves or through actively pursuing licensing agreements with those that have the capital to do so). Those companies that are NOT interested in bringing the patented idea to market and are not evil parasites are already donating such patents to others (IBM for example).

All that are left are evil, parasitic submarine-patent holding companies. Such companies exist solely to make money without making an effort by holding innovation hostage. Such companies will not donate their IP simply by asking them politely. As you have suggested and I've advocated for quite some time, this illegitimate business model has to be outlawed in some way, and the best way to do this is to introduce the obligation to provide not only the description of the invention itself but an execution/delivery plan as well that describes the intended plan to bring the patented invention to market. The patent holder would be held to that plan, up to a maximum-allowable period of time (whichever is shorter). If the patent holder fails to deliver the patent would be permanently invalidated and the idea would be public domain.

Though much more patent reform is required, this single change would be a big step forward. Amazon may have been evil to file their stupid "one-click-online-purchase" patent but at least they actually brought the idea to reality. Submarine patents run completely counter to the spirit and purpose of patent law, are potentially damaging to the economy and global competitiveness of a nation and must be eliminated.

Defensive Patents (4, Informative)

diablovision (83618) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401733)

Many companies use patents defensively (or counter offensively). The company will patent technology or process X, though they may decide that it is better done internally with process Y. Or they may simply make the strategic decision that the effort and resources expended in pursuing profit in the patent are better spent pursuing something else. Nevertheless, the patent still has value to them because it gives them more options.

1. It helps deter competitors from launching patent infringement lawsuits against them, because they have patents that can be used in a counter suit.
2. It prevents competitors from utilizing the technology that they developed.
3. It gives them business options that they would not otherwise have if they didn't have the rights to the patent.

I doubt that most patents that are classified as being "unused" or "sitting around" still aren't providing some kind of value to the company that pursued them in the first place. It tends to be the nature of business that companies will look for ways to leverage their assets maximally. Besides, if the patents were valuable, the company would already have pursued licensing the technology to another person/company who can develop it into something viable.

Re:Defensive Patents (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402135)

You do know that none of the reasons you give are supported by what patents are intended to do? (like promote innovation and such)

Re:Defensive Patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18403515)

None of your situations provides value to the granter of the patent, society.

Yea right... (1)

FredDC (1048502) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401741)

Companies are going to give up patents, without wanting something in return? The reason they took out the patent in the first place is $$$.
 
I understand the underlying idea, if a company owns a patent which it can't use because it wouldn't be profitable, a non-profit organisation would be able to use the patent and create something useful out of it.
 
But let's face it, a company won't give up a patent just because it isn't profitable today... Who knows what happen tomorrow, making their patent profitable after all!

What about just releasing them? (0, Redundant)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401773)

Why not have some sort of mechanism for releasing unused patents completely into the public domain after they idle for a certain amount of years? Wouldn't some sort of "use it or lose it" clause be in the best interests of everyone who isn't a lazy patent-trolling bastard?

I can see it now... (1)

Machina Fortuno (963320) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401783)

"We donated the patent based under the assumption that it was worthless. Now that it isn't, we would like to have it back please." *waves DMCA around out of ignorance* Thats exactly what charities needs to go with all of the useless junk in their second-hand stores. Second-hand patents!

Patents with a shelf-life. (1)

AIFEX (1036394) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401819)

I cant see any company giving up the opportunity to make money. Surely they would just employ the person after the patent to realise their own idea?

Perhaps patents should have a shelf life. If its dormant for more than X amount of years, its dropped.

If I may play Devil's Advocate for a minute... (3, Insightful)

kahei (466208) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401851)

*hilariously, goes and plays a pinball machine called 'Devil's Advocate'*

Ah, those Simpsons. Anyway, problem:

Those patents gathering dust are DEFENSIVE patents. That's why they're gathering dust; they're the deterrent your company has just in case anyone starts violating the patent sharing agreements that prevail between the big players in many markets.

If you donate them to other institutions, they 1) are no longer a deterrent and 2) may no longer be covered by patent sharing agreements. Congratulations! You have plunged the world into an era of 0 technological progress, as companies find the existing patent detente is no longer enforceable.

It would be better to simply grant every company ever a patent on everything possi -- oh, wait, that is the USPTO's actual strategy.

Re:If I may play Devil's Advocate for a minute... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18402119)

Those patents gathering dust are DEFENSIVE patents.

And in the public domain, everybody can use those patents defensively including the company that donated them. It is true that those patents would not be as useful in a counter-offensive which may be your point. Regardless, patent war chests will bloom and would be nice to see the public domain with the biggest gun stock. I'd rather the industry donate in areas that have direct and indirect benefits to that same industry as opposed to another X-cancer walk.

Re:If I may play Devil's Advocate for a minute... (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403587)

It would be better to simply grant every company ever a patent on everything possi -- oh, wait, that is the USPTO's actual strategy.

Which keeps the big/old players from suing each other (IBM/Microsoft), but allows any one of the big players to crush any smaller, newer players they would simply prefer not to try to compete with.

Patents are not rights to develop products (2, Insightful)

Halo1 (136547) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401855)

Patents are only rights to exclude others from doing something (namely what is claimed by the patent). "Donating" a patent to someone is therefore very unlikely to help someone build a business around it, unless that business is threatening to sue the hell out of everyone else who has ignored that patent until now (because the owner clearly decided not to enforce it). The reason is that it almost never happens that a product is only covered by a single (or even a couple of) patents, except sometimes with pharmaceuticals or so (but those patents are very unlikely to be dormant).

patent trolling... (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401901)

...would be the first business method coming to mind.

Wouter.

wow (1)

mastershake_phd (1050150) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401911)

Now you too can sue for a living.

Patent files need better policing... (1)

cyberbob2351 (1075435) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401925)

I think the whole patent system is a mess at the moment. There are too many companies grabbing technologies that have been around for ages.

Anyone remember when microsoft patented a whitespace remover!? [oreillynet.com]

I propose we coin this "Pat-Squatting", although some people might hear something nasty in that.

Perpetual auction for patents: taxing horders (3, Interesting)

G4from128k (686170) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401957)

I've often wondered whether patents could be subject to a type of perpetual public auction in which anyone can make a binding bid on a patent. The price on the patent would be part of a delayed mark-to-market capital gains tax accounting system that would encourage companies to either monetize or sell patents because they would be paying taxes on those patents. Some small entrepreneurs might be "forced" to sell their patents (i.e., they owe the IRS $2,000,000 because they got a bid for $10,000,000), but then they'd get far more money from the high bidder than they could have if they kept the patent. High bidders would, in turn, have serious skin in the game and want to make money from the patent. Patent-horders would need to pay the gains taxes on their patent portfolios as if those patents where being economically used. I suspect the scheme would make it more costly to keep frivolous patents or to sit on a patent to prevent competitive innovation.

Re:Perpetual auction for patents: taxing horders (1)

DRJlaw (946416) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403123)

I've often wondered whether patents could be subject to a type of perpetual public auction in which anyone can make a binding bid on a patent.

I've often wondered whether property could be subject to a type of perpetual public auction in which anyone can make a binding bid on anything. (No, I haven't, but it makes for an entertaining introduction)

You have a nice house. I can force you to sell it. You have a nice collectible car. I can force you to sell it. You have an original Monet. I can force you to sell it. You're under contract to work for your employer for three years. I can force it to sell you -- more specifically, your employment obligation.

It's a fine plan that ignores one of the fundamental purposes of property, that it's YOURS to use for your own purposes, and eliminates any sentimental or non-market expectation value, which gets those pesky old people who don't want to sell their houses nicely out of the way of the developers. It also gets those pesky inventors and small business owners who don't want to sell their patents nicely out of the way of their larger competitors, but those are just patentees so we can treat them worse than the homeowners.

Hint:
35 U.S.C. 261 states "patents shall have the attributes of personal property."

Re:Perpetual auction for patents: taxing horders (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403559)

The price on the patent would be part of a delayed mark-to-market capital gains tax accounting system that would encourage companies to either monetize or sell patents because they would be paying taxes on those patents.

Sounds to me like you're going to be forcing patent trolling...

If someone has a patent on X, and 4 companies need to use X, a law firm buys the patent for 4X as much as any of the individual firms can afford, and proceeds to either raise the price of patent licenses, or otherwise sues the 4 companies for all they're worth.

Frivolous patents on Y (a basic/essential concept) will not be worth anything to any of the companies that use Y. However, the patent Y will be invaluable to a patent-law firm, who can then use it to extort money from each company involved.

etc.

Your idea is a great way to drive patent prices through the roof, based on ridiculous speculation, much like the current stock market.

linky linky (1)

starbuckr0x (1073378) | more than 7 years ago | (#18401963)

Does this mean I can patent the ellusive quad-linked list?

Most of these are defensive patents... (0, Redundant)

stankulp (69949) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402049)

...intended to circumvent patent trolls.

What's the point of getting a patent to keep people from being able to extort you, then give the patent away?

Legislation! (0, Redundant)

Nicopa (87617) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402159)

The law mus state that, after a patent has been granted, the patent holder has 3 years to use it. If it doesn't, the patent becomes void.

Submarine patents (1)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402233)

What good is a submarine if everyone can see where it is?

HaHaHa (2, Insightful)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402247)

The USPTO charges maintenance fees on patents. If you do not pony up $$$$ every few years the patent expires. Companies not being in the business of expending cash needlessly do not pay the fees on patents they own but have no interest in develeping. Ultimately this means there will be very few active but available patents to donate to such organizations. In fact the whole premise of the article is nonsense.

Re:HaHaHa (1)

beavioso (853680) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402459)

Mod parent up. This is the way the system works, and in fact it gets more expensive to keep the patent every time you need to pay maintenance fees.

37 C.F.R. 1.20 (e) - (h)
This tells us that after 4 years you have to pay $900 (half if small entity)
After 8 years it's $2,300
After 12 years it's $3,800
So, if they don't pay, these patents go into public domain. Therefore, if these patent's are still valid, who would give up their rights to them?
The solution is to ask these very generous inventors (corporations) to stop paying maintenance fees.

Re:HaHaHa (1)

Yartrebo (690383) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403025)

The legal costs to get a patent in the first place are around $30,000 for an average patent. The maintenance fees are chump change.

Re:HaHaHa (1)

beavioso (853680) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402503)

Forgot the proper link format.

37 C.F.R. 1.20 (e)-(h) [uspto.gov]

For sale (0)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402271)

1989 patent, slightly used, one owner, last used 1992, $500K or best offer.

Re:For sale (0)

Kazymyr (190114) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402749)

What color?

Put the patents in the public domain (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18402317)

If the whole point is to do some good, why not open the patents to everybody instead of picking some small likely-to-fail company? And while they're failing, nobody else can use the ideas. Not cool.

much funnier (1)

hende_jman (747347) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402409)

This article looked much more interesting when I thought it said "Companies Asked to Donate Unused Pants."

Re:much funnier (2, Funny)

teh_chrizzle (963897) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403077)

anything is funny when you substitute the word pants [blogspot.com] :

  • ask not what your pants can do for you. ask what you can do for your pants.
  • i want pants for the full expression of my personality.
  • god is pants.
  • he is ill clothed that is bare of pants.
  • friends, nobles, countrymen, lend me your pants.

Ooooooh, ok (1)

Joebert (946227) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402473)

I think I'm starting to see how patenting spurs progress rather than hinders it.
Without the incentive patents provide, theese ideas may never have left the heads of the inventors.

They might be untouchable right now, but at least they're on the table, like cornbread & cookies.

Donate long term assets?? (2, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402483)

Suuuuure they will. This should have been classified as 'its funny, laugh'.

Could companies be more open with them, sure, but *donate* ... don't hold your breath.

A good thing in the French patent law (1)

franois-do (547649) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402867)

According to the Franch patent law, if the person or company who buys or owns a patent does not begin to realize within a delay of 2 years, the original inventor gets back all his rights on the patent

The legislator decidend at tha time that it was not a good thing for the common welfare to leave a patentable idea unused inside a drawer. So use it or lend it back to its first owner, who can immediately do whatever he wants with it, including selling it to any other company or using it by himself.

This excellent disposition is jeopardized by a trend for european unification of the patent process, which would be a shame for mankind.

Abandoned and Expired Patents Search Site (2, Informative)

RembrandtX (240864) | more than 7 years ago | (#18402949)

If companies don't pay maintenance fees on a patent it will become abandoned, and thus (after a grace period) public domain.
Patents that are expired, (17-20 years) are of course already thus.

Try searching on http://www.patentmonkey.com/ [patentmonkey.com] and the results will show you status. Roumour has it that just 10 minutes ago they fixed it so you can even be able to SEARCH on status .. like .. show me all the patents with 'cel phone' in the title that are abandoned.

While you are there, you can browse patents by front page - as if you were in the patent office in VA too.

All food for the entrepreneur.

Won't happen (1)

Corson (746347) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403001)

Patents are a form of (intelectual) property. Asking companies to donate patents would be like asking landowners to donate their unworked land, with the only difference that patents will expire some day. What could be done though would be to impose heavy fees on companies for unused patents.

And in other news ... (3, Insightful)

boyfaceddog (788041) | more than 7 years ago | (#18403031)

Companies asked to donate unused dollars.

Like that will happen

Alternative idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18403563)

It is very unrealistic to assume that companies will donate their patents on plea. An unused patent is a potential goldmine if the company uses it very well and a legal landmine for those who infringe upon it.

My idea would be to change patent laws so that patents *can't* be traded. Keep the right to use and license the patent, but the patent should expire once the patent-holding entity (individual, group, or corporation) expires (for individuals the date would be x years (# of years up to debate) or the day they die, whichever comes later). In the case of a corporation, the day they hit outright bankruptcy (no way out) should be considered the expiration date. At that point, the patent should become public-domain, free-to-be used by all (the government holding the patent in trust for the people so that they all have equal access to it).

It seems extreme but considering it in the light of present events, it is much fairer. Considering that most *contentious* patent litigation are started by organizations that buy patents from others, this idea would end that completely (if enforced properly). It also guaranteees the patent-holder a lifetime to enjoy the potential benefits from patent.

Again, this is just an idea, but it considers the usefulness and value over time of a given invention.

       

hahaha (1)

Shaltenn (1031884) | more than 7 years ago | (#18404039)

Hahah... Donate? Let other people make profit from? haha. That's a good one. Very funny! No company anywhere just gives up something that can still be used to make profit.
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