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Patent Office Program To Speed Computer Tech

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the worth-a-try dept.

Patents 80

coondoggie writes "Looking to address critics, the US Patent and Trademark Office this week is starting a program to speed up and improve the review of computer hardware and software technologies. The agency is set to launch a peer-review pilot project that will give technical experts in computer technology, for the first time, the opportunity to submit technical reports relevant to the claims of a published patent application before an examiner reviews it. The idea is to get as much knowledge about a particular claim in front of an examiner as quickly as possible so they can make a decision faster, the agency said. IBM, Microsoft, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, CA, and Red Hat have already agreed to review some software patent applications for the one-year community review project. Intel, Sun, Oracle, Yahoo, and others are also part of the project. The pilot is a joint initiative with the Community Patent Review Project, organized by the New York Law School's Institute for Information and Policy.

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What a great idea! (4, Insightful)

hasbeard (982620) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473175)

I just wish they would make it retroactive to all the other patents currently awarded.

Re:What a great idea! (3, Informative)

theantipop (803016) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473949)

You can always request reexamination [] of an issued patent.

Foxes and henhouses (4, Insightful)

Watson Ladd (955755) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473181)

Compeditors have more to gain from a patent portfolio+cross licensing agreement then they do from invalidated patents. Unless we have public review or honest people reviewing this won't work.

Re:Foxes and henhouses (4, Informative)

theantipop (803016) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473997)

Sign up [] to be a peer reviewer. I can't seem to find what kind of requirements exist to be able to participate in this, but it couldn't hurt to register if you feel this is important.

Re:Foxes and henhouses (1)

cadeon (977561) | more than 7 years ago | (#19474333)

Doesn't signing up to be a peer reviewer give you access to the 'trade secrets' patents are supposed to protect?

Tell me if I'm wrong- but I thought one of the strengths of the old system was the fact that only a patent reviewer saw what your idea was, compared it to other like ideas, and made a decision. That way the competition never knew the in's and out's of your idea, and therefore could never correctly copy it.

Sounds like with this idea, if your competition signs up as a peer reviewer, you're giving them everything you can about how your system works- the only thing that's keeping them from duplicating it is patent law, which is a pretty scary thing when you're a small company trying to take on the big boys.

I work for a small company, and we *almost have* a patent on our very unique method of assigning work to workers. So far our method as proved unique against quite a few challenges sent back from the patent examiner. Our method is our business- I really don't like the idea of showing it to anyone, even if they are 'obligated' to not gain some insight from it. My lack of faith in the current patent law only solidifies that belief.

Re:Foxes and henhouses (5, Informative)

eggnoglatte (1047660) | more than 7 years ago | (#19474459)

What on earth are you talking about? Patent applications are already published on the USPTO website. The whole idea behind the patenting process is that the full method needs to be disclosed at a level suficient for reproduction. If you want a trade secret then don't patent waht you are doing!

Re:Foxes and henhouses (1)

Kijori (897770) | more than 7 years ago | (#19475457)

Patents don't keep your methodology secret, it's a trade. In return for making your idea public knowledge you get a legal guarantee that no one copies it for x years.

Re:Foxes and henhouses (1)

gunner2028 (922634) | more than 7 years ago | (#19478629)

You are correct to a point. Patent Applications can be withheld from public view as long as you specify in the begining of the process that you do not want you patent application to publish. By doing this though, you lose the ability to gain a patent in some foreign countries as they require application publication as part of their patenting procedure.

But you are missing one of the details in a previous post/the summary: namely, it is only published applications that are part of the peer review process. So, any information that the peer reviewers would see has already been published to the general public. Those applications that do not allow publication, will not be able to participate in the program.

Re:Foxes and henhouses (1)

Infonaut (96956) | more than 7 years ago | (#19474323)

Compeditors have more to gain from a patent portfolio+cross licensing agreement then they do from invalidated patents.

Why do they have more to gain from cross licensing than from invalidating patents? If I have a strong patent portfolio and I weaken a competitor's portfolio by invalidating some of his patents, don't I come out ahead?

I get the feeling I'm missing something here.

Re:Foxes and henhouses (1)

mattcasters (67972) | more than 7 years ago | (#19474421)

OK, I'll bite.

Companies A and B both have a patent.
- A has a patent for moving a mouse pointer around on the screen.
- B has a patent for clicking a mouse button.

They make an agreement and they're doing fine. They can make applications that involve mouse operations.
Company C doesn't have mouse patents and gets sued by A and B because it made an application with a GUI and is not doing fine at all.
As such, A and B have much more to gain from retaining their patents for the simple fact they can then sue that third party until it runs out of money.
If the mouse pointer patent gets thrown out, there's a fat chance the clicking patent goes out the window as well. A such, it's better for them to keep the silly patents around.

Re:Foxes and henhouses (1)

Infonaut (96956) | more than 7 years ago | (#19479673)

Company C doesn't have mouse patents and gets sued by A and B because it made an application with a GUI and is not doing fine at all. As such, A and B have much more to gain from retaining their patents for the simple fact they can then sue that third party until it runs out of money.

Your example seems to make sense. I was thinking more of a situation not involving a third party, but I suppose in reality there are never just two players in a given market, so the dominant players have an incentive to keep cross-license patents rather than invalidate bad patents.

Still, I could see situations in which big patent holders who are tired of being frustrated by patent trolls might want to go after companies that have no intention of ever bringing any real products to market. Having IBM, et. al. review patents held by patent trolls could be quite beneficial.

Suggested Improvement (5, Insightful)

Zashi (992673) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473183)

Realize that software is not a patentable innovation.

The use of patents has seriously gotten ridiculous and has made me lose faith in the US Patent Office.

Re:Suggested Improvement (5, Informative)

mr_death (106532) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473473)

Realize that software is not a patentable innovation.

At least in the US, the courts have ruled differently. Imagine the absurdity of Ron Rivest being granted a patent on the hardware version of RSA, but not the software version. Both are the same truly innovative system, yet there are those that argue that the software version is somehow less worthy of protection.

harm outweighs the good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19473579)

RSA, or something equivalent, would be invented even without patent protection.

Something that is being rampantly abused, with an even higher potential for abuse, and with little to no actual benefit, should be rejected.

The abuses of software patents are many. Obvious patents are used by big companies to keep individual innovators from entering the market, and the many are robbed of their ability to code in order to benefit the few. The economic incentives that patents are supposed to encourage are actively discouraged by them, and are completely unnecessary (if someone needs it, someone will code it, patents or no).

Ron Rivest should have to suck it up. The patent system he enjoys causes too much harm to the rest of the world.

Re:Suggested Improvement (4, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473725)

Imagine the absurdity of Ron Rivest being granted a patent on the hardware version of RSA, but not the software version. Both are the same truly innovative system, yet there are those that argue that the software version is somehow less worthy of protection.

Because one is a mathematical expression, and the other is a physical device. Why is this difficult to understand?

Re:Suggested Improvement (3, Insightful)

mr_death (106532) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473785)

Because one is a mathematical expression, and the other is a physical device. Why is this difficult to understand?

I must disagree. One is (I'm guessing the preferred hardware embodiment) an asic, where the RSA functionality is enabled by the function blocks, their connections and topologies; one is general purpose hardware where the RSA functionality is enabled by the software. Both devices give the same functionality; both are enabled by the directions of a smart person. Why is only one deserving of a patent? Or, to phrase it another way, why is the world free to copy one but not the other?

Re:Suggested Improvement (4, Insightful)

vux984 (928602) | more than 7 years ago | (#19474329)

Why is only one deserving of a patent?

IMO neither is deserving of a patent. The hardware implementation is hardly innovative.

Or, to phrase it another way, why is the world free to copy one but not the other?

Its better to work with examples that make sense, like the difference between a working hard disc, and someones obersvation that hey you could use magnets to change state of something. Its not that the latter wasn't innovative thinking when it was thought up, but its not a patentable *invention*. There are countless different ways an idea might be 'implemented' in an invention. But if you simply patent the abstract idea for the process itself, then it covers every possible implementation.

And when the 'idea' itself is simply a mathematical equation, patenting leads to near absurdities. RSA encryption is really simple to implement; anyone who is given the algorithm, or even just the underlying mathematics and rough explanation of technique can do it. I'm not saying RSA wasn't an innovative idea, merely that it didn't lead to or require any innovative inventions to make real.

The RSA idea itself was the hard part. Unfortunately, the RSA idea is really no different than the Pythagorean theorem, or the forumula for computing the volume of an oval cylinder, its pure math. Do we really want to live in a world where the first person to solve an equation 'owns' the solution. And once solved, no one else may find the area of a triangle or compute the volume of a cylinder without licensing fees, even if the problem is easy enough for a high schooler to solve and merely no one had been asked to solve it?

Should the equation: sum(1..n) = (n^2-n)/2 be something someone can own, just because it requires some creativity to prove it?

As ideas not inventions become patentable innovation and creativity are stopped in their tracks because truly innovative inventions are limited in scope -- so you can identify them, license them, or take a different approach when you prefer to step around them. But abstract ideas? rough processes or techniques?... its impossible not to borrow from them, reuse them, derive from them, even completely innocently.

Re:Suggested Improvement (1)

eggnoglatte (1047660) | more than 7 years ago | (#19474477)

Should the equation: sum(1..n) = (n^2-n)/2 be something someone can own, just because it requires some creativity to prove it?

Sure, you can own that one, as long as I can own sum(1..n) = (n^2+n)/2 ;-)

Re:Suggested Improvement (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 7 years ago | (#19497641)

Oooooo crap!

How will I make any money now with a broken equation?

Oh wait, its not broken, it just computers sum(1..n-1)

So not only is it still useful, but I can tell my customers that if they want to use the sum(1..n) they just need to plug in n+1 into my patented solution, whew, that's an easy fix!

Of course, seeing as that substitution yeilds 'your' patented solution:

((n+1)^2-(n+1))/2 = ((n^2+2n+1)-(n+1))/2 = (n^2+2n+1-n-1)/2 = (n^2+n)/2

Or, alternatively they could just compute sum(1..n) and add n. Clearly sum(1..n-1)+n = sum(1..n)
And can be shown:

(n^2-n)/2 + n = (n^2-n)/2 + 2n/2 = (n^2-n+2n)/2 = (n^2+n)/2

Clearly, just adding 'n' to my patent algorithm is not innovative enough to warrant your own patent, especially since adding n to a algorithm that adds 1..n-1 is an obvious enhancement to extend the cycle further. After all, what's next some bright guys going to come along and patent my algorithm + 2n+1 [or +(n)+(n+1)] to have it compute 2 extra terms?! And patent that? I think not!! These derivative algorithms all clearly an infringe on mine. See you in court, sucker!!

Re:Suggested Improvement (1)

jabuzz (182671) | more than 7 years ago | (#19476219)

Thing is that the RSA patent should never have been granted. Firstly the algorithm had previously been "invented" by Clifford Cocks working at GCHQ. Now admittedly this was kept a secret, however it clearly means that the algorithm was obvious to someone skilled in the arts and denied. Secondly the algorithm was an implementation of a much earlier idea by James H. Ellis that was widely known in the field, but nobody who had worked on the problem had the mathematical skill to work it out.

The RSA patent is a classic example of a bad software patent. This is enhanced by the fact that on the surface it looks like a good one.

Re:Suggested Improvement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19476487)

I've held for many years that -nothing- deserves patent protection. Justifying more and more ways things can be protected is like automating preferential treatment from politicians. Even a complete hard disk is a good example of this. Even though each one of the components can seem obvious to any designer, they've been patented both individually and together as a unit. A competing designer will then need to discover less obvious and less efficient ways to do the same thing.

Chrysler cars have the most elegant design for the window track system. (No, I'm not talking about build quality here, hehe.) Ford has probably the worst window track system, not because their designers are stupid, but because Chrysler has the patent for the best one, so Ford can't choose the best design. Hyundai has the best ignition lock, and Chrysler's ignition locks are junk, again due to patent ownership. It's like watching a group of kids bring their toys and games outside, but since nobody will share with anyone else, the kids all sit bored with their own toys.

Be careful not to suggest any improvements to the US Patent system. They'll patent your suggestions, then sue you for infringement.

-Benjamin Vander Jagt

Re:Suggested Improvement (1)

TheOnyxRocket (921830) | more than 7 years ago | (#19480775)

The RSA idea itself was the hard part.
In the hard disk example, the design of the spinning disk was the "hard part." All he had to do after thinking up the new design was just buy a motor, disk and an electromagnet. The new disk works because of physics, "physics" isn't any more real than mathematics. If we let him patent a hard disk, think of all the people who won't be allowed to build hard disks. Or how about a new way of chlorinating a pool with tobacco leaves. Perhaps it's less expensive, safer for the environment, cures warts when you swim in it and keeps all the tobacco farms on their family farms. Tobacco exists in nature, and has fallen into ponds before. Tobacco leaves would have chlorinated the pond and cured warts even if humanity didn't know it would do that. What's so new about this? It's just the natural result of chemistry - nothing new here. The only thing the inventor did was add this valuable tidbit of knowledge to humanity's knowledge storehouse. Bottom line, the "hard part" is always the mental part. I have no problem with the argument that we shouldn't allow any patents, but I just don't buy the common argument here that software is mental like math, while other things that get patented are real like beer. (Speaking of which ..... time for a beer!)

Re:Suggested Improvement (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 7 years ago | (#19483153)

The motivation to further science 'commercially' has historically been the ability to patent inventions that are derived from that science. We didn't allow intellectual protection of the science itself. That was not an accident.

Protecting a particular applied use of the science vs protecting the science itself.

The reason we don't wish to protect basic science is that it does not serve society to have it protected. Its not intrinsically different in terms of how hard it is, or phsyics vs math, or real vs mental, or anything so abstruse.

Its different because the science needs to open for further advances to the science.

The RSA algorithm, if it were only applied to the particular implementation should be protectable (and it is, see copyright). But the math that goes into the RSA shouldn't be. Not because its not 'hard', but because its basic science.

Re:Suggested Improvement (1)

Thinghy (1115145) | more than 7 years ago | (#19496713)

You are absolutely right, in the rest of the world but not in the U.S.! Because ongoing pressure from Micro$oft et al., the U.S. patent office has bowed down and allows patenting of things such as concepts (to a more or less greater degree. But now, the clamour is increasing to stop this and revoke hundreds, if not thousands of patents because these 'patents' are effectively hindering teaching, research, development and further innovation. This is the main reason why research in the U.S. is increasingly costly and is going abroad.

Re:Suggested Improvement (1)

technococcus (990913) | more than 7 years ago | (#19477661)

why is the world free to copy one but not the other?

Patents were only ever intended to encourage innovation by individuals. It was never intended to protect companies for long periods of time. A patent was to allow an inventor sole rights to the production and sale of a unique invention (like, an actual, honest-to-God device) to provide financial incentive to invent and to provide a way to stop the ludicrous trade secret nonsense that was leading to lost productivity and even lost knowledge. With a patent on some (actual) thing, you had published the schematics in a way that allowed review and archiving of the idea and implementation without surrendering competitive advantage.

That was why patents didn't used to last for decades+. The patent system was only supposed to provide an incentive for new inventions, not to encourage you to come up with one good idea and then kick back and enjoy the royalties for the rest of your years. You had a lock to begin with, then the market got ahold of your idea and competition was free to improve upon it while, theoretically, you were already working on the next big thing.

That said, if you come up with a neat implementation of some algorithm, sure, I believe you should be able to patent (or perhaps copyright...) the unique implementation thereof, i.e. if you can find someone making an (literally) exact copy of your code, you may claim infringement. But you can't sue someone for using the same idea to do something different or for using a trivially small portion of your code: an iterative if-then loop, a fairly standard call function, etc. Only large, original, blatantly ripped-off portions would be grounds for suit. Similar to the way the author of a book may not sue for the word "the" or the phrase "She gasped," or anything of that nature. Only something like, "Hiro watched the large, radioactive, spear-wielding drug lord ride his motorcycle into Chinatown." would be something upon which one might be able to call foul. And even then, there's fair use!

All that said, there's no really easy solution. [/rambling]

You're looking at this from the wrong angle. (2, Insightful)

mrchaotica (681592) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473921)

The question is not "why should the software be less patentable than the hardware?" but rather, "why should the hardware be more patentable than the software?" They're both just implementations of a mathematical algorithm; neither should be patentable!

neither should be patentable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19477631)

Thanks for the information on incentives to innovation.

I was trusting the empirical evidence present in the multitude of research papers put forth by academia regarding the effects of patent systems, both in the US and abroad, on investment in innovation.

How foolish of me.

Re:Suggested Improvement (4, Insightful)

adolf (21054) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473973)

OK, I'm imagining it: A world where software implementations of RSA were never covered by a patent.

And what I see is a world, circa 1996, in which early adoption of SSL was not hindered a patent on RSA. In this world, telnet became deprecated much earlier on, free browsers included strong authentication and encryption, and it wasn't illegal to run Apache with mod-ssl in the US.

It doesn't sound like such a bad place.

Now, of course, what really happened is that RSA was only successfully patented in the US. The rest of the world was free to do whatever they felt like, as outlined above.

Yay us!

Re:Suggested Improvement (1)

Darkinspiration (901976) | more than 7 years ago | (#19474013)

It dosent really work like that, RSA is an encryption algorithm, there is no harware version of it only computer that resolve the RSA algo.

Re:Suggested Improvement (1)

stud9920 (236753) | more than 7 years ago | (#19477479)

Lemme see, the hardware version, the source code and the binary of the soft version should all arguably be protected by COPYRIGHT, but no, you should not patent the algorithm. Especially when the data stream produced/processable is used in interworking with other systems

Re:Suggested Improvement (1)

Jimb0v (830603) | more than 7 years ago | (#19482161)

Maybe I'm missing something, but why would the person who "solved" the algorithm come forward if he was not afforded any protection? Wouldn't he just keep it secret and propreitary? At least with the system now, its in the public domain in a few years.

Re:Suggested Improvement (1)

Thinghy (1115145) | more than 7 years ago | (#19496473)

In essence, you are quite correct, everywhere EXCEPT the U.S. And then again, big companies are looking to prolong copyright so that it's 150 years...

Re:Suggested Improvement (0, Flamebait)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 7 years ago | (#19474425)

and has made me lose faith in the US Patent Office.

Remove the words "Patent Office", and I'll agree with you 100%.

Claims of misuse? (5, Insightful)

TwistedEvo (974889) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473201)

How long until we start seeing reports of rejected patents, that are later submitted by the big companies involved in the peer review?

FUD (1)

MadUndergrad (950779) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473205)

Oh man, bring on the FUD. These examiners are going to get buried in bullshit by the competitors of whoever applies for the patent.

Re:FUD (1)

DanQuixote (945427) | more than 7 years ago | (#19481171)

No they won't:

"Existing law allows USPTO to accept what it calls "prior art" from the public, but it doesn't allow the public to submit any commentary related to the art without the approval of the applicant."

No wonder patent law is screwed up! The examiner is stuck with whatever the applicant wants to supply, augmented only with whatever he can come up with himself.

Re:FUD (1)

MadUndergrad (950779) | more than 7 years ago | (#19498707)

Wow, that is fucked up. Who the hell wrote that in there?!

Precedence (1)

pilbender (925017) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473215)

This is great progress. Hopefully some precedence can be set. If there is precedence in the review process it *will* affect past patents because the standard will be naturally raised and those flimsy ones will either be ignored or challenged in a different light.

I hope this momentum continues. Computer Science will be better for it. This benefits everyone, individuals and large companies alike. In general, the hope is that we start focusing on solving problems and not on being sued. And, as a developer, I can honestly testify there are tons of problems to solve.

Re:Precedence (1)

Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) | more than 7 years ago | (#19477607)

This is great progress.

Actually, it's not. I can understand why you would think so. You are a rational human being. You also probably have never worked for the US government. Some years ago I did work for the US government as a computer programmer and I can promise you that what you think is going to happen is not going to happen.

Government bureaucrats excell at protecting themselves. Think about it. The Patent Office makes money. It's not like, say, the FBI where they just spend tax dollars. We can argue about whether or not the FBI is spending it's dollars on the right things, but at the end of the day, it is a consumer of money.
The Patent Office brings in revenue and a lot of it. Uncle Sam is addicted and his drug of choice is money. Read the article again and I can promise you that all this will do is speed up the approval of more patents, not less. There's a lot of emphasis on this idea of speeding up the process and the whole idea behind this is really to approve more patents quicker and make more money for the Patent Office. The Patent Office doesn't care at all if the courts get bogged down in patent disputes. In fact, from a certain point of view, that could actually be a Good Thing. More patent disputes means a need for more judges, for more courts, for more support people (bailiffs, court reporters, aides to judges, etc.) so from a certain warped perspective, having more patent disputes is actually putting people to work. I can promise you that the US government really doesn't care how this shakes out as long as jobs are created and the Patent Office keeps bringing in money. They will care only when people in Congress or upper level bureaucrats feel the pain, like they did with the Blackberry patent disputes, in which case the Patent Office magically found problems with the patents used against Blackberry because it made life difficult for Crackberry addicts in Congress and the upper reaches of the US government. Until there is an economic incentive to the US government to change the patent system, it will never change and will only get worse.

Re:Precedence (1)

pilbender (925017) | more than 7 years ago | (#19485997)

Thanks for the well thought out reply. I wish I could moderate you up. I can't disagree with your thoughts or predictions.

And you're right. I've never worked for the government. I am disgusted with it on a regular basis. Especially on tax day. I can't believe that our democracy, the richest regime in the history of the world, always seems to want more money. I can't believe they can't make do with less. I always make do with less, but they never do. Government only grows and never shrinks.

So, I simply can't disagree with your analysis. As far as my insight goes, you are probably right on the *money* ;-)

Submarine Patents (1)

roseanne (541833) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473219)

At last, some progress is being made on the insanity that's tech patents today. However, this won't help the other big problem with the US patent system -- the submarine patent. I thought we were supposed to switch to a first-to-file system [] like every other country to fix this ... has this already happened? There seem to have been two bills passed to reform the system but I'm not sure what the current status of patent law in the US is.

Re:Submarine Patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19473327)

no, we're still first to invent. maybe next time the bill comes up it will pass.

Re:Submarine Patents (2, Insightful)

mr_death (106532) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473455)

First-to-file sounds great at first blush, but it ends up screwing the small, innovative company. Imagine a discussion between Startup LLC and Microsoft. While discussing a partnership agreement, Startup mentions some tech they're working on. One of MS's patent lawyers is in the meeting, writes up what Startup talked about, and submits a patent app. Startup LLC is now screwed.

Give me first-to-invent any day of the week.

Re:Submarine Patents (2, Informative)

roseanne (541833) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473527)

First to file doesn't mean you can steal ideas. You still have to show independent invention. If you're a startup discussing any plans with MS, you really should get some papers signed, if only to leave a paper trail to show that MS was aware of your tech, thereby damaging their ability to claim independent invention.

Re:Submarine Patents (3, Funny)

edwdig (47888) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473569)

What meeting between a startup and Microsoft doesn't result in the startup getting screwed?

No it doesn't (2, Interesting)

Flying pig (925874) | more than 7 years ago | (#19475095)

Under first to file in the UK you submit a low-cost provisional application the moment you have the idea. Now you can go and discuss it with VCs etc. and you have established your priority. Only if it then looks like a worthwhile invention, or when you have the funding, do you have to pay the full application costs. What's more, if you decide not to file, the provisional application then lapses to prior art so nobody can come along afterwards and patent it.

The US system has now changed, but under the old system Startup LLC had to keep detailed lab notebooks and probably have them witnessed by an attorney in the US, while in the UK they just had to write up the idea and submit a provisional application. Which is better for a small company?

The US system originated when the US had terrible communications and was designed to deal with the small inventor who had been making something for years in Outer Fencepost, Wyoming, and then Bad Company, NY came along with the railroad and copied his idea. Nowadays, this is not an issue.

Re:Submarine Patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19475409)

It's Linux, damnit! Pay no attention to renaming attempts by self-aggrandizing blowhards.

Yup, that Free kernel sure is Linux!

Re:Submarine Patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19473635)

Typical slashdot poster - doesn't know shit about patent law.

In brief, around 2001 the US patent law was changed on two major points. Firstly, they introduced publication of applications after 18 months from filing to be in line with the rest of the world. This has the effect of disclosing the application to the world thus less surprise stuff turns up down the line. Secondly, the term of the patent was changed from 17 years from grant to 20 years from filing. This had the effect of rendering pointless the filing of continuations that kept an application hidden for many years until grant whereupon it surfaced for the first time.

Bottom line - submarine patents do not exist anymore.

Re:Submarine Patents (1)

Jimb0v (830603) | more than 7 years ago | (#19482181)

Submarine patent issue was solved a while ago when it switched from 17 years from issue date to 20 years from filing date. You can't submarine a patent any longer.

How about... (4, Funny)

Consul (119169) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473245)

"from the foxes-guarding-the-henhouse dept."

That's basically what this is.

Should some study be done first (2, Insightful)

pembo13 (770295) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473259)

as to if software patents are good at all? I would like to believe that there is enough money involved that finding out whether or not any effort should be spent on them would be a necessary thing. I myself aren't convinced that software patents are useful, but I don't claim to be an expert - some evidence would be nice however.

Re:Should some study be done first (3, Interesting)

Kyojin (672334) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473469)

Agreed. The patent system was intended to promote innovation by ensuring that individuals and companies would be able to recoup the costs involved in inventing a new product by giving the individual or company a monopoly on that product for a set period of time. In the pharmaceutical industry, billions of dollars are spent on new drugs, most of which never work, let alone go to market. Unless the pharmaceutical companies were sure they could recoup these billions of dollars, there would be no incentive to invent any new drugs.

Software is different, and the patent office has made some attempt to recognise this: You cannot patent an algorithm, but it gets disguised as "a system and method" and the patent is awarded. The costs of "inventing" the things that software companies have patented in the past is next to non-existent. One-Click shopping? I bet that cost a few billion dollars.

If it can be truly argued that these companies spent a large sum of money on software innovation, (note NOT programming, every company does that), then perhaps a patent could be awarded. But these sums of money are likely to be tiny. Perhaps the patent could be awarded for a shorter period of time, perhaps 3 years? Even Debian releases new products at least that often. Or 5 years so that Microsoft can milk us for longer?

Finally a lot of what gets passed of as patentable should come under copyright law. A user-interface is not an innovative means of performing an action. It is a cloudy picture painted over what you're actually doing. Indeed, by publishing a product with a particular user interface you automatically own copyright on that user interface and can sue those who copy you. There is no need to bog down the patent system with something that is already protected and is not even innovative in the first place.

Re:Should some study be done first (4, Insightful)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 7 years ago | (#19474871)

Unless the pharmaceutical companies were sure they could recoup these billions of dollars, there would be no incentive to invent any new drugs.

I don't even like your Patents don't really serve the public interest here either, because we don't really need pharmaceutical companies in the first place. One sign that our kleptocracy has completely warped our thinking is this strange assumption everyone makes: if drug companies don't make lots of profits inventing new drugs, nobody will have any incentive to invent drugs.

We really don't need pharmaceutical companies. The public wants access to a wide range of cheap effective medicines. So we have a natural incentive to invent new drugs because we keep getting sick and dying. There are plenty of ways to solve the problem. A straightforward one would be to create public drug discovery laboratories, fund university labs, and pay for scientists to find the drugs. That's a "tax and spend" solution. We decided on a solution where we replace our natural incentive for better drugs with Pfizer's incentive to get rich selling them to us.

That works to the extent your desire for better drugs remains compatible with the perogatives of a for-profit corporation. Sometimes it isn't. A company makes more money by developing treatments as opposed to cures. It saves money by making copycats of drugs already shown to be profitable, like penis pills. They concentrate their efforts on diseases with the widest markets, and don't do much research into rare diseases. And of course they spend a lot of time looking into what they should do if they want to pull even more money out of your pocket. My wife and I are still young but we each have our own chronic neurological problem. Just the copays on these prescriptions are exploding. Ours are running about $150-200/month. And the trail of patents and monopoly rights left behind by this process is undesirable in and of itself, even if getting them did provide the company's incentive. For one thing, the patents rise into the atmosphere and do not expire for years and years. The air becomes clogged with patents and they accumulate into a dark cloud that casts shadows and disincentives upon drug research below- no matter who is doing it. So our current path isn't sustainable.

There is plenty of incentive to invest in new drugs as long as people are sick and dying. Even if a private company isn't interested, there are enough people who do that research, and sufficient public interest in getting it done, to ensure that it will get done, even if nobody is getting rich running commercials for me-too penis pills. Only patents could screw it up.

I'll do a "study!" (2, Informative)

mrchaotica (681592) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473953)

Studies for a bit...

Nope, software is still just math, so it's not patentable. And it's already covered by copyright, so it's doubly not patentable!

What more evidence do you need?

Community review (1)

Short Circuit (52384) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473375)

IBM, Microsoft, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, CA, and Red Hat have already agreed to review some software patent applications for the one-year community review project. Intel, Sun, Oracle, Yahoo, and others are also part of the project.

I find that part interesting. I imagine each company has their engineers spend a few hours a week poring over the latest patent applications to see which ideas would be useful.

Behold, the patent office has become an idea distribution center. (Which was probably once one of its more useful functions, back before a million patents were awarded each year.)

Google? (1)

j14ast (258285) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473413)

Does this mean that they finaly discovered freaking google?

Re:Google? (1)

SlowMovingTarget (550823) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473539)

Nah... I read the headline to mean that they've switched from rubber stamps to laser-printed approval labels.

Bass Ackwards as usual (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19473433)

Oh yes, because the problem with patents has always been that they aren't granted fast enough, or thoughtlessly enough.

Typical "conservative" government- don't do anything unless you can do it as wrongly as possible.

Jeeze, another last ditch effort (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473451)

to save the burned out building instead of just letting the damn thing fall.

Am I Reading This Right? (3, Insightful)

aldheorte (162967) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473525)


"IBM, Microsoft, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, CA and Red Hat have already agreed to review some software patent applications for the one-year community review project."

Wait... so large companies with lots of existing patents have volunteered to review new patents in the field to try and help the examiner dismiss them? Was not the patent system set up in part to encourage small inventors and entrepreneurs? Could this be an even more obvious conflict of interest?

"Technical experts in the computer arts registering with the CPRP website will review and submit information for up to 250 published patent applications, with no mare than 15 patens being accepted from one applicant/company at a time, the USPPTO said."

250? Drop in the bucket? Only 15 at a time from one company sounds like convenient plausible deniability for organizations that file hundreds per year.

"Consent will be obtained from all applicants whose applications are volunteered and selected for this pilot... Some applicants today can wait up to four years for a first response on software applications. The idea with the pilot is to shorten that wait considerably."

So you can either go to the end of the line or get to run the gauntlet of the entrenched companies trying to help dismiss your patent?

Re:Am I Reading This Right? (1)

Jimb0v (830603) | more than 7 years ago | (#19482229)

Presumably the big companies would be happy with less patents out there. They are scared of patent trolls, people who patent things and just sue big companies. They want money, not for them to stop. If two giants sue each other, it will eventually settle because they just cross-license. They can't do that with a patent troll, because the patent troll doesn't make anything. They just have patents. Thats why big companies are on this band wagon. At this point big companies actually patent things just to stop others from patenting them, as opposed to actually trying to use their patents.

who will be the reviewers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19473531)

Yes, we heard IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Red Hat, and so forth, but what kind of staffers will these companies put on the project?

No engineer worth her salt would want to be contaminated by detailed examination of competitors' patents in their field. Guess it'll be a bunch of lawyers doing their 350 bucks an hour thing.

,Biznatch (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19473555)

these ru7es will

Alright, I'll be the first to say it (1)

Envy Life (993972) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473723)

I haven't ever seen an opponent of software patents complain about the speed at which a patent is granted. Somehow the "improvement" of the system needed to involve speeding up the granting of nebulous and superfluous patents?

That being said, I'm all for any attempt at improvement, and peer reviews will certainly make it interesting. Bring it on!

Isn't there a program already out there? (1)

sethstorm (512897) | more than 7 years ago | (#19473811)

I thought they already had something to deal with the speed of patents - money?

Way to kill off the small inventor! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19474353)

This is one of the worst ideas the US government has had in some time, and they're great at bad ideas. It is already a well known trick for big companies to kill off a pending patent from a small inventor, if that small inventor is careless enough to leak the docket number. It is trivial for large companies and rich investors to claim an idea was an obvious reimplementation of an existing idea, especially if they are allowed intimate access to the patent process (and the person assigned to the docket is not technical enough to know otherwise.) They can then get their expensive lawyers to prove how the simple rewording of the application makes sense and is their own original idea.

Great move.

prior art. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19474389)

Too bad there probably is not a patent covering this, it would demostrate to the patent office how
absurd some of these laws are.

"Patent Office Program To Speed Computer Tech" (1)

666penvzila (750427) | more than 7 years ago | (#19474583)

What does this phrase mean?

A better way... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19475077)

Let's drop the notion of writing up an obfuscated claim document, where a lone incompetent patent examiner is judge and jury for deciding whether you get a patent.

Treat it like a court proceeding. Get a "grand jury" of experts in various fields to agree to a preliminary investigation of the patent-worthiness of an invention. Rather than just presenting a document, you would have to answer questions about why your invention is different from other works in the field. The public would be invited, but participants would have to sign NDAs.

Once you convinced the grand jury, you'd be referred to an actual "trial", where you'd have to submit evidence that your claim is novel. Again, the public would be welcome. Finally, a jury of experts in the specific field would decide whether or not you deserve a patent.

Now for the kicker: If you fail at any step along the way, the "judge" can decide to hold you in contempt for making false claims about your patent, and then you'd get charged and end up in a real criminal trial to see if you intentionally tried to defraud the patent office.

Computer Program? (3, Funny)

tezza (539307) | more than 7 years ago | (#19475887)

if("Microsoft".equals( ) {
      approve(); return;
else if ("Google".equals( {
      approve(); return;
else if ("IBM".equals( {
      approve(); return;
else {
      inspect(); return;

Spidey Sense is Tingling... (1)

hanshotfirst (851936) | more than 7 years ago | (#19476027)

I don't know if I like this idea or not.
More review = good
Quicker review = good
Big companies seeing ideas before the examiner < good?
Outside chance this backfires, kills the system, and software patents are deprecated... priceless.

Where's the disinterested yet knowledgeable third party?
The Big Companies can see the publicly available applications anyway, as mentioned above, so no harm there.
Gotta chew on this a while.

Simple script to help out the patent office. (1)

orderthruchaos (770967) | more than 7 years ago | (#19476755)

Here is my simple script to speed up the process:


echo "rejected"

Now if you'll excuse me... I have to get this patented before it is put into effect.

Phil Salin about patents (1)

a1mint (1021941) | more than 7 years ago | (#19478531)

If people read (late) Phil Salin's article, people might start saying the right things. Right now the state of affairs on both sides just sucks. []

Consider it the bibble on anti-patents.

Will it review old patents as well? (1)

jbarr (2233) | more than 7 years ago | (#19479173)

Moving forward, this may be a great idea, but what about the countless patents already issued? Will such a group be tasked to review existing patents?

USPTO Patent Lawyer Guidelines (1)

BlueMikey (1112869) | more than 7 years ago | (#19480191)

If the USPTO wants to start dealing with software more, they are going to need to change their bizarre rules for who can sit the patent bar.

Currently, the USPTO only allows attorneys with certain undergraduate degrees to sit the bar. Many are engineering degrees: electrical engineering, civil engineering, ceramic engineering, etc. Some are more general: biology, general chemistry, food technology, etc.

Computer science is also one of the degrees listed, but there is an asterisk next to it. CS is the only degree which the USPTO requires accreditation on. Why is this significant?

Because most of the best CS schools in the country don't even have accredited CS programs. I ran down this list [] one time. Out of the top four CS schools only two, MIT and Berkeley, were accredited. Only 3 out of the top 10 were accredited and 6 out of the top 20. Most CS departments feel that accreditation is absolutely worthless. Employers don't care, the accreditation process doesn't focus on CS education as much as other non-majored courses students must take, it is expensive, and it is not valuable to the student.

Consider this: a lawyer with a CS degree from Pacific Lutheran or St. Cloud State (ranked [] sub-100 in computer science) can sit the patent bar, a lawyer with a CS degree from Stanford or Carnegie-Mellon (top 4 schools) cannot.

Re:USPTO Patent Lawyer Guidelines (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19484327)

This is wrong:
1) You don't have to be a lawyer to sit for the patent bar. Hence the distinction between patent agent and patent attorney.
2) Even if your CS degree is not accredited, you can still sit for the bar provided you have taken 8 hours of chem or physics (like normal general education), and you have taken certain (typical) CS courses.

See: .pdf []

Re:USPTO Patent Lawyer Guidelines (1)

BlueMikey (1112869) | more than 7 years ago | (#19484547)

2) Even if your CS degree is not accredited, you can still sit for the bar provided you have taken 8 hours of chem or physics (like normal general education), and you have taken certain (typical) CS courses.

While correct, that completely misses the point. Many non-accredited CS programs don't require the science requirements the patent bar requires. When a CS department is inside a college of science or paired closely with mathematics (rather than being tied to the college of engineering), it typically will not have the strict physics or intensive science requirements.

(Further, the requirement is insane from a logistical standpoint. A person who takes all 8 hours of his physics requirement in his junior year passes the requirement. A person who takes 4 hours in his freshman year and 4 hours in his senior year does not. This completely illogical requirement further indicates that the guidelines are simply wrong.)

So when a highly-qualified person with a CS degree from one of these great universities applies, they are forced to take extra undergraduate courses. Considering lawyers are at least 3 years removed from their undergraduate degree (and many are in the workforce 3-5 years before starting law school), it's easy to see why this requirement is absolutely debilitating.

Never mind that a quick look at the recent software patents show no need for any physics knowledge whatsoever. Highly qualified scientists are kept out of the USPTO bar because of outdated requirements. The USPTO essentially requires that any computer scientist know that he wants to be a patent attorney/agent by the time he is registering for his sophomore year in college (or go to St. Cloud State).

Considering the massive amount of software and information technology patents that are given out these days (and as indicated by the main story), I'd say their requirements are sorely in need of an update.

I propose a new Slashdot Category (1)

jerunamuck (714985) | more than 7 years ago | (#19489381)

Though clearly INAL....

Letting the big boys review patent applications is a blatant conflict of interest!

I propose that patent applications be listed in Slashdot for peer review. That should speed up the review process to something between 1 day and 1 week. (sometimes I get behind om my /. reading)

Think about it.
* Peer review in mass.
* dopes and dupes flamed immediately.
* prior art identified and referenced.
* total review transparency

It's a win win situation. The only way to improve upon it would be to restrict replies by anonymous coward (who is that guy anyway?)


if this is a first step.... (1)

vuffi_raa (1089583) | more than 7 years ago | (#19490801)

this could be a good thing since for the first time it recognizes that there is a need for qualified people to review tech matters. honestly we should have the same process for technology based laws so that a guy with a good smile in congress isn't the one voting on and making tech laws. the original idea of congress creating the laws was good when matters were not so over their heads, but corporate lobbying and lack of knowledge is pushing us into self-destruction.
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