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Do Patents Stop Companies From Creating 'Perfect' Products?

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the would-have-gotten-away-with-it-if-it-wasn't-for-those-darn-patents dept.

Patents 292

Chris M writes "In a recent CNET article, the mobile phone editor writes about what he thinks would make a perfect phone. Unfortunately, as someone in the comments section points out, much of the technology that is used in this concept phone belongs to separate companies. 'I'm sorry to be the Devil's Advocate here, but most of those feautres are patented to separate companies. It would require almost all the major manufacturers [working together] to do this, which is highly unlikely.' Do you think patents are stopping companies from creating 'perfect' devices, or are there other factors at work?"

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292 comments

Not Really (5, Insightful)

MontyApollo (849862) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569151)

I did not RTFA (glanced at first page), but first off, I doubt there is a perfect phone that is perfect for everybody. Every product has tradeoffs, and certain product directions appeal to some people but not others, especially when they affect price. Sometimes it is just plane personal preference.

I think in certain respects patents spur competition and make every phone better. Each company tries to come up with something that their competitor hasn't thought of to help differentiate their product. They would be less likely to invest the time and effort to develop innovations if they knew their competitor would just immediately copy it. The really perfect phone would not be possible to begin with without all these previous innovations. One could argue that patents made the author's ideal phone possible, but it is more a business issue whether it ever comes to market.

During WWII, the British and Germans both independently and secretly discovered chaff as a radar countermeasure. Neither side used it in the beginning because they were more afraid of the enemy copying them and gaining a bigger advantage than they themselves would receive.

(I do think software patents need to be drastically reformed or completely done away with altogether)

What would be cool (2, Informative)

geekoid (135745) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569245)

Would be a piece of software on your computer that has every possible feature anyone could want for their cell phone.
Then you could drag and drop the desired features onto the phone that is plugged into your computer via USB.

That would be the perfect phone.

You can improve a patent and then get a different patent for it. So it seems to me that someone saying that it's patents holding this back only show their ignorance of the patent system.

Re:What would be cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569537)

You can improve a patent and then get a different patent for it. So it seems to me that someone saying that it's patents holding this back only show their ignorance of the patent system.

Yes...AFTER you pay the dues to the original patent-holder, who, seeing that you now have a viable product idea using their patent, is likely to charge you out the nose, or withhold the patent altogether to keep a competitor out of the market.

Re:What would be cool (1, Informative)

corbettw (214229) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569691)

You can improve a patent and then get a different patent for it. ...

Yes...AFTER you pay the dues to the original patent-holder


That's not how patents work. If you change one thing and patent the new "invention", it's a new patent, completely separate from the original one. You have to reference the original, but there are no fees to be paid.

Re:What would be cool (1)

kninja (121603) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569849)

You are right, you can get a patent on anything (in this case on the perfect phone) if it is specific enough, but the claims may have to be so specific that you will not be able to catch anyone who tries to copy a version of your phone that happens to be painted orange with a bump on the case. My point is that the business value of that patent may be nil. I hope the elements that get added or removed to make the phone perfect are truly inventive and the patent is worth something, but somehow I doubt it.

That is absurd (1)

p3d0 (42270) | more than 7 years ago | (#19570069)

Patents would become meaningless in your system.

Do you have any references to back up your claim?

Re:What would be cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19570007)

You can improve a patent and then get a different patent for it. So it seems to me that someone saying that it's patents holding this back only show their ignorance of the patent system.

But it also shows a deep understanding of the legal system.

Actually the patent system is OK -- it's the fucked-up implementation of that system which the USPTO engages in that makes for the problems. If they'd quit allowing patents for "a method of farting and whistling at the same time, and a method for doing it on the internet as well", we'd be OK.

Re:Not Really (4, Informative)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569507)

I agree with the first part. His perfect phone certainly looks very different from my perfect phone.

Currently, I own the Samsung i607 (blackjack) which earns about an 8/10 from me, which no other phone ever did. It's very thin, light, durable, and has an easy-to-care-for matte finish. It has a full QWERTY keyboard, and a very nice screen, fast processor, 3G, etc... If it had a 4-day battery life instead of 1.5-2 day, and a standard bluetooth stack that would let me sync and tether with ease from my Ubuntu laptop, it would match my dream phone... Not so hard, really...

Yes, not just phones (4, Informative)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569557)

This problem is nothing new to phones, electronics and software.

Company A patents technology X, but has no interest in making a product that has technology X plus feature Y. Company B would like to make a product with technology X and feature Y, but is stumped by the patent. Result: the world never gets an X+Y product.

This is not just theoretical. I work in a field knee deep in patents and I see this sort of nonsense all the time.

Re:Not Really (1)

rbanffy (584143) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569851)

Well... His phone is certainly not my perfect phone.

My Sony Ericsson P-800 came close to it but lacked a decent QWERTY keyboard and the camera was really bad. The 910 QWERTY keyboard was bad and I did not try hard enough to like the 990. My Nokia E62 has a decent keyboard, combined with a screen big-enough for doing SSH (saved my day a couple weeks ago when I could log-on and fix a problem on a server while my laptop batteries were dead), but no camera and no WiFi. It is also a little bit too large.

My perfect phone would sport an iPhone style touchscreen with tactile feedback and a cleverly overlaid semi-transparent QWERTY keyboard that could be drawn on the touchscreen surface when needed (say - when I touch the screen while using SSH or when I am writing something in a text field). A two-card hot-swap GSM system and, when connected via USB to my laptop, it would look like a standard USB hub connected to a mass storage device (with all files, including ROM-based ones, exposed), as many network interfaces as there are data networks available on the phone, a USB handset for VoIP, a webcam and a PostScript printer (so I could "print" things to read later on its large enough screen). It would retain every function while connected via Bluetooth or WiFi (except, perhaps, the storage thing, for security reasons).

It would also have a very modular software architecture and allow additional functionality to be installed drag-and-drop style.

Perfect phone without a keyboard?? (1)

randyflood (183756) | more than 7 years ago | (#19570167)

I don't think you can have a "perfect phone" that doesn't have a keyboard at least as good as the Sidekick.

A "perfect phone" should take into account that text messaging and IMing are at least as important if not more so than actual audio calls.
 

fp! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569165)

first pah pah pah post negro!

Deadlines (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569167)

No, managers and unreasonable deadlines prevent companies from creating "perfect products".

Incorrect (-1, Flamebait)

geekoid (135745) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569171)

features are not patented.

The way to build them are. You just have to do it differently.

Example: There is a patent for a device that thaws meat faster.

If I can find a different way the thaw meat, I don't violate the patents. In fact, I can modify the previous patented method enough I won't be violating patent as well.

Please don't spread FUD.

Re:Incorrect (5, Informative)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569197)

Except that in the modern world, features frequently are patented. Or the method patented is so broad that it covers all possible implementations.

Re:Incorrect (3, Informative)

russotto (537200) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569219)

features are not patented. The way to build them are. You just have to do it differently.
You've been living in a cave since, oh, before Slashdot was started, right? Patenting features (or "patenting the goal") is one of the oft-cited abuses of the patent system.

Re:Incorrect (0, Flamebait)

geekoid (135745) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569447)

Great, show me an example?

Yes I am familiar with the patent system. Probably more familiar then 90% of the people who post on slashdot and rail against the patent system.

Welcome to the Internet, folks. (2, Interesting)

khasim (1285) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569465)

Probably more familiar then 90% of the people who post on slashdot and rail against the patent system.

I'm so bleeding smart that I don't know the basics about what I've just claimed to be so smart about.

Check out Amazon's "One Click" patent. Go ahead.

Re:Incorrect (4, Informative)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569657)

CDMA.

Try building a phone that works with the CDMA cellular network, and doesn't violate Qualcomm's patent. It's not going to happen. They've patented too much stuff that's too fundamental to making an interoperable device.

If you piss them off, or if they decide for some reason not to license their patent(s) to you (e.g., you want to make a multi-network phone and their other customers -- the telcos -- don't like the idea), you're S.O.L. as far as most of the U.S. cellphone market is concerned.

Video compression is the same way. Try to build an MPEG-4 encoder that doesn't violate the MPEGLA's patents; it's not going to happen. Sure, you could build some completely unrelated video encoder, but that's of extremely limited utility in a world where standards matter.

Re:Incorrect (2, Informative)

jhjessup (936580) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569483)

The intent of the patent system is to foster innovation by protecting new inventions.

New Inventions, not new concepts An invention is a specific implementation of a concept. If you can't specify how it's built, it's just a concept. (Or rather, that's the way it's supposed to work. Software patents are a slightly different kettle of fish, but the same rules should apply)

The protection garnered by a patent grant is one of an exclusive monopoly. You can prevent anyone else (within the patent office's jurisdiction) from stealing your invention, even if you would be infringing on other people's patents if you tried to make it yourself.

So, Mr. Lim could go ahead and apply for a patent on his ideal phone, and turn around and license it to LG or Samsung or Motorola or Nokia and let them negotiate with the individual patent holders. Meanwhile, the phone doesn't get built due to ongoing negotiations, but it stays patented, and if any manufactures are sufficiently interested to license the design, Mr. Lim collects royalties.

(IANAL - but I am a law student writing my senior paper on patents)

Re:Incorrect (4, Insightful)

BalanceOfJudgement (962905) | more than 7 years ago | (#19570183)

All of that sounds great for lawyers, corporations, and patent holders, but it sounds horrible for consumers. I thought the purpose of patents was to foster innovation for the benefit of the society - if so many great inventions get trapped inside patent hell, exactly how does that benefit anyone?

Sounds more to me like a bunch of individual monopolies each trying to force their competitors either out of business or to their knees, resulting in a slew of competing products that do nothing but frustrate consumers due to their lack of interoperability.

How many picture card formats do we have now? 15 major ones? Is that REALLY necessary? There's something to be said for innovation and competition, sure, but there's a reason we invent standards.

Re:Incorrect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569501)

If there's a patent on an efficient method of doing something on a phone, then maybe you can't change the formula enough to get away with something functionally equivilant given the battery life decrease. Have you seen how generic patents are?

Mod Parrent Up (1)

ignipotentis (461249) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569695)

I just submitted the exact same thing (in a much more drawn out rambling kind of way).

Re:Incorrect (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569751)

Example: There is a patent for a device that thaws meat faster.

This wouldn't be that silly sheet of metal which was sold as some space-age metal which would thaw your meat quicker, would it? I believe *that* was identified as being basically fraudulent claims since it relies on nothing more than a well known property of metals to conduct heat, and used nothing more than a piece of common aluminum..

I seriously doubt there's a faster way to thaw your meat (without partially cooking it, or altering it) than to immerse it into cold water. Good luck on patenting that one. :-P

Cheers

Re:Incorrect (1)

Intron (870560) | more than 7 years ago | (#19570083)

errm... microwaves?

Re:Incorrect (1)

asland (26316) | more than 7 years ago | (#19570121)

How about a fuzzy-logic temperature controller and circulation system for the water bath? Off to the patent office...

Re:Incorrect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569919)

But if you have to add the feature in a non-optimal way in order to get around patents, the product is no longer perfect.

Vote Fill-In-The-Blank For President: (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569175)


and let the military-industrial-CONGRESSIONAL complex [whitehouse.org] finish
their CONTRACT [google.com]
on America.

Cheers,
Kilgore T.

Well.. (1)

AltGrendel (175092) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569191)

1) I'm sure that to some extent this is true and could create a case of "I'm going to go home and take all my toys with me."

however

2)A bad idea is still a bad idea.

the problem with co-operation (1)

east coast (590680) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569211)

Once you get all these teams together and you get everyone to agree and sign off on something the patents are damn near expired and the advancement isn't worth anything from a patent rights aspect.

Re:the problem with co-operation (1)

snowraver1 (1052510) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569511)

Sony used to work as a company of individuals. The walkman and the original Playstation were developed by one man teams, which were to compete against each other. Once things get too complex however, it is impossible to do it one man. Sony realized that and is now working in a team environment. I am not a Sony fanboi by any stretch (I don't own anything Sony, nor would I give my money to Sony), but it illistrates that things are now too complex to take the 'lone wolf' approach. Just my 2 cents.

Re:the problem with co-operation (1)

east coast (590680) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569639)

Well, this concept goes far beyond teamwork to the point that the question is about getting two companies with various interests together to create one product. I'm sure teamwork is fine. In fact, I don't see many worthwhile projects that can be done with technology today that wouldn't involve people of different disciplines.

It's getting the bean counters together that is going to kill these projects, not the engineers.

Create a Patent Stock Exchange (1)

cyberianpan (975767) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569795)

We should try to seperate patents from their application. Too often the patent holders want to be the only people creating the product. Well patents & IP generally is a protection afforded by the state so the state can set some limits. Why not have it so that every year there is an anonomyous open market bidding for usage of every patent that allows multiple people to buy in at highest price ? (and to stop the holder firm bidding a gidzillion dollars attach a profit tax of say 5% to it).

Sometimes (3, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569233)

Patents are a big problem, when someone patents the equvalent of a hammer, and you're stuck without a really basic tool.

Other times, someone patents "the way it's done" and the result is, when you try and find another way to do it, you actually find a better way.

The problem is, you never know which one you're going to get when you're just starting. I definitely thing innovation can overcome most patents, but a lot of time that's a real pain in the ass, when all you want to build is a slightly better breadbox.

Re:Sometimes (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569381)

Yeha, but you put tongs on the back of that "hammer" and you can patent that.
And so it goes. You want a hammer? licenses it or make it better. And the patent will expire.

Re:Sometimes (1)

Frank T. Lofaro Jr. (142215) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569597)

I'm going to get a business method patent on "waiting for patents to expire".

Re:Sometimes (1, Troll)

Husgaard (858362) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569515)

Other times, someone patents "the way it's done" and the result is, when you try and find another way to do it, you actually find a better way.

Yes, like when ogg-vorbis was created as a free replacement for the patented mp3. The problem, however, is that those who have the patents for mp3 are still saying that ogg-vorbis is violating some (unspecified) of their patents, so almost no commercial entity has dared support this new and better format.

Originally I was only against patents on software and business methods. But after spending years learning more about patents and how they work in the so-called free market, I now think that it is time to completely abolish the patent system.

Patents are government-issued monopolies. Monopolies are incompatible with a free market.

And if you look at patent infringement cases, you will see that most cases are used to shut down new and innovative competitors in the market.

So the current state of patents today is that they stiffle both the free market and new innovation.

Re:Sometimes (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569917)

Patents are government-issued monopolies. Monopolies are incompatible with a free market.

Aren't monopolies a result of a truly free market where there's no government intervention to prevent unfair competition practices?

Not that I disagree with your overall message, it's just that I'd rather point to the silly conflict of interest in government both simultaneously establishing monopolies (patents) and having them be illegal (Standard Oil, so on and so on).

Re:Sometimes (1)

Vancorps (746090) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569955)

Imagine a world where companies compete on service because all companies provide the same basic products. It would be amazing, exactly like the online bidding world, a thousand companies offering real-time streaming and basically the same product but they compete on quality of service and speed of delivery or some balance between to two. That sounds like a terrible place doesn't?

Course then you go and look at Apple copying the MP3 player which took lots and lots of R&D and then make tons in profit. Doesn't sound like patents are working anyway to me. Apple didn't get around it by innovating, the only thing different about an iPod versus a ton of other players that existed long before it was the interface and that word again, service. People could get the music for their players easily and without worrying about lawsuits.

I'm inclined to say innovation is spurred through the desire to get ahead, once you get ahead you hold the spotlight while the competition catches up giving you time to ramp up service to stay ahead of the competition. Sounds to me a like a system that makes a lot more sense.

Re:Sometimes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569629)

But a patent to "a hammer" as you put it, would not stop you patenting say "a hammer with a really cool grip" or a miriad of other inventive things. In fact you might never have had your spark of inspiration for your grip if you hadn't seen the original hammer patent because when you saw it you thought "damn there is a better way of doing that".

Re:Sometimes (1)

Husgaard (858362) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569843)

You are right. But without a licence to the patent on "a hammer" you will be unable to produce "a hammer with a really cool grip".

Of course you could try to get a compulsory license to the "a hammer" patent if the patent holders of this patent wants an extortionate amount of money in license fees. But this could take a long time to get, and you would not even be sure to get it. So most businesses would abandon their R&D on "a hammer with a really cool grip" because of the uncertain future for the product.

Re:Sometimes (1)

CaptainPatent (1087643) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569631)

at least you can patent your "slightly better breadbox"

Re:Sometimes (2)

IgLou (732042) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569713)

Oh let's not forget when someone patents something vague like 1-click; seriously, how much money and time was wasted in the courts to defend a patent that should never have been given. I digress. Sometimes, a patent just makes sense to protect innovation (I have the patent on the car that runs on flamebait comments on slashdot so I have time to develop it before anyone else does). The intent of patents is to protect inventors so they can make money off their ideas before anyone else can. IIRC patents, copyright et al are supposed to expire http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patent#Effects [wikipedia.org] because the advancement of society is so dependent on the further developement of old ideas. So the way things are supposed to go is I have an invention, I make a sketch or diagram or whatever and go to file it. Then I go out into the world with my patent try to develop it with some investment dollars and such and get it to market. If over the time I make money on my product great but once the patent expires anyone else can improve upon your idea and try to cash in.

I think if the manufactures couldn't sit on their patents then they'd be more likely to collaborate more and develop standards. Standard formats and methods are good for consumers, IMHO. But sitting on a technology is insanity and the approach of some companies as of late to file as many patents as possible is just a brazen attempt to lock out competition. Which of course, creates barriers to competition which all the "free market" types are supposed to hate so much.

Anyways, I agree with you completely I just had to vent. In regards to phone technology we're pretty much stuck it's all just too new and some of those patents are legitimate. What's interesting is how this article about what the ultimate consumer goody would be turned into something quite different.

I doubt it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569271)

What it stops is lazy designers from trying to find alternative solutions. You know that whole standing on the shoulders of giants thing. Learning from others' disclosures. All that jazz!

The Perfect Phone in 20 years (2, Insightful)

radarjd (931774) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569301)

At worst, in twenty years we'll get the perfect phone. I suppose I can wait that long for perfection...

Re:The Perfect Phone in 20 years (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569499)

All patents expire after 20 years. I'm sure this editor can wait that long to have his "perfect" phone, considering the fact that market and financial incentives drive the innovations (protected by patents) which he seems to cherish so much in the first place.

Curry

Re:The Perfect Phone in 20 years (3, Insightful)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569765)

In 20 years you can get "The Perfect Phone of 2007."

In 20 years, there will be a host of new technologies around, all encumbered with patents, that people will want to have in a 'perfect phone.' The stuff that's under patent now will be like pulse-dial rotary POTS equipment. If you're lucky it's still use-able, in the most basic sense, but it doesn't do much of what people want.

The problem is that innovation is now moving so much faster than it was when the patent term was set at two decades -- by the time something works its way out of patent protection now, it's generally pretty obsolete. And this will only get worse as the pace of innovation continues to quicken.

Re:The Perfect Phone in 20 years (3, Interesting)

interiot (50685) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569781)

That's the way the patent system is supposed to work. The patent system is a tradeoff... we slow down progress slightly (by making people wait at most 20 years to build the perfect device), but hope that we speed it up more by giving people extra incentives to innovate.

Unfortunately, that's not the way the system actually works. When the patent office lets you patent things that were obvious 10 or 20 years ago (eg. patenting xor, or patenting the idea of VoIP/POTS integration when the idea was an integral part of the design of various VoIP standards released years ago), then the patent system doesn't just slow things down 20 years, it's actually 30 or 40 years instead. And when there aren't realistically sufficient checks to prevent obvious things being patented, it means that a bad patent examiner can slow things down for 50 or 60 years in a few cases where they really screw it up.

Also, in the modern world, clearly companies already have a huge incentive to innovate. Was the dot-com boom driven by the fact that companies could patent things, and monopolize the area for 20 years? Or was it instead driven mostly by VC's hoping to profit from first mover advantage [wikipedia.org] ? In my mind, it was clearly the latter.

Re:The Perfect Phone in 20 years (1)

Husgaard (858362) | more than 7 years ago | (#19570131)

You have a really good point here.

There is an economic incentive for patent offices to issue as many patents as possible. And there is an economic incentive for patent lawyers to have as many patents as possible issued and for the patent case law to be as complicated as possible.

And today the patent system is so complicated that very few people except those who work professionally with it (patent offices and patent lawyers) actually understand it. This means that patent offices can extrend patentable subject matter and patent lawyers can make patent case law more complicated. And those who are supposed to keep the system in check (our democratically elected representatives) are unable to do anything about it, as they do not understand the system.

The recent US Supreme Court decision is a minor setback to this. But it does not fundamentally change this corrupt system.

Perfect Devices are Bad for Business (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569307)

Perfect Devices are bad for business because it leaves no room for failure, improvements, and other features which companies rely on. If your computer was always easily upgraded, and you never needed that new Video Card, what good would it be for the companies?

pfft... (2, Insightful)

djupedal (584558) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569323)

"Do you think patents are stopping companies from creating 'perfect' devices, or are there other factors at work?"

No -- Yes.

I say that because the patent system, good, bad or otherwise, has been around long enough that if there was genuine smothering of genius going on, it would have been a major topic long since, and because everyone has a different interpretation of 'perfect' devices. (left handed versus right - textured vs. smoothed...)

For those that need a concept to wrap their heads around, read the book 'The Difference Engine' ...twice, if you have to.

Re:pfft... (1)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569653)

And just because something is patented, doesn't mean you can't use it. All it means is that the holder of the patent is entitled to compensation if you use their patented idea/technology in your gizmo. The only way a patent can truly stifle development is if a patent-holder charges too much for the right to use the idea/technology outlined in the patent. Most aren't going to do that however, as the patent represents a source of cash.

Re:pfft... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569687)

And just because something is patented, doesn't mean you can't use it. All it means is that the holder of the patent is entitled to compensation if you use their patented idea/technology in your gizmo. The only way a patent can truly stifle development is if a patent-holder charges too much for the right to use the idea/technology outlined in the patent. Most aren't going to do that however, as the patent represents a source of cash.

You are truly naive.

There are any number of reasons to charge exorbitant licensing fees which may prevent people from using your patent, up to and including the fact that you may have your own product based on it, and the prospective licensor wants to make a competing product. There are also exclusive patent licensing deals, which do not permit the licensor to relicense, effectively preventing anyone else from making a product based on the same patent until the agreement expires.

Re:pfft... (0)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 7 years ago | (#19570127)

There are any number of reasons to charge exorbitant licensing fees which may prevent people from using your patent, up to and including the fact that you may have your own product based on it, and the prospective licensor wants to make a competing product. There are also exclusive patent licensing deals, which do not permit the licensor to relicense, effectively preventing anyone else from making a product based on the same patent until the agreement expires.

Then that means the answer is "No, patents are not stifling innovation." Because if patent-holders are going to go to those lengths, that's going to force you to come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things that won't involve those patents. If that doesn't spark creativity, I don't know what will.

Re:pfft... (2, Insightful)

Alchemar (720449) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569735)

It has been a major topic long since. At least since the creation of an affordable autombile.

http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aacarsse ldona.htm [about.com]

Re:pfft... (1)

djupedal (584558) | more than 7 years ago | (#19570019)

At least since the creation of an affordable autombile.

I think the Veyron is the perfect automobile. And with a price of USD$1.16 million (and Bugatti losing $2 million), I consider it affordable. How about you? Didn't think so.

The key word in this thread is 'perfect' - not affordable. The day I go shopping for a car and tell the sales person it must be affordable is the day I stop driving. Thanks for taking a run at the conversation and proving both my points, but you may want to try again if you want yours to stick, sorry...

What is "perfect"? Who defines "perfect"? (4, Insightful)

zerofoo (262795) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569373)

This guy's "perfect" phone sucks for me, why?

No QWERTY keyboard. I use my phone more often for email than actually using it as a phone. A QWERTY keyboard is a necessity - there is nothing more frustrating than trying to type an email on a standard phone keypad. Predictive typing software mostly sucks.

If a company could create the "perfect" phone, the financial rewards of such a device would make either patent licensing, or litigation acceptable costs.

The problem is, no one knows what the "perfect" phone should look like, or how it should operate. For every person that wants a QWERTY keyboard there are those that don't.

The whole argument reminds me of the "cancer cure" conspiracy theorists that say the cure for cancer is not available since it would hurt the profits of those companies that provide treatments. Baloney! The cure would be worth 10 times the entire treatment regimen of the patient.

The perfect phone doesn't exist because it can not be defined.

-ted

Re:What is "perfect"? Who defines "perfect"? (1)

WarwickRyan (780794) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569551)

It's a phone, as in something you call with.

For email, you'd be wanting a portable computer with some form of wireless connectivity %-)

Re:What is "perfect"? Who defines "perfect"? (1)

Cadallin (863437) | more than 7 years ago | (#19570029)

True, but that's still a problem with ultraportables. Below a certain size, keyboards start to become unusable. Voice recognition is slow, as is handwriting recognition. One answer I can think of is the use of laser projection to project keyboards on any random flat surface, that also scans to allow typing. These do exist, they sell them at thinkgeek.

Re:What is "perfect"? Who defines "perfect"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569579)

ummm well, TFA is describing a perfect "Phone" not a phone with bult-in PDA or phone with emailing functionality etc.

Re:What is "perfect"? Who defines "perfect"? (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569647)

I got an easier one: it's not a flip phone.

Sure, it may be a pithy and innane requirement, but I don't like those flat phone styles in the slightest.

Re:What is "perfect"? Who defines "perfect"? (1)

zCyl (14362) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569793)

I got an easier one: it's not a flip phone.

Flip phones are so TOS. How about a pin we can wear on our shirts? :)

Re:What is "perfect"? Who defines "perfect"? (1)

MMC Monster (602931) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569939)

How about a phone that morphs like the Terminator from T2? Has a keyboard when you need it and turns into a non-descript piece of metal when you don't.

Just because it's not possible now doesn't mean it's impossible.

Re:What is "perfect"? Who defines "perfect"? (1)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 7 years ago | (#19570113)

Only if I can stab someone in the face with it at some point.

The flip out keyboard on the Nokia E70 works pretty well for me. So does the built in wifi and sip client -- When I'm at home the phone is a handset on my asterisk phone system. Calls made out go out over the landline (T-Mobile reception at my house sucks.) When I'm not at home calls go out over cellular. That has the added benefit that my phone system "knows" when I'm not home since there are no extensions to ring when I'm not there. I'm not sure even the iPhone will be capable of that little trick. It seems to have all the hardware to make it happen but I'd be surprised if AT&T would stand for that.

yay stupid questions (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569433)

Do you think patents are stopping companies from creating 'perfect' devices, or are there other factors at work?"

No, of course, it's only patents! If only it weren't for those pesky patents, we would achieve perfection and transcend the physical plane.

Obviously patents prevent people from making spiffy devices. you have to license the patents, and it's not hard to imagine patent licensing agreements that prohibit the inclusion of other (competing) technologies. It would actually go a long way towards explaining why more software-based mp3 players don't support ogg. It wouldn't cost much to include the support, especially since someone else has done almost all the work for you (and there are fp, int, and mixed implementations, even.)

Why no OGG support? (1)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569681)

Actually, this is extremely simple. How many OGG files are there on the average Joe's computer? Zero. How many web sites sell downloadable music files in OGG format? A few, probably. How many popular software products do anything at all with OGG format files? Zero, I believe.

So we have a pretty unpopular format with a niche following.

Now we have the decision between a 64K chip and a 128K chip in a given device. Or some similar trade-off on ROM space and maybe RAM space. Is it worth the expense of moving to the 128K chip to support OGG? Nobody is going to be able to sell that one.

Is there a device with enough ROM space available to fit OGG in at the supposed near-zero cost the parent claims? Maybe. But there isn't any real interest. Certainly not on a feature-to-feature comparison chart. They are going to use that ROM space to add features that count to the Average Joe, not the niche OGG market.

Re:Why no OGG support? (2, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569773)

Is there a device with enough ROM space available to fit OGG in at the supposed near-zero cost the parent claims? Maybe. But there isn't any real interest. Certainly not on a feature-to-feature comparison chart. They are going to use that ROM space to add features that count to the Average Joe, not the niche OGG market.

There's plenty of devices with unused space in ROM. And do you know how visionaries become recognized as such? They spot opportunities before others do - perhaps even before the market is aware of their desire - and they exploit them.

In other words, no one serious has attempted to create a market for ogg. It might not be a very hard sell, but who's attempted it?

Multifunction GPS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569461)

I'd love to see phone GPS used for more... I think we're starting to get there with directions, but what about other GPS devices. OK, I really just care about golf courses. Why should I have to buy a SkyCaddie if my phone has an LCD and GPS built in? Just let me pay the annual fee and not have two devices.

It's a hole that's hard to dig out of. (4, Interesting)

Gabrill (556503) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569463)

To me, a layman, it does seam like basic tools have most of their "methods" and "apparatus" patented, so that startups have no hope of making anything more complex than a wheelbarrow without stepping at least one patent or another. Maybe it would be a good idea to farm recently outdated patents for business ideas. Anything made to those patents' specifications should be immune to newer patents, and a good way to invalidate copycat patents.

Re:It's a hole that's hard to dig out of. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569627)

...so that startups have no hope of making anything more complex than a wheelbarrow without stepping at least one patent or another

Actually, they may already be stepping on some - Google Patents returned 498 results for "wheelbarrow". ;-)

Re:It's a hole that's hard to dig out of. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569721)

I think the patent on flint axeheads is coming up soon.

Maybe you could do something with that?

the perfect product (1)

texasbat (777167) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569467)

definitely written by someone with no knowledge of the product design cycle, nor has he ever done any marketing research.

Does anyone remember MacWorld/MacUser's take? (1)

Alaska Jack (679307) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569533)

About 10 years ago I dimly remember reading in one of the Mac magazines -- Macworld or Macuser, I think -- their take on the perfect PDA/Phone. They had photos of a mockup, though I can't remember if it was real or photoshopery. I seem to remember that Frog Design was involved.

Does anyone else recall this? I'd like to read the article again -- I bet it would be pretty interesting.

    - AJ

It may hinder the development... (1)

CaptainPatent (1087643) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569545)

of the "perfect" device of any sort and it would require appropriate licensing (or wrongful patent lawsuits is some unfortunate cases) to develop. That is true.

It does allow the little guy to get credit where it is due though and it requires true innovation in the field and not plagiarism of an idea. I do agree that it is relatively ridiculous that 20 year patents are allowed in technological fields where the idea itself will be obsolete in 5, but a lot of the Slashdot community tends to overlook the good that is also done.

Re:It may hinder the development... (1)

mOdQuArK! (87332) | more than 7 years ago | (#19570039)

It does allow the little guy to get credit where it is due though and it requires true innovation in the field and not plagiarism of an idea. I do agree that it is relatively ridiculous that 20 year patents are allowed in technological fields where the idea itself will be obsolete in 5, but a lot of the Slashdot community tends to overlook the good that is also done.

Please point me to a peer-reviewed study that indicates this effect is really occurring. I've been looking for a reference to such a study for quite a while now, but haven't heard anything more than anecdotal and "it's obvious" arguments that patents do anything to help the overall innovation rate of a society.

How about this for the 'Perfect' phone: (1)

jstockdale (258118) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569565)

A small, rectangular object capable of making and receiving voice communications, perhaps using some type of numerical input pad.

That said, I haven't seen anything like that for sale in years. You know, a simple, cellular phone?

Our patent system, as broken as it is, doesn't incumber products nearly as much as incompetent companies and mindless consumers.

Re:How about this for the 'Perfect' phone: (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569739)

FWIW Motorola is making a GSM phone like that for the Indian market. e-Ink display, has like four built-in ringtones, and it's styled more or less like a RAZR (but non-flip). I've often thought that a phone like that plus EDGE GPRS and bluetooth communication (to use it with your PC/PDA/whatever) would be a gigantic seller in the USA for people who don't want a phone with a fancy interface. Especially since it has literally weeks of standby time. (Well, over a week IIRC. And many hours of talk time.)

Sort of looks like a Samsung X820 (1)

zigamorph (991245) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569605)

SGH-X820 [samsung.com] Except of course that the "perfect" phone is 10mm thick and the samsung 6.9mm ;)

gzip is an example (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569611)

gzip is an example of something that could be better if it weren't for patents. It is intentionally made less efficient and slower (by using less efficient algorithms) due to patents on better compression algorithms.

However, if gzip could use these algorithms, would it be *perfect*?

Not a problem (3, Interesting)

Lodragandraoidh (639696) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569645)

This is not a big problem - for a big company. A Big company could easily license the IP from their competitors to build the 'perfect' phone.

Of course, that elimenates all the little guys from competing because they can't afford to license the technology.

On the other hand, companies prefer to purposefully 'differentiate' their products so the customer is presented with a choice - which the company is banking on. You will probably never see the 'perfect' phone, as a result. It is the nature of the beast.

Process of implementation of the idea... (1)

ignipotentis (461249) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569651)

not the idea itself.

The main issue I have with the patent system is that it is not functioning to protect the process of implementation. One cannot patent the idea of a "water tight connector" for example, but one could patent the process / design for creating one. This would then protect the patent holder for a *period of time.* Once that period of time is over, its wide open for cheap knock offs.

Based on both concepts above (the idea can't be patented; the process will eventually be available) I don't think patents are stopping the perfect anything. I think it is more likely that your version of a perfect something is drastically different than my version.

Moot (1)

moankey (142715) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569665)

Of course patents and companies prevent the perfect product. This can be said about anything. As long as there is economy, profit, governments, and corporations a synergy of technology and science will never be made.
A perfect anything is idealistic at best.

Dual Batteries? (1)

LS (57954) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569699)

Can anyone explain what the advantage of dual batteries is? TFA describes this "feature", but not what the benefits are.

LS

Re:Dual Batteries? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19570053)

Clearly you don't want you phono abilities killed when your mp3 playback drains the batteries.

Re:Dual Batteries? (2, Informative)

geek2718 (990232) | more than 7 years ago | (#19570111)

I assumed it was so that you can run out of "feature battery life" without disabling your phone for that important phone call? Seems a bit tenuous to me, as presumably you get less lifetime per oz. of battery with dual batteries unless you happen to use both batteries at exactly the same rate and you could accomplish the same thing with software...but, perhaps the power needed to transmit a cell phone call is higher than that needed by music or camera features. So for one application you need high power short use, while for music you want low power long use. Could be that a different battery could optimize them. Anyone know?

Nope -- it's the Gillette to the nth degree (1)

CodeShark (17400) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569727)

This might work -- in Europe, but not the US. And it's not the patents that are stopping something like this, it's the telcos. The Gillette analogy is that a company will sell you or even give you the razor handle -- as long as they can tie you into buying their proprietary and presumably more expensive blades, insuring a long term profit to cover the giveaway.

Add the ability to use this theoretical phone on ANY network, forcing Verizon, ATT, Sprint/Nextel, etc. into a world where if I get screwed by a vendor, I take my phone with me to another network, and it still works....just like radio does if it can reach the appropriate EM spectrum. (Checked the per-unit cost of an FM radio or walkie talkie lately?)

Suddenly the phone becomes a commodity, not a gatekeeper -- the proverbial razor handle -- so the various telcos have to be more competitive and the hand set developers that were previously beholden to produce phones for specific networks and technologies now have to compete and have the incentive to cross license their technologies to the nth degree -- like has already happened in the commoditization of hardware in the Win/DOS/Linux worlds.

But as long as there is a tie between which phones work on which networks, and extended service contracts are allowed and the norm, I just don't see things changing, meaning that patent wars are an inevitable but viable part of a company's strategies.

A bit OT (1)

Control Group (105494) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569877)

Your comment has reminded me of a long-standing question that's been floating around in my head for a while and I've never seen an answer to.

Why is it that you don't see generic knockoffs of expensive razor blades? Is it that the razor blade companies change the form factors fast enough that patents protect the properly-fitting blades until they're irrelevant? Is it that razor blades actually are expensive enough to produce that generics can't make money? Is there something else I'm missing?

Re:A bit OT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19570149)

Oddly enough it's quite likely you are using knockoffs. Along with toothbrushes, razorbaldes are one of the most counterfeited items. You know how some shops suddenly have special offers on odd items. Very often they have got hold of a batch wholesale on the cheap. Usually unbeknownst to them they are counterfeit, that's why they were cheap. So next time you pop in a new blade and get a bad shave think to yourself if they were on special when you bought them.

Personally I use a "safety razor" because I can't stand those multibladed monstrosities.

Re:Nope -- it's the Gillette to the nth degree (1)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569921)

The problem in the US is partly the wireless providers wanting specific features on "their" phones and partly the systems they have implemented. Verizon didn't (and may still not) sell Nokia phones because they don't work with Verizon's network equipment very well. On the other hand, if you bring a CDMA tri-band phone into a Verizon store it can be activated in almost all cases. It may not work very well if it is a Nokia. There are some other problems I am sure.

But the idea of the phone being tied to the wireless vendor solely because of choice is a myth.

Europe and much of the rest of the world has it easy - a single mature standard that is at least 15 years old. The US has three different bands being used and more network quirks than you would think possible. So not everything works as nicely as it does with a single standard.

You don't get great designs by mixing... (1)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569741)

...not even if you think you're mixing the best features from each.

If only you could combine a Big Mac and a Hershey bar...

If only you could combine Fred Astaire and Rudolf Nuruyev...

If only Gary Trudeau could draw like Albert Dürer... ...it wouldn't be perfection.

Re:You don't get great designs by mixing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569983)

>If only you could combine a Big Mac and a Hershey bar...

Actually, that sounds rather good. I will have to try this someday! Thanks for the idea! Perhaps I'll use hershey's syrup instead of "special sauce"... Mmmm.

Not in themselves (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569759)

Many industry segments managed to sort this out some time ago. Cross licensing means that companies can use each others patents for a reasonable fee. Any microchip will have technology developed by dozens of companies. It's not perfect - companies are still suing each other left and right, but generally they try to get compensation rather than block their opponents.

yes, patent prevent great things (1)

jcmahal (1100965) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569777)

Many already mentioned that the idea of a perfect phone even without being held back by patents is close to near impossible. Too many people with different likes and dislikes. So back to the original question, I do think patents are holding back development of great devices. The patent process is so skewed and broken that creating a great device will be both difficult and expensive. How can one person patent just an idea with no real work to even support how possible it is. How can a person patent two handle and patent it for people who doesn't know how to jumprope. Some ideas are basic common sense but patents are allowed to be created. One-Click purchase, again one of those common sense patent that should go away. In that sense a lot of "common" idea that are patented does hinder and prevent development of good/great products.

Perfection vs. Time to Market (1)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569787)

Consumer devices aren't designed in a vacuum. There has to be a place to sell them. If someone came up with the idea for a really wonderful music player 10 years ago and it took 10 years to have the device produced in all its perfection, it would be a flop. iPod owns the market. So we have had a succession of modestly successful devices that weren't perfect but made it to market.

Software is often the same thing. You sell a distributor on a product and they want it for Christmas. Come October, you are going to ship a product. Period. Miss the window and you have a failure. It doesn't matter how great or perfect the product would have been - you missed the window and the time for it has past.

You have to be able to put up with a level of defect in a product and deliver it in a reasonable period of time. If you can't deliver it, it isn't going to sell because it isn't on the shelf. Doesn't matter how perfect it might have been. Are fewer defects better? Yes, but not at the expense of the marketing plan.

Fixed-percent Patent "Tax" - shift burden (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569805)

I think what should be done is a fixed-percent "patent tax". All devices pay a fixed percent of sales, say 10%, to a quasi-government organization that distributes the royalties to the various patent holders. Disputes over patent applicability are to be taken up between patent holders, NOT patent users. That way you can make whatever the heck you want and let the patent holders fight out any disputes instead.

Licenses (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19569931)

The tech can be licensed, or worked around. A friend used to work at a mfg plant where the managers would bring a rival's product and ask him "can you make these?" He'd say sure. Once mentioned a patent notice on the gizmo he was charged with reproducing and said something to the manager, who replied "that's what we have lawyers for." The lawyers will get a notice from the rivals, then tell the techs what needed to be changed to be legal. Often getting around a patent was as easy as substituting brass for copper!

As to the "perfect phone," I'm almost as unimpressed by his "perfect" phone as I am with C|NET and its two paragraphs per ad-laden page web site. I'm perfectly happy with my Razr (I'd be happier if I could save MP3s on it). Submitters, be warned: if you submit a shitty site like C|NET and I'm drinking from the firehose, I'll vote you down!

-mcgrew

Perfect phone was done decades ago. (2, Insightful)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 7 years ago | (#19569991)

I miss the perfect phone, the base Bell System model. Something fundamental has been lost: The experience of hanging up. You could hang up a Bell System phone as violently or as delicately as you liked. It was indestructible. There were few things more satisfying that slamming the phone down on the hook, pounding the receiver against your desk or hurling it at the wall.

ummmm what happened to LICENSING it? (1)

CPE1704TKS (995414) | more than 7 years ago | (#19570059)

You know, just because something is patented doesn't mean you aren't allowed to use it. If you can't work around a patent, you can always license it. Most patent-owners will not impose ridiculous terms since it means the patent won't generate money. So you can probably license the technology and use it to create your so-called "perfect" invention.

yes, but patent licensing would allow it (1)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 7 years ago | (#19570189)

if you require patent X to make the "perfect" product, it would be worth licensing that patent. It's the same thing with any product, if it's worth the licensing fee, then it will come to pass. If not, then it probably would not be that "perfect" of a product after all, or else the business forecasts for sales would capture that value and require that patent purchase/license. Henry Ford licensed the freaking engine from some guy for the original Ford cars... a patent on the internal combustion engine causes issues... he basically waited until the patent expired and then could slash prices, but the car was so popular it really didn't matter.

perfection isn't the point (1)

prgrmr (568806) | more than 7 years ago | (#19570191)

Do you think patents are stopping companies from creating 'perfect' devices, or are there other factors at work?

Of course there are. Companies are (if they are any good) motived to make the most money with the least effort. The 80-20 Rule [wikipedia.org] speaks directly to this motivation. The "perfect" product is almost in direct opposition to it.
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