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Working Around Patents with Evolutionary Design

CowboyNeal posted more than 6 years ago | from the survival-of-the-most-original dept.

Patents 121

An anonymous reader writes "Using computational trial-and-error allowed a Stanford team to come up with a patent-free WiFi antenna. Patent rules are tricky to formulate as self-interest dictates that the claim is as general as possible. Patent fences effectively can build a substantive competitive barrier to markets. Using evolutionary tactics may be a way to legally and ethically bypass these roadblocks."

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121 comments

and then.... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880113)

and then you patent the resulting design.

Re:and then.... (1, Interesting)

kailoran (887304) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880161)

Better yet, what if someone patents all "evolutionary-designed $DEVICE" (antennas, cables, whatever), making any further attempts to evolve a different version a violation?

Re:and then.... (1)

Vlad_the_Inhaler (32958) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880191)

They could even do that.

I'd cheerfully forgive them if they then pulled a trick a bit like one of the Gnu licenses - "if you use this method then you can't patent the result".

Re:and then.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20884023)

I assume that patents, like copyright, don't apply to automatically generated, 'non-creative' work.

Re:and then.... (1)

Nazlfrag (1035012) | more than 6 years ago | (#20885465)

Well, he already has patents on all the methods [genetic-programming.com] .

Ob (5, Funny)

Edie O'Teditor (805662) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880117)

Intelligent design loses out yet again.

Re:Ob (2, Funny)

noidentity (188756) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881431)

Only because it can't overcome the massive stupidity that is the patent system.

Re:Ob (1)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 6 years ago | (#20884365)

I don't think the Stanford Team would like what you are insinuating.

Re:Ob (1)

TrnsltLife (779961) | more than 6 years ago | (#20885515)

Yeah, it is really "I'm not smart enough" design. But that's what computers are for, right? A tool to fill in for the things our intellects aren't good at.

The scientists still design the variables that are allowed to mutate. And they design the criteria to decide which mutations "survive". So there is some intelligence still involved, and a definite goal in sight.

Re:Ob (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20885857)

Are you saying God created the system by which man and apes evolved together from a common ancestor?

So what's to prevent patent trolls doing the same? (2, Interesting)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880171)

Its time to "fix" this problem by removing software and business methods from the purview of the patent office.

Re:So what's to prevent patent trolls doing the sa (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880295)

Request that patent claims has to be specific enough. A too general patent shouldn't be granted, and licensing for a patent has to be related to the amount of effort put into it. So if I design a new antenna in 5 minutes and patent it I may only license the design for a certain amount of money, say $0.5 per piece.

Of course - it's sometimes hard to decide the amount of effort put into a design, but in general - the scale of invention is ranging from obvious to ground-breaking. In the area of antennas it's not really ground-breaking, and often but not always close to obvious. It's more a question of evolution of a previous design.

Re:So what's to prevent patent trolls doing the sa (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880415)

I would say that this shows quite clearly that software patents are more of an obstruction than anything else, quite contrary to the usual argument that patents are for the advancement of technology.

Koza's Patents (2, Informative)

jefu (53450) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880557)

Perhaps they'll be blocked by Koza's patents on genetic programming [genetic-programming.com] .

They can't do it and still be trolls (2, Insightful)

Tatarize (682683) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881739)

Patent trolls usually patent general quite obvious things. GP tend to evolve actually innovative things. If they did it, they would get some good designs rather than the very general noninnovative designs that qualifies them as trolls. However, it is quite true that after getting a good design via GP you can patent it.

Yes, but... (1)

Empiric (675968) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880175)

What's to stop the company which is engaging in the exclusionary patenting from running exactly the same algorithm and patenting every viable permutation of "thing X" it "evolves"?

I still think improvement in the patent system still has to be made on the level of scoping patentability, in the long run.

BTW, I accelerated the production of this post by using Intelligent Design instead. :p

Re:Yes, but... (1)

caramelcarrot (778148) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880263)

Wouldn't that make the patented device obvious?

Re:Yes, but... (1)

budgenator (254554) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881415)

I suspect the result would be the federal defict would be retired, we could keep Social Security solvent and still be able to afford socialized medicine with the patent application fees!

Re:Yes, but... (1)

ta bu shi da yu (687699) | more than 6 years ago | (#20885491)

Two things: it costs money to issue patents, and secondly the patent office will totally collapse if they do that. Which might not be a bad thing, as it may mean that patents don't get passed in time, and it might force governments to reexamine the entire patent industry.

I should note that evolving new drugs from existing patents is already being done in medicine [guardian.co.uk] .

That's great! (4, Insightful)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880185)

I love this part:

Perhaps the most cunning use of an evolutionary algorithm, though, is by Dr Koza himself. His team at Stanford developed a Wi-Fi antenna for a client who did not want to pay a patent-licence fee to Cisco Systems. The team fed the algorithm as much data as they could from the Cisco patent and told the software to design around it. It succeeded in doing so. The result is a design that does not infringe Cisco's patent--and is more efficient to boot. A century and a half after Darwin suggested natural selection as the mechanism of evolution, engineers have proved him right once again.


But who's to stop the person who wrote the algorithm to patent the solution that bypassed the original patent? Or the algorithm itself for that matter?

Re:That's great! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880207)

divine intervention.

Re:That's great! (3, Funny)

Kamineko (851857) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880345)

In that case, I will create a patent circumvention method patent circumvention method and place it in the public domain.

Re:That's great! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880453)

You can't patent evolution. I've already done it.

Cheers,

God.

Re:That's great! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880689)

The phrase you are looking for is "product by process claims". Look it up, there is a big steaming pile of caselaw relating to it.

Please type the word in this image: inventor

Re:That's great! (2, Interesting)

riegel (980896) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880911)

I am not a big fan of the patent system. but...

This example shows the patent system working to the end it was designed (encourageing innovation). If Cisco had not had a patent on design A design B may have never surfaced.

Am I wrong?

Re:That's great! (1)

Bozdune (68800) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881207)

Yes, you're wrong.

Re:That's great! (1)

riegel (980896) | more than 6 years ago | (#20883417)

Thanks, my logic has been debunked. I feel so stupid.

Re:That's great! (1)

PrinceOfStorms (568367) | more than 6 years ago | (#20883655)

The patent, as I understand it, provided additional constraints on possible solutions (presumably certain solution characteristics had to be avoided due to being covered by the patent). This would have reduced the solution space that the algorithm could explore. Without those constraints, a better solution might have emerged (including ones better than those produced by the patent-holder). In theory these constraints could push design into an interesting area of the solution space that it would generally not reach, but it would generally result in an approach that was no better than that possible without those constraints (a large easy to reach local maxima/small difficult to reach global maxima in the "goodness" function might mean that a better solution would emerge with these constraints, but that seems unlikely to occur in any particular case due to the random starting points). Without the patent system, they could still have tried to find new solutions by including existing solutions as constraints anyway, if that approach tended to be fruitful in finding novel solutions.

Re:That's great! (2, Informative)

khellendros1984 (792761) | more than 6 years ago | (#20884705)

Evolutionary algorithms have been known for a while....it seems to me a reasonably obvious extension of AI search algorithms, in many ways. It's just finding an optimal solution within a large problem space. I'm being taught these things in school, so something tells me they have sufficient prior art to be unpatentable.

Evolved antennas at NASA (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880195)

Efficient antennas 'designed' by evolution [nasa.gov] are already in use on spacecraft.

Re:Evolved antennas at NASA (2, Informative)

AceJohnny (253840) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881267)

Except in the NASA case, they goal was the traditional engineering one: efficiecy. Whats particular in this case was the goal to 1) *avoid* certain design characteristics and 2) because of patents

Remember, "the current patent system is bad, mmkay?"

Especially as you have to "waste" engineering effort to work around it.

Patents have become barriers to innovation (5, Insightful)

shanen (462549) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880245)

Patents were supposed to encourage innovation, but modern patent law has evolved in a way that makes it more of a hindrance than a help. You basically have to have a large corporation and a battery of lawyers behind you to support your patent application, and the corporations aren't even interested unless they are very sure they can see a path to big profits. For the corporations the big attraction is that the patent grants them monopoly profits, and they could not care less about the social values (or harms) of the innovations themselves. From that purely monetary perspective it makes perfect sense to focus on the value of patents for blocking competitors and for lawsuits--though SCO showed that the strategy doesn't always work.

I think the fundamental problem is that the values of patents are too highly variable, and this variability has completely overwhelmed the simple-minded idea of a temporary monopoly. There are cases where it makes sense to motivate innovation by the exclusive monopoly, but almost never for the specific period of time that is hard-coded into patent law. Some patents should lapse more quickly, though of course the companies will argue they should last *MUCH* longer, and they have a lot of lobbying money to push with. Some patentable ideas are very quick and inexpensive to develop, while others take years and lots of money, but patent law doesn't really consider such trivia.

The bottom line dynamic is that most innovation has to start within an individual, but patents have become a team sport. If you aren't on the right team, it doesn't really matter how innovative your ideas are. You're very unlikely to succeed at the patent game without such a team.

The innovation /. needs? (-1, Offtopic)

shanen (462549) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880261)

P.S. The innovation that /. needs is to dump the metamoderation and fix the moderation. No patents available there.

Re:The innovation /. needs? (1)

shanen (462549) | more than 6 years ago | (#20883937)

In a pig's eye, but thank you for making my point. Meta-moderation is *NEVER* off topic as long as /. asks about it in *EVERY* thread and and after *EVERY* posting. Of course YOU (the troll who marked it as off-topic) like the system. You're one of the BOFHs who is doing so much to make /. so worthless.

It was not evolution! (3, Informative)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881001)

Patent law has not "evolved". It has been maliciously twisted and distorted by corporate interests. That is a very different thing.

And if you want it to stay anywhere near halfway sane, write your Senators and tell them to vote against their new "patent reform" bill. That would change the law to award patents to the first who apply for a patent, rather than the first to invent. Talk about stifling innovation! That would give all the advantages to corporate lawyers, and our patent system would fail completely in its purpose.

Re:It was not evolution! (1)

jmv (93421) | more than 6 years ago | (#20885157)

That would change the law to award patents to the first who apply for a patent, rather than the first to invent.

I understand how this may sound bad, but assuming you think patents are a good idea (I don't when it comes to software), first to file is the only thing that makes sense. Otherwise, you automatically end up in court trying to prove you invented the thing first. Can you even imagine how hard (and lawyer-intensive) it must to actually prove when you invented something? So in (crystal ball) theory, "first to invent" makes sense, but in practice, it's "first to file" that makes sense.

Re:Patents have become barriers to innovation (1)

AceJohnny (253840) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881291)

Patents were supposed to encourage innovation...


In my book, this circumvention technique *is* innovation. :)

Re:Patents have become barriers to innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20882717)

Monoply profits are what drove the corporation to invest time and money to come up with the idea in the first place. It will also be what drives the next corporation to build a better mouse trap. Also, it is what pays your salary and provides you health insurance, so you can support a family and send your kids to college.

Re:Patents have become barriers to innovation (3, Insightful)

shanen (462549) | more than 6 years ago | (#20884035)

In another pig's eye. A corporation has *NO* brain and it creates *NOTHING*. It is the individuals within the corporation who do any actual thinking and any actual innovating. The notions that corporations are in somewhat similar to human beings or that corporations somehow deserve some of the rights accorded to humans are two of the most pernicious ones afflicting us, the actual human beings.

I'm not surprised you didn't want to put your name on such a stupid comment. My own settings actually ignore such stupid and anonymous cowards--but I stumbled across your post by accident as I checked something else.

So why did I reply? Because in your cowardly stupidity you have skirted around the edges of an actually important truth. It is possible that there is a 'higher form of intelligence' involved in corporations. However, from our perspective it would be more like the individual cells trying to understand what is going on with human intelligence in the creation of a novel. Yeah, the cells were involved, but they have no conception of what they contributed to. From that perspective, my current speculation is that perhaps the stock markets somehow express the higher level emergent intelligence--but my evidence is mostly negative. The stock prices surely don't seem to have any realistic relationships to the ostensible values of the companies. Google's market cap is over $100 billion? On what physical assets? Or even on what knowledge they actually own?

"Evolutionary tactics..." nonsense. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880255)

Hardly "evolutionary", designing a system that designs trial and error is hardly "evolutonary", its basically an intelligent search of a search space compared against a pattern. Evolution is blind, it has no end goal.

Re:"Evolutionary tactics..." nonsense. (1)

speaker of the truth (1112181) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880447)

Yes but saying that he intelligently designed a new antennae with the aid of software is taboo around here.

Re:"Evolutionary tactics..." nonsense. (1)

SpinyNorman (33776) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880947)

You can say that, but then to be consistent you'd have to be willing to also describe "intelligent design" regarding new species as nothing but the same dumb evolutionary "algorithm" running on different hardware.

Except that of course in nature you don't need to simulate a thing - DNA/competition/etc really exist, so there is no simulation algorithm and hence no algorithm writer. Oh, well.

Re:"Evolutionary tactics..." nonsense. (1)

speaker of the truth (1112181) | more than 6 years ago | (#20884259)

The algorithm works towards a final solution. Evolution is blind. There's no real comparison except to say how different they are.

Re:"Evolutionary tactics..." nonsense. (2, Funny)

astaldaran (1040462) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880757)

this is nonsense. In the theory of evolution data is mostly lost and note gained so function is lost and not gained. The only time data is added is with some sort of fluke mutation in which case the mutation alone will not help and so will be cast aside (according to evolution). This is known as irreducibly complex and is one of the biggest arguments from many scientists against evolution or at least against the standard theory of evolution. The evolution that happens here is closely monitored and designed around certain criteria in order to reach a certain goal. The person who wrote the article is obviously expressing his own views and not those of a an unbiased journalist when he says at the end that this clearly proves darwin right once again. Indeed I doubt leading evolutionist scientists would care to relate these two barely related forms of evolution.

Re:"Evolutionary tactics..." nonsense. (1)

lessthan (977374) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881211)

Go back to sleep, troll. Intelligent design misleads the sheep no longer.

Re:"Evolutionary tactics..." nonsense. (1)

budgenator (254554) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881529)

One problem the Evolutionary program is likely to have is each permutation is tested for efficiency, yet real evolution frequently multiple permutations running in paralell and it's not unusual for the winner at the end to have been at a disadvantge in the beginning. Without care the program will discard many ultimate winners, or bogg down running too many instances in paralell

Re:"Evolutionary tactics..." nonsense. (2, Informative)

unMasqre (870322) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881563)

nonsense back to you.

genetic mutation comes in several forms, some are more common than others and sometimes the sequence being mutated can affect the rate of its own mutation (and even this can happen either biochemically or by following genetic instructions that affect mutation rate).

1. Point mutations.
Clearly you've heard of this--this is what you are colloquially referring to as "mutation". This is gain, loss or replacement of a single base. Due to the degenerate nature of the triplet code, most replacement point mutations that occur within a gene are effectively silent, not causing any change in the resulting protein. Of course, many more happen outside the coding regions of genes and typically do nothing. When the point mutation causes a change to the amino acid sequence, the protein still might not be affected. If the amino acid substitution of the same type (e.g., both hydrophobic or both acidic) the protein function might be unaltered. Or it might be impreceptibly altered. This creates very important variety in proteins that allows an individual in changing circumstances to adapt. Of course, sometimes, and maybe most often, the protein performs worse. If it's bad enough, that mutation is removed from the gene pool along with the individual possessing it.

Insertion and deletion of a single base is very similar to the next category, so I'll discuss them there.

2. Insertion and deletion of 1 or more bases.
This is a real problem for genes. If the insertion or deletion is a multiple of 3, then there's a chance nothing will happen but 1 amino acid will be gained or lost, but potentially not affecting the function of the protein. But there's also a good chance the protein will be severely altered, because from the mutation onward, the frame of 3-bases per amino acid will be off, and now you'll end up with a completely different string of amino acids. Chances are they'll do nothing, but sometimes they do something. If the protein is lost completely, then there may or may not be a problem to the organism. You've got two copies of most genes, and the second copy might be able to compensate for the bad protein. If so, this becomes what people call a recessive mutation, meaning if you've only got 1 "bad" allele, you're all right, but if both alleles are "bad" you suffer. Sometimes the truncated protein is worse than missing, though. Sometimes the shortened form works well enough to go through all the motions of being a protein (going where needed, binding to its partners, etc.) but then fails to carry out its job and at the same time interferes with the "normal" copy. This becomes what we call a dominant mutation and it's really bad news. Insertions or deletions are fairly common in certain types of sequences but for the most part, the quality control machinery can catch them and fix or destroy the aberrant cell.

3. Translocation and duplication events.
This is a specialized type of insertion, in which a whole section of DNA is either extracted and inserted elsewhere, or copied and the copy is inserted elsewhere. Extraction-insertion is not necessarily a problem, since you've got a net gain of 0 new sequence. The gene is still present and probably still functions normally, it just lives in a different location now. Sometimes this is a problem, if it is translocated without its regulatory machinery, so that now it doesn't activate at the right time or make the proper dose of protein. Sometimes the regulation is only slightly tweaked, again allowing for a slight variation of the protein function in an organism, which can be useful when the population is facing novel or changing conditions. Sometimes this causes cancer.

With duplication, evolution is most free to act in a good way. This is the wholesale copying and inserting of the copy in a new place. Often the new copy is put next to the original, but not always. With two fully functioning copies of the same gene, a rendundancy is built in, superior to the one created by having two alleles (one on each chromosome). Later on down the line, those duplicated genes will start to acquire mutations. If one gets mutated into a bizarre new form that behaves nothing like the original, there's still a copy able to take over the protein's regular function, allowing the copy to become fine-tuned to whatever new role happens to work for it. This is key when it comes to allowing one essential protein to evolve into another relate protein without losing the essential protein function.

Of course, if only part of a gene is translocated or duplicated, the gene would be torn in half and probably stop working, or result in a truncated form or something, or the copy could be a copy of only half a gene, possibly resulting in a dominant negative mutation. Alternatively, the insertion could interrupt some other, unrelated gene. This could be bad (destroying the function of that other gene) or just new (creating a fusion of two proteins that now end up sharing the same body. This can be really cool because it might allow them to continue to function properly, but they just both have to go everywhere together. This can be a real benefit if they work in the same pathway and can allow for better efficiency, or it can be a real disaster, as any mutation has the chance to be).

So, I hope you see that mutation is /not/ only about destroying information. There are many ways in which mutation (one part of evolution) can create new information or just change existing information in ways unpredicted. So far, the only argument in favor of irreducible complexity in the evolution of living organisms is our own inability to imagine how it all works. But just because we can't imagine it now has absolutely no bearing on whether or not it is true. And the evidence against irreducible complexity is vast, carried by the thousands of scientific papers that describe how something previously not understood has been worked out and now we know that one more thing, thousands of times over.

Re:"Evolutionary tactics..." nonsense. (1)

pla (258480) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881079)

Hardly "evolutionary", designing a system that designs trial and error is hardly "evolutonary", its basically an intelligent search of a search space compared against a pattern.

Not "evolution" in the "squishy wet things having sex sense", but in the randomized state-space search sense - The use of an iterated genetic algorithm to satisfy an arbitrary fitness measure. "Natural" evolution represents merely a specific instantiation of that larger concept, but certainly not the only possible one.



Evolution is blind, it has no end goal.

"Natural" evolution results from organisms who best satisfy the fitness heuristic of "able to produce the most children that survive to themselves reproduce". No, you cannot attribute any motive or intent to what amounts to an abstract description of a purely statistical phenomenon; But you can use the same mechanism to artificially "evolve" a solution to any problem that you can encode as a finite vector of parameters describing the solution set.

Whether DNA describing the number and sequence of amino acids to form into proteins, or a vector of numbers representing lengths and angles of wire segments in an antenna, you can equally well call both "evolution".


Or to put it another way - Would you pedantically refuse to call a robotic appendage with three main joints and five articulated digits an "arm"?

Re:"Evolutionary tactics..." nonsense. (1)

BillyBlaze (746775) | more than 6 years ago | (#20882039)

Evolution is cool precisely because, despite being an inanimate process, it does have a goal. In layman's terms, to survive and procreate. The only difference between this and "natural" evolution is the environment (and possibly procreation methods) was created by us, rather than just existing for whatever reason the rest of the universe does. And if we get something that survives in an environment of "receive these WiFi signals or you die", well that's useful.

Re:"Evolutionary tactics..." nonsense. (1)

similar_name (1164087) | more than 6 years ago | (#20885883)

"Hardly "evolutionary", designing a system that designs trial and error is hardly "evolutionary", its basically an intelligent search of a search space compared against a pattern. Evolution is blind, it has no end goal."

No goal, but it does select based on environmental pressures. Instead of thinking of it as giving the algorithm a goal thing of it as defining what makes something survive. Instead of "running faster" our animal "receives better radio"

Engineers, Do Not Feel Threatened (2, Insightful)

Polemicist (1166967) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880257)

Talk of greater applications of these evolutionary algorithms has often been accompanied by fears that they will replace engineers, however, this is not the case. Most of the concerns come in the following two forms: it removes engineers from the design process and that since they didn't design it, it may not work as they expect it to.


While engineers are not actively designing the product, their jobs are still secure as the companies will always need someone to design the algorithms and to study the product goal to know what parameters to set for the algorithms.


The second concern is irrelevant, as engineers would still follow through with rigorous product testing to determine all the possible outcomes of the design, thus avoiding any unplanned problems.


The great value of these algorithms in producing ten to a hundred fold more efficient, faster, or longer lasting products will guarentee that their use will increase, creating a great demand for engineers who can work with them and who can expect high salary bonuses for such amazing results.

Re:Engineers, Do Not Feel Threatened (1)

cgenman (325138) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880659)

higher salaries for such amazing results? When, exactly, have these corresponded? One can command a higher salary the more critical the job and the fewer people available to fill it to satisfaction. Any sort of automation or structuring that reduces the specialization broadens the applicant pool and reduces salaries. To build said antenna one would need to have the basics of antenna design and programming, not the decades of experience and volumes of fuzzy knowledge that would otherwise be required.

Don't get me wrong, I totally think this is the right way to go. But don't delude yourself into thinking this will lead to higher slalries in the long run.

Too Late (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880259)

I've just submitted a patent for bypassing patents throuigh evolutionary generation of computer applications...

Re:Too Late (1)

nyekulturniy (413420) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880285)

I just patented that.

Re:Too Late (1)

speaker of the truth (1112181) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880497)

I think this might be prior art.

Intended? (4, Insightful)

RAMMS+EIN (578166) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880327)

A friend of mine once told me that this is actually an intended result of patents. Note that a patent applies to a specific way of arriving at something, not the something itself. So, the idea is that if the something is desirable, others will go out of their way to find alternative ways to arrive at something. Some of these might be better than the original. Or new somethings may be encountered along the way (inventions tend to happen by accident, yada yada). Whatever the case, patents foster innovation...in this case, by shutting the door on using what is already known to work.

Re:Intended? (1)

speaker of the truth (1112181) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880467)

You don't understand:
Avoiding paying for something is good.
Paying for something is bad.

Patents help make sure people have to pay.

Re:Intended? (1)

r6144 (544027) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880489)

I wish patents work more like copyrights in this aspect. If there are likely a huge number of ways to accomplish something, someone can patent one method he has found and others will not be allowed to copy it without permission. If there is only one correct (efficient) way to do something, the corresponding parts of the claims get filtered out.

Re:Intended? (1)

rabtech (223758) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880513)

Although patents may fulfill this function, their original intent was to get rid of the whole trade guild / trade secret situation, where only one company or a small group of people had some particular bit of knowledge or new invention and they refused to share it with the rest of society, as well as to provide incentives to inventors to create new inventions because those inventors know their risk and hard work won't be immediately ripped off.

In exchange for sharing that knowledge with the world you get a monopoly on using it for a certain period of time. Once that period of time is up, everyone else is free to adopt your new invention.

This was supposed to be the same trade-off with copyright: in exchange for a limited-time monopoly, society gets to put your works in the public domain. Imagine the loss to western culture if Shakespeare was still under the copyright control of some "Shakespeare Foundation".

Both of these ideas are also based on the foundation that "nothing happens in a vacuum". Without a functioning society and markets and without the influence of previous generations it simply wouldn't be possible to create much of value. We all stand on the shoulders of giants after all, and it is only fair that we give something back to the society that has given us the tools and the opportunity to succeed.

Well, that was before you could patent "business methods" and before copyright lasted longer than any human being will ever live (your children and grandchildren will all be dead before anything created today leaves copyright protection). At least with shitty software patents you only have to wait 20 years before the issue becomes moot.

Re:Intended? (4, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880695)

That's the theory, that it protects one way to the goal. In practise, if you read software patents they're never that way, try for example reading some of the portable music player patents Apple had to pay for. It was basicly "method for hierarchies, filters and multiple sort columns applied to a portable music player". It's like walling off the goal, because you've basicly described how it functions and it doens't matter how you achieve that functionality.

Re:Intended? (1)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880737)

A friend of mine once told me that this is actually an intended result of patents. Note that a patent applies to a specific way of arriving at something, not the something itself. So, the idea is that if the something is desirable, others will go out of their way to find alternative ways to arrive at something. Some of these might be better than the original. Or new somethings may be encountered along the way (inventions tend to happen by accident, yada yada). Whatever the case, patents foster innovation...in this case, by shutting the door on using what is already known to work.

Interesting theory, it does hold some water I must admit.

However when the patent is overly broad as most are, the workarounds are often artificial and not better than the original invention, but worse.

A simple example from IT since it's what I know: when EOLAS sued Microsoft for "automatic invocation of plugins in a browser", Microsoft did what? Implemented workaround that required either JavaScript enabled, or the user to click every single control to "activate it".

This is not superior solution.

Another example: people claim the upcoming SSE4 extensions in the new Intel processors are useless. They can be used to accelerate a bit some codecs, but we already have software-only algorithms that work faster than SSE4.

Why do we need specialized hardware that works than software? Since the software algo is patented. Again, worse solution.

So all in all, we should keep it simple: give patent owners 4-5 years to work their devices and then let it to the public. In the modern world 4-5 years should be plenty of time to gain foot on the market. If it's not, then you're incompetent product manufacturer, and releasing the patent to the public ensures someone better than you will implement your invention.

Not to mention is softens the issue of "patent trolls" which often sue 7-8 years into a patent being used by the victim, so the victim has no chance of opting out, or walking out with smaller charges.

Re:Intended? (2, Funny)

Ant P. (974313) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880815)

You could say that Cisco... patented themselves into a corner this time.

Re:Intended? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881015)

Someone would find a better way to do it anyway... look at OSS and hobbyist engineers... Even Einstein?

Re:Intended? (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881219)

So, the idea is that if the something is desirable, others will go out of their way to find alternative ways to arrive at something. Some of these might be better than the original.
That doesn't make sense. If an alternate method really is better, then that fact alone is enough incentive. If the new method's benefits are not enough of an incentive, then adding patents to the mix only creates artificial incentive which is economically inefficient.

Or new somethings may be encountered along the way (inventions tend to happen by accident, yada yada).
That would be a very poor justification for two reasons -
  1. discoveries sometimes happen by "accident" in pure science, but inventions are applied science and happy accidents are much more rare there
  2. a policy of encouraging random accidents would be hugely inefficient. Nobody wants to bet their livelihoods on the luck of the draw

Bullshit (4, Insightful)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880339)

"Using computational trial-and-error allowed a Stanford team to come up with a patent-free WiFi antenna. Patent rules are tricky to formulate as self-interest dictates that the claim is as general as possible. Patent fences effectively can build a substantive competitive barrier to markets. Using evolutionary tactics may be a way to legally and ethically bypass these roadblocks."

Two problems:

1. For the past 10+ years I keep seeing various articles talking about evolution design and they are all about antennas and simple analogue circuit designs. Antennas are certainly susceptible to evolutionary design, but if we'll be driving the industry forward we'll need to throw lots of R&D to develop evolutionary design algos that can design something more complex. My point is, it's hugely promising, but it's still not here in a big way.

2. The bigger problem, and which is what caused my exclamation in the title: there's no way to avoid overly broad patents. Evolutionary designs in fact often arrive at designs that match exactly various patents. Which means, when your super computer arrives at a working design, you still need to go through all the tedious work of verifying it's not patented, and if it is, start the algo again and hope for the best.

And the limit for rerunning the algo plenty of times to get patent-free design is the same such as manual design: we don't have infinite time, and the solutions to a problem are sometimes finite, and not that many.

I think patents should be left in place, but their running period should be shortened. The industry is developing at such an amazing pace that we make more progress in an year, than what took 10 years before. The original lawmakers never intended their law to run unmodified in such circumstances.

Re:Bullshit (2, Insightful)

qengho (54305) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880379)

Evolutionary designs in fact often arrive at designs that match exactly various patents.

According to TFA the particulars of Cisco's patent were fed to the program for the purpose of excluding those features. Presumably this would work for other problems.

Re:Bullshit (1)

PrinceOfStorms (568367) | more than 6 years ago | (#20883707)

I think the important part of the GP's point was that this would require you to go through all the tedious work of verifying it's not patented. By including the constraints in the algorithm, you have to do all of this tedious work before searching for solutions and you have to do this for all relevant patents, not just those that look related to the solution you found. And translating a patent into a series of constraints doesn't strike me as particularly easy to do. Aside from avoiding a particular patent, this doesn't appear to be especially useful.

Re:Bullshit (1)

Crizp (216129) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881455)

Antennas are certainly susceptible to evolutionary design, but if we'll be driving the industry forward we'll need to throw lots of R&D to develop evolutionary design algos that can design something more complex.

Didn't someone create a sort of CPU using such evolutionary processes? I couldn't find it on Google (the article also mentioned that weird-looking NASA antenna) but I distinctly remember one of the weird things about this chip: It had some circuits that were not connected to anything, yet if they were removed, the chip didn't work. If the design was duplicated, it also did not work. It was assumed it used magnetic fluctuations created by the proximity of the unconnected components in the processing itself. The creators didn't understand it at all, really.

Re:Bullshit (1)

Terrasque (796014) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881837)

I think it is this you're having in mind: http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn2732 [newscientist.com]

I found a bit more info at http://dir.salon.com/story/tech/feature/2004/08/12/evolvable_hardware/index.html?pn=2 [salon.com] - including some info about antenna design using this technique.

Re:Bullshit (1)

Crizp (216129) | more than 6 years ago | (#20885271)

None of those, the article I read had a picture of the NASA antenna. Thanks for these links though, it seems to be about the same team and the Salon article mentions that they found out that the chip "cheated" by just modulating random noise from a nearby computer to create the desired output???

I find it most interesting that the guys who write the evolutionary code might have no clue how an evolved product works in the end.

Evolution is truly the Universe's greatest hacker.

Re:Bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881891)

The problem with this is that patents weren't created with only time for advancement in mind. Patents were created to give the inventor some time to make money off of their product. As someone with a handful of medical patents, making more progress in a year has nothing to do with the fact that I won't get any money for my invention before that year is up. Software patents may need fixing, and copyright almost definitely does, but patents are actually short and useful, contrary to Slashdot mentality :-/

Re:Bullshit (1)

tkw954 (709413) | more than 6 years ago | (#20883033)

For the past 10+ years I keep seeing various articles talking about evolution design and they are all about antennas and simple analogue circuit designs. Antennas are certainly susceptible to evolutionary design, but if we'll be driving the industry forward we'll need to throw lots of R&D to develop evolutionary design algos that can design something more complex. My point is, it's hugely promising, but it's still not here in a big way.
The genetic algorithm is used for optimizing a lot of complicated designs. I used one to optimize a hydraulic valve when I was working on my M.Sc. and it was a very well established technique then. Evolutionary computing was invented in the ENIAC era; it just seems that every once in a while someone puts out a press release and the media thinks it's new. If you think you can't do anything useful with evolutionary design, you're about 25 years behind (as is the media sometimes).

Re:Bullshit (1)

ErikZ (55491) | more than 6 years ago | (#20884725)

From http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/genalg/genalg.html [talkorigins.org]

For example, a genetic algorithm developed jointly by engineers from General Electric and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute produced a high-performance jet engine turbine design that was three times better than a human-designed configuration and 50% better than a configuration designed by an expert system by successfully navigating a solution space containing more than 10387 possibilities.

G.E. used GA years ago to improve on the jet engine. It increased efficiency by a few percent, which I heard was a big deal.

dont give em ideas (1)

wikinerd (809585) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880407)

shhht.... dont give em ideas, the patent holders will use evolutionary algorithms themselves in their next patents to make them ever broader

Re:dont give em ideas (1)

charlesbakerharris (623282) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880675)

O HAI! I can haz prier artz?

That's hardly a proof! (3, Insightful)

DrSkwid (118965) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880443)

> A century and a half after Darwin suggested natural selection as the mechanism of evolution, engineers have proved him right once again.

I would challenge the assertion that entering the design parameters and working out which is the best result isn't proof of the origin of the species suggested by Darwin.

Re:That's hardly a proof! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880673)

it is, for us the "design parameters" or fitness test is the earth, the environment that we live in

Re:That's hardly a proof! (2, Insightful)

DrSkwid (118965) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881229)

Designing a radio antenna with an algorithm is not a proof of anything, except that it is possible to design a radio antenna with an algorithm.

Re:That's hardly a proof! (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881903)

Designing a radio antenna with an algorithm is not a proof of anything, except that it is possible to design a radio antenna with an algorithm.
It certainly proves that all those nice *symmetrical antenna designs are not optimal, merely convienent.

*or various asymmetric extensions of those designs

Re:That's hardly a proof! (1)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880769)

I would challenge the assertion that entering the design parameters and working out which is the best result isn't proof of the origin of the species suggested by Darwin.

In such a big discussion, you'll often hear idiotic claims by both sides.

You know, it's kinda like the people attacking Microsoft on Slashdot. Even if Microsoft has real issues, people would rather opt for tired cliches and bullshit arguments, since it's easier.

Bottom line is, you can never convince someone who's on the extreme side of a discussion. Bigger question is: why bother. It's enough to convince the less biased people to go check the facts for themselves, and you can still make a difference.

Re:That's hardly a proof! (2, Insightful)

Alsee (515537) | more than 6 years ago | (#20882235)

Digitally implemented evolution like the article's examples do not prove evolution as the historical explanation for biology on earth (there is of course other proof of evolution as historical fact such as the complete and continuous Foraminifera fossil record), but digitally implemented evolution like the article's examples *do* prove that Darwin was right that his proposed process *works*, that it does indeed have the creative power to produce new information such as new inventions or new genetics.

-

Re:That's hardly a proof! (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 6 years ago | (#20885575)

> A century and a half after Darwin suggested natural selection as the mechanism of evolution, engineers have proved him right once again.

I would challenge the assertion that entering the design parameters and working out which is the best result isn't proof of the origin of the species suggested by Darwin.
I think you're taking that way too literally. To be more specific, genetic algorithms use natural selection (along with crossovers and mutations) as a means of evolving the genes in a population. So in this sense the author is correct in stating that natural selection can be used as a mechanism of evolution, not that they have proved Darwin's assertions of how life arose on Earth.
 

Digital Evolution (1)

ThomasCR (768602) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880529)

Using this method we found this
http://critticall.com/ArtificialSort.html [critticall.com]
Makes a lot of people quite angry and nervous, but the real question is - does it work?
It works fine, thank you!
- Thomas

Re:Digital Evolution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880585)

since when did you close source and start selling criticall thomas ?? tsk tsk. i see the dark side has caught up with you.

Re:Digital Evolution (1)

ThomasCR (768602) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880655)

The sort source code is open to test and to use - online.
Welcome, just try it!
- Thomas

Re:Digital Evolution (1)

Metasquares (555685) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881105)

Doing a thorough analysis of several unique sort when you were trying to push it on Wikipedia revealed no asymptotic advantage over basic bubble sort. I'm not going to repeat the analysis with this algorithm, but I'm inclined to be skeptical based on that experience. Also, perhaps you have a non-asymptotic advantage over quicksort (or let's say a modified quicksort without the O(n^2) worst-case complexity), but the O(n log n) bound on comparison sorting has been proved optimal.

This'll work great... (1)

DrEldarion (114072) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880607)

... until someone patents evolutionary design.

Patent Free Antenna? (2, Funny)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880637)

Just means the orginal patent they were trying to circumvent wasnt drawn up properly.

Even Better: Repair Our Damaged Patent System (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881059)

We need to get our patent system working like it used to. And do prevent it from degrading even further, write your Senators and tell them to vote against their "patent reform" bill.

If this became law, it would award patents to the first person who filed for the patent, rather than the inventor. This is such a travesty that I cannot believe that it even passed the House... but it did. If that were to pass, you could say goodbye to innovation in the United States. The corporate lawyers would be able to patent almost anything they wanted, even if they did not invent it. The lowly inventor (who usually does not have the resources to patent immediately) would be cut out of the loop. Goodbye innovation!

It is imperative that this bill not pass. Take the time to write. You will be doing yourselves a favor.

Re:Even Better: Repair Our Damaged Patent System (1)

Metasquares (555685) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881135)

You act as if this is a bad thing. Evolution works on the scale of societies as well. If one society becomes unfriendly to innovation, it will be marginalized as it loses technical dominance. Ultimately the most powerful societies will be the ones that are friendly to innovation because the others couldn't keep up. So it works out nicely.

Ahem... (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881235)

Excuse me, but it IS a bad thing, from your point of view, if idiots withing your own society are CAUSING it to "devolve" and be anti-competitive.

Re:Ahem... (1)

Metasquares (555685) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881833)

From an individual perspective, yes, especially if you're rooted to one society (otherwise just move wherever the innovation is going). But in terms of total innovation by humanity, it isn't a major issue.

If societies tend to become complacent and pass anti-innovative policy such as this once they've achieved power, all the better; it lets other societies advance (relatively speaking), which encourages competition, which spurs innovation like nothing else.

Thus, I'm not happy about this as an individual, particularly because I'm a scientist who is philosophically opposed to filing for any patents of my own, but at the same time, I'm glad to see indications that individual societies are still making the sorts of dumb decisions that further all of us in the long run.

Two Points For Obviousness (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 6 years ago | (#20882223)

I had already acknowledged that it depends on your point of view. I do not disagree with you, I just thought this was too obvious to mention.

All hype (1)

$carab (464226) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881205)

Genetic algorithms are the Ruby on Rails of optimization problems. If you can define a state space and a fitness function, you're almost certainly better off using (non-)linear programming, constraint programming, or a local search method like tabu search.

To quote the AI Bible (AIMA 2e, Russell and Norvig): [It] is not clear whether the appeal of genetic algorithms arises from their performance or from their aesthetically pleasing origins in the theory of evolution.

But because GAs are so intuitive for anyone who's taken high school bio, you get fluff pieces like this one...

Re:All hype (1)

AlXtreme (223728) | more than 6 years ago | (#20883309)

If you can define a state space and a fitness function, you're almost certainly better off using (non-)linear programming, constraint programming, or a local search method like tabu search.

Linear programming and hill-climbing algorithms have their place when it comes to simple search spaces, however when you have many dimensions and a vast non-linear search space none of the algorithms you named will get very far.

In the past I had similar discussions with a prof on search spaces with dozens of dimensions. His answer to GAs was to reset the local search/hill-climbing algorithm after a lack of increase in the found solution. A quick calculation showed that on average the amount of trials required would be much more inefficient compared to the amount of trials a GA, or evolutionary algorithm in general, would require.

But as with all search problems, your search space should define what kind of algorithm you use, not the other way around.

WWot fp (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881385)

code.' Don't won't be standing oofended some vary for different The developer You. The tireless Slashdot 'BSD is was at the same and Michael Smith And its long term another folder. 20 serves to reinforce vitality. Like an people's faces is been many, not the to predict *BSD's

What was the cost? (1)

mi (197448) | more than 6 years ago | (#20883163)

It could well be, that the University's research costed more, than whatever the patents-holder(s) would've charged for the licensing...

Just curious, but... (1)

gillbates (106458) | more than 6 years ago | (#20883939)

What would happen if open source organizations, such as the FSF, looked at a technology, predicted where it was going, and then came up with the most probable solutions, and patented them?

And then offered indemnity only to those companies which published their source under an open source license?

I hear a lot of whining and moaning about bad patents, but not a lot of people are willing to invest the mere $600 it takes to file a patent application. When you think about it, if even 1/10th of the open source contributors filed patent applications for their inventions in code, Corporate America wouldn't be able to make an electric toothbrush without releasing the source code.

Yet, for all of the collective intelligence of the geek community, we'd rather sit on our collective asses and whine, rather than actually do something about the abuses of patent law.

Don't like patent law? Then get thinking, and at least publish your ideas, if not patent them. The FSF used copyright law to protect the freedom of software; we can use patent law in a similar manner.

Simulated evolution in technology (1)

blackraven14250 (902843) | more than 6 years ago | (#20884041)

Is probably one of the best ideas I've heard in a while. It defeats patents, and makes our stuff better. Down with the system!
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