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End Software Patents Project Comes Out Swinging

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 6 years ago | from the amicus-populorum dept.

Patents 205

Linux.com is reporting that the End Software Patents project is launching several new initiatives to help drive support for their cause. Among the new methods are a web site, a report on the state of patents in the US, and a scholarship contest promising to award $10,000 "for the best paper on the effects of the patentability of software and business methods under US law." "The project is being launched with initial funding of a quarter million dollars, supplied primarily by the Free Software Foundation (FSF). Under the directorship of Ben Klemens, a long-time advocate of software patent abolition best-known for the book Math You Can't Use: Patents, Copyright, and Software, the project is being supported by the FSF, the Public Patent Foundation, and the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC). One of ESP's goals is to enlist support from academics, software developers, legal experts, and business executives. Its initial supporters show that the project is already well on its way to building such a coalition."

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So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (1, Insightful)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613196)

Since software is just "pushing buttons" to make new code, there is nothing new...

How is that different, really, from patenting "real" items. After all it is just "chiseling wood" or "forging metal" into a new shape...

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (5, Insightful)

webmaster404 (1148909) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613246)

No, the basic arguments aren't just that but they are so general its hard not to avoid them. Think about a patent of a method of making a vacuum cleaner, its a new idea it should be patented, thats fine, but how about a "machine that uses suction to clean" as a patent with little evidence that you even have one made, the second one represents most software patents of say "a method to download songs onto a hard disk to be played back at a later date" where there are very few "true" software patents that aren't held by patent trolls or monopolies.

In short, I can get a patent for making a vacuum cleaner (minus prior art and such) but most software patents try to patent "a cleaning device using suction" and many of them decide to then go for "a *insert adjective* device using suction" and "a cleaning device using *insert word here*". And that is what makes software patents different.

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (4, Interesting)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613340)

Here is an interesting post WRT programming languages:

I was struck with how many of the good ideas in programming languages were discovered early on. The decade 1964-1974 seems to have been a "Golden Age": most of the good ideas of programming languages appeared then.
http://lambda-the-ultimate.org/node/2059 [lambda-the-ultimate.org]
Maybe we could start with the birth of, say, Unix and pick our way forward in time, cataloging the various ideas, a la Aristotle. I think a graph of the count of genuinely new discoveries per year would drop off at a brisk pace.
But I don't think the USPTO can handle that sort of truth. Truth has deleterious effects on business models, you know.

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (3, Interesting)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613568)

I don't think it has to do with abstracts of truth and business models as much as it does a severely overloaded and inexperienced system that relies heavily on the applicant to find and odder prior art. Combine that with an vague and somewhat ambiguous court ruling that allowed software patents in the first place, and you can see the abuse isn't necessarily malice on the USPTO.

We have to remember, it was a court ruling that added software patents to the system, not a well constructed law laying out definitions and boundaries. Our fearless (US) leaders decided it would be better to just create a court for disputes instead of defining some things that seriously seem to be out of whack. The result is the often trolled and abused system we take for granted today.

The so called "good guys" spent too much time fighting the process in an attempt to get some sanity to the ordeal. Now it seems that they have to play catch up and suffer the role of quarterback and getting sacked in the game that shouldn't need to be played while they build up their defensive line. And seeing how no analogy would be complete without a referece to a car, they drove a red car to the game.

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (4, Interesting)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613572)

IMHO, what this guy has to say about programming languages is about as valid as my dad saying that no good music has been made since the 1960's.

He's trapped in the past. I'm sure there'd be an argument for why programming innovations of the last 10 years aren't really interesting or aren't as important as his Golden Age, just as there are people who think you can mathematically prove that rock was perfected in 1968. At best, you can make it work with a very narrow definition of what qualifies, just as you can prove that modern music has little innovation if you decide that only Gregorian Chant really qualifies as music.

Meanwhile, the world moves on and a generation of programming pioneers trades their vision for early admission to Future Fossil Fuels university.

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613828)

So instead of fixing the problem, we should all throw out the baby with the bathwater, eliminating patents all together, and condemning the many companies who have legitimate reasons and needs for patents.

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (3, Informative)

asuffield (111848) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614138)

So instead of fixing the problem, we should all throw out the baby with the bathwater, eliminating patents all together, and condemning the many companies who have legitimate reasons and needs for patents.


The baby is a baby cobra, so yes, we should throw it out.

Having no software patents at all would still be a massive improvement over what we currently have. And we don't know how to build a better system.

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22614012)

So your saying the problem isn't with SW patents but the fact that stupid ones get into the system and require legal intervention when they are questioned.

I have a number of patents (Software ones). I can honestly say they are not trolls, mainly because I have to go through a number of peer reviews both technical and legal before my company will think about processing it. I am completely against trolls. So what we need is a better patent office.

Incidentally I don't think you are going to get rid of software patents by trying to fight the system. There are too many people making too much money from patents even before it becomes a patent. Some of those have better time and resources to fight back with ease.

The better way if you are so against them is to publically publish as many ideas you can think up of, or detail prior art out there in different ways. It won't stop patents but will seriously slow down the trolls. There are websites out there currently doing this.

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22613372)

I have both hardware and software to my name (along with patents on HW things that are controlled by SW). SW patents are really no different that other types of patents. Can someone outline why they should be singled out?

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (5, Interesting)

LingNoi (1066278) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613554)

There's a 3D shader technique called Phong shading [wikimedia.org] . If Phong shading was patented then Blinn-Phong [wikimedia.org] would never have be discovered which is a change in math. Blinn-Phong is faster and provides more accurate results.

All software is a form of math, one technique can have completely different looking math but produces the same results such as the prior example. You can not patent math because you didn't invent anything, you just discovered the formula which was already there.

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613602)

Well that is not really the idea.. Patents are supposed to protect implementations. A mathematical principle or natural law is something that a person implements. Like today I am going to implement F=ma. Not really unless you have a lot more abilities than a normal person.

Of course you can implement a computur program that implements the RSA algorithm... that is a little different.

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (1)

kesuki (321456) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613610)

basically the reason why there is a difference is that, software isn't entirely developed by 'for profit' entities. Consider linux, linus torvalds has never made a dime for all the hours he's put into the linux kernel. instead here today he can go around and see all kinds of people like kde, gnome, firefox, debian, ubuntu, etc making open source linux software simply because nobody has to pay anyone for the use of this software.

software patents AT the very least, should NOT APPLY TO OPEN SOURCE PROJECTS. although some companies might rather their employees not help open source projects, there should be some way to to tell the difference between someone who happens to work for a company developing certain software who 'uses the same code' in open source, with permission from their employer, vs someone who does so, without permission, and the person who did so should bear the brunt, rather than the project... at least in a perfect world.

if they made that one little exception in the law, i have a feeling that there wouldn't be nearly as many people crying about removing software patents. i mean really people don't go around making new ways to vacuum up dust to just to give them away free to everybody they meet, but in software there are people who DO because the cost of copying software is nil, zip, zero and zilch.

business models it just becomes insane, because it's hard enough to try to come up with a business that will succeed, having finally built one that makes money only to find out the way you ran your business was patented is well frankly disgusting. think of it, would Culver's be able to sell burgers and 'frozen custard' if McDonald's had been awarded a patent on the 'fast food burger selling business model'?

there are many many restaurant chains that have only recently been created, consider Famous Dave's he spent 30 or so years trying to come up with various businesses, all of them failed, EXCEPT when he decided to buy a run down resort and restaurant in Hayward Wisconsin.. using his own bbq sauce and having from all those years traveling knew what the best bbq shops did to make their meat cook properly, and now he's a millionaire. none of that would have been possible if 100 years ago someone had 'patented' the business model for a 'barbecue restaurant.'

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (1)

Mathinker (909784) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614010)

> linus torvalds has never made a dime for all the hours he's put into the linux kernel

It is likely that the recognition he receives for his work allows him to earn more money than otherwise would have been possible for him. Of course, this is a "what if" question which cannot be answered with any kind of certainty. And it does not take into consideration the fact that if he didn't invest time in Linux, he might have more time to work at other (more profitable) things.

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (1)

Breakfast Pants (323698) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614056)

Do you even know who Linus's current employer is?

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (2, Interesting)

TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613454)

The production of tangible objects is more open to variation, since you have a huge spectrum of techniques at your disposal. You can truly "think outside the box" to tools that others may have not even considered yet, and create true innovation. Not only that, but others can easily find other ways to do the same thing in a completely different way, and the two ideas can compete.

Software is built from limited sets of CPU instructions. For 99% of the tasks that a computer has to do, there is one most efficient way to do it, and we can't afford to sell off those best practices to any one person or group. If software patents are to stay, their scope must apply only to extremely high-level, subjective concepts (e.g. GUIs), rather than lower level, under-the-hood concepts (e.g. linked lists).

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (5, Insightful)

Schraegstrichpunkt (931443) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613586)

Since software is just "pushing buttons" to make new code, there is nothing new...

No, that's not the argument.

The argument used to justify any patents is that they promote progress. Our experience with patents in the specific case of software is that they actually hinder progress. Therefore, in order to promote progress, software patents should be abolished.

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613814)

Our experience with patents in the specific case of software is that they actually hinder progress.

That's one hell of a burden of proof to put on yourself. I don't believe you can POSSIBLY prove that to be the case in any objective way, so the only thing you can argue is a few anecdotes, and what your personal opinion happens to be... Not at all a convincing case.

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22613750)

By this extension, there should be no patents for physical machines either, since they are just using arranging simple machines. Just because YOU don't write new, innovative code doesn't mean that no one else does.

"patents for physical machines" (1)

zogger (617870) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613830)

..they are an anachronism in the modern world given the nation of China and the "manufacturer for the world" reality. You can get all the expensive and time consuming hardware (or software) patents you want, they'll be broken and violated and for sale with clones and copies or adaptations within a short time now. And that's reality. They do a few showcase busts now and then, like we saw with the cisco clone routers recently...but that's all it is, like the occasional big splashy PR drug bust. A quarter century of the war on some drugs..and what do you see? Same deal with patents and copyrights now, because there is no such thing as a white or gray or black market, there is just a "global market" and that's it.

The best bet today if you invent a new widget, just shut up about it, skip the patent, scrape together the money for a production run, get it out the door and for sale and sold and be done with it and be content with what you can make off of that, go on to your next invention, because after the first run you *certainly* are not going to have an exclusivity to the idea.

It's the old theory and practice. In theory you can get a patent, which is supposed to guarantee some exclusivity for x-years, in practice..just ain't gonna happen, so no sense beating yourself up over it and just working for the lawyers.

Re:So, the basic argument against SW patents is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22613914)

No, no, no, no, no.

There are two problems. The first is that it makes absolutely no sense to talk about "patenting software". Software is nothing but mathematics. Every programme can be written as a mathematical function (cf. Lisp [wikipedia.org] ). Mathematics is not patentable because it's nothing more than laws of nature. The objects of patent law are inventions: physical devices that do something. Note that only such devices can infringe patents, not the descriptions of those devices. Thus, although the patent application describes an idea in complete detail, and offers perfect instructions to effect the outcome of the device it describes, it is only an instance of the idea that can infringe such a patent. The idea is actually free for all, whereas the idea embodied in an actual working device is under the jurisdiction of patent law. In the case of software, you have no devices, but merely instructions (whether human-readable code or machine code). The 1s and 0s of a programme are no different than a patent application: they are both merely instructions of how to effect an outcome. In the case of standard patents, the outcome is effected by a physical instance of the idea, whereas, with software, it is the computer that brings about the outcome of the mathematics of the software. Without the computer, all you have is instructions—certainly not an invention.

This brings us to the second problem. With standard patents, the device itself is covered by patent law, but the instructions for building and using the device are covered by copyright. The two areas of law are, by their nature, separate. But, if you say that, somehow, software is patentable, you run into an unprecedented situation: something that is both copyrightable and patentable. Anything that is covered by copyright is usually far easier to produce than something that is covered by patent law. It's fairly trivial to write a compilable function. Software usually require a great many such functions to be useful, and is written all the time. The more software there is, the more software patents that are possible (and are granted). This makes writing code a patent minefield, and has been absolutely disastrous for the software industry (especially Free Software). I won't go on about this point, as it's been explained far better elsewhere. I would recommend tracking down a Richard Stallman talk on the subject. He does a good job of explaining the negative ramifications on society and our freedom.

Who'll be the judge? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22613208)

Among the new methods are a web site, a report on the state of patents in the US, and a scholarship contest promising to award $10,000 "for the best paper on the effects of the patentability of software and business methods under US law."
...for certain values of "best".

Re:Who'll be the judge? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22613574)

Patents are necessary. How else can large companies stifle innovation and crush newcomers?

If you don't support patents you support the terrorists.

FSF and RMS (4, Insightful)

LingNoi (1066278) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613212)

Whatever you think about RMS and FSF you have to agree that getting rid of software patents would benefit everyone, globally in the software industry. From the commercial hardware vendors, all the way down to the hobbyist BSD developer.

I can't wait for it to happen in the states as I predict it will also trigger the fall in the few countries that also allow software patents.

From a Linux desktop standpoint alone it would finally allow for built in support of DVD, MP3s, etc. Some projects such as GIMP won't have to work around patents to get the features they want built in. Open source driver support might increase..

Even from a closed source perspective Microsoft wouldn't have to worry about getting sued and having to purchase massive amounts of patents to defend itself. They could focus of providing a better user experience without restrictions that patents encumber you with.

Everyone wins... apart from the lawyers..

Re:FSF and RMS (4, Insightful)

webmaster404 (1148909) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613264)

I agree with you. And those that say "software patents help the industry" are totally wrong. If it weren't for SW patents we would have less of a monopoly and stagnation of software because every one would be on equal footing and the community projects (Linux) could use the same things as the commercial projects (Mac and Windows) legally.

Re:FSF and RMS (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613622)

We would still have copyright to deal with. Although there is more then one way to skin a cat in software so it might be a challenge more then a road block.

I think the real problem with software in general is that it typically has a 5 to 10 year lifespan. Most projects in operation that long aren't using any of their original code by that time.

Re:FSF and RMS (4, Insightful)

mlts (1038732) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613304)

There are two more winners. A lot of companies do cross licensing agreements of patents so company A can use company B's stuff and there is no worry about infringement.

What this does is that any company not in the patent cross licensing network gets forced out of business, and any innovations they do have on a work that is claimed to be patented end up being able to be used by the holder.

Last, there are companies out there who buy obscure patents looking for something that related so a company's mainstay. The small company then sues the large company. Almost always, this is settled secretly for lots of money before it goes to court. Even if the patent is questionable, the larger company is on the defensive because if for some reason it does get upheld in a court, its the end of their business.

I used to have faith in the patent system, where people who were infringing were doing so deliberately, similar to people who made counterfeit software boxes. Now, the barrier for tripping over some obscure patent is so low, almost any company is at risk.

Re:FSF and RMS (1)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613598)

Whatever you think about RMS and FSF you have to agree that getting rid of software patents would benefit everyone, globally in the software industry.

I'm not 100% convinced this is true. On the surface it seems good, but I'm sure there's secondary fallout that's not being considered. Analogous (but obviously not exactly like) to the: if you can't patent drugs, sick people can get more drugs... but now the incentive and funding to research drugs has dropped dramatically, so there's a cost for that to everyone down the line.

I do think that virtually everyone can agree that software patents in their current form are seriously borked. Anything that gets some of that looked at and improved has to be a good thing.

Re:FSF and RMS (4, Insightful)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613710)

I think everyone with an ounce of sense will agree that:

  • Europe makes software
  • There was plenty of software written in the U.S. prior to 1981.

What does this tell us? Most of Europe doesn't allow software patents, and the U.S. didn't prior to 1981, so clearly patents were not a necessary incentive for companies to innovate in the software space. Q.E.D.

Further, software is the only field that is protected by both patents and copyright. That's simply unreasonable, and there is no good reason for this to be the case. Drop one. We need to tell the corporate software world that if you don't mind giving up copyright protection, you can keep your patents. I dare say not a single company will choose that route, as copyright is a far more valuable tool for corporate software manufacturers.

Re:FSF and RMS (1)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613744)

What does this tell us? Most of Europe doesn't allow software patents, and the U.S. didn't prior to 1981, so clearly patents were not a necessary incentive for companies to innovate in the software space. Q.E.D.

The problem with that proof is that it doesn't demonstrate that an equal amount of software innovation took place with software patents in play vs. without.

I mean, if we get rid of drug patents, AIDS research isn't going to go away, but there's sure going to be a lot less of it. Is that the case with software? Maybe, maybe not. I'm not convinced that it is. Anyone who's 100% positive either way is simplifying too much reality out of the problem, much as an introductory physics class may decide that wind resistance and friction are unimportant in predicting the motion of an object.

Re:FSF and RMS (4, Insightful)

slashqwerty (1099091) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613812)

I mean, if we get rid of drug patents, AIDS research isn't going to go away, but there's sure going to be a lot less of it.

Can you be sure of that? Most basic medical research is financed with government funds. Pharmaceutical companies generally finance only the last step of the research. That is, they do the testing necessary to bring a promising drug to market. Certainly if pharmaceuticals didn't handle the last step other sources would open up--likely more government funding. If that were the case it seems likely to me many more drugs would be studied including many that pharmaceuticals wouldn't bother with.

One also needs to factor in roadblocks to research when scientists hide their work until they can file for a patent. And consider the extra costs researchers encounter when they have to pay royalties on patented research techniques and patented source materials.

Re:FSF and RMS (3, Informative)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613848)

Well, look at it this way. We had lots of research going on in computer software, and then patents happened in the 80s, and since then, the research spending has basically dried up and real innovation (as opposed to mere incremental improvement) has dramatically slowed. Granted, we don't have a control group, so we can't definitively say that the slowdown was caused by patents, but we have seen enough examples of innovation being hampered by patents and enough research driven predominantly by the desire to get more patents instead of being driven by a desire to improve the state of the art that we can pretty clearly conclude that patents have a deleterious effect. The only thing that isn't clear is the extent to which this is the case, IMHO.

Re:FSF and RMS (5, Interesting)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613832)

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that all of the major innovations in the field of computer software were created prior to the U.S. allowing patents, including:

  • Time sharing/process scheduling (late 1950s)
  • Symmetric multiprocessing (mid 1960s)
  • UNIX (late 1960s)
  • TCP/IP (early 1970s)
  • Paged memory management (early 1970s)
  • Non-linear video editing (early 1970s)
  • Ethernet (mid 1970s)
  • Modern graphical user interfaces (late 1970s)
  • Mice (late 1970s)

When you get right down to it, my computer still basically works the same way as System 1.0 Mac, just with color graphics, a lot more general UI polish, and a lot more features. The basic overall feel, however, is still pretty much the same, only faster. Under the hood, most operating systems still work basically the same way as UNIX did in the 1970s. Computer hardware has gotten much faster and smaller, which has allowed lots of things to be possible that weren't feasible at the time, but even most of the things we think of as "new" like digital video editing date all the way back to the early 1970s, albeit on specialized computer hardware that would fill your entire garage. The only giant leaps since the 80s have been in hardware designs. and, to a limited degree, in the software necessary to support advancement in the hardware.

Where, then, are the huge leaps that software patent proponents promised? Why did those leaps basically dry up as software patents became entrenched in the U.S.? Outside of a few specialized areas like computer graphics and voice recognition, the computer industry basically has been stagnant since software patents became legal. Worse, most of the "revolutionary" ideas since then have either been evolutionary dead ends like NUMA and ccNUMA or have taken absurdly long to catch on like touch screens, which first appeared commercially in the early 80s, but outside of POS systems and PDAs/smartphones, are still almost nonexistent in the marketplace.

If you need proof that patents don't inherently result in increased innovation (at least in computers), the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Would the innovation slowdown have occurred in the same way if we didn't have patents? Maybe, but I can tell you that there is a lot less pure research being done in major tech companies now than at any time in the past couple of decades. If patents are supposed to encourage research spending, they are sure doing a lousy job of it.

Re:FSF and RMS (1)

Breakfast Pants (323698) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614028)

Thanks for leaving out the web, done at CERN (in Europe, where there is no software patent law... oh wait I see).

But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22614178)

Didn't some honcho from a certain company from Redmond clearly state that They invented the Internet?
Or was that some failed US Presidential Candidate?

Re:FSF and RMS (1)

leabre (304234) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614202)

As I read this I just had a thought. Whether I agree or not is irrelevant but I can see how it would be hard to enforce 'patent or copyright: pick one and only one to protect you'. Software is complex, composed of many instructions and expressions. Much of which may not be patented or patentable. But some very key portions might be patented or patentable. While the entire work may be copyrighted only small portions may be patented. Maybe the design is patented. How can the work be quantified into what part of that is excluded from copyrights because of the existance of an enforceable patent?

What if, of a three million line-of-code software embodiment contained only roughly 25,000 lines that applied to a specific patent? Would it then be fair that the entire work be no longer eligible for copyright because 1% of of it is covered by a patent?

Anyway, it's a complex issue and one that I have to think about more. It is difficult to quantify anything into very specific rules that could dissambiquate the ambiguous and make complex things simple for a patent examiner, intellection property court, or society.

Thanks,
Leabre

Re:FSF and RMS (0, Troll)

evilviper (135110) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613792)

you have to agree that getting rid of software patents would benefit everyone, globally in the software industry.

No, actually you have to disagree.

Everyone wants to abolish software patents, so they can use the research that went into them without paying, but NOBODY wants to propose ANY alternatives for financial compensation to those who develop such technology. I guess it's going to be up to the magical fairies to develop MPEG-5, 802.11z, et al. for us.

Eliminating software patents will quickly give a boost to free and open source software, and shortly thereafter thrust us all into a dystopian future, where there are NO open standards, very little technological development, and endless new incompatible and proprietary video/audio codecs, wired/wireless communications methods, internet protocols, and hardware designs.

I can't wait for it to happen in the states as I predict it will also trigger the fall in the few countries that also allow software patents.

Indeed it will. When the last large country follow's Europe's lead and jumps at the prisoner's dilemma (of patents) for their own benefit, the remaining few will not possibly be enough to prop up the system.

Re:FSF and RMS (2)

penix1 (722987) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614016)

Everyone wants to abolish software patents, so they can use the research that went into them without paying, but NOBODY wants to propose ANY alternatives for financial compensation to those who develop such technology. I guess it's going to be up to the magical fairies to develop MPEG-5, 802.11z, et al. for us.


What utter drivel. Copyright (which lasts far longer than patents) are the domain of software. Why is it that software of all "innovations" (God I hate that term) is the only one privileged enough to be covered by both patents and copyrights? Either one or the other have to be relinquished.

Re:FSF and RMS (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614114)

Copyright (which lasts far longer than patents) are the domain of software.

Copyright protects an implementation. With open standards, there are often no implementations at all.

Go ahead and explain how H.264 or 802.11 can be covered by copyright. Explain how those companies' dramatic investments are going to get repaid.

I'll wait.

Re:FSF and RMS (1)

udippel (562132) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614244)

Sounds good. At first sight.

Actually, are you a communist or what? Why do you defend governmental interventionism ('patent') to guarantee everyone repayment on their investment? Oh, more of a capitalist, then?
I have actually just today spent some 18 Dollars to create a new flavour of cheese cake. Now you can help me, which department is the one to contact for readily ROI? And I am entitled to some repayment, and surely to protection from anyone else baking the same type of cake, right? You are happy paying some 20 or 30 percent more for your products, so that the inventors (sorry, their employers) can make an extra buck?

To help you out here: Of course, the implementations of H.264 or 802.11 are covered and protected by copyright. Those at the forefront have a distinct advantage compared to the bootleggers. 3COM made and still makes a lot of money with - at times - overpriced products. And I am very happy that I can buy some NIC from another manufacturer as well. The one from 3COM is protected, but not as a device to connect to a network. Lucky for all of us. Lucky, for most of us and maybe except for you, most standards are open, and are open to different implementations.
 

Re:FSF and RMS (1)

gQuigs (913879) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614044)

DVDs..
My understanding was that was blocked by the DMCA, not patents.

the best paper on the effects of... (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613218)

I can tell you in two words. It sucks. Now pay up dammit!

Lobby groups (2, Insightful)

Snatch422 (896695) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613232)

The software patent lobby is huge even if they are underreported on. Just think about Amazon and how they defend obvious software patents. There are so many patent holders out there right now that have so much to worry about that despite this new organized effort to reform I fear it will not totally solve the problem. There would be "grandfather" software patent clauses or something I would bet...

Re:Lobby groups (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22613270)

Yeah, this is what bothered me so much about the $10,000 scholarship contest. If you want to get something done give that $10K to a Senator, not some poor student! Bribing politicians is a time tested way of getting what you want. That's how we got the software patents in the first place!

Re:Lobby groups (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613600)

Change senator to a judge and you will be a hit.

Congress didn't give us software patents. A judge did. Congress gave us a special court to argue it out though.

So far these folks have their heads up their arses (3, Interesting)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614034)

Take the ten thousand dollars, multiply it by ten thousand, and use that to fly congressmen and women and senators to luxury resorts; buy the kids and grandkids of same tuition to ivy league universities; get them jobs on the boards of major corporations that pay big money with little or no responsibility... etc. etc. etc. If that doesn't work use the remaining money to find the weaknesses of same and exploit them. Just like the people who are paid to advocate software patents to legislators. Then you will get rid of the software patents. You have to fight fire with fire.

Nice polite little information campaigns and essay contests talking about giving it to the 'man' won't do squat. The only people who will listen to those are the people who already agree with you.

Defining software patents (4, Interesting)

rumblin'rabbit (711865) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613250)

Here's what the web site suggests for changing patent law.

Patents should be allowed for: * 1) devices with mechanical components * 2) physical compounds that can be weighed on a scale. Patents should never be awarded to: * 1) Ideas * 2) processes, recipes, software programs
This prohibits far more than software patents - some types of medical treatments, manufacturing processes, and so on. That might be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

This confirms what I already suspected - it is brutally difficult to define a software patent. It's one of those problems that seems easy at the onset, but gets more and more complicated the more you think it through.

Re:Defining software patents (1)

webmaster404 (1148909) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613320)

This prohibits far more than software patents - some types of medical treatments, manufacturing processes, and so on. That might be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it.


How would that be a bad thing? It would mean, A) Cheaper medicine (because you can buy the generic ones rather then the patented name-brand ones) B) Cheaper goods (because they could use more effecent manufacturing methods) and of course C) We might (actually) innovate past 2000 in software. I really don't see how that can be a bad thing.

Re:Defining software patents (4, Insightful)

rumblin'rabbit (711865) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613344)

Never said it was a good or bad thing. But if the goal is to only disallow "software patents" then this proposal seriously overshoots the mark.

Re:Defining software patents (3, Informative)

Timothy Brownawell (627747) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613648)

But processes and recepies are software, they're just written for people and organizations instead of for computers.

Re:Defining software patents (2, Informative)

superwiz (655733) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613400)

A) Cheaper medicine (because you can buy the generic ones rather then the patented name-brand ones)

complete drying up of AIDS research (who the hell wants to spend their life researching or fund researching it if there is not money in it?)

Feel free to insert some blurb about people's good nature, goodness, good intentions and whatever else you think they work for other than the money.

complete drying up of Alzheimer's research

complete drying up of obesity research... ok, that might be a plus since we might reconsider our diets.

no development of anti-biotics that would fight the newly emerging strains of viruses (heard of staph? how bout sars?)

but yeah! let's show those pharm companies who is boss. I mean Michael Moore said so, so it must be true, right?

Re:Defining software patents (1)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613642)

Oh no.. The research will go on. Instead of patenting, it'll be copyrights, NDA's and trade secrets.

Patents are only 20 years. Copyrights are 100+ years. What do you want your drugs to be under?

Re:Defining software patents (1)

AnyoneEB (574727) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613716)

I remember previous discussions here on this topic mentioning that a lot of drug development funding currently comes from the government. Assuming the private research disappeared completely, there would still be pharmaceutical research, albeit less.

I am not sufficiently familiar with the topic to argue about it myself, but some googling found a blog post with arguments similar to those I have seen here in the past [blogspot.com] (with references).

Re:Defining software patents (1)

Breakfast Pants (323698) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614038)

>complete drying up of AIDS research (who the hell wants to spend their life researching or fund researching it if there is not money in it?)

I'm sorry, but lots of people. As it is now there is little money in it, there is way more money in baldness research. So there really wouldn't be that big of a change.

Re:Defining software patents (1)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613688)

No, I think medicine would be a compound you can weigh on a scale.

It would mean you could not patent something such as radiation therepy, only the machine that does it. I could come along and develope my own machine that does it and do the same treatment.

It actually looks like a pretty strait forward test that makes sense.

Re:Defining software patents (2, Insightful)

mlts (1038732) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613338)

Perhaps we should go back to the old method of patenting stuff that was done in the early days of the patent office. Every patent application needs a working prototype to be sent in with it. This case, if someone patents warp drive, the USPTO better be getting a flux capacitor via UPS.

Of course, this has its issues, a manufacturing process would be hard to send a prototype of, other than perhaps the before, during, and after stage.

Re:Defining software patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22613476)

the USPTO better be getting a flux capacitor via UPS
Would it not be more appropriate to come via USPS?

Re:Defining software patents (3, Interesting)

snl2587 (1177409) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613694)

What does this have to do with software patents, though? The problem isn't so much that ideas are patented (since one could send in source code of a program using the idea) but the insane crap that gets patented. Theoretically no patents are supposed to be awarded for obvious extensions of previous patents, but it seems more and more software patents are being awarded for things that are simply a different way of looking at things.

Re:Defining software patents (1)

KookyMan (850095) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613382)

I still think that its outrageous that someone can patent a persons genetic code. Since when is DNA sequences NOT "Prior Art." Your parents designed you so shouldn't they hold the patent?

Hopefully this would fall under that. I might argue that if you could create a specific genetic sequence in the lab of a unique nature it might be worth considering, but anything that happens in nature defiantly should be off limits.

Imagine if someone patented the genetic code of the oak tree, then demanded to charge a royalty on every sale of an oak tree. Its.. a nightmare. Good Luck to ending these patents.

The interesting thing is this would definitely cover drugs though. What would all the drug companies do once they can no longer monopolize and extort US Citizens for every dime they can, from those in the most need.

Re:Defining software patents (1)

sir_eccles (1235902) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613386)

Exactly. Besides, MY invention isn't software it's a device with mechanical components (i.e. a computer and a network and a CD-ROM). Which incidentally for those who have no real knowledge of patent law is something that has been thrashed about in courts all over the world since the first attempt to patent software. i.e. some clever lawyer will find a loophole.

Re:Defining software patents (1)

Schraegstrichpunkt (931443) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613618)

This confirms what I already suspected - it is brutally difficult to define a software patent.

Luckily, that's an implementation detail that can be sidestepped in a number of ways. For example, we could allow patenting things mostly as is done now, but make patents unenforceable against software by adopting the following rule: If something would not be infringing if its software were removed, then it is not infringing.

Re:Defining software patents (1)

kanweg (771128) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614058)

"Here's what the web site suggests for changing patent law.
>> Patents should be allowed for: * 1) devices with mechanical components * 2) physical compounds that can be weighed on a scale. Patents should never be awarded to: * 1) Ideas * 2) processes, recipes, software programs
This prohibits far more than software patents - some types of medical treatments, manufacturing processes, and so on. That might be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it."

That is what is a quote of someone on that website, it is not necessarily what ESP proposes. The quote you give worried me, because it would seriously undermine any effect that ESP's actions may have.

Bert
Patent attorney who is against software patents

i thought i was out (1)

superwiz (655733) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613272)

This wasted half of my day on Friday. But the pulled me back in. Fine. I'll just post my final conclusion: http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=470808&cid=22612730 [slashdot.org]

Re:i thought i was out (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22613394)

You wrote so much but said so little.

You can't patent math, End of story.

Re:i thought i was out (1)

superwiz (655733) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613416)

Then most math will never see the light of day. End of story. Thanks for posting anonymously, btw. At least we know you believe in what you have to say.

Re:i thought i was out (1)

jlarocco (851450) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613604)

Math can't be patented for the same reason things like gravity can't be patented.

Re:i thought i was out (1)

Schraegstrichpunkt (931443) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613638)

Then most math will never see the light of day. End of story.

And yet the evidence says otherwise...

They have a website? (1, Funny)

n6kuy (172098) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613402)

I'm sure they are in violation of my patent on Method and Apparatus for Advocating Political Viewpoints using a distributed computer network, whereby arguments for said Political Advocacy are stored on a server, and are accessible to interested clients via a web browser using a standard web browsing internet protocol.

Donations? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22613480)

Are they taking donations towards this particular cause? Particularly via some anonymous method, since I'd really love to avoid getting screwed over if my employer found out.

Hosting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22613520)

Excellent! I hope this project succeeds.

One question though... why did they host on Wikidot? Seems kind of unprofessional. (It also makes their https website pop up a certificate warning, suicide for the general public.)

Unique time to be alive (5, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613528)

We live in the only period of history where it is possible to get a patent on something you discovered without claiming you invented it. If I found a piece of farming equipment that did some novel thing and I went and applied for a patent on it, I would be asked to declare that I invented it and it is not the work of someone else - to satisfy the no-prior-art test. If, however, I am pulling apart a bacterium or some other living creature, the patent office will happily grand me a patent on its genes - they won't even ask me if I invented these genes because it is assumed that I am just patenting a discovery.

Where can I make a donation? (1)

bihoy (100694) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613534)

Is there a fund that I can contribute to that will specifically go to the effort to end software and business patents?

A web site? (5, Funny)

Fear the Clam (230933) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613564)

Well fuck me with a shovel, those folks are serious.

Re:A web site? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22613686)

Well fuck me with a shovel, those folks are serious.
Trying to shovel the shit? Maybe you should just go Digg a hole for it and bury it. Throw some software patents in with it and won't be able to tell the difference.

Re:A web site? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22614182)

Troll? Moderator must have heard a sonic boom as that joke zoomed over their head. Oh and I should have said "use some software patents for toilet paper". Might not be a bad idea, print some dubious software patents on toilet paper and label it ip/tp. BTW, I don't visit Digg, it just happened to fit in with the shoveled humor.

Re:A web site? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22613806)

I'm sorry, but I have a patent for the act of "fucking one self or someone else with a shovel," so in order to do that you'll have to pay me $400k in licensing fees.

Have a good day :-)

Obscurity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22613756)

I'm not a programmer, but shouldn't security through obscurity be enough to hold over a software patent for it to live through profitability? Simply not sharing the code would provide enough protection without the need for a patent.

Re:Obscurity (1)

xk0der (1003200) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613940)

Yes, to some extent, until someone re-engineers your code. And like patents, not sharing code is considered evil too!

Though I'm not against Open Source neither against Free Software, I consider it good enough too be able to keep you code closed if you really want to and other people should understand that. I even consider patents not evil until they are not to generic.

The reason that "free" sounds good and tastes good (if you manage to get free beer) is you are not paying for it. But understand that "free" is a very simple term to describe the economics around Open Source and Free Software. Somewhere someone has spent time (thus money) building it and that "someone" has a tummy which he needs to fill up, and he needs money for that.

Before brickbats are thrown at me and I get modded down :) , just for the information sake, I too have contributed in my own right to the Open Source community. Here's the link http://xstress.sourceforge.com/ [sourceforge.com] to one of my projects apart from other small efforts of mine.

The reason for posting the above link it not to boast, as the code and the concept are very trivial, it is there just to show that I'm not against Open Source or Free Software, but just to make a point that Free as in beer is free for you but not for the one who serves it to you.

Re:Obscurity (1)

Breakfast Pants (323698) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614116)

That link doesn't even point anywhere.

Re:Obscurity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22614276)

That's because it's meant to be sourceforge.net, not .com.

It's an SMTP stress tester; here's a working link [sf.net] .

Re:Obscurity (1)

xk0der (1003200) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614384)

Thanx AC! My apologies, I posted the incorrect URL. .com instead of .net :)

http://xstress.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net]

Re:Obscurity (3, Interesting)

asuffield (111848) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614172)

The reason for posting the above link it not to boast, as the code and the concept are very trivial, it is there just to show that I'm not against Open Source or Free Software, but just to make a point that Free as in beer is free for you but not for the one who serves it to you.


That's not true. Very frequently, the scenario operates like this:

Person A has a need for a piece of software to do X.

Person A creates a piece of software to do X.

Person A is now in possession of a piece of software to do X, and has gained from it - he is "paid" by having something to do X, which he did not have before. He created it purely because he needed it. But he's still got that software. He doesn't need to bury it in a hole. So he releases it for other people to use, and in no way does this cost him anything.

Person B has a need for a piece of software to do X and Y. He takes person A's software, and extends it to do Y as well.

The cycle continues. Each person involved benefits from the existence of the software that they need, which would not otherwise exist. Since they all would have had to create the software anyway (since they needed it and it didn't exist), it costs them nothing to let other people use it. And all of them are better off because they have shared the work, rather than each one duplicating it themselves: giving it away has actually gained them something, it hasn't cost them something.

Behind most successful free software projects is a cycle of individual need and gain like this one.

I call bullshit. (0, Flamebait)

MBC1977 (978793) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613838)

So let me get this straight... some of you actually believe that one should not be able to patent software after

1) spending an inordinate amount of time learning how to design, develop (to include programming), test software.
2) spending (nowdays) insane amounts of money to go to a good university (unless you happen to be there on scholarship, where you are spending an insane amount of someone else's money.

Just because you think that it is an idea somebody EVENTUALLY would have come up with? Or the tired arguement that structures and or algorithms involved are prior art?

Does that even make sense, logically? Altruism, while nice I'm sure, along with sharing is caring and all that other happy-happy nonsense, does not pay the bills, put food on the table, or even cover the gas in one's car at the end of the day. When you have individuals who feel they should get something for free, (I'm sorry you feel you should have the choice of free -- which its not (see item 1)) then you need a patent to say no... no I worked too dammed hard just to have the value (real or percieved) pissed away because somebody can't afford it so they want it for free.

Not trying to sound mean or cruel, but honestly that is a lot of time and money loss just to say, you can't patent it because others need to be able to copy it. Bullshit. Nothing is free but air and water (and even that is not free). (And no beer is not free, somebody had to pay for it.)

Re:I call bullshit. (1)

MrCopilot (871878) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613908)

Just because you think that it is an idea somebody EVENTUALLY would have come up with? Or the tired arguement that structures and or algorithms involved are prior art?

Yes but not for those reasons.

The feature this week is the first half of a lecture given by Professor Eben Moglen on the danger of software patents. [thecommandline.net]

What the hell you got against altruism anyway, uh...Sir?

Re:I call bullshit. (1)

sssssss27 (1117705) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613928)

I don't see how getting rid of software patents would keep that from happening. Last time I checked most for profit software companies don't release the source code. Even then it would still be a non-trivial task to understand it. I don't believe the End Software Patents Project goals are to make all software free, it's just to get rid of things like Amazon's One-Click Patent. Companies would still have trademarks, copyrights, and the other multitude of protections.

If someone figured out the formula for Coca Cola Classic and released it for half the price but with a different name, would Coke feel it? Probably not. NyQuil hasn't gone out of business and yet Equate sells something exactly the same for cheaper. The name is more important to most people than the product itself.

Re:I call bullshit. (1)

MBC1977 (978793) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614000)

Without buying both a bottle of NyQuill and its knock-off, I can't honestly compare the two (i.e. apples to apples). Name recoginition is extremely important, it is one's brand. Which makes it an investment; and one only invests in something they intend on gaining a return on. True, there are some people who truly beileve that we should all share, but let us be honest. Nothing in life is fair. I don't feel sorry when someone does not have the same benefits as I, nor do I feel sorry for myself if I see something I would like to have that someone else has.

Realizing this may sound like a flame, its not. Its time more technical types understand that ideas are worth something (usually money, forget recognition and comaraderie). Patents are a good thing, they allow individuals to profit (for taking the time to create something) and they allow consumers the benefits of having something that (if applicable) makes their lives easier. I'll say it again, altruristic motives (such as free and goodwill) have to be paid for by somebody. Remove software patents and the quality of work goes down, because nobody wants to feel like they have worked for nothing. (Which is what will go in their pockets if you do so.)

Re:I call bullshit. (1)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614070)

Ideas are worth something, but software patents have NOTHING to do with the value of your code. They keep you from coding things. If you devise some technically superior method of finding the digits of PI, patenting software that performs this function doesn't deserve a patent. The idea alone, outside of the software is the value... not the meaningless language representation in a handful of files. And no one is even saying to give your code away. Keep it to yourself if you want to. It too has nothing to do with patents.

Re:I call bullshit. (1)

MBC1977 (978793) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614122)

The two are not inseparatanle concepts. If my method of "finding the digits of PI" is superior than the current standard or someone else's idea and I want to make money off of that, why should I not be allowed to do so? I can't do that, if EVERYBODY has the code which enables that function. But I can if I patent it and demand payment to use my code. This is no different from a physical invention, save that it is easier to mass produce.

Re:I call bullshit. (1)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614166)

Nobody SAID give away your code. In my example, you would patent the math of finding the PI digits, not the software that does it. Do you see the difference? I think you are confusing copyright and patents anyway. Like I said, don't GIVE AWAY your code if you don't want to. It has copyright, just like anything else ever written. Patent the science behind it, copyright the implementation.

Re:I call bullshit. (1)

MBC1977 (978793) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614186)

As the USPTO defines a patent: "A patent [is] for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor." In otherwords, if I invent a method and create software to execute said name invention (meaning I created the code as well) why should I not be able to patent it?

Re:I call bullshit. (1)

kanweg (771128) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614136)

I'm a patent attorney and I think software patents are a bad idea, for many reasons. One is that coming up with an idea is easy in software, it is the implementing that takes the time and money. I have software developed for my own company. I think up what I want (and I'm not a software engineer, just a user), and tell the programmer. He tells me one of two things: That is easy (meaning that there are tools called APIs available. It is like programmers never having to write a lot of code to display a window on your screen. Just one of two lines, and everything including the close button etc. is there) or it is going to cost me (the APIs aren't there). He never tells me that it is impossible or that he has to do an invention for it. So, it is not the ideas that is the bottleneck for the progress of , but just the plain labour. Like you can sketch your ideal house in 5 minutes, and it takes years to build if you could afford to pay the people to do that for you. (With software, the cost is not in the raw materials, it is just man-hours). When I use my program, I use the ideas of thousands of people (who came up with the way the disk is formatted, how a character is displayed on a screen, and a gazillion other details). I don't want progress to halt because a programmer has to do a search in the patent literature whether someone else came up with such an idea earlier. Or worse, not for progress to halt but that I'm not allowed to use my own program because of some detail I'm not even interested in (the way the disk is formatted, for example). The good thing about no software patents is that companies are free to innovate. Yes, investors like it when a company has patents, but they would also like it if they knew 100% certain that the company is not going to be sued over a software patent.

I want to discuss another argument with you. You're talking about spending lots of money at the university. What you learn there is knowledge shared by others, that often took them years to figure out. You are not paying those people. You're just paying for the professor and the university building and facilities. If you had to pay for the KNOWLEDGE/IDEAS, you'd quit the university in a week or so, completely broke.

Bert

Re:I call bullshit. (1)

MBC1977 (978793) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614174)

I respect your argument, but looking at the university, you are paying for the knowledge and ideas (packaged in a form the student will understand). Granted, anyone who is willing to do the legwork, could eventually learn on their own. Would you have paid to go to undergraduate, graduate and take the bar exam, if you did know that at the end you were going to reap rewards of being able to bill clients at (for purposes of this example, 2 - 500 dollars an hour)? Considering the opportunity cost(s) and all.

An idea may be easy at first light, but fleshing out the idea, taking it from concept to production, all of this cost money and time. I'm just not willing to devote either, if I know that Joe Schmuckatelli in his basement or wherever is gonna just copy my idea and undercut whatever price I sell it at.

Why not just enforce the rules already in place? (2, Insightful)

sssssss27 (1117705) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613952)

I think it would be a far simpler solution if patent examiners just enforced the rules already in place, that is you aren't allowed to patent ideas. Then you wouldn't be able to patent "A program that translates text from one language to another" but instead would be able to patent the code that does do that. Obviously you would have to release your code so other people can learn from and build upon it, which is why you get protection. Isn't that the whole point of the patent system? If you expose your trade secrets we grant you a limited time for a monopoly on it.

Risk of Bias? (1)

NimbleSquirrel (587564) | more than 6 years ago | (#22613970)

I know that they have released a statement saying that the scholarship will be open https://endsoftpatents.org/bias-in-academic-papers [endsoftpatents.org] , but I truely hope that they keep that part of the judging open to public scrutiny, even if the best paper comes out in support of software patents. Don't get me wrong, I hate software patents. However, if they don't keep the judging open to scrutiny for bias, the winning paper will be about as useful as a study into the total cost of ownership of linux vs windows from a Microsoft funded think tank.

Obvious (1)

Nizzt (45461) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614052)

I wouldn't agree that software patents are a bad thing. However almost every time I think of an idea for software it turns out someone has patented it, so I don't bother writing anything.

The problem is that a lot of them are obvious, and a patent isn't supposed to be obvious. Maybe it isn't obvious to someone who isn't a programmer. So, the problem is that too many software patents are obvious, not that software patents bad.

Halfway house works really well. (2, Interesting)

coxapple (1249340) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614086)

Dear All, It is with amazement that I read of the polarized debate going on in the US. The present US software patenting system is broken and the proposal to abolish software patenting would throw the baby out with the bathwater. The whole of Europe uses a unified system that permits such patents but forces them to jump through rigorous test to cut the crap that is patented in the US and that clogs up the US patenting system and cause endless costs and angst in the software community. In Europe software is patentable only if it has technical effect, is non-obvious and doesn't simply automate a process (to describe some of the constituents) . See for a brilliant simple description : http://www.iusmentis.com/patents/software/epc/ [iusmentis.com] So, for example, a colleague (the inventor) and I patented and made work in principle a revolutionary new way to detect touch which is superior to methods existing, simple and cheap (which Tyco Electronics bought and called acoustic pulse recognition). The method could only be expressed and operated in software . If the software for making that technology work was not patentable, I would not have funded the project and taken the extensive grief over five years and the technology would not have been developed . Even though the returns were modest, such an outcome is necessary to undergo such sweat and tears. By contrast in the US, parties are roving the US patenting or buying up patents for software that covers obvious processes, where the application took five minutes and no risk capital was involved, and then suing people. US industry (especially the vulnerable smaller companies) runs scared of infringement because there is no way of checking all the software patenting filed or applied for effectively to check if you are infringing.. I appeal to your sanity. Just copy the European software patenting system lock stock and barrel and you will live happily ever after in this part of life! Graham Cox

Re:Halfway house works really well. (2, Informative)

kanweg (771128) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614262)

The European patent office grants patents for software illegally, after years of wriggling and twisting by one (Dutch) member of the Board of Appeal, who stepwise expanded the scope of what was deemed patentable. The current chaos in the different European countries on how this should be dealt with is in no small part due to this, as the grant clearly goes much further than the law (your reference was written by a patent attorney of Philips who did an excellent job of presenting a biased story). Even the British felt compelled to not ignore the EPO in this completely, recently. That doesn't bode well for innovation, as companies will develop software even if they don't have software protection for it (I have software developed and I know I do).

Mind you, there is nothing wrong with inventions where software is used to control stuff, but the inventive step must not reside in the software, otherwise you're granting patents for software despite Art. 52(2) EPC.

Bert
Who thinks that the halfway house is in practice a 3/4 way house.

Software patents are useless (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 6 years ago | (#22614272)

Regardless of the scope of software patents they are essentially useless and only harms the progress.

If A creates a piece of software and patents it it also means that B can't do it too even if the implementation is completely different and may be more effective unless B also pays A for something that he never will or want to use just because the end result is the same.

The only persons that benefit from the patents are really the patent lawyers. A will waste a lot of time trying to defend patents and B will not be able to ship product in time. This means that A is wasting energy on time that could have been used to improve A:s products and the same goes for B. During that time C appears and shows up with a completely different solution that wipes out A and B.

A software piece that has taken several man-hours for A to implement may have taken B only an afternoon to implement, so the use of patenting the solution for A may be justified by the amount of man-hours put into the project, but it doesn't give any other clue.

Sure software is intellectual property, but it ages far too fast for the legal processes to catch up with all changes and patches that appears. The real intellectual part isn't a particular piece of software, it's the complete solution. A method for counting eggs wouldn't differ much when implemented by A, B or C, but it's rather pointless to have just that part - it also needs to be incorporated in a larger solution and also added to the customer solution and business model. An egg counter may be used to control the packing machine, but customer D may use a 2x3 egg box and sell them by the piece while customer E uses a 8x8 egg box and sell them by the pallet, which means that the rest of the solution is completely different. OK, if B and C steals A:s egg-counter it may be a "loss" for A, but if they in turn contribute back with something else then A has also gained. (Essentially this happens in the background if the same consultant works for A, B and C. Don't expect that consultant to re-code from scratch what he already have handy. He just re-uses and adapts some specific interfaces so it will suit the overall code.)

In the end - software patents is a lot about forcing other parties to re-invent the wheel instead of accepting that there are different wheels using the same base.

The big catch here is that the ones that really have to pay in the end for patent fees and such things are the end customers, i.e. you and me and everyone else. This includes lawyer fees and all the costs added to bring cases to court, either directly by raising the product price or by taxes. This also means that the products will be less competitive and the competition from east Asia will come in and steamroll the whole market instead.

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