The patents plague

April 16th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

AFP report at the NZ Herald:

The internet Age is becoming as known for patent litigation as it is for online innovation. …

The break in the unofficial truce was inspired in part by “patent trolls,” entities that buy or file with the sole intent of some day suing entrepreneurs who use the ideas.

Ranks of patent trolls are growing, as is the number of large companies turning to patent litigation not just to cash-in but to gain or protect market terrain, according to Chien. …

AOL this week announced plans to sell more than 800 patents to Microsoft in a US$1.056 billion deal giving the faded Internet star a needed cash injection.

Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said that the software giant is getting “a valuable portfolio that we have been following for years.”

Facebook in March confirmed that it bought 750 software and networking patents from IBM to beef up its arsenal on an increasingly lawsuit-strewn technology battlefield.

Early this year, Google bought 188 patents and 29 patent applications related to mobile phones from IBM but did not disclose how much it paid.

Last year, IBM sold Google 2,000 or so patents ranging from mobile software to computer hardware and processors.

I’m one of those who think copyright over code is the better way to protect software intellectual property than patents, as seen by theseĀ ridiculousĀ and expensive patent wars.

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12 Responses to “The patents plague”

  1. chiz (1,131 comments) says:

    Patents apply to algorithms, but copyright presumably applies to the text of the program which implements it. A different implementation of the same algorithm would not be covered. No?

    Companies like IBM are big enough to afford lots of lawyers and are presumably using patent law rather than copyright law to protect their ideas for a reason.

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  2. Adolf Fiinkensein (2,833 comments) says:

    Since when has the market place become a ridiculous war, David?

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  3. metcalph (1,407 comments) says:

    The trouble with copyrights is that they last a lot longer than patents.

    In addition, patents can be used if you pay a fee whereas with copyrights, there is no right to use.

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  4. Fentex (909 comments) says:

    Patents in software are an unalloyed evil. They are the legislated ownership of ideas and that is a horrid fictional concept.

    Take for an example Amazons infamous One-Cick patent. An idea that quickly becomes obvious to any practitioner of online shopping software yet whether or not found enforceable in a court case having been registered as a patent makes any business prey to the wealth of Amazon and lawyers in court rooms rather than market places.

    We all understand that if a pie seller discovers selling interesting sauces to match the taste of specific pies an observant competitor might do the same improving the supply of tasty pie treats to all customers. Yet for some bizarre reason in certain circumstances companies are forbidden for doing obvious things and extending on their competitors actions to improve customers options.

    In software what patents do is lock up ideas – they do not include detailed reproducible algorithims and code, substituting instead as broad as possible a definition of concepts so as to cover and attempt to gouge as much territory as possible where with software one has to be as specific and precise as possible to produce useful results.

    That one can ‘patent’ a software approach without specific computationally effective instruction sets makes a mockery of any claim to be rewarding effective work because unless it runs it isn’t effective software and no useful work exists to protect.

    Sans a working implementation software is nothing but an idea, and ideas cannot be owned. To claim they are is to be an enemy of free thought, free enterprise and open competition.

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  5. chiz (1,131 comments) says:

    Patents are only supposed to be granted if the discovery is new and unobvious. There are legitimate questions about that second criterion as regards many patents but that is a seperate question from whether some types of things are patentable. Ultimately all inventions are ideas.

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  6. tvb (4,253 comments) says:

    That assumes computer code can be protected by “copyright”. I do not think that is a foregone conclusion legally otherwise why go through the patent process at all if the position was that clear.

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  7. Fentex (909 comments) says:

    Patents are only supposed to be granted if the discovery is new and unobvious

    Putting aside that that is no reason to give someone ownership of an idea it is also a silly test for putting value on an idea in the first place. All fresh thought was likely non-obvious before the time came for it to be obvious, then many people will likely have it together.

    And if non-obvious ideas were so valuable there would be no problem with having independent invention as a defence against offending patents. But it isn’t, because what’s being protected isn’t especially clever thinking but speed at patenting.

    Ultimately all inventions are ideas.

    Apart from autonomous functions all human actions begin as ideas, but we put value of some results of action more than others. A painting, a song, a book are more valuable than the simple idea of producing them. The effort, skill, practice and repeated exercise that produces value is something more than each individual decision and thought put into them.

    It is possible to conceive of an invention being valuable and expensive to produce and once upon a time to have a patent a working model of a tested device had to be registered with a patent office. Thereby proving an effective application of an idea to produce a tested product – and in return for protection in marketing the product a working example of it was available for everyone’s betterment at a later date.

    I don’t think the logic behind this works very well, but it does provide for an argument to be made that patents make some kind of sense when real work and investment is made that might reflect an inventive road to profit to be protected for societies wider benefit.

    But that does not describe software or business patents which are nothing but ideas no more valuable than any other possible revelation a person might have in the shower of a morning. The effort that demonstratively proves success at solving a problem providing a thing that does real work is what is valuable and being, like all human effort, the fruit of a seed in a mind is beside the point of what is really valuable (a thing that works).

    I don’t support patents in general, but one doesn’t have to, to point out that what arguments exist to support them do not support software patents.

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  8. wreck1080 (3,807 comments) says:

    Patents are awarded for natural evolutions of coding technology.

    It is inevitable that if one person doesn’t figure out, the next person will. Patents should never be awarded in such cases.

    eg, the shopping cart — something like that should never be patented. It is an obvious solution to an online commerce site.

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  9. Alan Wilkinson (1,848 comments) says:

    Software patents are complete crap and should never have been recognised. Nobody has ever been able to show any innovation that would not have happened but for software patent protection. The combination of copyright and licence key protections has been perfectly adequate to protect good software products for many decades.

    Moreover, all software innovation builds on what has gone before. Patent protection just creates an impossible legal minefield sabotaging creativity and competition, especially of small innovative start ups who cannot defend themselves against the armies of lawyers and patent portfolios of the mega corporates.

    The US is reaping what it has sowed. The impact will be deep and long.

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  10. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    I found this article on patent trolls interesting:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/2012/04/patent_trolls_how_they_stifle_innovation_.html

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  11. slijmbal (1,223 comments) says:

    As much I as I don’t normally post a ‘yeah you’ve got it right’ type post I have to agree with Fentex

    The patent system obviously fails in the IT industry – I’m in the IT industry and we did the one click shop for one client before Amazon but they patented it – et voila! – no-one else could do it.

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  12. beautox (436 comments) says:

    metcalf said:
    >> In addition, patents can be used if you pay a fee whereas with copyrights, there is no right to use.

    This simply not true. Patents allow you to exclude others from your inventions. There’s no need for a patent holder to grant licences.

    From wiki : A patent is not a right to practice or use the invention. Rather, a patent provides the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing the patented invention for the term of the patent

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