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posted by martyb on Sunday November 25 2018, @03:36AM   Printer-friendly
from the copyrights-patents-and-trademarks-oh-my dept.

Cisco VP/CTO Jonathan Rosenberg has written a blog post about how harmful software patents are to industry. On top of being vague but also transferrable, they can be used offensively by grantees which are not involved in any aspect of making or using the technologies to which the patents apply, an aspect which has caused ongoing, grievous harm to computer-using companies for a long time now. Something needs to change and, so, after outlining the nature of the problem, he closes with two brief solutions.

Friends and relatives who are not in the technology industry always ask me if I've ever gotten a patent. For them, a patent has this sheen of accomplishment. They believe it means you invented something, that you are an innovator, that you've done something no one has done before. I give a little chuckle, tell them that yes, I have a few patents (I actually have 90 issued U.S. patents), but that it's not really a big deal, and thank you for asking. In reality, I'm being polite. I don't want to burst their bubble, nor do I want to launch into a long tirade. Because, the reality is, that patents — and in particular — software patents — are a plague upon the industry. They hamper innovation. They cost companies millions and millions of dollars in frivolous law suits. They waste time and energy from people who just want to build products. They are anathema to the Internet. Software patents are harmful.

Software patents have three key characteristics which have resulted in their harmfulness. They are vague in terms of what is actually invented. They can be passed along as property. You can sue for infringement without making the product to which the patent applies. Lets cover each in turn.

Software remains covered by copyright, as a form of creative expression. Again, while software patents is a problem mostly contained to the US, they are becoming a threat for the EU. Even as the European Patent Convention specifically exempts software from patentability, there remain prolonged efforts to circumvent the law and establish software patents in effect. After all, what do laws matter if companies can be convinced to universally ignore them?


Original Submission

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FFII Calls for Donations Against Unitary Software Patent Trolls After a Disastrous Bundestag Vote 53 comments

The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure has a call for donations against the Unitary Software Patent Trolls after Thursday's disastrous Bundestag vote. On Thursday in Germany, the Bundestag voted on ratification of a proposal for a Unified Patent Court, largely seen as purely a vehicle for introducing software patents into Europe. As software patents in the US were on the way out, introducing them into Europe would bring them back into the US after further "harmonization". Thursday's vote is the result of the software patent lobby changing its strategy in Europe by creating a central patent court outside of the control of the individual member states under which it would make its own rules and avoid democratically elected legislators.

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  • (Score: 2) by bzipitidoo on Sunday November 25 2018, @04:15AM (3 children)

    by bzipitidoo (4388) Subscriber Badge on Sunday November 25 2018, @04:15AM (#766085) Journal

    Most people are still awfully impressed by patents. Think anyone whose name is on a patent is a genius inventor, and it never occurs to them to question the underlying assumption that patents only go to those who deserve them, and of course that the patent system is fair, just, sensible, and an all around good idea.

    We're drilled on this kind of thinking from childhood. There's the cartoon character Pat Pending: https://wackyraces.wikia.com/wiki/Professor_Pat_Pending [wikia.com] , and Wile E. Coyote can often be seen associated with a "patent pending" label, for instance in Operation Rabbit with a "Lump Massager" device halfway through the cartoon.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Bot on Sunday November 25 2018, @09:33AM (2 children)

      by Bot (3902) on Sunday November 25 2018, @09:33AM (#766120) Journal

      - patents are good
      - o rly
      - ya rly
      - how much did you spend for your telescreen, i mean smartphone
      - 200$
      - you'd spend 170$ without patents
      - but patents make sure inventions are not lost
      - most patents cannot be replicated at all, working prototypes are not required
      - but inventors need to make a living
      - ask meucci or tesla how they made a living with patents
      - but patents advance the state of the art
      - ask Sun how they received legal threats from IBM about their servers without IBM needing to know the details of the architecture because their patents were broad enough, ask around about SCO

      --
      Account abandoned.
      • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Mykl on Sunday November 25 2018, @11:56PM (1 child)

        by Mykl (1112) on Sunday November 25 2018, @11:56PM (#766316)

        Ask about the early days of Apple and Microsoft. Both of those guys were anti-software patents in the early days while the businesses were growing.

        • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Monday November 26 2018, @03:42PM

          by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Monday November 26 2018, @03:42PM (#766463) Journal

          I know this to be true of Apple. Back in the day. When I was an Apple fanboy and also Mac developer, before them intarweb tubes.

          Apple delivered a monthly deluge of paper to developers. Yes, really. It was heavy. A brick like slab of paper, later including a CD ROM, shrink wrapped, and wrapped, and wrapped.

          This includes updates to manuals. New manuals. Tech notes. And many other interesting and/or important things. Sometimes also big 3-ring binders.

          One time there was an article outlining the proposed software patents and Apple's opposition to it. The individual author of the software said he shouldn't need to have a lawyer in order to write his software. And here we are now today. You can't write software without a lawyer.

          --
          Scissors come in consumer packaging that cannot be opened without scissors.
  • (Score: 3, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 25 2018, @09:08AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 25 2018, @09:08AM (#766118)

    That slide to unlock thing was pure innovation
    How can you say that is not worthy of 20 years of protection?
    People should have to pay the inventor of this awe inspiring invention for a long time to benefit from their brilliance

    • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Monday November 26 2018, @03:44PM

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Monday November 26 2018, @03:44PM (#766464) Journal

      How could you possibly leave out bouncy scrolling?

      That was an innovation worth at least 40 years of protection.

      One of the best patents ever to be weaponized by Apple.

      --
      Scissors come in consumer packaging that cannot be opened without scissors.
  • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 25 2018, @12:51PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 25 2018, @12:51PM (#766142)

    It means that patents are finally doing something right.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 25 2018, @09:36PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 25 2018, @09:36PM (#766282)

      I don't see Cisco complaining, I only see Jonathan Rosenberg doing it.

  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 25 2018, @02:45PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 25 2018, @02:45PM (#766165)

    Open source is not exactly equivalent to patent-free but close enough, and some are pointing out problems
    https://medium.com/@mattklein123/the-broken-economics-of-oss-5a1b31fc0182 [medium.com]

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Rich on Sunday November 25 2018, @03:06PM (6 children)

    by Rich (945) on Sunday November 25 2018, @03:06PM (#766167) Journal

    1.) Subsidies (<- frowned upon practice by social democrats)
    2.) State monopolies for public benefit (<- eastern-bloc style socialism)
    3.) State monopolies for individual profit (<- the patent system (and other IP))

    Interesting view of the issue?! Could it then be that the economy would benefit if 3 would be upgraded to 1? How could fair subsidizing look like? Is the "incentive" necessary at all? Or, separate from that, does the system provide some sort of large scale power leverage for those already "on the biggest pile" and is immutable until it collapses under its own weight and the Chinese take over?

    • (Score: 2) by PartTimeZombie on Sunday November 25 2018, @08:59PM (3 children)

      by PartTimeZombie (4827) on Sunday November 25 2018, @08:59PM (#766270)

      You may have misunderstood what socialism is.

      • (Score: 2) by Rich on Sunday November 25 2018, @10:23PM (2 children)

        by Rich (945) on Sunday November 25 2018, @10:23PM (#766298) Journal

        You may have misunderstood what socialism is.

        With "super-socialist" I tried to express not that property gets into the hand of the people (or the party, depending on your view) in a "super" way, but that state monopolies granted to actors interested in individual profit might exceed the negative effects of when a socialist state keeps monopolies for itself, because the state would in general be interested in furthering its general cause (and history has shown that this doesn't work well).

        As long as the patent system can be circumvented by building better (or just different) mousetraps, it might lean towards being beneficial because it forces innovation (at least by widening the evolutionary tree of solutions to problems). But as it becomes ever more encompassing, there will be a tipping point where market forces are harmed to an extent that the whole system becomes unsustainable. It's the most anti-market thing there is. First, the market dies off from unsurmountable barriers-to-entry for new players. Later the entrenched players deadlock in stalemate. We already see the latter trying to get out of the trap by trying to establish case law for FRAND-licensing of standard-relevant patents.

        • (Score: 2) by PartTimeZombie on Sunday November 25 2018, @11:01PM (1 child)

          by PartTimeZombie (4827) on Sunday November 25 2018, @11:01PM (#766305)

          Ah, I see what you're getting at now. I'm not sure that I'm convinced "socialism" is the best word for your concept, but I don't know what might work better so it will do for now. ;-)

          I wonder if the problem with the patent system (and copyright for the same reasons) is that it can be such an advantage for dominant players in any industry to own them and help control their market.

          Most industries have become more and more consolidated over the last 20 years or so, therefore it is in the remaining few players' interests to strengthen IP laws so they can maintain their dominance.

          I may have just restated what you said, now I read that back. I will post it anyway.

          • (Score: 2) by Rich on Monday November 26 2018, @01:16AM

            by Rich (945) on Monday November 26 2018, @01:16AM (#766335) Journal

            I'm not sure that I'm convinced "socialism" is the best word for your concept

            I know, I chose it to scare those thinking along the simple lines of "property, ANY property, big money -> capitalist happiness for ME, and better dead than red" a bit. :) I did ponder about the "super-" prefix, but couldn't think of anything better. Maybe "supra-", or "socialism-topping market damage".

            Anyway, you got my idea about the big entrenched players. There must be a good number of ideas on how to improve the situation for the overall economy. One might be to require a price tag of a patent's worth with the filing. Then there would be a.) a property tax on the price tag and b.) the option for any one (or group) to buy it out and void it at that price tag. But the idea is probably moot, because it goes against the interest of the big players and won't happen.

            My future forecast therefore is that this system (and the increasing amount of mandated paperwork shuffling "bullshit jobs" in general) stifles the western economy to near dysfunction and then the Chinese take over. Should that day arrive, I just hope the Chinese fondly remember that we Germans taught them how to make that tasty beer at Tsing-Tao.

    • (Score: 2) by prospectacle on Monday November 26 2018, @04:46AM (1 child)

      by prospectacle (3422) on Monday November 26 2018, @04:46AM (#766369) Journal

      Good take. People often forget or deny that patents are state monopolies for private profit, as if they're naturally arising property rights (like simply owning a tool you built yourself).

      The great benefit to those who have the money and size to successfully abuse the patent system, is that they can cast it as "property rights", as if owning a single, rivalrous piece of land or equipment, to use how you wish, is the same as owning an easily reproducible method, design, or productive process, and being allowed to tell others, throughout the country (or world) whether and how they can use the same process, whether they learned it from you or not.

      Metaphorically we can talk about patentable methods in similar ways to actual physical property, so why should they be any different under the law?

      Of course, what's usually left out of the discussion, is that metaphorically we can also talk about patentable things as if they're recipes, which by the way can't be patented or copyrighted, or abstract ideas, which also can't be patented, or game rules, mental procedures, or mathematical formulae.

      I would venture to say things in this second group are far closer in origin, nature, and economic impact to patentable processes, than those in the first group (real estate, physical materials, etc).

      Patents were themselves invented, and are explicitly intended, to promote invention and scientific progress, and through added costs that are passed on down the chain we all pay for them one way or another, so I agree that another method (such as subsidies) that takes a similar amount of our money and directly purchases inventions and procedures that are then in the public domain, is worth considering.

      However may I suggest incentive-prizes, instead. Then you only pay for the results, and still have the benefit of multiple players competing to get the reward, as you do with the private competition for making and selling patentable inventions.

      One way in incentive-prizes would be far superior to patents is that each round can accept far more entrants that have built on the winners of the previous round, because those entrants don't have to first buy a license to copy the previous winners (or wait for their patents to expire).

      --
      If a plan isn't flexible it isn't realistic
      • (Score: 2) by Rich on Monday November 26 2018, @11:02AM

        by Rich (945) on Monday November 26 2018, @11:02AM (#766402) Journal

        through added costs that are passed on down the chain we all pay for them one way or another

        Indeed, good point. I didn't really think about that myself in the context. I did for the legal system as such, or large-scale advertising, which we all pay for in a hidden way. And which doesn't even look bad as long as we measure the public welfare in gross revenues (including all the broken windows) instead of balance sheet difference as any business would do.

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by crafoo on Sunday November 25 2018, @03:57PM

    by crafoo (6639) on Sunday November 25 2018, @03:57PM (#766182)

    The only question worth asking concerning patents is, with regard to the USA citizenship at large, are software patents a net positive effect spurring technological innovation or not?
    Also, the concept of patenting applied mathematics is at it's core, ridiculous and insulting.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 25 2018, @05:37PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 25 2018, @05:37PM (#766212)

    Now show me that IOS source code.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 26 2018, @11:59AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 26 2018, @11:59AM (#766413)

      Industrial secret. Good lock.

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