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Amazon Sued for Patent Infringement 304

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the but-not-the-one-click dept.
theodp writes "Amazon's 10-K SEC filing discloses that the e-tailer has been sued for infringing on Soverain Software patents for Network Sales Systems (5,715,314 & 5,909,492) and Internet Server Access Control and Monitoring Systems (5,708,780), aka the Open Market patents, aka the Divine cashectomy patents, which Soverain obtained in the wake of Divine's bankruptcy sale."
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Amazon Sued for Patent Infringement

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  • Luckily... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Doktor Memory (237313) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:09AM (#8405425) Journal
    ...Amazon has aleady patented the use of Irony...on the internet!
  • Not Another One! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wiser87 (742455) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:11AM (#8405435) Homepage
    Is it just me, or are more and more companies trying hard to find every single person/company and sue the crap out of them?
    • by smr2x (266420) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:13AM (#8405454) Homepage
      More like every company trying to find every single thing that isn't patented.. then patent and sue! What is this world coming to?

      It would be nice to actually have a _few_ good companies out there, but all these patent lawsuits are proving that companies just don't care. They're in search of profit and will do anything it takes to get there.
      • Hmm... I wonder if anyone's patented the art of Slshdotting a website? ;)
        • by smr2x (266420) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:18AM (#8405486) Homepage
          Who would dare take on Slashdot in a lawsuit?! Can you imagine how many geeks would find you, surround your building, and make you suffer!?

          Besides the enormous Slashdotting you would receive in return...

          • Re:Not Another One! (Score:3, Interesting)

            by kubrick (27291)
            As far as I'm aware, Microsoft and the Scientologists have both forced Slashdot to remove material by threatening lawsuit(s).

            Now, there are two cults that are scarier than we are. :)
          • Besides the enormous Slashdotting you would receive in return...
            I thought you said in your rectum ...
          • I'm sitting here trying to imagine what a physical slashdotting would be like. I imagine we'd stand outside the building for a few minutes and then a few of us would start running into the building with arms pointed straight at the ground. Then several more would start going, yelling "frosty borscht" or whatever they're saying instead of "first post" these days. Then, everyone else would charge full-speed with maniacal grins, with a collective scream of incredibly lame "server's down" jokes. A force to be
      • by dbc001 (541033) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:45AM (#8405894)
        Actually that is indeed the case. Many companies use exactly that strategy and are even able to raise significant amounts of money for exactly such a "business plan".

        As far as I'm concerned, that's the kind of people that the media should be calling "pirates". Such actions are openly malicious and predatory. Unlike internet pirates, who are rarely malicious and incapable of causing any real world damages other than some sort of make-believe lost-possible-sales bullshit.
        • Re:Not Another One! (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mattyp (720004)
          Great idea!

          from now on, i'm going to call patents that steal obvious applications of technologies from public use "pirate patents".

          • Amazon one-click purchasing is a pirate patent.
          • Microsoft patenting "xml used for _____" is a pirate patent.
          • Microsoft patenting FAT is a pirate patent
          • and so many more pirate patents: BT hyperlinking, plug-in launching, et al.
      • by Bombcar (16057) <racbmob@@@bombcar...com> on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:49AM (#8405904) Homepage Journal
        It would be nice to actually have a _few_ good companies out there, but all these patent lawsuits are proving that companies just don't care.

        This is, pardon the pun, patently false. There are millions of companies in the United States, many of which have patent portfolios.

        You only hear about the big names and lawsuits involving them. Have you heard of lawsuits involving patent #6,111,725? How about any of the other millions of patents?

        My father had a patent on "Hyperbolic Geometric Models" (4,183,153) and never sued anybody. He still has some, if people are interested.

        The patent system has some issues, but mainly the issues are more with the way that corporations are abusing it.

        DOWN WITH CORPORATIONS!

        Wheee!
        • by Ender Ryan (79406) on Friday February 27, 2004 @09:59AM (#8407218) Journal
          The patent system has some issues, but mainly the issues are more with the way that corporations are abusing it.

          Pardon me, but that is patently ridiculous!

          Since our patent system is so broken that it has turned into a weapon for companies to extort money from one another, I think it is the patent system that is at fault first and foremost. Anything that can legally be abused so easily to make a profit, _will_ be abused.

          The patent system doesn't just have "some issues," it has serious fundamental flaws in it's current state. Unfortuneately, the whole world appears to be ready to adopt such a system, so patent reform is probably several generations away, at the least.

          DOWN WITH THE WORLD!

          Hehe :)

    • Re:Not Another One! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by gid13 (620803) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:16AM (#8405474)
      Evolution, my friend.

      The only way to stop it is to change the conditions the companies live under. To make it impossible or disadvantageous to patent and litigate. My personal suggestion is (and has been for some time) to completely abandon patents and copyright. All they are to me is children whining "I thought of it first".
      • by Mr. Troll (202208) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:24AM (#8405521) Homepage
        You know what would be a great idea? X. Too bad it would cost a bunch of money to develop X into something usefull...if only there were some way to help try to ensure that I could recover the money I spend developing it...

        • by gid13 (620803) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:31AM (#8405558)
          Don't think I haven't considered that. Yes, it kinda sucks, but let's contrast this with the current situation.

          Take software patents and open source, a particularly relevant case to Slashdot. I want to develop code for myself and others to use and enjoy. If only I was allowed to do it instead of being legally required to not use my expertise because someone thinks it's a good thing to own the rights to an idea.
          • by PianoComp81 (589011) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:55AM (#8405692)
            Maybe software patents should be done away with, but I can't believe that you'd really agree with getting rid of all patents.

            Take drug patents: it costs a lot of time and money to just come up with a drug worth patenting. Drug patents give incentives to corporations to create medicines to help people because they know they'll be able to regain a lot of the money they put into coming up with the medicine.

            Taking an all-or-nothing stance is ignorant.
            • by gid13 (620803) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:13AM (#8405769)
              Believe it! :)

              I, on the other hand, can't believe you'd hold up drug corporations as a shining example of the good of patents.

              Number one, patents in the drug arena encourage popular things to be invented long before important things. For instance, we have a boner pill (Viagra) and a baldness pill (Rogaine I think), but no AIDS pill (at least that I'm aware of).

              Number two, providing corporations with financial benefits for pills encourages them to come up with fake ailments and prescribe their medications for them. Take antidepressants... I read a story recently that explained how one of the big pharmaceutical companies (I think it was Pfizer, I'm not sure anymore) made a massive "awareness" (advertising) campaign about some generically named stress syndrome that had been described as very rare by psychiatrists. Coincidentally, their drug was used to treat it, and some medical professional on their payroll was quoted as saying something like 10% of people had this syndrome.

              And that's just off the top of my head.
              • Re:Not Another One! (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Shinsei (120121)
                Might be a tad off topic of course, but still something to take into consideration regarding the medical companies :

                If you also take into consideration the heavy changes those very antidepressants make to the neural system in a persons body, you can actually discover that their primary and sole concern is not people's health, but rather their wallets (and preferably that other people spend their cash on the oh-so-needed medication they so desperately need).

                My father, which is currently studying the hum
                • Re:Not Another One! (Score:5, Informative)

                  by MtnMan1021 (47935) on Friday February 27, 2004 @06:41AM (#8406574)
                  hi. sorry. this is pure FUD.

                  i'm a neuropsychology student with both clinical and research experience.

                  neural plasticity refers to the brain's ability to change in reaction to major events. plasticity is a good thing, as it allows us to recover from lesions, disabilities, etc, with remarkable success. neural plasticity is what allows a blind person to read quickly with their fingertips (there are changes to the sensorimotor and occipital lobes that recruit neurons otherwise unneeded). neural plasticity is nothing to be afraid of, and really has nothing to do with antidepressants.

                  ssri's, maoi's, and the other assorted antidepressants are not really "altering the way the neural system works," so much as aiding the system recover from an imbalance. ssri's increase levels of seratonin, which is the endogenous (already in your system) hormone that gives you "happy" feelings. this allows depressed individuals to regain control over their lives and enjoy them. ssri's aren't and shouldn't be prescribed for individuals that aren't depressed, but there really isn't any permenant change that they effect. the only major effect ssri's will have on a depressed teenager is that it will increase their chances of recovery from their depression.

                  no need to be afraid of antidepressants. they're not "changing" you, unless depression is intrinsic to your self-view.

                  jbr.
              • Re:Not Another One! (Score:4, Interesting)

                by Arker (91948) on Friday February 27, 2004 @06:04AM (#8406489) Homepage

                It also gives them an incentive to shun and FUD remedies which they can't patent - which is a large part of why herbal medicines are generally either ignored or villified. With a patent system it makes sense to spend millions of dollars coming up with a slight variant on one of the active ingredients in an herbal remedy that you can patent, and then sell that, even if it's not actually as useful as the original herbal remedy.

                And just to forestall some replies accusing me of saying more than I did - that doesn't mean that all herbal remedies are superior or even good. But some are, and they still tend to be ignored and villified because no one can collect a rent on their use. Although it's complicated by other factors, Cannabis is probably the best known example of this - it's superior to every alternative for certain uses, but it's kept outlawed while drug companies research ways to change the active ingredient enough to make something patentable instead, and push alternatives that are nowhere near as good from the patients point of view.

              • Re:Not Another One! (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Dave2 Wickham (600202) *
                Viagra isn't exactly the best example, as the drug was originally researched as a heart medicine (link [about.com]).
              • by DMNT (754837) on Friday February 27, 2004 @08:47AM (#8406861)

                Drug patents differ a lot from software patents.

                Drug patent holds one specific substance and the methods to produce that substance. Software patents are dangerous, because they hold a result.

                Could you agree that a medical company could hold a patent for curing impotence or AIDS? Of course not! Such a goal isn't patentable, and so should it be in software too. One painkiller isn't enough, there should be room for other substances too and therefore you can only patent your methods, not the result.

                Copyright laws are IMHO enough for protecting your code. No one can copy your work, but they are free to achieve the same results your software has, as long as they make their own work there. Imagine if someone had patented databases.

            • by nattt (568106) on Friday February 27, 2004 @06:01AM (#8406479)
              Yes - get rid of drug patents too! Drug companies care about cash, not making ill people better. Far better that all drug compnaies get nationalised (then rationalised, shutting down the overlap, perhaps putting their doctors back out to practice) and that drugs are researched and produced cooperatively around the world for the benefit of people. Look at what's happening with the poor old folk from the USA who have to come to lovely Canada for their affordable medicine.
              • Take drug patents: it costs a lot of time and money to just come up with a drug worth patenting. Drug patents give incentives to corporations to create medicines to help people because they know they'll be able to regain a lot of the money they put into coming up with the medicine.

              I sincerly hope that someday, you might be correct. Because right now patents are being used fof the exact opposite.

              There is no continent in the world as AIDS-ridden as Africa. We all know this. So there is probably no bi

        • by Lochin Rabbar (577821) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:39AM (#8405608)
          No, no! What you do is you patent the idea of X with some trivial idea of something that would be needed to implement it (say Y). Then you wait for someone with the smarts to implement the difficult bits and sue them for stealing Y. Until patents require you to produce i) a working implementation, and ii) are required to be assessed by experts in the field for being non-obvious, they will never again satisfy the purpose of protecting inventors from exploitation. Reducing their cost so that they are affordable to ordinary individuals would also help.
          • by Anonymous Coward
            That would just encourage preemptive patents.

            The whole purpose of patents is to protect the commercially viable ideas of small companies or individuals - i.e., so they can benefit from their innovation.

            The best way would be to incentivize the US Patent office to make sure prior art is actually researched.

            Maybe, say, make patents more expensive, use the money to fund the patent office, but then make the patent office refund twice the money if any granted patent is overturned on prior art grounds. Commercial

        • by jmv (93421) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:00AM (#8405722) Homepage
          Let me see, the guys who invented Ethernet, IP, DNS, HTTP, ... don't get a dime (from patents at least), but the guy who said "hey, I think eventually someone will use that to sell stuff" gets all the money. Sounds fair?
        • by prockcore (543967) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:01AM (#8405726)
          You know what would be a great idea? X. Too bad it would cost a bunch of money to develop X into something usefull...if only there were some way to help try to ensure that I could recover the money I spend developing it...

          You know what be an even greater idea? If you could make money off X without developing it.. if only there were some way to let another company develop X and then sue them because you thought of it first.
        • by Crypto Gnome (651401) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:04AM (#8405732) Homepage Journal
          Your point is all great in theory - And what do you suppose we should do about companies who do nothing but come up with ideas to patent so that they can sue the pants off companies trying to make a buck bu innovating?

          I mean specifically companies who file patents (or just 'acquire' them) with less than zero intention of themselves turning the 'idea' into a marketable product, and less than zero intention of licensing said 'ideas' to companies who would LOVE to turn them into products.

          Every third day there's Yet Another LawSuit filed by "Jim Bobs Tech Patent Company" which has ZERO business (let alone INCOME) other than lawsuits they've filed "protecting" their patents.

          Is THIS the state of affairs your previous "patent system" is supposed to encourage?
        • by bluprint (557000) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:25AM (#8405817) Homepage
          only there were some way to help try to ensure that I could recover the money I spend developing it

          There is a way, it's called a "trade secret", just don't tell anyone else how you did it. And, if you have to tell other people, protect your idea through contractual agreements.

          There is no reason in the world why people should have to pay (via taxes) to replace you having to go to the trouble of protecting your own ideas.
          • by Ironica (124657)
            There is a way, it's called a "trade secret", just don't tell anyone else how you did it.

            This is often impossible. There are some methods you can keep secret, but for a large proportion of inventions, all someone needs is a fully-assembled product and they can find out how you did it. How would you keep, say, a lightbulb a trade secret? What about an engine? A new spill-proof mug that attacks people when they try to clean it*?

            For a lot of items, the only way to keep it secret is to not ever market it
            • by Arker (91948) on Friday February 27, 2004 @06:14AM (#8406509) Homepage

              In the case of the lightbulb, for instance, being the inventor is naturally a substantial advantage, without having monopoly rents enforced via a patent system. You can keep the thing secret until you tool up, ramp production, and start selling the things. Yes, someone would reverse-engineer it at that point, and start competing - that's a good thing. That keeps you from charging too much for too long. You still get a substantial head start, and being the ones that invented the thing is great for reputation, brand-recognition, etc. And yes, if you make a crappy product and charge too much for it you'll still be competed out of the market eventually - that's how the market is supposed to work.

              What the patent system does here is, rather than leaving good enough alone with those natural advantages, instead you have a situation where you can legally forbid competition. You can charge outrageous prices, cut corners in manufacturing and deliver a subpar product for decades, and get away with it, because no one is allowed to compete without your permission. This is a bad thing, not a good thing. The argument that patents encourage R&D spending has some truth to it, but that one advantage can hardly make up for the damage done when you create monopolies with immunity to competition.

        • by EzInKy (115248)
          You know what would be a great idea? X. Too bad it would cost a bunch of money to develop X into something usefull...if only there were some way to help try to ensure that I could recover the money I spend developing it...

          There is...just make sure it is the best X in the marketplace. That shouldn't be too hard, since you were the one to develop and implement your idea.
        • by 0x0d0a (568518) on Friday February 27, 2004 @03:24AM (#8406018) Journal
          You know what would be a great idea? X. Too bad it would cost a bunch of money to develop X into something usefull...if only there were some way to help try to ensure that I could recover the money I spend developing it...

          There are a couple of problems with this logic. First, you're worried that someone will rip off your idea. Patents were designed in a day and age when the things being patented were *simple*. An industrial process, or a simple machine. The thing is, it's *really hard* to just duplicate the functionality of a worthwhile piece of software. If you can't just take the software (and copyright takes care of that), it's generally not going to be cheap or quick for you to reimplement the idea...and in that time, the original person has moved beyond where he was. Software needs patents much less than old processes once did.

          Second, you're giving an example of an exceptional idea, something really amazing. The problem is that software development is so complex compared to earlier systems that you could find something to patent in almost every new system made. This is, frankly, not how the patent system is intended to operate at all.

          Third, you talk about "expense" of developing the new idea. It really *was* expensive to develop some older things -- if you want to build a new machine and figure out how to make it work well, it could take many years and lots of expensive and painstaking ironwork -- and the simple result could be copied. However, software is (comparably ) incredibly cheap to work with. You think, write a hundred lines of code, and you have an implementation to test out and work with. You don't write up a blueprint and then have an implementation to test two months later.

          Fourth, older devices were much more static. A plow is a plow is a plow. Maybe someone comes up with a way to hollow out part of the thing and make it lighter...then no improvements for a while. In the software field, there are constantly surging improvements. The whole goal of an engineer is to improve on existing systems...rather unlike the masses of plow companies, that might just produce different plows of roughly the same design. Patents are *much* more onerous in software.

          I worked in a research lab for a while, and I think that I can safely claim that software patents are minimally useful to society. It's fairly rare that a really good, reasonable, legitimate software patent exists -- the type of research encouraged by software patents is of the "lock people out" variety, rather than the "make something better" variety. I do not think that research would be signifiantly impacted by a lack of software patents, and I *do* think that software engineering would be much easier.
      • by scooby111 (714417) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:50AM (#8405662)
        I don't think that the problem lies in the patent or the copyright itself. The problem lies in the process.

        The US patent office simply provides a patent for nearly all applications. If you can afford the fee, you can get a patent. You are responsible to enforece your own patent. Thus other patent holders are also responsible to prove that there was prior art that nullifies your patent. The US patent office should simply deny all patents of ideas and processes. An applicant should be required to show a working product or design that can at least be modeled. Ideas and processes are simply to brad to enforce.
    • The problem is that company's used to use their lawyers to sue when they had been wronged or to defend themselves. Now many large companies see their armies of lawyers as a potential source of revenue. If they hire a bunch of lawyers who sue the crap out of everyone and the lawyers make more then they spend they jsut become another department of the company maknig money. The difference is that they provide no goods or services and are really similar to theives in my opinion.
    • by DigiShaman (671371)
      The economy sucks right now. Just look around you. Lack of jobs, piss-poor wages, no innovation for new products, terrorism by Islamic fanatics...umm did I miss any?

      Anyways, the next method of revenue is JACKPOT JUSTICE. Basically, the waters are getting bare and the sharks are hungry. So expect the feeding frenzy among corps to get more intense with the litigation wars.

  • by opusman (33143) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:11AM (#8405441) Homepage
    Filing patent infringement lawsuits is hard work.

    Someone needs to come up with a "One Click(tm) Patent Infringement Lawsuit" system. And then patent it...

  • by Infonaut (96956) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:12AM (#8405444) Homepage Journal
    Without 'em, after the SCO mess gets cleared up, we'd have no reason to visit Groklaw!

  • Come On (Score:5, Insightful)

    by use_compress (627082) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:17AM (#8405478) Journal
    5,715,314 is ultra-general. One could use this patent to sue every site on the 'net that uses secure E-commerce. I suspect the judge will bend over backwards for Amazon. If Amazon looses, it will be one of the most destructive legal precedents in US history.
  • by MacGabhain (198888) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:18AM (#8405482)
    I'm rooting FOR Amazon in a patent case? Ow ow ow ow ow. It hurts!
  • by teledyne (325332) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:18AM (#8405489)
    I have no idea why everyone complains about patenting their products, as its the same thing as our right to free speech.

    Free speech was meant to protect unfavorable or unpopular speech, such as telling Bush to go sit and spin on a nuclear warhead. The first amendment prevents the government from hacking off my head for showing disapproval for the dimwitted President.

    This is exactly the same for patents. It protects smaller businesses from having their ideas stolen by huge corporations.

    Of course, free speech and patents are applicable to everyone. If the government were to abolish the patent system, it would be just as bad as abolishing free speech. Without small businesses, the world's economy will always be controlled by huge corporations who have no respect for the little person, like you and I. Of course, at this current time the world is pretty much run by huge corporations who lobby with millions of dollars to politicians, but soon in the future, laws will be passed, and that problem will be gone.
    • by protohiro1 (590732) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:31AM (#8405561) Homepage Journal

      "but soon in the future, laws will be passed, and that problem will be gone"

      Fantastic! And we can celibrate this new era of equality in our flying cars.

    • by G-funk (22712) <josh@gfunk007.com> on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:39AM (#8405607) Homepage Journal
      Of course, at this current time the world is pretty much run by huge corporations who lobby with millions of dollars to politicians, but soon in the future, laws will be passed, and that problem will be gone.

      Unfortunately, this part is pure fantasy. If you want to get in power, you need money. To get money, you need to promise favours/sell out to the people with money. With shitloads of money, enough to spare some on politicians. Thus effectively, the people with shitloads of money are the ones who make policy. The interests of people with [shitloads of money|power] and those of the common man will never coincide. The only way to keep shitloads of money/power and have it mean something, is to make sure the average man has a lot less than you.

      Of course thes problems all go away if the people revolt and make sure that the ones who want power never have it.

      </rant>
    • by LightningBolt! (664763) <lightningboltlig ... om ['aho' in gap> on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:47AM (#8405652) Homepage
      See this little bit of history of patents. [thomsonderwent.com]

      Regarding the first patent ever granted anywhere, "In return for his monopoly, John of Utynam was required to teach his process to native Englishmen."

      Later, when the U.S. came up with its patent laws, it went like this: "The Congress shall have power . . . to promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writing and discoveries."

      Nothing really about protecting small businesses. It has always been about sharing knowledge with the public in exchange for a limited-term monopoly. In practice, this rarely has the effect of protecting small businesses, most of which make their money off of actually doing stuff, not litigating.

      Personally, I think patents are a bad idea in the general sense. Ideas are worthless in real business, it's always the implementation that counts.

      However, in the present reality, patents aren't going away any time soon. It seems to me that if one must extend the patent concept to software, the only real way to get the public benefit demanded by the patent system is to require working source code to be published with the patent.

    • Umm Darl is that you? because the twisted non-sequitur logic sounds very familar.

      Patents take time and money to obtain. Large corporation acquire them by the gross where as patents are often outside the realm of an individuals or small companies.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      That's what COPYRIGHTS are for.

      Software is speech, and speech cannot be patented.

      You are spinning a circular argument. When you accept software as expression, you are excluding it being an invention.

      Hardware patents are just fine by me. If you want to invent a better mousetrap, go ahead and patent it - thats why we have a patent office.

      But if you patent a "mouse trapping system", with nothing more than a vague description, expect both the scorn and ridicule, as well as the eventual first place against
    • Patents are not "the same thing" as free speech rights. Since patents are used to restrict what you and I can do, they are more akin to certain prohibitions of free speech, such as obscenity laws or the proverbial shouting "fire" in a crowded theater.

      Huge corporations such as IBM and Microsoft hold thousands of patents. The costs of searching, writing, and filing patents are non-trivial, so patents are not really available to everyone. I think it is fair to say that, in today's world, patents protect hu
    • It protects smaller businesses from having their ideas stolen by huge corporations.

      On the contrary, huge corporations accumulate piles of patents and conspire to cross-license them to each other for cheap or for free. This protects the large corporations from new innovative competitors by locking smaller businesses out of their markets.

    • by Flyboy Connor (741764) on Friday February 27, 2004 @05:39AM (#8406434)
      Free speech (openness) and patents (restrictiveness) really have nothing in common, but I guess you know that and you are just trolling a bit.

      That is not to say that patents are, in themselves, bad things. It is for what they are granted that is the problem.

      If someone creates a totally new end-product, with a working prototype, and wants to find capital to produce and sell it, I'd say awarding this person a patent is the right thing to do.

      If someone knows of a problem and thinks that you could possibly solve this with a computer, and then applies for a patent for "a method to solve this problem with a computer" without actually implementing this method, I'd say this person is just hoping someone will solve this problem eventually, and when it is with a computer, his cash register will start ringing. That patent application should be rejected. Unfortunately, nowadays patents like these are granted.

      What is possibly even worse is that patents are granted not only for (ideas for) end-products, but also for (ideas for) obvious small steps that are part of many solutions. This is especially a problem in writing software, since writing software consists of stringing along thousands and thousands of small steps to form a new application. In the current environment, each of these steps may or may not be patented, and there is no way to find out if they are before the release of the software. And afterwards, you only find out if you are summoned to court (and even then it is not certain, unless you cannot afford such a good team of lawyers as - to coin a name - Microsoft can).

      What's the solution? I think there is only one: abolishing all patents which are not granted for working protoypes of end-products. Personally, I think such an end-product can just as well be a software product as a more tangible product. But not an idea, or a process, or an algorithm.

  • by nmoog (701216) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:18AM (#8405490) Homepage Journal
    They basically announced that they now own the Internet market

    Couple this patent with the Eolas [slashdot.org] patent and you pretty much own the whole shebang.
  • by Sean Clifford (322444) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:18AM (#8405491) Journal
    IANAL, but is it really this easy?

    [click to type company name] hereby sues [click to type deep pockets] for patent infringement for [click to enter $amount].

    CTRL P

    Choose Fax Printer.

    [click to choose Clerk of Court]

    Roll three dice. If you roll a 4 or less, even the most ridiculous case wins.

  • It's Official (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MooseByte (751829) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:20AM (#8405497)

    It's official - software development is now a relic of the Old Economy where companies actually create products. So passe'. The New Economy is all about data mining for litigation.

    And then while we're too busy in the courtrooms to notice, and our production skills so atrophied from lack of use, the aliens will land and take over.

    "It's a cookbook!!!"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:21AM (#8405504)
    Come on.. Amazon's patent of cookies (which they didn't invent) and web browsing (which they didn't invent) and the Internet (which Al Gore invented) aka One Click Shopping, makes them a deserving target for another stupid USPTO case.

    Can somebody tell me which government agency is actually run by sane, competent people?
    • by Sean Clifford (322444) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:47AM (#8405651) Journal
      Can somebody tell me which government agency is actually run by sane, competent people?

      Pffft! That's easy!

      The Department of Education.

      Oh, wait. [cnn.com]

      Nevermind.

    • by ottffssent (18387) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:16AM (#8405780)
      > Can somebody tell me which government agency is actually run by sane, competent people?

      Yup. The Supreme Court. That is one group of people deserving of an enormous amount of respect. Both the majority opinions and the dissents are well-reasoned and well-argued. The Court chooses its own schedule and cases and is consistently willing to put in the time and effort to give each one the attention it deserves. While I don't agree with everything the Court produces, those are people who really think before they talk. That's very refreshing, and it's comforting to know they're there to calm the Legislative's and the Executive's volatility.
  • HA! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GoMMiX (748510) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:25AM (#8405524)
    It's about time. I'm sure this is redundant by the time I make this post - but my God, Amazon deserves this. They've been patenting (as you all know) EVERYTHING they could POSSIBLY come up with. Sure sucks when you get kicked in the arse with your own boot, eh! Seriously, though - Amazon gets a patent for 1-click purchases - that's a dumb as the Aussie who re-patented the wheel. BTW, if this post is modded troll - I blame it on the beer. Which BTW is Bud Light - gotta support BudNet!
    • Re:HA! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Crypto Gnome (651401) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:08AM (#8405745) Homepage Journal
      that's a dumb as the Aussie who re-patented the wheel

      As an Aussie I would like to point out that said patent was filed with the specific intention of how mindless and overly general patents will be approved even though there's a bazillion trillion reasons why they should be thrown out with much hilarity.
  • by Monty845 (739787) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:26AM (#8405528)
    I don't know much about the patent laws but it seems to me that companies that use concepts that someone patented, and who implemented them with no knowledge of the patent shouldn't be able to be sued. I shouldn't be expected to research to determine if the solution I came up with on my own is patented. The burden of proof should require that the infringment was wilful. As a pratical matter someone who didn't wilfully infringe in the first place would have to be able to coninue using what ever was patented... Maybe I just don't see the big picture...
    • >>"I don't know much about the patent laws but it seems to me that companies that use concepts that someone patented, and who implemented them with no knowledge of the patent shouldn't be able to be sued."

      Well...if I take my maching gun and fire it blindly about the neighborhood one night, should I not be responsible for harm if I didn't willfully intend to kill a particular person? Of course not. Not quite the same thing, true, and I have to agree with you that litigation as a whole is getting out
      • I've written quite a bit of code that was patent infringing. Often I didn't realize it was so until much later (backing store, for example), but I've generally decided that I don't care anymore.

        In most cases the infringing code was something I invented on the fly and coded in a short period of time. Thus obvious and simple solutions to common problems.

        There are THOUSANDS of software patents filed DAILY, and it's truly not possible to do patent searches every time I write another 100 lines of code. The onl
  • by Greenisus (262784) <[michael] [at] [mayotech.com]> on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:27AM (#8405537) Homepage
    1. A network-based sales system, comprising:
    at least one buyer computer for operation by a user desiring to buy a product;
    at least one merchant computer; and at least one payment computer;


    How could they possibly know that Amazon has exactly this setup?

    2. A network-based sales system in accordance with claim 1, wherein said payment message and said access message each comprises a universal resource locator.

    This sounds exactly like one-click [gnu.org] to me.

    Amazon's one-click patent was filed September 12, 1997; whereas this was filed October 24, 1994. How could the one-click patent be filed if it was alreay there? ...and don't say "you must be new here" :)

    4. A network-based sales system in accordance with claim 1, wherein said access message comprises a buyer network address.
    5. A network-based sales system in accordance with claim 4, wherein:
    said product can be transmitted from one computer to another; and
    said merchant computer causes said product to be sent to said user by transmitting said product to said buyer network address only.


    What?!? Said product is transferred to the buyer network address only? I never shipped any of those books I bought from Amazon to an IP address!

    15. A network-based sales system in accordance with claim 14, wherein:
    said payment message comprises a payment amount; and
    said payment computer is programmed to ensure that said user account has sufficient funds or credit to cover said payment amount.


    Surely this already existed. I doubt every time someone swiped an American Express card before October 24, 1994, a human being was called to look up an account balance in a paper ledger.

    39. A method of operating a shopping cart computer in a computer network comprising at least one buyer computer for operation by a user desiring to buy products, at least one shopping cart computer, and a shopping cart database connected to said shopping cart computer

    Funny, I figured you just needed a program [sourceforge.net] to do a shopping cart, instead of a whole computer! Here we have a buyer computer, merchant computer, payment computer, and a shopping cart computer. Wow.

    I'd look at the other patents, but I'm getting dizzy....
  • Hiding in my bunker (Score:5, Interesting)

    by teetam (584150) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:44AM (#8405639) Homepage
    I am going to be hiding in some bunker in a fetal position (unless that is patented too) because very soon, individuals like us won't be able to do anything without law enforcement arresting us. FBI (and RIAA) monitors my internet activity waiting to catch an illegal thought (or illegal byte). Corporate lawyers are watching everything every small biz does, to see if we violated any patents or copyrights, so that they can sue our savings out of us. Where is the freedom that we constantly preach to others?
    • (What follows is offtopic, redundant, trollish flambait. Mod away.)

      'Ignorance of the law is no excuse.' I had that quoted at me by a judge long ago (I was 18, and had a *lot* of speeding tickets).

      Is there anyone out there who could rattle off every law we have on the books?

      I am often fond of saying, "You break the law as soon as you wake up in the morning." I can't think of *anyone* I have *ever* known in my entire life that hasn't broken a law at least once a day. (Those who are in comas need not apply)

      Take your car. You have a air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror? That's reason enough for a cop to pull you over - obstructing your view. Driving to work? Did you signal every turn? Did you look both ways? Is your gas door open? (I got pulled over for this.)

      Your computer. How many have at least one mp3 or software program you 'shouldn't' have? Copyright infringement. Coding software? You've probably run into a software patent and don't even know it. Bought cigs for your kid brother? Spank your child in public? Pee on the side of the road? Stole a pencil from work? Ate a piece of candy from the bin at the grocery store? Have a garage sale without a permit? Give false information on your taxes? Walk across the middle of a street? Litter? Give someone the finger?

      Granted, lots of this stuff is just rude behavior, and some of it isn't illegal where you may live, but who can possibly know all the laws on the books at any one time? God forbid you travel to another state and have to do two weeks of research in order to make it to the other side.

      People will decide that they have no choice. Ignore it. Why bother? Everything you do is illegal, and moreso every day. Corporations ignore the law, and when caught, ignore the punishment. Politicans are making more laws all the time, yet are largely above the law.

      I'd love to say that freedom for the US will be decided this November 2nd, but I know better, and I wish more people did too.

  • by superpulpsicle (533373) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:48AM (#8405657)
    Is it me or is the demand for lawyer increasing forever. Everyone sues every company, and vice versa.

    At this rate, some day someone will make up some legit reason to sue the entire Internet altogether.
  • by Ray Ling (752737) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:57AM (#8405698)
    Are all of you forgetting that only a few years ago, some laywers were actually thinking of applying for patents on specific stylized basketball moves, so players could "protect" their "style"? And famous boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer(sic) has the phrase "Let's Get Ready to Rumble!" trademarked. If you tried to use that phrase as an announcer on a sports show, he could sue you for trademark infringement. -rl
    • by Crypto Gnome (651401) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:12AM (#8405760) Homepage Journal
      TradeMark is actually quite sane and legitimate (in this specific example). This was his catchphrase, so naturally HE should be the one to use it. Just as if it were a logo or a product name, in market-speak it identifies his "brand".

      Why you think this has anything to do with braindead overly broad patents is beyond me.
      • by Wordsmith (183749) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:57AM (#8405941) Homepage
        It's not sane at all that any one person should be able to take monopoly rights over a simple phrase just because it's brought him some notoriety. If it's his reading of the phrase that's so special, he doesn't need to worry about whether anyone else will use it. It not, then what's so unique and special about the phrase that it deserves such protection?

  • by bgeer (543504) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:00AM (#8405721)
    It could have sample screenshots ripped off of a competing product [uspto.gov] filed in the patent application.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    when will the govertment shut the patent office down and sue all their employees for idiocy. And at the same time give up the "patent" software and non-technical things?!
    ------
    While at the same time its good, because in USA anything can happen, and USA is getting weaker so they have less and less rotten influence of the wolrd, and being ridiculed by cuba and other minor nations. So maybe its good you fight over shit...
  • by Facekhan (445017) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:16AM (#8405777)
    Every other form of invention or creative work is protected by either copyright or Patent. Not both. Software should only be copyrightable not patentable because it is an expression of an idea. This allows other entities to emulate, imitate, and make competing versions of the idea. Patents protect an idea or invention. Copyrights protect a particular expression of an idea. Copyright terms need to be shortened for certain but software patents are extremely disruptive because they do not require that the actual code even be written. In addition patents are far more expensive to obtain than copyrights and they benefit mainly those with big pockets and those who think they are gonna use the patents to sue big pockets.

    The other big problem with software patents is that the Patent office is totally out of touch and is essentially selling patents, not reviewing them.

    Business models and methods should also not be patentable
  • by jobbleberry (608883) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:18AM (#8405791)
    Is it just me or are companies starting to use Law Suits as a business model.

    For example the Music Industry has got it down to a fine art. Find a consumer, sue them for millions, they can't afford legal costs so they settle for around 3 - 5 grand, move onto the next.

    They could potentially make more money this way out of indiduals then by having them buy CD's.

    Just my thoughts anyway.
  • by Crypto Gnome (651401) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:20AM (#8405799) Homepage Journal
    Clearly the USPTO cares little to not-at-all as to the actual content of a patent request, as long as what it describes hasn't been patented already.

    They're quite happy to rubber-stamp "First Post" on almost any document no matter how trivial, irrelevant, or land-grabbing the actual verbiage and let the courts fight it out amongst themselves.

    I guess someone way-back decided that Lawyers in the US didn't have enough work to justify their existence (not to mention their hourly rates)

    These days there's a virtual plague of lawyers, we'd be feeding them RAT POISON if someone hadn't made it illegal already.
  • Inspired! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Abraxis (180472) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:27AM (#8405826)

    Wow, I'm inspired. What better way to make a living than to let somebody make a fortune through doing business, and then extract that fortune from them by using lawyers and a piece of paper that says "I thought of it first" that they hand out at the patent office like candy.

    I'm going to run to the patent office tomorrow with my new patent idea:
    A method of extracting capital from another party by patenting a method that the aforementioned other party has already successfully used to earn revenue.

    No, wait... I think that's a little too specific for the patent office. Patent plan B:
    A method by which a party, called the 'seller' receives monetary compensation in exchange for providing goods and/or services to a second party, called the 'buyer'.

    I'm rich!
  • by aauu (46157) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:28AM (#8405833) Homepage
    Replace all your hordes of workers with a handful of lawyers. Pay them % of the profits. Sue anyone listed in the phone book. (pat pend.)
  • by teamhasnoi (554944) <teamhasnoi&yahoo,com> on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:38AM (#8405868) Homepage Journal
    I'm going to patent Apathy! That way, when people complain about how nothing is being done, I can sue them for not doing anything themselves, like writing their congresswhores, or donating money to the EFF, or boycotting companies that use patent litigation as a business model.


    Now if I could only...get out of this....chair......ah, fuckit.


    Wow! I'm making money already!

  • by bersl2 (689221) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:54AM (#8405924) Journal
    outsource
  • by Karl-Friedrich Lenz (755101) on Friday February 27, 2004 @03:12AM (#8405978) Homepage
    One way to fix this is to get rid of software patents altogether, as the European Parliament vote in September 2003 tried to do.

    But as long as American lawmakers don't understand the damage done by software patents, one other possible workaround would be to build a Software Patent Defense Organization (SPDO) after the model of NATO. I described that briefly in a book on software patents [lenz.name] I published in 2002 (in German).

    The basic idea would be to copy Article 5 of the NATO Treaty. Members of the SPDO would treat any software patent based attacks on any member as an attack on themselves and promise to retaliate with all means at their disposal.

    That might be a deterrent even for those obnoxious outfits that have no business themselves except that of suing from overbroad patents, so they can't be impressed by any counterclaims based on defensive patents. They would still need to assess the threat of having to fight every member of the SPDO at the same time.

    The IBM and Apache open source software licenses cancelling all rights in retaliation to a software patents based attack are one step in this direction. But stronger measures might be necessary to keep the system from collapsing.

    Basically it's just like spam. With the amount of damage by spam rising exponentially, people get annoyed and angry, and start to ask for strong countermeasures. With the amount of damage by software patent lawsuits rising, the same will be true here.

    If even Amazon gets sued, now might be the point to start considering building a collective retaliation option.
  • by serutan (259622) <snoopdougNO@SPAMgeekazon.com> on Friday February 27, 2004 @03:55AM (#8406126) Homepage
    This sort of booby-trap business model wouldn't happen if patent holders were required to take anti-infringement action within a limited time. If alleged infringement goes on in plain view for say, 2 years without any claim against it, then there should be no infringement claim. If Sovrain tried to victimize my company in this way, I would seriously look for a way to prosecute them as terrorists.
  • Another one? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Raynach (713366) on Friday February 27, 2004 @04:08AM (#8406178) Homepage
    Didn't Amazon already have a copyright/trademark lawsuit on its hands from this bookstore [amazonfembks.com]?

    I wonder how that case has been turning out....

  • by i)ave (716746) on Friday February 27, 2004 @05:15AM (#8406368)
    There is no need for patents on software, we already have copyright laws which should be used rather than the extreme overkill of "software patents". Look, there is no risk to companies who innovate in software... noone's shelling out a Billion $ to develop 1-click shopping, thus no need for them to have a monopoly on something as asinine as 1-click shopping for 20 years. In hardware, a company might spend a billion$ trying to develop a product before it can ever come to market -- that's a detrimental impact on that company's bottom line, and they should have a 20 year monopoly. If a company could not receive that monopoly, in most cases, they would not have a necessary incentive to spend a billion$ on R&D and the product would never come into existence. Contrast that with software innovation... Does anyone REALLY BELIEVE that without software/internet patents there was no hope that the world would ever be blessed with 1-click shopping? Does anyone really care about 1-click shopping? Of course this little company would still have developed 1-click shopping, because it didn't cost them anything extra to develop and it pays instant rewards in increased sales. Do you think for a second that we wouldn't have browser plug-ins without patents? Do you think for a second that we wouldn't have turbotax, halo, amazon, ebay, slashdot without patents? Of course we would! The question is what do we NOT have because of software patents. What companies are being shut-down, stifled, put out of business -- what REAL innovations are being stamped out because they might "infringe" on something as asinine as 1-click-shopping? Everyone agrees that without industrial patents, we wouldn't have 1/10th the innovation in aerospace, electronics, mining, or environmental science... but without software/internet patents we'd have more innovation that we do currently. Whose really benefitting from all these software patents? A: The Gov't and the Lawyers... that's it, it ain't us folks, so don't let anyone feed you a line about how these software patents are designed to "bring innovation to the consumer market"... that's a crock. The reality is we'd have all the same software innovations we have today (most likely more), but due to an increase in competition, the software might be a little less buggy and would probably be a lot cheaper, too.

  • by Gilesx (525831) * <gil AT foresightlinux DOT com> on Friday February 27, 2004 @06:55AM (#8406609) Homepage
    Why is is that companies can be sued over the most minute parts of technology (I'm just waiting for Microsoft to take someone to the cleaners over Wizard patent infringment), yet gaming companies can virtually rip off complete ideas and nobody bats an eyelid?

    Consider these, uhh... "coincidences":

    Alone in the Dark --> Resident Evil
    GTA 3 --> Simpsons Hit & Run
    Crazy Taxi --> Super Taxi Driver
    Thief --> Just about every stealth first person game since then

    In my opinion, the gameplay advances that were *unique* to the original games, and then turn up in games a couple of months later, should be questioned. Maybe if more games companies took the time to think up original concepts, rather than blatantly ripping off the innovations of other games, we'd see a healthier, and more enjoyable games industry.
  • Meanwhile... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ThisIsFred (705426) on Friday February 27, 2004 @07:23AM (#8406659) Journal
    ... Real innovators continue to design truly valuable new ideas, but are largely ignored.
  • by jc42 (318812) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:28AM (#8407471) Homepage Journal
    In the news.com.com article, there's an elegant statement of the real problem with such patents:

    "The Patent Office, being not a technical organization, ..."

    The USPTO (and probably similar agencies in other countries) has admitted that they have a very real problem in dealing with software patents. This was a rather new thing to them, and they have never been able to hire more than a few people with the right technical expertise. So they have basically taken the approach of "Approve everything and let the courts decide."

    They know this is a disaster, but there's not a damned thing they can do about it. There aren't enough people with the right expertise, and even if there were, the USPTO doesn't have money to hire them. Their funding is controlled by Congress, and their hiring pool is controlled by The Market. So this will continue until Congress changes the rules or gives them the billions of $$ that the job requires. Or until millions of computer geeks decide to get a second degree in patent law and donate their time to the cause.

    Until one of those things happen, we will continue to draw closer to the future that Bruce Parens described: It will become illegal to write software unless you're working for a giant corporation, because everything you write will be challenged in court as a patent violation.

    Of course, we do have a similar problem with copyright. Ever since the laws were changed so that everything is copyrighted by default, it has slowly become more difficult to not infringe. Any sentence we write (including this one) has a growing chance of having been written before, and is thus violating the copyright of the previous author.

    In the case of copyright, there is one way out, which is to make your sentences so long and complex that the chance of them duplicating what someone wrote earlier becomes increasingly minuscule, and you can be reasonably certain that a search via google (or any other search engines that may be developed in the future) won't find a good match, or at least a match that duplicates all the disparate ideas that you have managed to shoehorn into your convoluted, rambling sentence sufficiently well to violate any copyright that may be claimed on sentences that express only a few of the many concepts that you have managed to incorporate into your ....

    (Hmmm ... Maybe the same idea would work with patents? ;-)

  • by mrm677 (456727) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:28AM (#8407472)
    I've taken a few MBA courses as part of my Ph.D. minor requirement. What floored me is how business students and professors treat patents. "Getting a patent" is part of nearly every business plan involving technology...I've asked "what if there isn't anything novel to patent". They treat me as stupid by responding that there is always something to patent...ALWAYS!

    And then we went over a case study about a recent technology company that failed. They attributed their failure due to a lack of patent protection. However knowing a bit about the technology and company, it was obvious that this company wasn't doing anything novel...just trying to do it better and cheaper.

  • by frinkster (149158) on Friday February 27, 2004 @12:37PM (#8408834)
    It wasn't their idea to start issuing these patents. They do it because they have to. Court decisions and new laws are forcing them to. To make matters worse, about half of all their revenue is siphoned off to other agencies, leaving them without the necessary resources to properly research patent applications.

    The Patent Office knows that this is a problem, and they're trying to find a way to fix it. Unfortunately, Congress doesn't seem to want to help.

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