Slashdot stories can be listened to in audio form via an RSS feed, as read by our own robotic overlord.

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Patents The Internet Your Rights Online Technology

EFF, PubPat Each Seeking Some Patent Sanity 201

Posted by timothy
from the needs-more-shooters dept.
AbstracTus writes "According to Wired, The Electronic Frontier Foundation is trying to get the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to re-examine 10 patents that were selected from public submissions. We slashdotters often curse patents that should have been rejected, but are not. Do you think that the EFF can have any influence on the U.S. Patent Office? Are there other actions that are more likely to work?" And sharkb8 writes "The Public Patent Foundation is searching for people with experience in all technical fields to help examine patents. This is the perfect chance for attorneys, law students, and geeks in general to do some pro bono work. PubPat is the group that recently challenged one of Microsoft's FAT patents."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

EFF, PubPat Each Seeking Some Patent Sanity

Comments Filter:
  • by amliebsch (724858) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @08:56AM (#9570416) Journal
    Do you think that the EFF can have any influence on the U.S. Patent Office?

    The best way to influence the PTO is probably through Congress.

    • by mirko (198274)
      Exactly : the EFF can only be heard as a benevolent counseilor, not as something more legitimate... at this moment...
      • by aka-ed (459608) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `cilbup.tbor'> on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @10:27AM (#9571299) Homepage Journal
        I think it would be helpful to think of this as a media campaign, as much as it is a legal action. The biggest difficulty in creating a change is public awareness. What EFF is starting certainly has great legal merits, but if you consider it a media event, it is one that offers newswriters some great hooks. For instance - open a TV news piece from a rock club where a band is offering pressed CDs of the just-finished show...the quote Clear Channel's CEO:

        "We want the practice of live recordings being made available immediately after concerts to be in widespread use and welcome all legitimate and serious conversations with those interested in licensing our patent," Becker said in his statement. "But we will not conduct licensing conversations in public or via the media. Nor will we put artists in the middle of those business negotiations -- or try to hide behind them as we negotiate."

        Broadcasters already love attacking Clear Channel's arrogance...here, Becker is acting like the patent issue is not a matter of public concern, but their private business. And if anybody wants to record and sell their own live concert -- well, they have to talk to CC. Incredible gall, very newsworthy, and I'm sure there's another news story in each of the ten.

        Any good newswriter will be able to make lots of hay with this. Given the "Powers That Be," public awareness is needed more than anything else.

    • by Tuffsnake (767507) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:03AM (#9570491)
      And the best way to influence congress is through "donations"
      • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:34AM (#9570768) Homepage Journal
        Showing up to vote, especially in an organized fashion, can be more effective than campaign contributions.

        Candidates want money so they can spend it on TV ads which they hope will create votes. Given a hypothetical choice, politicians would rather have votes than money.

        Look at the most effective pressure groups in this country. What they have in common is large memberships full of people who log off from their computer and vote.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:12AM (#9570582)
      The best way to influence the PTO is probably through Congress.

      Most congress-critters are lawyers, have
      friends who are lawyers, and/or are indebted
      to lawyers.

      Who profits the most from silly patents?
      Lawyers.

      What makes you think they are ever going to
      do anything to change that situation?
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @11:02AM (#9571694)
        Actually the PTO profits from granting patents through issue and maintencance fees. Look at it this way (assuming large entity fees for argument's sake):

        $770 to file the patent (assuming it comes in under the 20/4 total/indpendent claims allowed) + fee X + fee Y during prosecution. Application is allowed. Now pay issue fee + maintenance fee 1 + maintenance fee 2, etc.

        Second scenario:

        $770 to file the patent + fee X + fee Y during prosecution. Application is rejected. No issue fee. No maintenance fee.

        See the problem? No real monetary incentive to reject a patent. The PTO isn't harmed by patent litigation, so let the holder/infringers battle it out in court. No skin off the PTO's back.

    • The golden rule (Score:5, Insightful)

      by arth1 (260657) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:20AM (#9570635) Homepage Journal
      The best way to influence the PTO is probably through Congress.


      Pro is to Con like Progress is to Congress.
      Unless you're a CEO of a large corporation or otherwise are a Man Of Means, there's no chance in hell to influence congress. And not only do you have to influence congress, but you have to influence a majority, and influence it *more* than your opponents. Which are the big companies holding the patents.
      Yes, we have the best government money can buy.

      Regards,
      --
      *Art
    • Or more accurately, follow the money trail. How does the patent office make money? Mostly in application fees. More applications = more money, so they have little incentive to put a stop to filings other than the most ridiculous ones. If the process were reformed to where the application fees for overturned patents were taken from the patent office and applied to the defendant's legal bills, they would have more incentive to keep frivolous patents from being approved. At the very least, it would keep these
    • The best way to influence the PTO is probably through Congress.

      The only leverage I, as a citizen, have over Congress is my ability to (a) vote against my incumbent Congressman, or (b) send him a letter in which I threaten to vote for another candidate if he doesn't change his ways. Neither is particularly effective when all the serious candidates have identical positions on an issue: say, for instance, the question of how software patents should be handled...

      Daniel
  • Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BigDork1001 (683341) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @08:57AM (#9570433) Homepage
    It's good to know that there are people out there trying to do away with some of the really stupid patents. But what really needs to be done is there needs to be change at the patent office. If these stupid patents aren't allowed to be created in the first place then groups like the EFF wouldn't have to fight to get them overturned later.

    • by Morgaine (4316) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:49AM (#9570933)
      If these stupid patents aren't allowed to be created in the first place then groups like the EFF wouldn't have to fight to get them overturned later.

      It's not just stupid patents that are bad though. Patent squatting (just sitting on patents) should be 100% illegal, as it just impedes the use of certain ideas by making them more costly than others.

      Patents were intended as a means of helping inventors get novel products to market by creating a brief and artificial "honeymoon" period. Patent squatting is a complete corruption of that idea.

      If you are not bringing product to market, you have no moral right to sit on an idea in the hope that someone else will do the hard work of developing a raw concept into a working reality. Companies with teams of lawyers that merely patent squat and actually create nothing are simply scum.

      Patents should expire by default within 3 years unless you confirm in writing to the patent office that you are actively working on something that uses the patented idea as a central component or feature. And *all* patents should expire within 10 years, regardless, because skewing the market this way should only be a temporary condition.

      Increasing the cost of ideas is not in the interest of humanity at all.
      • This is ridiculous. Many, many incredibly useful new processes and products have been created by research houses whose entire livelihood is based on discovering new ways of doing things and then licensing them to others in the industry. This practice allows companies that might not otherwise be able to have the latest manufacturing technique to benefit without having to dump millions into research.

        Not every inventor wants to be a marketer, too. Some want to sell their ideas and start work on the next th
        • many incredibly useful new processes and products have been created by research houses whose entire livelihood is based on discovering new ways of doing things

          I agree. But none of these research houses (that I know of) specialize in software. New software ideas have come from universities (like quicksort) or come about while developing a software system that can be sold for a profit. I can't think of any software idea that is so unique that it would not be thought of by thousands of other people who wer

        • Simple fix:

          Require a working example. Maybe not delivered to the patent office, but at the time of filing, it should be proven that your technique works, and that you've made it work.
          • People often say this ... what if I invent a spaceship propulsion system (eg the solar sail). How do I get it to the patent office. How does the examiner verify that it is a "working example"?

            How about a nano-machine, I can just see the examiner with a plastic baggie and a scanning electron microscope ... "it must be here somewhere ...".

            Or perhaps a deadly biological agent.

            Or a killer computer virus (where software patents are allowed).

            Or a brain implant.

            It'd make life interesting for patent examiners
            • People often say this ... what if I invent a spaceship propulsion system (eg the solar sail). How do I get it to the patent office. How does the examiner verify that it is a "working example"?

              Build the engine or a small-scale version and have the patent examiner measure the force it creates. Either conduct this test in a vacuum room or demonstrate from theoretical standpoint that the engine does not depend on pushing against air (or simply have it raise a hundred kilograms and demonstrate that there is n

          • Patents *DO* require a working example, with a very few exceptions. Unfortunately, patent clerks rarely have time to do much more than non destructive analysis of things...they sort of have to go on the words and drawings of the patenter for things like new propulsion systems, data structures, that kind of thing.

            But if you're patenting something like a user interface -- I can think of a few, such as the Fitaly [fitaly.com] keyboard -- they're going to need to see it. A patent is NOT on an idea. It's an actual produc
        • by cmacb (547347) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @12:42PM (#9572885) Homepage Journal
          I don't think most people are against ALL patents, but recent examples suggest that there are a lot of patents being granted that should not be. The thinking along these lines should follow these rules:

          (Rule 1) The purpose of patents is to encourage innovation.

          (Rule 2) There is no Rule 2.

          In other words, patents are not about maximizing or minimizing profits, helping inventors with their time management or life-style issues, solving social inequities, or any other subjective notion.

          Yesterday we had a story about a bank that patented it's furniture arrangement (I'm oversimplifying, but the point is valid), and every day or two we here about another patent issued for things that we all take for granted.

          At it's peek of usefullness the USPTO issued patents largely to manufacturing processes or for items that required a manufacturing process. It had nothing to do with inventors wanting or not wanting to be marketers. My experience is that most inventors LOVE being marketers. What they don't love is coming up with the funds to manufacture their inventions. They also don't like the risk of manufacturing 10,000 or something and then finding out that someone else can make the same thing for half the price. The patent process allows (or allowed, when it was being used properly) the inventor to separate the "cost" of coming up with the invention from the "cost" of producing, selling, marketing and a whole bunch of other risky activities. When most patents covered "things" this made a lot more sense. It makes much less sense when the "manufacturing" process consists of re-arranging furniture in a room, or typing 15 lines of code into an editor.

          To me, things that require little or nothing in the way of manufacturing costs deserve very special scrutiny from the USPTO. That doesn't mean you can't patent software, or a cartoon mouse for that matter, but in such cases I think there needs to be a stricter burden of proof on the part of the applicant. They need to prove that the idea is "significant", and of course that the idea was not already "in the wild" before they had it.

          One example that keeps showing up of course has to do with various techniques for selling things. A patent on clicking on an icon to buy something? Isn't that intuitively obvious once you accept the notion of clicking on things at all? Oh, but wait, you can't click on things without a mouse. Hmmm, there were pointing and clicking devices before the mouse however. The light pen depended on LEDs. So, should all e-bay sales generate a check for the inventor of the LED?

          Anyway, I think the recent examples we have seen of USPTO activity should make us worry that they are doing more to DISCOURAGE innovation than to encourage it. If you sit down to figure out a better way to code a common activity, sell something on the internet, or wipe your ass, there is a good chance that the USPTO has already issues a patent to cover it. If the world of ideas can be likened to an airplane, the USPTO has overbooked the airplane 10 times over. It is no longer the cost of manufacturing, or even marketeering that should discourage the new inventor, but rather the legal process involved in enforcing your claim. Because so many ideas these days don't involve a manufacturing step at all, and in fact the invention process may have teaken all of 15 seconds, one has to ask at some point, why is this dog chasing it's own tail?
        • This practice allows companies that might not otherwise be able to have the latest manufacturing technique to benefit without having to dump millions into research.

          That makes no sense: if those non-research companies would have had to dump millions into research to replicate the novel idea for themselves, then this implies that the research house that got the patent spent millions on the research too. If they spent millions (or a lot anyway), how come that now they're willing to let that investment go t
          • If they spent millions (or a lot anyway), how come that now they're willing to let that investment go to waste by leaving the patent dormant and the concept unimplemented? It would make no sense.

            Makes no sense? Maybe it doesn't. But let me put it to you this way: this year, the company I am working for proposes to make $400,000 off of software that I've written. This implies that I could go off on my own and write said software and the money would just fall into my lap. But the real story is that the
  • By technical experts prior to be granted!
    • by tanguyr (468371) <tanguyr+slashdot@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:00AM (#9570459) Homepage
      Nonsense, next you'll claim that slashdotters should read artcicles before posting comments on them.
    • In other news.. PUBPAT received 414,600 applications for technical experts. PUBPAT is now soliciting technical expert application reviewers (pro bono).
    • by Halo1 (136547) <jonas...maebe@@@elis...ugent...be> on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @10:04AM (#9571077) Homepage
      Requiring experts to judge applications cannot prevent trivial patents from being granted. The problem is with patent law itself. It states that inventions must "not be obvious to a person versed in the arts". If one takes those words literally, then this is a very low threshold: after all, the "person versed in the arts" does not mean anything -of course the reference point is not a layman-, and "obvious" also does really mean obvious!

      The following reasoning is also heard from time to time: if an invention is new (another requirement for patentability), this means it is consequently not "obvious", since otherwise it would have been invented already! Patent law is only a hair away from allowing one to say that it very clearly and literally allows trivial patents!

      As the Deputy Director of the UK Patent Office once said:

      I cannot speak for lawyers, but I can assure you that many Patent Examiners are programmers themselves. In my group, all the Patent Examiners who deal with software applications either write computer programs in their spare time or have been employed as programmers before they became patent examiners. They usually have a pretty good idea whether something would have been easy or time consuming for a programmer. However, they might express the communication problem the other way around -
      it's very difficult to persuade programmers that just because an invention is "easy", does not make it any less patentable.

      And the fact that until now few people complained about this in the field, and that those trivial patents cause a lot more problems in the software field than in other fields (and that there seem to be even more trivial patents in the software field than in other fields), once more shows that software indeed is different. Patent law is simply completely and utterly unfit to judge advances in pure logic with.

      • Couple of points ...

        The nominal person skilled in the art is an "uninventive technician". They are supposedly aware of all disclosures (documents, talks, TV, film, comics!, whatever) made anywhere in the world in their field. Although obscurity of the docs can be a factor in proceedings to determine obviousness.

        "the deputy director" - there isn't just one, their are several. The top-dog is the comptroller. Then there are divisional directors, then deputy directors (one of whom heads the group that examine
        • "the deputy director" - there isn't just one, their are several. The top-dog is the comptroller. Then there are divisional directors, then deputy directors (one of whom heads the group that examine computer patents), then senior examiners and finally examiners (and associates below them).

          Thanks, I didn't know that. It's Steve Probert [ffii.org] I was talking about.

          I think the argument is slightly different to how Halo1 frames it in that if an examiner argues that a "barrel-shift and multiply processor in a mo

    • This is an economics problem.

      Who is an expert in materials for tooth brush bristles? How about the machines for making tooth brush bristles? If you're one of few experts in your country are you going to work for the patent office or are you going to make tootbrush bristles (and lots of money)?

      [sarcasm on] Anyway, clearly we need such experts at the patent office. So too do we need pen barrel experts, etc. etc. [sarcasm off].

      You see then we have to employ many tens of thousands of people to have expertise
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @08:58AM (#9570444)

    The Public Patent Foundation is searching for people with experience in all technical fields to help examine patents.

    As a prominent member of the computing community, I feel that I would be an excellent candidate for "patent examiner". My experience with operating systems, particularly, makes me an excellent choice for verifying technical details. Furthermore, I have a broad knowlege of existing patents, and will be able to discover so-called "prior art" easily. Please consider my application.

    Sincerely,
    Darl McBride

  • Finally... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dozix007 (690662) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @08:58AM (#9570445)
    There is definetly a large need to stop the excessive Patents. Microsoft will go as far as to start Patenting Open Source code if no one else has. I have to say the Patent Busting Competition is one of my favorites. I am running a fight semi-assoicated with the EFF at http://www.uberhacker.com, we are trying to stop the CyberCrime treaty which may shutdown sites like Zone-H or Security-Focus
    • Re:Finally... (Score:2, Informative)

      by mqx (792882)
      "There is definetly a large need to stop the excessive Patents."

      In fact, I have been wondering recently whether anti-trust can be used here. In the EU, at least, the competition authorities are pretty good at pursuing activities that are detrimental to competition, and I'm waiting for someone to make the argument that this blue-chip process of mass-patent-filing and mass-cross-licensing is tantamount to a cartel ("the tragedy of the anti-commons") that excludeds others from effectively using patents.

      It se
    • Re:Finally... (Score:4, Informative)

      by dasmegabyte (267018) <das@OHNOWHATSTHISdasmegabyte.org> on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @10:48AM (#9571549) Homepage Journal
      I think you're confused as to what patents *DO*, or else you'd realize that you don't patent code, not can you patent work somebody else has done. A patent is basically a very exact description of a real, working product, process or interface that does something specific and new. Generally, you can get around a patent by changing a few of the essential variables -- so even when a patent's abstract says "A system for processing information," if the description applies to a specific system for a specific process on a specific kind of information, you can generally get around it by using a different order of operations in the system or by changing the output information.

      In fact, changing minor details of a system is sometimes enough for you to be able to patent your own design. Take a look at the hundreds of different patents for the revolver mechanism on a gun, or ways of making a shock absorber, you'll see what I'm talking about.

      Yes, overly broad patents are sometimes issued, but rarely stand up in court even though they've been issued -- so while patenting water or walking or something may sound clever, it's actually of little practical use. The best patents are those that refer to specific things -- such as the LZW patent. A very specific algorithm with a very specific use that did not prevent dozens of other methods of dictionary compression to pop up.

      There is definetly a large need to stop the excessive Patents

      I disagree. When you do things in an original way, the best means of maintaining economic viability in the software industry these days is to ensure that somebody can't clone your work and offer it for less, or in the case of OSS, for free. The best way to do that is to patent it. Theft of intellectual property (e.g. product design) should not be accepted as business as usual. Unfortunately, it is quite common in the industry as well as in the Open Source community (and it's often touted as a main feature of an application..."X is a Y workalike," etc. Software patents are really the only defense AGAINST the cloning of your program.

      I spent three months working on the interface for my last program and my boss is so worried that somebody will just clone it and sell a look-alike for cheaper that he doesn't want to put screenshots on the web! In our industry, price is a BIG concern and we're already selling things as cheaply as we can without cutting big corners, like our R&D budget. Being able to have the peace of mind that, for twenty years, nobody else in this industry could do what the core of our product does in the way it does it without our permission, would be a great boon to the maintenance of our MASSIVE R&D budget.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @08:58AM (#9570449)
    Do you think that the EFF can have any influence on the U.S. Patent Office? Are there other actions that are more likely to work?

    You go get the torches and pitchforks, and I'll round up the angry villagers.
  • by GillBates0 (664202) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @08:59AM (#9570453) Homepage Journal
    but it looks more like a followup to this earlier story [slashdot.org].
  • Hmm (Score:5, Informative)

    by Erwos (553607) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @08:59AM (#9570455)
    The problems with the US patent office are two-fold:
    1. Patent examiners are EXTREMELY over-worked. My future brother-in-law is a patent examiner, and he's often told me of a draconian quota system that rewards being quick and sloppy.
    2. The US government is pro-business (as it should be, IMHO). However, this translates into the default standing order at the USPTO being "accept", and not "reject" (whereas most /.'ers want to see "reject" as the default position).

    The USPTO recently underwent some changes (new computer system, IIRC) that should allow patent examiners to be a little bit more effective in the future. But it's obvious to me the USPTO has problems - and they are management issues, not really idiot patent examiners.

    -Erwos
    • Re:Hmm (Score:4, Interesting)

      by EvilTwinSkippy (112490) <yoda AT etoyoc DOT com> on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:08AM (#9570542) Homepage Journal
      Management seems to be the problem everywhere. I seem stupid management decisions in Volunteer organizations. I see equally stupid decisions in Fortune 500 companies. The problem is that those in charge seek to have as little interaction with the folks who actually get things done, and/or the product to be manufactured as possible.

      Heck, look at Nortel. They just announced that they are selling off their factories to focus on research. Not that they weren't making money. They weren't making enough money.

      Can someone please explain this to me. If you are making a profit, you are making a profit. Money in hand. Mula. Black ink. Why a company can't simultaneously produce goods and research new ones is beyond me. Of course there are other companies that try to make everything from razor blades to condom testing equipment to cruise missile navigation systems. That seems like more of a stretch.

      • Re:Hmm (Score:2, Insightful)

        by gr8fulnded (254977)
        I'm scaling it down significantly here... but if your factory employs 100 people and makes a profit of $500 a year, but by closing it down and sending those 100 to a R&D lab they can discover new things they can make more money with the same amount of people.

        Overly simplified, but its a matter of reallocating your resources more efficiently.

        • Re:Hmm (Score:3, Insightful)

          Um, 100 line workers have a different skillset than 100 R&D engineers. And different salary requirements. I'd say the line workers are a bit cheaper than engineers. That's like hiring bus drivers to design a new bus. (Unless your town happens to employ mechanical engineers to operate busses.)

          Not over-simplified. Business managers do the same thing every day.

          Oh, and all your cost savings from laying off the factory workers is going to be more or less eaten by paying for their unemployment, and then p

        • Re:Hmm (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Smidge204 (605297)
          I think what the parent was getting at is more along these lines:

          You can have 100 factory workers producing products that net you $500 profit.

          or

          You can have 100 researchers developing prodicts that net you $1000.

          His question is: Why can't you have 100 factory workers and 100 researchers make a profit of $1500? Is it really less expensive/more attractive to destroy and rebuild an otherwise perfectly good infastructure and workforce than it is to add to it?
          =Smidge=

          • Re:Hmm (Score:3, Interesting)

            by jkabbe (631234)
            His question is: Why can't you have 100 factory workers and 100 researchers make a profit of $1500?

            Because then your profit per employee is only $7,50. If you sell off the factory your profit per employee shoots up to $10,00. Why this is important is beyond me, but some people on Wall Street seem to think it is (ie. "Gross Margins").
        • Re:Hmm (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ultranova (717540)

          I'm scaling it down significantly here... but if your factory employs 100 people and makes a profit of $500 a year, but by closing it down and sending those 100 to a R&D lab they can discover new things they can make more money with the same amount of people.

          Um... If your factory makes a profit of $500 a year, and you sell it, then you make $500 less each year than you would have if you had kept the factory and hired 100 more people to be researchers.

          Remember, profit = earnings - expenses. The wages

      • Re:Hmm (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Can someone please explain this to me. If you are making a profit, you are making a profit. Money in hand. Mula. Black ink. Why a company can't simultaneously produce goods and research new ones is beyond me. Of course there are other companies that try to make everything from razor blades to condom testing equipment to cruise missile navigation systems. That seems like more of a stretch.

        OK, it's a simple concept called profit margin. If it cost you $5,000,000,000 to make $1 of profit, then that investm

        • Just because it's profitable, even if it's profitable in the non-financial sense then unless it's profitabl enough you rich fat-assed share-holders are goin' to say:

          "Be more profitable, I don't sit on my fat-ass all day just so you can benefit society and make a little bit of money exploiting 3rd world children. Make more money for me, more, more - more I tell you." [whipcrack]

          Or something along those lines anyway.
      • Of course there are other companies that try to make everything from razor blades to condom testing equipment to cruise missile navigation systems.


        Combine the condoms with the cruise missile navigation systems.. EUREEKA! :)

        And thus, a new and useful product has been born. (Just be sure the razor blades don't make it into the mix. *wince*)
        • Combine the condoms with the cruise missile navigation systems.. EUREEKA! :)

          "Heat Seeking Moisture Missle" is prior art.

      • by swb (14022)
        Can someone please explain this to me. If you are making a profit, you are making a profit. Money in hand. Mula. Black ink. Why a company can't simultaneously produce goods and research new ones is beyond me.

        In electronics, it's all about contract manufacturing. Owning your own factory only makes sense if you're the only one who can make your product (like an Intel chip fab) or you're the only one you want making your product. In the case of Nortel, their products may have been unique enough that there
    • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mqx (792882) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:10AM (#9570562)
      "2. The US government is pro-business (as it should be, IMHO). However, this translates into the default standing order at the USPTO being "accept", and not "reject" (whereas most /.'ers want to see "reject" as the default position)."

      FYI

      Giving the benefit of the doubt to the inventor is not "pro-business", it's because (and the same principle is followed in the EPO, and probably elsewhere) when the examiner can't tell one way or another, it should lean towards granting the patent: and if the patent is dodgy, then it will be resolved later.

      The real problem is just that: in the EPO and elsewhere, there is a decent opposition system, where anyone can file and participate in opposing the patent. In the USPTO, the "re-examination" procedure is very limited and very poor.

      I mean, just think of the scientist that comes up with an amazingly new novel way of doing something, but the examiner (who, you have to admit, could never be as on top of the field as a star scientist) isn't "quite" sure: denying the patent would be outrageous. By definition, inventions are novel and non-obvious: and that means "they go where no man has gone before", thus it's not surprising that figuring them out can sometimes be a problem.

      • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

        by mopslik (688435) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:24AM (#9570666)

        Giving the benefit of the doubt to the inventor is not "pro-business"

        But the majority of patents filed are not coming from independent inventors. They're coming from businesses either to try and take claim of some recent "innovation" (double-clicking or pushing a button) or as defensive patents. Patent fees prevent a significant number of indie inventors from getting patents, and they often go through businesses for funding, giving them a controlling force in the patent. Even where I work, a patent might be associated with my name, but it's very clear that the company would like to assume ownership of it.

        By definition, inventions are novel and non-obvious

        If that's true, then I'd say that the majority of patents today are not for "inventions", then. And that's just wrong.

        • by Sepper (524857)
          They're coming from businesses either to try and take claim of some recent "innovation" (double-clicking or pushing a button) or as defensive patents

          True. And it's not something new. Want an exemple? Search for: 'company 10000 patents IBM'...

          Someimes I think the world would be better without Lawyers...
    • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by swb (14022) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:14AM (#9570594)
      2. The US government is pro-business (as it should be, IMHO).

      No, it should be pro-*citizen*, not pro-business. USPTO being pro-business is the reason we're in the situation we're in. Patents and the patentability of ideas should reflect the good of the citizenry, not the business merits of the idea in question.
      • by JoeBuck (7947)

        Bad patents are not "pro-business", they are more like a tax on business (and furthermore, a tax where the revenue raised is flushed down the drain).

    • Re:Hmm (Score:3, Funny)

      The USPTO recently underwent some changes (new computer system, IIRC)

      Oh, you mean they have access to Google now? That should help.
  • by EvilTwinSkippy (112490) <yoda AT etoyoc DOT com> on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:00AM (#9570458) Homepage Journal
    But it can buy the process.

    Face it, patents are screwy because certain large companies profit from that screwyness. It creates a world in which only the big dogs can play, because only the big dogs have the legal teams to field.

    Reform Tort law. The patent system will fix itself.

    • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:47AM (#9570908) Homepage Journal
      Don't assume that large companies are happy with the system. They lose money to anklebiting "intellectual property" shell companies all the time.

      I had lunch recently with some corporate patent attorneys. They do not like the current system. They complain about the same problems as Slashdotters, plus a few more.

      Their objections:
      o USPTO issues patents too freely
      o Once issued, courts assume patents are valid and it's too hard to convince them otherwise
      o Awards in patent cases don't correspond to real economic damages
      o Patents last much longer than the useful lifetime of computer technology.
      o The system was designed to work with mechanical inventions.
      o The court system puts decisions in the hands of people who lack the background to understand the issues, as opposed to the "person skilled in the art".
      o Everything builds on what came before and patents jam up that process.
      o Patents today can deter innovation because nobody can be sure whether a random jury will think their work infringes. The attorneys knew of a field where work has ground to a halt because of one litigious company.
  • Patents Profiting (Score:2, Interesting)

    by JosKarith (757063)
    The new millenium's fastest growing profit machine -
    1) buy small company that has a few loosely worded patents
    2) begin campaign of lawsuits and harrasment against legitimate businesses that didn't think they needed to patent a process used by everybody
    3) Profit!!!

    you can't tell which side of the argument I'm on can you..?
  • by Nuclear Elephant (700938) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:03AM (#9570484) Homepage
    Don't forget to add Microsoft's Double Click Patent and Mcafee's patent on Bayesian spam Filtering (filed months after Paul Graham's paper was published). I'm not quite fond of AOL's patent on "evil points" either.
    • Don't forget to add Microsoft's Double Click Patent and Mcafee's patent on Bayesian spam Filtering (filed months after Paul Graham's paper was published). I'm not quite fond of AOL's patent on "evil points" either.


      Or Symantec's patent on "heuristic virus scanning", filed years after PD/SW software did the same thing.
      The trick is that you don't have to mention non-commercial and/or non-US prior art.

      Regards,
      --
      *Art
    • and Mcafee's patent on Bayesian spam Filtering (filed months after Paul Graham's paper was published)

      I am sure you have probably been corrected before but I'll do it again....

      It's completely legitimate to file an application for patent after someone else has published a description of what you are patenting. You just need to provide proof that you came up with the idea before the article was published.

      So that part of your post is anything but "insightful"
  • If they hired some nerds that have a CLUE(tm) this wouldn't be needed.

    *by reading this you acknowledge all copyrights regarding the placements of letters and numbers in a manner to form meaningful structures for the intent of public communications*

  • by mqx (792882)

    Great onefor the lawyers: they earn a lump in prosecuting the patents, then leave the s**t hanging around for the chump techies to do free patent busting work.

    If this is going to happen, it should be based on an _actively_ votable (i.e. "polling booth") list of patents (or, at least, patent areas) corresponding to important open source projects, e.g. "patents relating to scheduling improvements in operating systems". I think these are more important than "1-cluck shapping".

    • This has nothing directly to do with lawyers. The people who initiate these patent fights are companies who thought it would be a good idea to patent something either really general or already existing. Alright so their lawyers are going to make some money, but that's a side effect, not a direct cause. If they lawyers were getting all the money, the company wouldn't initially start these patent fights.

      When microsoft patented that double click thing a few months ago and everyone on slashdot flipped a shi
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:12AM (#9570579)
    Patent the patent system then issue a cease and desist to the USPTO.
  • by mcmonkey (96054) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:13AM (#9570583) Homepage
    Do you think that the EFF can have any influence on the U.S. Patent Office?

    No.

  • Look and feel... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mratitude (782540) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:16AM (#9570608) Journal
    Patents for an idea makes sense, in part, when an inventor wanted to protect his or her ability to profit or control the result of their effort. Patents and intellectual property protections were designed to prevent people from using your idea or effort to their betterment at your expense. So far, so good. There's very little to argue with as nothing contained in the previous contains anything unreasonable.

    Where the process has become abused is when the Patent Office began taking patent applications that didn't require a manifestation of some sort to "prove" your effort is unique or uniquely yours. There's nothing tangible in many of these contentious patents. They're just "ideas" and "descriptions". There's no "proof" or "gadget" that you can gin up to bolster what you're trying to protect. There's no math or engineering involved, such as programmatic effort or time in a machine shop.

    That is where the demarcation should begin. When Xerox sued Apple and lost over the use of graphic icons on a 2D screen and similarly, when Apple sued Microsoft over "look and feel" and lost; That should have established the ground rules and in my opinion, neither Xerox nor Apple had a case. Instead, people have been testing the upper limits of what patents protections ever since based on nothing more than the motto, "You might get lucky.".
    • When Xerox sued Apple and lost over the use of graphic icons on a 2D screen and similarly, when Apple sued Microsoft over "look and feel" and lost; That should have established the ground rules and in my opinion, neither Xerox nor Apple had a case.

      Quie contrary. The judge actually agreed with Apple claims, but also agreed that the contested UI elements were covered by the infamous 1985 licensing agreement between Apple and Microsoft (Apple allowed MS to use some of its innovations). It was a bit similar
      • To be accurate there was an initial license agreement between Apple and Microsoft, much as there was between Xerox and Apple. However, what both suits got down to was "look and feel" and Apple (and Xerox) lost on that account as both courts had to contend with the contract issues. Neither was necessarily a "patent" fight from the start. The only slap that Microsoft received, for instance, was the one they should have recieved - Continued implementation and use of what they did receive from Apple via the agr
    • by kansas1051 (720008)
      Where the process has become abused is when the Patent Office began taking patent applications that didn't require a manifestation of some sort to "prove" your effort is unique or uniquely yours

      The USPTO has never required actual manifestations of inventions. The USPTO has always required "conception" and "reduction to practice", which is evidenced by a written description which is sufficient when it enables one "skilled in the art" to build / create the invention. Only in the rarest occasions (i.e. th

    • by Alexis de Torquemada (785848) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @10:22AM (#9571231)

      Patents for an idea makes sense, in part, when an inventor wanted to protect his or her ability to profit or control the result of their effort. Patents and intellectual property protections were designed to prevent people from using your idea or effort to their betterment at your expense.

      You're putting the cart before the horse. Patents and Copyright were not introduced in order to protect the business interests of inventors or authors, this was only the means. The ends were to encourage more innovation, as outlined in Section 8 sentence 8 of the US Constitution:

      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 writings and discoveries;

      These rights (patents, copyright, trademarks and trade secrets, which are only contractual) are now being gathered under the collective, misleading name of intellectual property [wikipedia.org], in an effort to bypass the original justification of these rights, formerly referred to as exclusivity rights, in order to turn the means into the ends.

      So first there were exclusivity rights, which were meant to serve the public, and whose benefits to the inventor/author (or rather, the patent or copyright owner) are merely incidental. Now justification and means are to be reversed. Intellectual property is meant to serve the rights holders, and benefits to society are merely incidental. More importantly, it does not even matter if society as a whole suffers from IP legislation. Logic patents and copyright are or are now intended to be perfect instruments of power for corporations. Large stashes of patents allow large software companies to lock out competition by smaller companies, and monopolize markets. Likewise, large music labels, which now are the copyright holders [recordinga...lition.com] to almost all songs they release, are successfully lobbying for ever more severe copyright laws in an effort to shut down alternative promotion channels like P2P and independent [powerpopradio.com] internet radio [kuro5hin.org] stations. The big labels are afraid that, while airwaves are scarce and can easily be controlled by payola [howstuffworks.com], Internet traffic is basically unlimited in range. You cannot have 500 national radio stations since the frequency bands are limited, but you can easily operate 5000 Internet radio stations without any bandwidth collisions. Incidentally, while the RIAA claims to have suffered massive losses due to Internet "piracy", many independent labels have experienced benefits [csmonitor.com] from increased promotion of their music via P2P and other channels such as (the former) mp3.com and independent internet radio.

      I see the intellectual property movement as part of a general neoliberal self-referential justification of capitalism, where the original goal of improving living conditions for the population is increasingly irrelevant. Today's capitalism is intended to be implemented for capitalism's sake, not because it would make lives of men better as compared to marketplace economies with a stronger balance between public and private property. The manipulations of the Californian power market, or the privatization of water supplies into monopolists' hands in South America are just two examples of many.

      • You're putting the cart before the horse. Patents and Copyright were not introduced in order to protect the business interests of inventors or authors, this was only the means. The ends were to encourage more innovation, as outlined in Section 8 sentence 8 of the US Constitution:

        To be accurate, that portion of Section 8 dealt with the general issue before the founding under the current Constitution - The devine right of royalty provided that people were royal subjects, individuals that were subjects of

      • Amen!

        Someone mod parent up!

        -dave-

  • by kamelkev (114875) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:21AM (#9570648)
    None of the items on the "patent hit-list" is what I would consider a high-profile "stupid" patent. These are all patents that are out there being enforced on a daily basis and are causing problems with business

    They make no mention of the plethora of inane patents that have been granted (double-click patent, spam filter patent, swinging sideways patent).

    The approach they are taking seems less likely to cause a big stir, because they are going to be hard fought with little gains in patent approval procedures

    It seems to me that the easier way to get things to change (for the better) would be to gather up a list of 100 patents and systematically prove that every single one of them was extremely foolish to grant. Embarass the USPTO in the media with obvious claims of prior art.

    Basically what we are looking for here isn't a few patents to be overturned, which is what the EFF is trying to do (its a nice start, don't get me wrong), but rather we need a change to the system, and unfortunately it appears it can only be done through an act of congress or through repeated abuses of the USPTO in the court system...
    • by malchus842 (741252) <stephen@adamsemail.net> on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:36AM (#9570783) Homepage

      Unfortunately, embarrassing a government employee almost always guarantees that you will get shafted somehow. There are just too many ways for them to "get even" with people who interfere in their little "kingdoms."

      Congress has to change the law - they are the ultimate caretakes of Patent and Copyright law. And Congress is beholden to a few major copyright holders (Disney, anyone?) and major corporations who WANT the status quo. Think Microsoft is going to encourage Congress to change? Or any of the IP pseudo-companies?

      The problem is that it's hard to get the electorate interested in this problem, and unless the masses start chasing Congress-critters with placards (or worse), things aren't going to change.

    • by Sloppy (14984) * on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:38AM (#9570796) Homepage Journal
      hey make no mention of the plethora of inane patents that have been granted (double-click patent, spam filter patent, swinging sideways patent).
      One of the criteria for EFF's project is that they wanted patents that aren't just stupid or obvious, but also where the patent holder has actually been aggressive about threatening people, thereby really stifling innovation, rather than just passively allowing fear to spread.

      As dumb as the swinging-sideways patent may be, it hasn't actually caused any real harm, other than to undermine the credibility of the patent office. If people on swings were getting C&D notices, then maybe it would have been more appropriate for inclusion in this project.

    • The FSF has picked these patents for two reasons: first, they are doing damage; second, the EFF has reason to believe that they can be beaten.

      The Clear Channel patent (which I submitted to the contest, though I suspect that a number of others submitted as well) is particularly stupid, and is being used to further Clear Channel's out-of-control power in the music industry (they own 1200+ radio stations and they also control most of the concert venues, or booking for those venues, in large American cities)

  • by Lars Clausen (1208) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:32AM (#9570735)
    Apart from the obvious reasons to patent things (others might get there first), there's no good reason not to. The fee to apply is very low, and there is no penalty for being denied or overturned. At the same time, the examiners (AFAIHH) get bonuses based on how many patents they pass. The way to go currently, especially if you're a big company, is to try patenting everything you can, you might not get all, but the drop-out doesn't hurt you.

    One way to change this would be to institute some penalty for filing dodgy patents. Both for the examiner who passed it and for whoever got it. A fine at least and repayment of any license fees garnered on the patent. Covering of expenses for the challenger, perhaps? A system of extra checking of patents from companies/persons that have had patents overturned previously? Repeat offenders? Three strikes and you're out? The possibilities are endless, but frivolous patenting should be as serious an offense as infringing on a patent.

    -Lars
    • There are good reasons for not patenting something. The tradeoff to patenting something is that you tell you have to tell the world how to make your invention, but Congress gives you the sole right to profit from your invention for 20 years from the time the patent application is filed.
      On the other hand, you can keep something a trade secret. That means you can pofit from your invention for as long as you can keep other people from figuring out how to reproduce it. Trade secret law covers your employee
    • Examiners do not get bonuses based on how many patents they issue.

      Examiners get paid based on how many counts they get. Examiners get counts for the first response to an application (the first action on the merits) and upon disposal, that is when the case is issued, abandoned, or as usually happens, when the applicant files a request for continued examination, which is technically an abandonment, but restarts the whole process.

      What most /. readers don't understand is that for an examiner, an RCE is far mo
  • by Alexis de Torquemada (785848) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:33AM (#9570754)
    Wouldn't it be easier to actually find out what the 10 sane ones are?
  • by zogger (617870) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @09:35AM (#9570771) Homepage Journal
    Frankly, I think granting non tangible IP patents is ridiculous. However, in the real world they aren't going to get rid of them entirely any time soon, not in the US anyway, and this MUST be admitted to I think to move forward in dealing with the problem. Taking them on a case by case by case basis in a retroactive review will be like herding cats. Theoretically possible, pretty dismal results in the real world and mostly a waste of time and resources.

    I propose a different approach. Recognize the inherit difference between an intangible IP and a normal tangible product patent, and severely limit the patent exclusivity time limit with any that are IP. Make it a totally separate "class"of patent. Drop it down to two years, then that's it, in the public domain. Make it retroactive as well.
  • by Scutter (18425) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @10:00AM (#9571046) Journal
    So, after having read the article, it looked like the reason behind every one of those selections was because the owner of the patent chose to enforce it. There wasn't one word mentioned on why any of the patents themselves were a bad idea. For example:

    1) "The EFF is worried that Acacia, which has already sued several large communications companies, is unfairly targeting small audio- and video-streaming websites."

    5) "...said the EFF is afraid Ideaflood may try to go after LiveJournal members."

    7) "The EFF is afraid Test Central will use its patent to scare off distance-learning organizations."

    8) "But Nintendo is being a big bully."

    And so on. Now, don't get me wrong. Some of those patents look dangerous to me, given the overly-vague and broad descriptions, but revoking a patent simply because a company is "a big bully" is ridiculous. What would be the point of having a patent if you couldn't use it? Furthermore, just because a technology is extremely useful (read: Kill App) doesn't mean it belongs in the pubic domain.

    Let's consider #3 for a moment, Acceris Communication's voice over IP technology patent. Assuming it's much more specific than the article suggests, why should they not be able to benefit from creating that particular VOIP technology? So what if lots of people use it? Isn't that the whole point? Create a killer app, then sell it for tons of money. Then when the patent expires other people can copy it.

    There's no mention of prior art anywhere in the article, which is a whole other argument. I mean, if I suddenly patented the wheel, for example, and started suing everyone who had ever used a certain geometrically shaped object, then I could see you having a case.
  • Is the PTO's business model the same as that of a diploma mill? Well, is there anything to stop you from applying for a boatload of abusive patents yourself, then launching swarms of lawsuits against all those vile corporations that are stealing your ideas to transport energy through metal wires, represent infomation as '0's and '1's, make money by selling above cost, etc.?

    If you can transform the PTO into a national lottery for millions of little people, with the courts clogged with drawing the winners,
  • Some thoughts (Score:5, Informative)

    by bezuwork's friend (589226) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @10:36AM (#9571408)
    Do you think that the EFF can have any influence on the U.S. Patent Office? Are there other actions that are more likely to work?

    As an ex-Examiner and law student, I have some observations on this.

    First, Congress and the PTO are somewhat isolated. The way Congress and divisions of the government make law, as a topic, is called administrative law. This works by Congress making general federal statutes (Title 15 in the case of patents) and the right to make regulations to implement the goals of the federal statues fall to the governmental division concerned (with patents, the USPTO).

    So, to influence patent policy, the first level is to influence the USPTO Commissioner. He could likely get the regulations governing how patents are actually examined, as well as the infrastructure withing the PTO, changed to improve the system. Most new Commissioners make changes anyway. As the Commissioner is appointed by the President, he ultimately has a lot of control as well. I'm not sure, but I expect that the Senate has to approve any appointment to the USPTO Commissioner, so in that instance, so contacting the President and your Senators at appropriate times may be influential, but this only occurs every so many years.

    The higher level is to influence Congress to pass a bill to amend Title 35 (that part of federal statutes which deals with patents). Here you are up against all the big corporations who benefit from the present situation (IBM, MS, etc.). Still, lobbying is a tool and keeping up pressure effectively (i.e. not calling your representative every week, but applying pressure in lobbying-savvy ways, as by the guidance of an experienced Washingtonian lobbyist).

    I would think that setting out goals for change, then adequately supporting them with evidence would be a good tool. Remember that the Constitution states that Congress is to "promote" science and the useful arts. The idea is to prove that some aspect of the current policy does not promote the development of technology, but retards it in some way, then Congress might be open to changing the statutes. I believe this happened with the so-called "submarine patents" - the patent applications that were in the PTO for decades and would get issued allowing the inventor to sue users of mature industries and, basically, extort vast amounts of money. (If this topic intrests you, search for the name Lemelson" - he built a multimillion dollar industry off of this tactic). As I recall, though, Congress modified the patent statutes to discourage submarine patents during the phase to harmonize US patent law with European practice, so the retarding nature of submarine patents may not have been such a big motivation for change.

    If you really want to change patent law, the more effective way is as follows. Get elected President with a Congress stacked in your favor. Then do the following:

    1) Pressure Congress to amend the Patent Act according to your tastes.

    2) Use your treaty making ability to enter into treaties as a run around of Congress for any changes thet don't get implemented. This requires Senate approval but avoids the House.

    3) Appoint a PTO Commissioner who will implement your changes in a way you like.

    So, will the EFF be effective? What else can be done? Doing something (being heard) is better than not doing anything. Can the average /.er do something as well? Of course. The best thing might be to follow patent issues and contact the appropriate party (President, Congress, PTO Commissioner) at the appropriate time (just before action is taken). It would be nice if there was a companion website to /. that would encourage action on issues of importance to /.ers. I.e. allow postings of example letters, addresses for contacting, discussion of the issues. Sometimes this is done in /. itself - people sometimes post example letters or addresses of the concerned politicians. Maybe we can encourage a new

  • by Uninen (746304)

    "one of Microsoft's FAT patents"?

    Oh, my. They're patenting software that's bloat?

  • The problem is not only with bad patents: software patents last for 20 years -- the same length of time that drug patents last for.
  • Obviously nobody at Clear Channel is awake at Church. There aren't too many large Churches around where you can't get a copy (tape, CD, video) of the service just a minute or two after the service ends.

    Church technicians have been cobbling together systems to record and reproduce live events for several decades. Systems that record digitally and have at least a some editing functionality have been around for at least 5 or more.

    The main difference between the commercial systems they describe and the Chu

  • by argoff (142580) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @02:03PM (#9573750)
    Like most things that take away freedom, the patent system will always be under pressure to encroach more and more which will always lead to problems like this.

    When you assert the right to punish people who copy and immitate for any reason, innocent people are going to get hurt no matter how nice you try to be.
  • My pet peeve patent is 6,137,498 [164.195.100.11] on PhotoMosaics. The first few claims are neither non-obvious nor novel. People were doing claims 1 and 2 in early 1994 [google.com], over three years before the file date (the code uses a lookup table to build the output, but the generation of the lookup table uses the technique claimed in 1 and 2). Claims 3 and beyond they can keep, as they're all either naive or over-specified and easily avoidable.

    Also, claim 1 is a bit ambiguous. Does "distinct" mean "unique" or "disjoint"?

If it happens once, it's a bug. If it happens twice, it's a feature. If it happens more than twice, it's a design philosophy.

Working...