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How to Fix U.S. Patents 471

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the retooling-the-system dept.
Frisky070802 writes "IEEE Spectrum has an interesting article on how to fix the U.S. patent system. It starts with an example of how broken the system is, with Smuckers suing a small company for crustless PB&J. It has a great overview of how the system has evolved and how much it favors the big patent holders, and suggests 3 specific fixes: 'create incentives and opportunities for parties to challenge the novelty and nonobviousness of an invention before the PTO grants a patent,' examine the important patents meticulously; don't waste effort on the unimportant ones that can be ousted early, and for examining prior art, use judges and special masters rather than uninformed juries."
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How to Fix U.S. Patents

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  • Aha! (Score:2, Funny)

    by bleckywelcky (518520)
    And here's my solution to the nation's overpacked prisons: everybody behave! See, it's really just that easy ... now go do it!
    • by blitz487 (606553)
      An even better way is to just reduce patents from 17 years to 5. This reduces the incentive for patenting trivialities, and if they do get patented, it becomes a more reasonable strategy to just wait it out.
  • And the chances... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by interiot (50685) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @06:59PM (#11047031) Homepage
    And the chances of these kind of reforms going through are... what? From a national economic standpoint, even the US has an incentive to pump out as many patents as possible, no matter how frivolous, in order to extract money from corporations in other countries, since the US is using the WTO to push its "intellectual property" regime onto as many countries as it can.
    • by TiggertheMad (556308) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:02PM (#11047056) Homepage Journal
      From a national economic standpoint, even the US has an incentive to pump out as many patents as possible, no matter how frivolous, in order to extract money from corporations in other countries, since the US is using the WTO to push its "intellectual property" regime onto as many countries as it can

      This only works for a short time, once a country sees it is getting screwed by the process, it just ignores patent law. It's in everybody's interest to have a system that is ligitimate and encourages inovation, and not blocking patents.
      • by mordors9 (665662) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:12PM (#11047145)
        Just like my family will ignore them. My daughter has been eating crustless pb&j for years and will continue to do so. Damn the lawyers.
      • In general, "countries" can't ignore patent law. Brazil can, under certain circumstances, and browbeats big corporations into lowering prices, but it uses that power sparingly. There are too many financial interdependencies between these power blocs, and they usually avoid stepping on too many toes at once.

        Individuals, on the other hand, especially those without financial assets, can blithely ignore patents. To me, they don't exist. If I see a good idea, I'll use it. The big guys don't worry about scumbag

    • There's also an ego thing "We're more inventive than xxxx because we generate more patents".

      One way to fix this is with the "patent pending" status that was (and perhaps still is) used in some countries. A pending patent has this standing for a year and can be challenged relatively easily diring this stage. However, there are so many patents being issued in the states that this process just breaks down.

    • That's more of a problem with the Corporate/NeoCon climate: everything for me, right now, damn the future and damn the consequences. Boot the NeoCons, and hell, you might see environmental reform too. Most Americans, SUVs and Atkins aside, wouldn't wilfully screw other countries, and would like to see our domestic businesses thrive on its own accord so that somebody can eat besides Joe Millionaire. They've just fallen for the NeoCon's trap of hiding behind God.

      • What exactly is a NeoCon? Is this some kind of club people join like the stonecutters on the Simpsons? How are they organized? Do they have bylaws and membership dues? Do they have a website? I mean, its pretty clear you don't like them, but if they have that much influence I might like to join.

        Most Americans, SUVs and Atkins aside, wouldn't wilfully screw other countries

        Actually, I'm perfectly content screwing other states, and they're perfectly content screwing us back... why would foreign nation
    • In the very broad sense, wouldn't this just be another variant of tort reform? The problems seem similar - abuse of laws and regulations to profit &/or deny. But seeing as we can't even make an inch of headway on regular lawsuits its hard to see patent reform when Megamonolithic Corp and its minions will be battling every inch of the way and with much deeper pockets then the legions of ambulance chasers and class action suiters.
    • by RedWizzard (192002) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @08:41PM (#11047746)
      From a national economic standpoint, even the US has an incentive to pump out as many patents as possible, no matter how frivolous, in order to extract money from corporations in other countries, since the US is using the WTO to push its "intellectual property" regime onto as many countries as it can.
      According to TFA, nearly half of all patents awarded in 2003 were awarded to foreign inventors. There will be just as many foreign companies using the system to extract money from US companies as vice versa.
  • Europe [zdnet.co.uk] has a patent problem too, don't just pick on the US!
  • by Tackhead (54550) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:01PM (#11047046)
    > IEEE Spectrum has an interesting article on how to fix the U.S. patent system. [ ... ] and suggests 3 specific fixes: 'create incentives and opportunities for parties to challenge the novelty and nonobviousness of an invention before the PTO grants a patent,' examine the important patents meticulously; don't waste effort on the unimportant ones that can be ousted early, and for examining prior art, use judges and special masters rather than uninformed juries."

    In other news, David Boies, acting on behalf of Darl McBride, has filed three suits against IEEE for infringement of patents #13,371,337 #3,133,731,337, and #8,013,580,135, "Method for fixing the US Patent System", "Method for Borking a Patent System", and "Method for Subtly Implying That Every Idea In The World Is Mine, All Mine", respectively.

  • Another idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by koreaman (835838) <uman@umanwizard.com> on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:02PM (#11047053)
    do away with patents.
    Seriously, they are anticompetitive and aid MONOPOLY. If we want monopolies, do it the right way and institute Communism already. Governement-endorsed monopolies in a free-market system are bad. That's why Linux beats 'doze.
    • Re:Another idea (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Umbral Blot (737704) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:08PM (#11047104) Homepage
      Originally patents were invented to aid competition by allowing a small business with an orignal idea to avaoid being sunk by a flood of copy-cat products from an established business. The obvious problems however quickly emerged: large businesses can get patents despite the fact that they don't need them, and the ability to patent an idea instead of an actual product. These two problems have completely overshadowed any benefits of the patent system.
      • Correction (Score:5, Insightful)

        by rainman_bc (735332) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:16PM (#11047173)
        I believe Patents were created to aid innovation not aid comptetition. They exist to protect the inventor. The idea is that if you create something, and don't have the money to bring it to market, someone with money shouldn't have the right to come along, skate your idea, and elave you uncompensated for your invention.

        In fact, it's been proven that patents hinder competition, but they don't hinder innovation.
        • Re:Correction (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Dr.Dubious DDQ (11968) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:36PM (#11047337) Homepage
          They exist to protect the inventor.

          If I understand the history correctly (and, admittedly, I may very well not), even this isn't quite accurate.

          What I understood the patent process to be for was to be an alternative to "trade secrets". The protection of the inventor was the "payment" that the inventor got, not the purpose of the patent. The purpose was to ensure that the patented idea DID become available to the public for study and future innovation from. (So, yes, the first part of your post is exactly correct...)

          It seems like it's more recent to look at the patent monopoly as an "entitlement" and a marketing gimmick ("Patented" copper bracelet with magic healing powers - if it's patented it MUST be good, right?) rather than half of a societal bargain. It's gone from being "Well, okay, if you can assure me I won't be punished as a result, I'll go ahead and let the public know the details of my trade secret" to "HA! In your face! I OWN this idea now! And there's nothing you can do about it! HA HA HA HA HA!"

      • Yes, so a good system might be: only allow a company to own patents if it doesn't earn more than X. Once the company cross the treshold, all its patents become public domain...
        Yeah, i'm a communistico-idealistico fool
    • Patents are granted unter the pretext and condition that the work is original and inventive. To a mathematician, a decent definition of "original and inventive" in this context would be "The probability that someone else comes up with the idea within the time the patent holds is below 5%".

      However, even if you used such a definition of "inventiveness", there is no way one can actually implement it. So patents just cannot be granted but on a whim; patent examiners are not as much to blame is the impossibilit
    • Re:Another idea (Score:4, Insightful)

      by darkmeridian (119044) <william.chuang @ g m a il.com> on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:23PM (#11047220) Homepage
      Such patent monopolies are important for society, though not in the realm of computers. Pretend company C finds that drug D cures cancer in mice. It then performs many human trials to make sure it is safe and effective in humans as well, all at great expense. It then brings the drug to market.

      Without patents, company C will never disclose what is in drug D, hence stopping future research down related veins. (And thus preventing improvements down that avenue.) Furthermore, other companies will find out what drug D is made out of and then sell it generically. Company C is screwed because it had spent all the money doing the research; it can't compete on marketing, etc., against the companies that are free-loading. Future drug companies will do no research.

      People say that we should make all research government-funded. Right. Government-regulation has been such a boon, right?

      Not all monopolies are bad.
    • by Planesdragon (210349) <slashdot.castlesteelstone@us> on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:25PM (#11047238) Homepage Journal
      Governement-endorsed monopolies in a free-market system are bad.

      Yeah. What we need are competing power wire systems! I want a forest of wire strung about my city, darnit!

  • Fixing it... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Turn-X Alphonse (789240) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:02PM (#11047055) Journal
    bit late to "fix it". The damage has already been done, they need a system where you can go "Hey they didn't invent that!", where they will require you to give information proving the patent is totally wrong.

    Wouldn't you just love to see a Slashdot article saying "Microsoft lose 50,000 patents due to false claims"?
    • Re:Fixing it... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by back_pages (600753)
      bit late to "fix it". The damage has already been done, they need a system where you can go "Hey they didn't invent that!", where they will require you to give information proving the patent is totally wrong.

      That is called "invalidating a patent" and it is the first thing your lawyers do when you are sued for infringement.

      Guess what a patent is worth outside of a courtroom? $0. Guess what a flimsy patent is worth inside a courtroom? $0. The only patent that's worth anything is that which can withstan

      • Re:Fixing it... (Score:5, Informative)

        by pthisis (27352) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:42PM (#11047376) Homepage Journal
        Guess what a patent is worth outside of a courtroom? $0. Guess what a flimsy patent is worth inside a courtroom? $0.

        That's BS. A lot of small companies will settle a patent dispute even when the patent they have allegedly infringed is a flimsy one, especially if the requested licensing fees are substantially lower than the cost of going to court and getting the patent invalidated. Result: $$$ for the patent holder of a flimsy patent, without setting foot in the courtroom.
  • See that's the type of invention that should be patentable: it's unique, a significant advance(???) over existing products, and totally insane.

    I want one, and I'd be prepared to pay a premium to the legal monopoly/patent holder to get one.
  • Interesting ideas (Score:4, Insightful)

    by phillymjs (234426) <slashdot.stango@org> on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:04PM (#11047075) Homepage Journal
    From the article:
    First, create incentives and opportunities for parties to challenge the novelty and nonobviousness of an invention before the PTO grants a patent.

    Prior art 'bounty hunters' and adding some common sense to the patent process sound like great ideas. Too bad they'll never be implemented, due to expensive lobbying efforts by those who stand to lose the most (i.e. the megacorps).

    ~Philly
    • First, create incentives and opportunities for parties to challenge the novelty and nonobviousness of an invention before the PTO grants a patent.

      Prior art 'bounty hunters' and adding some common sense to the patent process sound like great ideas. Too bad they'll never be implemented, due to expensive lobbying efforts by those who stand to lose the most (i.e. the megacorps). ~Philly

      The problem with this would be the purported "independence" of the bounty hunters. The last thing you want in a system lik

      • Oops - just wanted to add that I wasn't talking about the original post when I said "Slashdotters with rabies".

        Also, the recently signed omnibus spending bill has changed the fee schedule for the USPTO so that you now have to pay separate fees for searching. Don't quote me on this, but I believe this is in preparation for the USPTO to split the task of searching away from examining, so that professional searchers to the search and examiners do the analysis and apply the legal issues to the case. Much bet

  • by daVinci1980 (73174) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:07PM (#11047101) Homepage
    Instead of bitching about how broken the USPTO is, and how the patents they grant are obvious...

    Get a job at the USPTO as a patent master. [uspto.gov]
    • Oh how very insightful, that will work brilliantly!

      "I am going to make a difference...from the inside! I will be different to all the other patent people - I will care!"

      *time passes*

      "What do you mean I am under my patent acceptance quota? I take time and issue them properly..."

      *time passes*

      "...but I really don't think we should be...yes sir..."

      *time passes*

      "[beep] Accepted [beep] Aceepted [beep] Accepted"

      Sorry, I had to. You sounded like the plot from a bad 80's movie. You must have missed the bit w
  • Never change (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jtbauki (838979) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:08PM (#11047108)
    Patent reform will NEVER occur before Political reform. Political reform will NEVER occur without Citizens strongly voicing protests... and frankly, I don't feel like getting up from my computer.
  • Oh! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Icarus1919 (802533) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:08PM (#11047110)
    This is a great way to fix the system! They should patent it!
  • by Ooblek (544753) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:10PM (#11047123)
    Just put all the stupid, opportunistic, just-graduated-from-law-school-and-need-to-prove-I -have-a-large-penis lawyers on a boat, take it to the middle of the pacific, and sink it.
  • Problem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lord Kano (13027) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:11PM (#11047134) Homepage Journal
    Seems to me like these "reforms" will only serve to lock out the small guy even more. Extra hurdles and extra expense will mean that only those who can afford the best patent attorney can get patents.

    The system DOES need to change, but let's make sure that we change to a better system, not just a different one.

    LK
    • In the new system, some patents won't even be read all the way through. Thus, examiners can process more patents. Once your basic examiner has got done with it, making sure that it's not painfully, hopelessly obvious that it should not be granted, then someone who actually knows something about the field will get their hands on it. If you can improve throughput you can work without adding additional expense. By making it harder to get a patent through the initial screening process, you will reduce the numbe
    • Only one problem. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by twitter (104583) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:51PM (#11047432) Homepage Journal
      Extra hurdles and extra expense will mean that only those who can afford the best patent attorney can get patents.

      Some hurdles don't have to cost anything. Erecting the right hurdles and leveling the wrong ones is what needs to happen. Money is the wrong hurdle, because everyone pays taxes and deserves a fair hearing. Using the process as a "revenue center" is an outrage. Quality hurdles, and I don't mean grammar and spelling, are what we need.

      The summary sounds like a well thought out and careful plan. Challenges of bogus patents are good for everyone and can be carried out by anyone practicing in any field. The quality is what I would expect from the IEEE.

      I have only one problem, the requirement of "use judges and special masters." That's what we are supposed to have now. Picking them from industry could cement the current big company lock and make things much worse. The government is already supposed to be knowledgable and careful in it's grant of exclusive franchises. A mechanism to get useful information to the people who are actually making the calls is a great idea. Finding and hiring experts from every field is impractical. Granting expert power to "recognized experts" from big companies with conflicts of interest is a recipe for disaster.

  • Yes, definitely use Judges. They're easier to pay off or whack, which just isn't feasible with an entire jury.
  • Kill all the lawyers!

  • I think I'll patent it and sue the US PTO! =D
  • by theluckyleper (758120) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:15PM (#11047167) Homepage
    One of the major problem with patents (in my mind) is the fact that patent holders are permitted to sit on their patents and do nothing, even when they are aware of infringing acts. Then, 10 years down the road, they spring out of nowhere with the infringement suit. This is what Unisys did with GIFs [burnallgifs.org]. Unisys allowed the web to become addicted to GIFs, without filing any suits. No, no... they bided their time! Wait until everyone is dependent on GIFs, THEN spring the trap; that's the key! I find this behavior to be underhanded and repugnant. UNISYS HAD TO KNOW! As if they were not aware that GIF was the image format of choice on the web. It's impossible.
  • A Subtle Problem (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GeckoFood (585211) * <(geckofood) (at) (gmail.com)> on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:18PM (#11047195) Journal

    The case workers in the US Patent Office are under the gun to make certain quotas. Failure to make the quota for one quarter will put you under probation. Screw up again in a certain time frame and you're gone. The threat of losing the job is an incentive to rush along with little regard for the absurdity of the patent.

  • by lothar97 (768215) * <owen@nOSPAM.smigelski.org> on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:25PM (#11047244) Homepage Journal
    President Bush just signed the fiscal year 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which includes large changes in the way fees are charged at the USPTO. Before yesterday, there were lump sum fees charged for patent applications, such as $395 for filing a basic utility patent application. Now it is is $150, but now you have to pay two new fees: $250 for a search fee, and $100 for an examination fee. It's now $500 for a basic utility patent application, for a small entity (sole inventor or less than 100 employees). Also, for each claim over 20, it's $25, up from something like $6 (I forget the amount). Extra claims over 20 are $50 for a large entity.

    This basically means that it got a lot more expensive to file patents in the US. It's not uncommon for patent applications to have 100 or more claims. Filing fees are lower if you file electronically, but e-filing is a pain (it's not through standalone application, it's through a bloated Word macro that converts things to XML). The USPTO has long griped that it does not get to keep all of the money collected by fees, and methinks that this is another way to generate revenue by the government.

  • Have the Halfbakery [halfbakery.com] handle all patent submission. Those people are ruthless when it comes to ideas already thought up!
  • What we need is to go back to the old philosophy of what was, and more importantly what was NOT patentable.

    We need to go to the "toe test".

    The Toe Test

    If I cannot drop it on my toe, or stub my toe on it, it cannot be patented.

    Thus, you can patent "A device for playing back recorded movies...." since you can drop that on your toe.

    You cannot patent "A method for playing back recorded movies..." as you cannot drop "a method" on your toe.

  • As I said in a post to a previous topic [slashdot.org], if getting a patent were more like getting planning permission, the system would be much improved.
  • by JPMH (100614) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:35PM (#11047327)
    According to the article:
    First, create incentives and opportunities for parties to challenge the novelty and nonobviousness of an invention before the PTO grants a patent.

    A lot of people in the States seem to think that European-style opposition procedures, where private companies can challenge patent applications before the PTO grants them, are some sort of magic solution to the patent mess.

    They aren't, at least not by themseves. Opposition procedures can help, but Europe still grants its share of daft patents.

    More worryingly, the number of oppositions at the EPO has been steadily falling over the last ten years, though there is no evidence that EPO quality is improving. Instead, companies seem to be deciding that it's simply not cost-effective to put in the resources to do the EPO's job for it. If you're the size of Canon(Europe) for example (who I've heard this argument from), you've got a pretty good arsenal of your own patents you can hope to counter-sue or cross-licence with, and if the bad patent does come to court, you have the resources to fight it at that stage.

    The people the worst patents really impact are SMEs, who have to settle, because they can't afford to fight them.

    • You also have to deal with the problem that if the PTO is made aware of a bit of prior art and *goes ahead and stupidly grants the patent anyway*, then you're totally screwed, because that prior art is presumed to have been validly considered and rejected.

      Even if it does have an effect, all it does is give the patenter an opportunity to craft their claims to carefully avoid the prior art while still being annoying.

      For this reason, patent lawyers will often tell you *not* to challenge a patent applicati

  • OO! idea! (Score:2, Interesting)

    how about a section of slashdot devoted to patents which have been spotted by a /.er (i remember an article in 'main' about microsoft patenting virtual desktops for example), this way the /. crowd can debunk patents as a group, for example somebody might say "i remember twm had virtual desktops in 1992, here's a link to prove it"*.

    Then somebody (either one of the /. editors if they feel inclinded) or a /.er can use the following procedure [uspto.gov] to officially protest, or report it to that website of the organis
  • by zangdesign (462534) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:40PM (#11047359) Journal
    The definition of "important patent" could keep lawyers dining on goose liver for years. What may seem like an unimportant patent today may turn out to be horrendously important many years later.
  • Can't possibly work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bitmanhome (254112) <bitmanNO@SPAMpobox.com> on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:41PM (#11047368)
    Two of the ideas are already sunk, as they'd require the patent office to spend even more money on reviewing patents. But since they're already out of money, there's nothing more they can do there.

    I personally think the patent system is too heavy-weight. A patent should be nothing more than a claim, and it should be granted immediately without review. If you need to protect your invention, you go to court, and point to your claim. At that point, prior art and prior patents are finally investigated. If your patent is useless, it's stamped Common Knowledge, and becomes free. If solid, then you win the case.

    As I understand it, this is mostly the way the patent system works now. So what's the problem?
    • Two of the ideas are already sunk, as they'd require the patent office to spend even more money on reviewing patents. But since they're already out of money, there's nothing more they can do there.

      ObRTFA: the article points out that the USPTO is actually a US government profit center which contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to the treasury (above and beyond funding its own employees).
  • Patent an exclusive system for granting patents. Sue the USPTO for infringement. That will spur reform as fast as possible.

    Alternately, patent a system for forming a political party. Sue all others.
  • ...it's got to be litigious!
  • by jeif1k (809151) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @07:53PM (#11047442)
    To prevail in an infringement case, an accused infringer has to present clear and convincing evidence that the patent is invalid.

    Simply reversing this standard might be good: someone who wants to obtain a 20-year monopoly should have to present clear and convincing evidence that the idea he is seeking protection for is novel, useful, and can be reproducibly implemented based on the patent application. If he can't make a clear and convincing argument, then the patent should be found invalid by default.

    Furthermore, patents should be found valid and invalid not claim-by-claim, but all-or-nothing. That way, applicants for patents have themselves a strong incentive only to claim what is actually novel and useful. Right now, almost every patent has claims in it that are ridiculously broad, that create unwarranted uncertainty and risk for competitors, and that courts need to spend enormous amounts of resources whittling down.

    I think those two changes alone would do wonders for the patent system. But the IEEE suggestions are also welcome.
  • by deblau (68023) <slashdot.25.flickboy@spamgourmet.com> on Thursday December 09, 2004 @08:10PM (#11047564) Journal
    join them. Apply for a patent on sending commercial solicitations through electronic mail, then start suing spammers [spamhaus.org] out of existence. For bonus points, send them your first C&D letter in an email entitled "Make BIG $$$ using teh p.a.t.e.n.t system!11!1!!!1 LOLOMGWTF"
  • by Macrobat (318224) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @08:21PM (#11047634)
    So...anybody who trims the crust off of their own bread is doing an illegal sandwich mod?

    And to think, David Carradine does this in Kill Bill, v. 2. I wouldn't have gone to see that movie if I knew it had a scene that displayed such contempt for the law!

    • by Geoffreyerffoeg (729040) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @09:33PM (#11048024)
      So...anybody who trims the crust off of their own bread is doing an illegal sandwich mod?

      No. Read the patent. [uspto.gov] It's actually a pretty clever design (though probably not original). The bread is crimped around the edge so the sandwich can stay for some time without danger of leaking. The jelly is surrounded by the sticky peanut butter, which both prevents jelly leaks and helps hold the edges of the bread together.

      It looks like this (with bread slices at the top):
      /PBPBPBPBPB\
      <PBJJJJJJPB>
      \PBPBPBPBPB/

  • by richardoz (529837) * on Thursday December 09, 2004 @08:38PM (#11047722) Homepage
    Ok, it's just a thought but...
    1) Since inventors are people, how about restricting the assignee to people only.
    2) Make all payments to the assignee and or inventor a matter of public record.
    3) Make it illegal to withhold license of patents to individuals or corporations willing to pay more than the current maximum amount stated in public record.
    (Wordy example):
    So Joe Inventor creates a widget for Company Z. Joe would be the inventor and some other person is (maybe even Joe) will be the assignee. Z Company will license the ability to make widgets by paying $1000 to the assignee. The $1000 is posted as a mater of public record. Now anyone or any company can pay $1001 to the assignee and have a license to produce the widgets.
    A market effect of an open auction etc..

  • by themuffinking (826948) <themuffinking01@ ... inus threevowels> on Thursday December 09, 2004 @08:39PM (#11047735) Homepage
    The patent system was concieved to protect unique, innovative, and useful ideas. Now, I may not be one to complain, but I seriously doubt the uniqueness of the spiral stack of post-it notes, which is almost identical in its description to the patent on a straight stack of post-it notes. Also, software patents just suck in general. There should be no such thing as a software patent, merely copyrights on source code. For instance, the original patent on the Windows OS ended several years ago, because patents only last 7 years. At the time that the patent ends, the patent holder is required to release the product to the public for use. I don't know about you, but I payed good money for this crap-o-rific Windows XP. Do you know why? Because Microsoft filed a patent for every single friggin' line of code they've ever written (obviously an exaggeration, but they have taken out multiple patents as ways of extending expired patents). I say we abolish the patent system, abolish all forms of unbacked currency, and go to the liberty dollar [libertydollar.com].
  • by FuzzyDaddy (584528) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @08:40PM (#11047739) Journal
    I was in a meeting with some people from a company that is developing SiC (Silicon Carbide) wafers and devices that is doing some work on GaN (Gallium Nitride). (SiC is good at very high temperatures and voltages and harsh environments. GaN is also very tough, but can be used at higher frequencies). One of the reasons they haven't pursued GaN devices very much is that it's a minefield of patents. There are so many patents on so many little aspects of GaN device development, that small players face a big risk trying to develop something. Only big companies with substantial patent portfolios (that they can cross license) and legal teams can really hope to develop something. Which is unfortunate, because a lot of the really good cutting edge work is done at small companies.

    Unless someone comes up with something creative, GaN device technology will be hampered by the proliferation of minor patents.

    This is even in the absence of dumb patents (like one click shopping) - these are patents for serious semiconductor work. In this case, stronger patent protections are hampering progress (to no one's benefit) rather than facilitating it.

  • Computerization (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Audacious (611811) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @09:38PM (#11048048) Homepage
    As I wrote some time ago (I looked for it so I could just put the link in here but couldn't find it on SlashDot), one of the things that keeps getting left out of this debate, is the fact that because the PTO is being bombarded by thousands of patents each year it needs to computerize the way it works. The steps I see are:

    1. Create a dictionary of all words used in applying for a patent. This is rather obvious because a good spell checker is needed anyway. But this goes beyond that. It allocates a unique id number to each of the document's words. This allows you to reduce the overall size of the document quite a bit. (After all, if you use a four byte word that gives you around four billion words and the largest dictionary only has a couple hundred thousand words in it.) Legal jargon usually uses more than four letters in a word and thus the document would be smaller overall.

    2. A second dictionary of terms which are equal to each other. This dictionary would grow over time. Basically, things like "flashlight", "Light emitting device", "a device with a lamp in it which projects a beam", and "hand held light device" are all the same or similar. Thus, when a term which is unrecognized comes up in a document it can be added to one of the lists and from then on it is associated with that term. (And yeah, they should be able to add, remove, etc... from the list.)

    3. The program should have already scanned all previous patents and created the above two dictionaries. Then when a new patent comes through (since they have to be submitted electronically now anyways) it is passed through the program which determines how closely a given document comes to other patents. Note that this is different from "are the sentences the same" or "are the sentences in the same order". The program should not care what order anything appears in - just do a search like Google and find how many words are the same or similar (remember they could replace all words of "flashlight" with "hand held light emitting device" via word processor).

    3a. Since the patent system is divided up into various areas (ie: Games, Construction, etc...) the program should scan across all boundaries to ensure that something from one area is not now being patented in another area.

    3b. All entries should be listed (just like with Google) in a descending order of revelance. So a patent which was given out in, say 1816 (The Stirling Engine) isn't re-patented as "The Audacious Engine" simply because all of the places where it says "Engine" in the orginal patent are replaced by "a non-internal combustion device".

    4. All applied for patents should be kept on file so they too can be checked against. Notes on why the patent was denied should also be kept on file so they can be referred back to.

    People may say we can't do this. Google has to handle over a billion web pages yet it can do it in a matter of a few seconds. There are only a couple million patents. The PTO should be able to handle this really easily. Hire the guys from Google to set things up. (And no - I don't work for Google.)

    As for graphical pictures showing how something works - it depends. There are software packages which can compare one item/picture to another but all it would take is to accidentally send the picture reversed, rotated slightly so it looks different, use different colors, shades, shadows, etc.... You can look for similarities but that is about it.

    In any event - it is nice that the powers that be are trying to fix the problem (or at least suggest changes) but it would be more realistic to try to automate the whole process so the patents can be throw out faster and faster. Which is why both good and bad patents are needed and both should have their own set of dictionaries. You need the bad patents in there as a way to say "Hey! Here are examples of why you can't have a patent!" Further, the bad patents could be used just like the good ones to show how someone tried once before to get something pas
  • by KidSock (150684) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @09:46PM (#11048095)
    The last time this came up someone posted an interesting idea. If the USPTO can't reasonably review all the patent applications simply accept them all. But change the expiration to say 2 years with an option to renew the patent for the full 17 year and make the renewal cost a considerable amount of money (eg $40,000). This will give legitimite patents the protection they need to develop their idea enough to know if it's worth more effot. It wouldn't stop people from filing frivolous patents but the submarine patents would probably disappear almost entirely.
  • by CarlDenny (415322) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @10:03PM (#11048170)
    Hmm, the article seemed like a good overview with some useful suggestions.

    But it completely left out the biggest, IMHO, problem with the patent system: triple damage for "knowingly infringing." This one policy (not sure if it's in the law, or a court precedent) simply has to go before any reform based on competitors will work.

    As it is, every IP lawyer tells every engineer to go out of their way not to learn about competitors patents. And certainly don't write down that you know. And abso-friggin-lutely don't let the patent lawyer know that you know. Because if there's proof, boom! triple damages. Regardless of whether you also "knew" that there was prior art, that your company already had a patent that covered the same thing, that the patent was invalid, or that it was obvious to a skilled practitioner of the art.

    Overturning this one aspect of the patent system would let tech companies actively monitor their competitors patents, get valuable technical details out of them, and challenge the patents *before* infringement suits are brought by the holders. It would curb the worst of the submarine patents because companies would *know* when someone patents a standard (esp one being developed) without being forced to turn a blind eye to avoid tripling their liability later.
  • by sstidman (323182) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @11:53PM (#11048678) Journal
    I have an idea. I think it might help if patents were only issued to individuals, not corporations. The original idea behind patents, as I understand it, was to protect the little guy from competition and give him the chance to profit from his invention, thus encouraging innovation. Large corporations might like the protection offered by a patent, but it can hardly be argued that they need that protection. Also, we see brilliant inventors create ingenious products and then they see nothing more for that than a nice Christmas bonus. I think I would be demotivated if I studied for years, created some incredible technology and then sat back and watched my company claim it as their own and make hundreds of millions off it while I got basically nothing.

    Also, I think it might help to shorten the duration of patents. Technology moves too fast these days for long patents and a lot of cases would never make it to court because they would have been past the statute of limitations. And they should not permit software patents.
  • by khrtt (701691) on Friday December 10, 2004 @12:25AM (#11048796)
    Simple - abandon software patents, and cut down the times for the other patents back to what they were to start with.

    The reason to have a patent system is to encourage the inventors to promote and freely disclose their inventions, rather than keeping them to themselves. Not to protect inventors rights, or anything like that.
  • by linuxhansl (764171) on Friday December 10, 2004 @05:02AM (#11049700)
    Another change in US law that would greatly reduce the number of frivolous lawsuites would be to be finally adopt a loser-pays-all-costs policy - including the fees of the other party's lawyers.

    Almost the entire rest of this planet enforces such a policy. Currently no matter how week the case is, the defending party has to effort their lawyers and won't be compensated even when they win the case.

    Of course it won't happen, because lawyers make a lot of money from these lawsuites and also from deals like "if you lose you do not have to pay me, but if we win I get X % of the proceedings" (where X is usually > 40%).
    Lawyers are also powerful in this country, and - really - who cares about whether the law is actually fair. So, personally, I do not expect to see any change at all.

    This maybe off-topic, but does anybody remember the 10bn Deutschmark (about $5bn at that time) lawsuit against German companies for forcing Jewish prisoners into slave-like work during WW-II? As nobel as the cause is, guess who got the first 600 million of the paid money, before a single victim saw a dime...
    If you guessed "The Lawyers", you would be correct.

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