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Supreme Court Weakens Patents 331

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the any-lawyers-on-the-plane dept.
ajakk writes "The U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion, overturned the decades old test for determine whether a patent is obvious. The Court ruled that the Court had looked at obviousness in a "narrow, rigid manner." This should allow patents to be more easily invalidated because they are obvious."
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Supreme Court Weakens Patents

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  • Vonage (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Caffeinate (1031648) on Monday April 30, 2007 @11:55AM (#18928351)
    So does this mean that the scourge of the telecom industry may manage to survive?
  • Re:IANAL (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:03PM (#18928469)
    No. Patents can be re-examined at any time with this ruling in mind. This will apply to every flimsy patent issued because of a bad CAFC ruling made years ago. This is the first time SCOTUS has weighed in on this topic since the Graham v. Deere case that established the rules for Obviousness. By calling for more re-examinations (poor patent office might get overrun), these old patents can and should be overturned. The screaming you hear is the big pharma who are going to lose their butts on this. The people who are happy, well believe it or not, they are the software folks (and patent examiners, who will like being able to reject patents without nearly as much effort as before).

    Also, people can use this case as precedent to have patents that they are being sued with overturned, showing that they do not have the strength to overcome obviousness over prior art. (Basically, SCOTUS just re-defined obviousness in prior art. Now that prior art has changed, patents can be overturned on prior art they previously were not able to be.)
  • Next step (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mateo_LeFou (859634) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:04PM (#18928479) Homepage
    Stop allowing patents on what is *obviously not patentable, e.g. mathematical algorithms and software
  • Re:Next step (Score:2, Insightful)

    by alienw (585907) <alienw@slashdot.gmail@com> on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:10PM (#18928565)
    I still don't understand what makes algorithms and software OBVIOUSLY not patentable. Also, stop misusing the word "mathematical". I am not a proponent of software patents; I just don't see what makes software patents so different from other patents, and I haven't seen a single logical argument against software patents that doesn't involve circular reasoning.
  • by liliafan (454080) * on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:21PM (#18928639) Homepage

    Personally, I feel the icon is still valid. Mostly because we still allow patents on things that don't actually cost anything to manufacture, such as software and "business methods".
    Okay firstly I will point out I don't agree with software patents, they are destructive to innovation, however, how can you possibly say software doesn't cost anything to manufacture?

    There is lots of costs involved in software development, nothing in this world is free, even from the view of some geek sat at home hacking away at his favorite opensource application, there is time involved, there is development environments, there is debuggers, there is electricity to run the system. So that is a minor example of very low cost since.

    On the other end of the spectrum you have a large company that is developing software, how about their costs? Hiring developers, QA people, office space, standard overheads.

    Software development does cost money.

  • Re:Next step (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oliverthered (187439) <oliverthered@@@hotmail...com> on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:27PM (#18928681) Journal
    algorithms and software (just a bunch of algorithms ) are just representations of a mental process.
    As soon as you allow them to be patented you make thought itself against the law.
  • Re:IANAL (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Pharmboy (216950) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:35PM (#18928753) Journal
    SCOTUS interprets the laws. They don't make them. So I'd say no... IANAL

    Oh really? Ever heard of Roe vs. Wade? Brown vs. Board of Education? Plus a whole string of cases that forces racial quotas in schools via busing, under court order.

    Not making a statement as to the wisdom, but these were clearly cases where the court took a stand and created law.
  • by boxless (35756) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:39PM (#18928815)
    At the end of the full ruling is this little chestnut:

    We build and create by bringing to the tangible and palpable reality around us new works based on instinct, simple logic, ordinary inferences, extraordinary ideas, and sometimes even genius. These advances, once part of our shared knowledge, define a new threshold from which innovation starts once more. And as progress beginning from higher levels of achievement is expected in the normal course, the results of ordinary innovation are not the subject of exclusive rights under the patent laws. Were it otherwise patents might stifle, rather than promote, the progress of useful arts. See U. S. Const., Art. I, 8, cl. 8.
  • by Mateo_LeFou (859634) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:45PM (#18928879) Homepage
    Over 90% of software innovations are incremental steps on the existing set of best practices and commonly-used abstractions. If this base is screwed up by a bunch of patents, they defeat their purpose and hamper, rather than encourage, innovation.

    If you live in America, you won't have to go far for an example. If you live elsewhere, then go to America and then you won't have to go far for an example.
  • by Forseti (192792) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:45PM (#18928885)

    how can you possibly say software doesn't cost anything to manufacture? There is lots of costs involved in software development [...]

    Not design; manufacture. Designing a chair costs money, making replicas of that chair at a factory in order to sell them also costs money. Designing software costs money, but once that's done, there is no additional cost to manufacture, unless you count the box, CD and jewelcase, which are no longer needed. Selling one copy or one billion copies costs the same, and someone getting a copy for free doesn't "cost" you anything.

  • Re:Next Step (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lockejaw (955650) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:48PM (#18928897)
    Suppose Alice patents the FOO algorithm. If Bob wants to use it in a piece of software he's selling, he obviously needs a license from Alice to use it. But since "exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries" has been taken to include non-commercial use, what else can't Bob do? Can he implement it in free (gratis) software? Can he use the algorithm in code he writes, but doesn't distribute? Can he perform the algorithm himself? Can he be paid to do so?

    Since, as a sibling post stated, an algorithm is just a thought process, it's not really something to which exclusive rights should be granted.

    Most of the software patents we see these days don't play by the rules as it is. Either they don't do the full disclosure that is supposedly required (really, doesn't it seem odd that a product can be both patented and a trade secret?), are trivial or obvious combinations of existing things, have a large body of prior art, or some combination of the three. Software patents that do follow those rules are essentially patents on algorithms (i.e. sets of instructions on how to perform some task or calculation).

    The proper domains for proprietary software are trade secret for closed source code and copyright for open source code.
  • Re:Finally... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:52PM (#18928933) Homepage
    FTA: "Granting patent protection to advances that would occur in the ordinary course without real innovation retards progress," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court.

    Which, yes, is exactly the kind of common sense that seems to have been lacking and that I'm very glad the Court supported. That's the whole problem with patenting "obvious" things -- other people, perhaps many other people, would come up with the idea anyway in the course of solving whatever problem they are working on. Yet if it is patented, then suddenly the idea they would have come up with independently as a solution becomes instead a roadblock that they either have to find a way to work around (and work arounds may be very non-obvious) or pay royalty fees. I think anyone who works in technology developent has seen this happen.

    Personally I would probably extend the court's reasoning beyond what they mean, because I think even in cases of real innovation (granted a difficult definition) patents often retard progress. It's all in the phrase I used above "in the course of solving whatever problem they are working on". The vast majority of the time patents are not submitted by a lone inventor who came up with a neat idea they want industry to pay for if they use it, nor are they submitted by a company whose sole desire is to create IP. Normally, it's a company that is trying to make a product, and in the course of creating it they come up with some stuff and decide to patent it. Those patents are mostly there to be weapons in the event of patent litigation, to force negotiations.

    Take an example in a field I'm familiar with. Intel and AMD file many patents a year. Yet that IP is not their business. Creating processors that deliver the performance and features customers want, and better than the competition, is their business. They spend years creating a new design with the sole intention of meeting their perf/power/feature/price goals. In the course of so doing, they will come up with quite a few tricks some of which undeniably fit the definition of "real innovation". These will be patented, but again, that patent does little for the company except give them more armament should a patent suit be brought against them. The patent itself doesn't help the goal of creating better processors, because you can't necessarily just slap some random idea into an existing design, and a new design that uses the patent would take years to make and even then would only be a small part of a huge design. Yet those patents also get in the way of anyone else who, in the course of trying to make a microprocessor, would come across the same idea.

    That's really part of the fundamental problem. Even things which pass the smell test of "non-obvious" may be independently invented by multiple people. There is basically no thought so unique that it cannot be thought twice. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be patentable, but it does mean that if no patent is necessary (when the idea in the patent is a tiny part in the solution to the company's real problem) then innovation is being unecessarily hindered. Companies like Intel and AMD use their patents as a way to stiff-arm competitors, and as a way to prevent lawsuits from aggressive patent-IP-lawsuit firms, who are in my opinion the real problem. They invent nothing, create nothing, but buy up proprietary ideas as if they were pieces of furniture and use them to attack companies doing real work.

    That rant got off track. Suffice to say I'm very glad SCOTUS ruled that an overly limited definition of obvious is contradictory. The fewer "obvious" ideas that can be patented, then the fewer patents will be filed by companies that don't necessarily get any direct benefit from patents but feel they must due to the way patent law works.

    P.S. The Microsoft ruling just boggles me, though. Jurisdiction is one of the things all courts seem to be sticklers about, readily stating that some case or part of a case involves actions outside their jurisdiction. Microsoft selling software in Asia et. al. seems to be a really obvious one, so I'm just surprised that the lower court ruled as it did. Again, kudos to SCOTUS for common sense.
  • Re:Next step (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:01PM (#18929019) Homepage
    Math is not patentable. Software is nothing but a computer-understandable representation of math. A software patent however does not involve such a computer-understandable representation, it merely covers the idea. The idea behind software is pure math. Therefore a software patent is a patent on math, and should not be granted.

    That may seem circular, but math not being patentable is a matter of law. Not to mention a good idea, since math is the fundamental language of the universe, it is the language by which we describe all scientific progress. To patent math is to patent the foundation of science, and will cripple progress. Just like software patents are crippling progress.

    Have you ever seen a patent on a math book? Of course not, math isn't patentable. Yet suddenly when you encode that math in a computer language, it is patentable? Hell, with a program like Maple the content of the math book could be "computer readable", so does Maple mean math textbooks can be patented?
  • copyright (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zogger (617870) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:11PM (#18929223) Homepage Journal
    Software is typed up stuff, written in a language or languages, and as such, is more akin to written books or articles or say like musical scores, and should only be allowed copyright, not patents. Patents should be restricted to tangible products. In addition, the software industry itself has insisted and got granted immunity from normal consumer warranties, which is clearly evidence they don't see their own typed up stuff as a "normal product". It's *special*.

    They shouldn't have it both ways when no other industry can claim that. If it is patentable, it should come with a minimum implied normal warranty (suitable for use, no glaring and or dangerous defects, etc). No warranty should mean no patent, copyright only.

    I hope that is linear enough to answer your question.
  • Re:Next step (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Red Flayer (890720) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:16PM (#18929301) Journal

    That doesn't negate any /copyright/ restrictions (i.e. you can simply steal someone's software, it doesn't leagalize piracy), but for example, a sub-pixel rendering patent could not be used against a free (as in beer) piece of sub-pixel rendering software.
    Hmm. The problem I see is that one can't copyright an algorithm, so by extension there would be no restriction on wholesale "theft" of software. So any patented software out there would be completely vulnerable to pirated copies under a different trademark.

    Plenty of people see this as the best-case scenario, since "information wants to be free". However, in practice, this would mean that there is almost zero financial incentive to produce new innovative, software outside of the service revenue model.

    I think it's tough to find a balance between "promoting the useful arts" and restricting innovation via patent lockdown, but allowing free-as-in-beer use of patented materials destroys the entire patent system for software, since there is almost no unit cost to redistribute software. Is annhiliating the patent system for software desirable? I don't know, but I do know that I don't wish to discuss it on Slashdot (been burnt one too many times).

    Sorry to be so long-winded, but I feel that what you're advocating would result in the wholesale destruction of the patent system...

    One last thing...

    The idea is - if it can be created/distributed at such "minimal" effort that no cost is required, then it the patent is of questionable novelty.
    So what you're saying is that anything produced digitally is not novel?
  • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:24PM (#18929495)

    I thought this part had the most impact on software patents:

    Third, the court [Federal Court of Appeals] erred in concluding that a patent claim cannot be proved obvious merely by showing that the combination of elements was obvious to try. When there is a design need or market pressure to solve a problem and there are a finite number of identified, predictable solutions, a person of ordinary skill in the art has good reason to pursue the known options within his or her technical grasp.

    After all, there are only so many ways to code 1 + 1 = 2. Many tech companies like IBM, MS, Sun, etc have huge portfolios of patents mostly for defensive purposes. With this ruling, it would seem that some of their patents are unenforceable.

  • Re:Next step (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:27PM (#18929587) Journal

    Hmm. The problem I see is that one can't copyright an algorithm, so by extension there would be no restriction on wholesale "theft" of software. So any patented software out there would be completely vulnerable to pirated copies under a different trademark.

    No. That would still be a very large copyright violation, just as it is now. In fact, AFAIK, wholesale copyright infringement does not cause you to infringe the patents because you are not creating an implementation of the patent.

  • by g2devi (898503) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:50PM (#18930009)
    > The problem, in my opinion, with software patents isn't with the fact that they're software -- in my mind, software ought to
    > be patented, ... -- but that they're typically of very poor quality, shoddily researched, and overbroad.

    It's more fundamental than that. I understand that you're trying to find a middle ground, but there is none (at least none that is "obvious":-]). It's a

    Here are four things to consider:

    (1) How many people actually look at patent to come up with ideas? If no-one does, then how is it helping with innovation? What exactly is the purpose of software patents other than a way for lawyers and patent trolls to get paid for disrupting innovation?

    (2) If I independently discover/reinvent the patent, then why should why should I have to pay someone else for the privilege of using *my* idea? Reinvention has nothing to do with obviousness. Sometimes the time is right for non-obvious inventions. Examples of this indepentent invention/rediscovery include quantum mechanics, light bulb, telephone, combustion engine, airplane, television, transistor, and integrated circuit. See http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/summary_0199-61065 42_ITM [ecnext.com] for a fuller description.

    (3) Relating to (2), suppose you allow independent reinvention as an exception. What happens if I want to tell people about *my* idea for free? I can't (and may get sued if I do). Free speach and society loses.

    (4) Software patents are supposed to protect "the little guy" but since big corps can afford to have millions of patents, it's almost certain that they have something that "the little guy" violates (or may potentially violate) and force "the little guy" to cross-license, enabling the big corps to "steal" (if you believe patents are IP) the idea. Even if "the little guy" doesn't violate any patents, it's possible for the big corps to drag the case out in court until "the little guy" is bankrupt (e.g. just look at how long SCO dragged the case out against another big corp), making it virtually impossible for "the little guy" to enforce the patent but very easy for big corps to freeze out competition.

    So basically, even when you have legitimate innovation, software patents serve no good purpose and are harmful. If you have a legitimate innovation then trade secrets are a better alternative that doesn't mess with any of the above problems.

    Software patents are a lot like DRM and both are like making a bed with an elastic sheet that's too small for the bed. It looks possible to have "perfect software patents" or "perfect DRM" or "to make the bed", and you may be able to tie down three of the sides, but as soon as you try to tied down the forth side either one of the other three sides come loose or the whole thing falls apart.
  • Re:Next step (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ngarrang (1023425) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:56PM (#18930105) Journal

    I still don't understand what makes algorithms and software OBVIOUSLY not patentable. Also, stop misusing the word "mathematical". I am not a proponent of software patents; I just don't see what makes software patents so different from other patents, and I haven't seen a single logical argument against software patents that doesn't involve circular reasoning.

    If you give 100 programmers the same task, two of them are bound to create similar or The SAME algorithm to solve the problem. This is what makes software patents so strange. It would be like someone getting a patent on the doubly-linked list. Adding that second link is an obvious extension of a single-linked list.

    And, there are only so many ways to do something correctly. The One-Click ordering sequence is a natural progression from the shopping cart metaphor. "Why make someone follow ALL of the prompts when we can shorten the time with a one-click button?" The average 5-year old is smart enough to figure this out.

  • Re:Next step (Score:2, Insightful)

    by UncleTogie (1004853) * on Monday April 30, 2007 @02:37PM (#18930903) Homepage Journal

    However, in practice, this would mean that there is almost zero financial incentive to produce new innovative, software outside of the service revenue model.

    So this would have the effect of keeping corporations from feeding us as much sheer crap, while enabling enthusiasts to get back to creating tools instead of trolling patents to see if they'll be sued.

    Fine, where's the downside?
  • by Arguendo (931986) on Monday April 30, 2007 @02:55PM (#18931205)

    I am a patent litigator (meaning I mostly kill patents; I don't create them), and this of course is big news in my practice today, and will be very helpful in several on-going cases.

    Here's my take: the case allows lawyers to tell a story about the prior art that makes sense. Previously, the Federal Circuit had shut you down if you couldn't point out explicit prior art for every little detail of the patent that you wanted to invalidate. That's exactly what they did in the case under review. The defendant pointed out that all of the basic problems had been solved in other patents, but the Federal Circuit responded that they hadn't been solved with the intent of solving the particular problem the patent said it was trying to solve. Well, so what? We should be able to assume (and argue) that ordinary engineers have a little common sense and creativity in determining how to use previous inventions. We shouldn't have to show the courts that there was an exact road-map for an idiot to follow and arrive at the precise "invention" at issue. That's the big help in this case.

    So from my point of view, here are the two big advances from KSR today:

    • "A person of ordinary skill is also a person of ordinary creativity, not an automaton." (Page 17)
      This should be obvious, but it will help that the Supreme Court said it. It will be quoted a lot because it shows that we can assume that the ordinary engineer can make simple inferences and doesn't need his hand held.
    • "When there is a design need or market pressure to solve a problem and there are a finite number of identified, predictable solutions, a person of ordinary skill has good reason to pursue the known options within his or her technical grasp. If this leads to the anticipated success, it is likely the product not of innovation but of ordinary skill and common sense." (Also page 17.)
      This is the Supreme Court's long-winded way of boosting the "obvious to try" argument. The Federal Circuit has for a long time rejected the argument that it would have been "obvious to try," instead saying that it needs to be "obvious to do". (For example, it may be obvious to try to build a time machine, but that doesn't mean the invention of a time machine would be obvious.) But I read this opinion as saying that "obvious to try" goes a long way towards showing that it was "obvious to do". In other words, if it was obvious to try and the trying used predictable methods and yielded a predictable result, then the whole thing was likely obvious. So this will help as well.

    Finally, it is going to be interesting to see how the PTO itself deals with this opinion. If an examiner comes back to you and says, "no I think this is obvious," it's very difficult to "prove" otherwise, especially early in a product's life cycle when you don't have market data to show how successful it might be, etc. At least under the previous test, the examiner would have to point out all the explicit references in the prior art. Now they apparently just have to point out the basic elements, and then say, "in their opinion," a person of ordinary skill and creativity would have been able use these elements to make the invention. How do you argue with that? "No, I don't think ordinary people are that creative"?

    So, you fix one problem and possibly create another. The opinion shifts the debate to help prove obviousness, but it doesn't solve the underlying problem of what obviousness means. So it goes.

  • Proof? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PCM2 (4486) on Monday April 30, 2007 @02:59PM (#18931287) Homepage

    Math is not patentable. Software is nothing but a computer-understandable representation of math.

    Can you show us a plausible proof for that assertion?

    By your logic, running a warehouse is nothing more than a human-understandable representation of the motion of molecules.

  • Re:Next step (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PCM2 (4486) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:05PM (#18931381) Homepage

    algorithms and software (just a bunch of algorithms ) are just representations of a mental process. As soon as you allow them to be patented you make thought itself against the law.

    If I've got an RS-232 cable plugged into a computer and its nothing more than few lengths of copper wire, then I run a piece of software on the computer and now there's electrical current on pins 2, 8, and 11 of the cable, I'd say that's caused a change in the physical world. It's not just a "mental process," any more than a [patentable] method of putting threads on a screw is a mental process.

    We don't live in the Matrix. Out there in the real world, people use computers for actual work. They store data and perform operations upon that data that yield new datasets that did not exist previously. I don't really see how a process that takes an information resource and adds value with computer software is substantially different than any process that takes a raw material like iron or petroleum and adds value to that (and on up the value chain).

  • Re:Next step (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PCM2 (4486) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:10PM (#18931461) Homepage

    The average 5-year old is smart enough to figure this out.

    So really, the problem is not necessarily software patents, but the fact that there doesn't seem to be an effective standard for obviousness for software patents. Which I guess is what the Supreme Court hopes to rectify?

  • Re:Next step (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TooManyNames (711346) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:16PM (#18931571)
    I'm not really sure what you're getting at here. Algorithms are no more representations of a mental process than heat engines or ASIC chips. Algorithms do require a precise interpretation of mental processes, but then again so did every invention ever conceived. In fact, algorithms developed to leverage the way a computer works may have almost nothing to do with the corresponding mental process.

    For example, take a simple algorithm which decides the next best move in a chess game... do you really think that the standard mental process is to recursively examine the next several moves and potential counter moves for a given board layout. Similarly, is the typical mental process for using language based off of some well-defined CFG?

    Algorithms are designed according to the availability of several functional units not offered by the human brain. Software based off of mathematical algorithms exploit the availability of an ALU and/or FPU. Hardware might even be developed to accelerate frequent, specific tasks required by software (such as designing an accelerator to perform matrix multiplications) in which case the software is optimized according to the availability of such hardware.

    The truth is that, despite some superficial similarities, both the underlying design and functionality of a brain and computer are quite different and serve different purposes. To argue that there is no difference in the way each is used (which is what you are saying when you claim that software really isn't any different from thought) is to ignore the very structure of a computer.

  • Re:Next step (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Monday April 30, 2007 @05:46PM (#18933653) Homepage
    Your statement was: [Patents] exist because when you invent a process, or anything original, you have the right to your invention.

    A patent is a right to an invention. So you essentially said that the reason we have patents is because when you invent something patentable, you have a patent.

    The problem is that while you've claimed that it's true because you've claimed it's true, it's actually false; that's not the reason why we have patents.

    What I'm getting here is a sense that all people exist for the public good.

    That's an interesting philosophy, but I don't share it, I'm afraid. Still, so long as you're willing to live by it and not impose it on others, good for you.

    My question to you is: 1: Who does the public exist for/who is the public. 2: So should I devote my whole life to Open Source code and live off Raman for the rest of my life because it is good for the public

    Well, you're probably missing two things then.

    First, a patent is an artificial, exclusive right. That is, no one just magically has a patent. A patent must be given to them from some outside authority, i.e. the government, which derives its right to govern from the consent of its people, and which acts in their common interests, or is illegitimate. Further, it's not a right to actually do anything; it's a right to prevent other people from doing things. The right to practice the patent is natural, however.

    This means that if the county of ABC consists of Alice, Bob, and Carol, and grants Alice a patent, then 1) Alice has the right to prevent Bob and Carol from doing whatever the patent teaches for the duration of the patent, 2) this is because Bob and Carol have voluntarily given up their natural right to do that, by giving Alice a veto power over them, and 3) Bob and Carol are okay with this for some reason, even though it's an imposition upon them. Why would they be okay with it?

    Because the second thing is that patents are utilitarian in nature. Alice, Bob, and Carol are each acting in their own self-interest. Alice wants a patent because she can exploit it to get money from Bob and Carol. Bob and Carol are willing to suffer the burden of the patent because they want to get the invention invented, disclosed, and put on the market. But Bob and Carol are unwilling to suffer a burden greater than the benefit they derive from this system because to suffer too great a burden would contrary to their self interest. Likewise, Alice is unwilling to invest her resources in inventing unless the rewards to her are greater than the benefits she'll derive from the process.

    Some of the benefits Alice receives are unaffected by the patent system. For example, she could become famous for her invention, like Edison, or Bell. The patent system doesn't help her get famous. And if getting famous was enough for her, then it would be contrary to the interests of Bob and Carol to give her a patent since they'll always prefer to get inventions for free rather than to pay for them, if this is possible.

    What I'm saying is that I think that the natural incentives in certain fields are currently great enough to produce a lot of invention, disclosure, and bringing to market, that we don't need to add the artificial incentive of a patent. And that further, the burdens of a patent (e.g. the monopoly pricing that the patent holder will have) are likely to outweigh the benefits, given how slight the benefits happen to be here.

    So getting back to your question, while I wouldn't have the first problem with you devoting yourself to a life of charitable software development, I also don't expect you to. But I don't think I have to give you a special bonus for software development on top of what you could get with a patent-free market; I think you'd do it anyway, even if you couldn't get a patent.
  • Re:Next step (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ClassMyAss (976281) on Monday April 30, 2007 @07:05PM (#18934593) Homepage

    The biggest problem with what you are saying, regardless of which one of us is right about the economics, and how much is produced, is that you refuse to believe that if someone makes something (a song, algorithm, book, etc.) they don't have the right to make money off of that. It is not about the 'recognized right,' the point is that it is only fair to them that we let them make money for the products of their mind, and the way to do that is patents. Meanwhile, the widget company is going to go out of business very rapidly because their costs are going to far outstrip their revenues.
    It seems that you are being deliberately dense about this - being granted a patent is NOT equivalent to being allowed to make money off of something. It is specifically about denying anyone else the opportunity to make money off of the invention, even if they independently stumble upon your innovation themselves. You are right - it is only fair to let people make money off of their inventions, but patents have nothing to do with it. Patents grant the exclusive right to make money off of an idea. Which leads right in to your next statement...

    In the real world there is no widget factory per se, instead there are several companies each competing for your 'labor'. The result? Fair market value.
    Fair market value is exactly what a patent avoids; it is the entire reason people want patents, since without competition you can jack your prices and be the exclusive supplier.

    Not that patents are always evil, though. I do tend to have some sympathy for the pharms because the amount of R&D required to come up with their drugs honestly would not (and could not) happen without the financial incentive of a temporary monopoly on the results. But one-click shopping? Marching cubes? These things are just ridiculous, and it really does seem like software patents are way off-base lately.
  • Without a patent, inventors wouldn't be inventors. And for the last time, no a patent is not the right to something, it recognizes the right, the moral right, and not the legal one, to intellectual property.

    If that's your opinion, and your belief, well, that's fine -- more power to you. But it's certainly not a widely-held one, and I think you'll find any sort of evidence for or substantiation of it, in law or philosophy, surprisingly sparse.

    I can't think of any basis for a natural right to "intellectual property;" it's a fairly modern invention, and one that is quite detached from the concept of freedom in thought or speech.

    It seems as though you are edging very close on creating a natural right where it ought to exist only as a manufactured one: that is to say, we as a society might decide that it is beneficial to create the concept of "intellectual property," but that is wholly different from saying that there is a natural or "moral" right to it, somehow arising out of essential human nature and free will. Intellectual property is a wholly utilitarian concept, the development of which you can track quite easily over the past few centuries in response to economic and technological pressures.

    Of course, in the most basic sense, the difference between "natural" rights and "derived" or "manmade" rights is arbitrary (unless, like Aquinas or the Framers of the Constitution, you invoke God, or like Kant, you perform a rigid derivation of rights from a first principle), so what I'm really saying is this: if you want to persist in believing that there is a natural right to intellectual property, fine, but be aware that you are taking a fringe position which isn't exactly popular or widely held. Very few people are going to be willing to swallow that on premise, as you seem to want them to.

    [And I'm not even going to get into your comment about inventors only being inventors because of patents, because that doesn't make a damn bit of sense to me.]

Do not simplify the design of a program if a way can be found to make it complex and wonderful.

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