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Encyclopedia Britannica Loses Information-Retrieval Patent Ruling 95

Posted by timothy
from the rent-seeking-behavior-thwarted-for-once dept.
angry tapir writes with a snippet from Good Gear Guide: "A notorious patent case about a technology that allows people to search multimedia content may finally be coming to a close. Earlier this week, a judge ruled that two patents initially awarded to Encyclopedia Britannica are invalid. The patents were built on the infamous 5,241,671 patent first unveiled by Compton's NewMedia in 1993 at the Comdex trade show. That patent, which covered the retrieval of information from multimedia content and is now owned by Britannica, would have been relevant to the many companies selling multimedia CD-ROMs at the time."
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Encyclopedia Britannica Loses Information-Retrieval Patent Ruling

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  • Adios (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Locke2005 (849178) on Monday August 10, 2009 @02:14AM (#29008139)
    I feel sorry for Encyclopedia Britannica. Like many other companies that were built on the concept of monopolizing information, they no longer have a viable business model.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 10, 2009 @02:15AM (#29008149)

    Issued in 1993, invalidated in 2009, what a deal. Valid patents only last for 20 (or sometimes 17) years, so this invalid patent turned out to choke the marketplace for almost as long as a valid one would have.

  • Re:Adios (Score:5, Insightful)

    by religious freak (1005821) on Monday August 10, 2009 @02:40AM (#29008219)
    Well, when you say you feel sorry for them, you're obviously being sarcastic. But I do feel sorry for them.. as sorry as you can feel for an for-profit corporation anyway. Britannica is obviously flailing around trying to maintain some kind of revenue as shown by this lawsuit, but to say they made money on "monopolizing" information is completely unwarranted.

    Did you ever read an encyclopedia pre-internet days (I'm guessing you're too young)? An encyclopedia was an enjoying read just like wikipedia is today. Literally EVERYTHING in the world was accessible to a young kid in 200-500 word chunks. Britannica did not monopolize information, they made it available to anyone that could pick up one of their books. That was their mission, and they did a damn fine job of it. Yes, they didn't keep up with technology and couldn't find their niche, and it looks like the company is going to die... but that really is sad - to have a company devoted to learning die off is never a good thing.

    BTW: getoffmylawn!
  • by moogsynth (1264404) on Monday August 10, 2009 @03:20AM (#29008371)

    Do you honestly believe the computer you are typing on now would exist without patents or be afordable enough that the average person could own one?

    What might surprise you is the fact that the computer industry was doing just fine for forty years without patents. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (patent maximalists by anyone's standards) have said many times that if patents had been more prevalent back in the day, neither would have succeeded with their businesses.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 10, 2009 @04:15AM (#29008593)

    Because a mechanical can-opener is only patented "as is". If someone else builds a different mechanical can-opener that uses a different mechanism then they are free to sell that.

    Business model and software patents are starting to become "a method for selling can-openers using the internet" and "a can-opener using a touch-interface".

    The patents should protect you from a direct copy and if you design a great new feature (say a new material for the cutting edges), that feature should be protected. But if someone else can come up with an even better way (using lasers attached to friggin' sharks) of opening a can your patent should protect you.

    The problem is that the new patents are too broad. It's true that not all the claims will hold up in court, but how should a layman be able to tell which ones will?

  • Re:Adios (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dna_(c)(tm)(r) (618003) on Monday August 10, 2009 @04:24AM (#29008625)

    You BOTH have a point.

    They used to dedicate their efforts to making information available. Then they tried to conquer the new media restricting access to information. Now they're on the brink of failing. It is the same path to failure lots of newspapers follow.

    I too spend hours reading Encyclopedia Brittanica, mostly mechanical and scientific stuff. Probably the first thing I read in English.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 10, 2009 @04:33AM (#29008669)

    That's the real problem with patents these days - they were designed in a time when 20 years still meant the patent was useful at the end; it was reasonable to give the discoverer/inventor a short term exclusive right in order to spur more invention and, overall, increase society's knowledge.

    Unfortunately, for computers, 20 year old patents are virtually worthless to society. Net result is that society is paying (by restricting itself) but not getting anything worthwhile at the end.

    (LZW compression, for example, is completely eclipsed by more modern standards *except* that it's part of certain file formats.)

    Compare to drug patents, where they are (generally - antibiotics perhaps excepted) still relevant and useful after the patent expires.

    (Plus, there is the occasional overly broad patent - no drug company would patent using any drug to cure a type of cancer; but people try and patent using a Computer to do Commerce.)

  • Re:Adios (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 10, 2009 @04:51AM (#29008725)

    They want $1200 for a set of books. That is 2 years of internet access for me. Guess which one I am paying for? It seems as a company focused on learning, they did not learn themselves.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:05AM (#29008761)

    If I spend five years developing a device

    And spend most of that reading every line of code to see which software patents it infringes (there will be dozens, including several that are not published because they are "pending"), and then cross-license it with the other big boys... oh sorry you aren't a top-ten company? They won't cross license it with you, but they will each license it for 5 percent of your revenue though. Unless they are a troll, in which case they will wait until you release your product, and then sue you for all your revenue. But thanks for playing.

  • Re:Why Britannica (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SailorSpork (1080153) on Monday August 10, 2009 @07:27AM (#29009197) Homepage

    Isn't this a case where the US Government should be sued since they own the USPTO?

    Brilliant, I agree! In theory, at any rate.

    Except for the fact that if a company can successfully sue the USPTO after it revokes a patent, then the USPTO will never again revoke a patent simply out of liability avoidance. Then we've made a half-broken system all-broken.

    The process needs to be fixed at the front end, and the patent office needs to be REWARDED for overturning patents, not sued, in order to encourage it to continue this behavior.

  • Re:Why Britannica (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Quothz (683368) on Monday August 10, 2009 @08:17AM (#29009349) Journal

    What we need is to prevent companies from getting questionable patents in the first place. Make a law saying a company holding a later invalidated patent will be fined 1% of their profits that year, and I promise you, this shit will stop.

    Maybe I'm cynical, but I'm pretty sure that whatever percentage you set, folks'll still do it if they think it's more profitable than the fine times the chance of getting caught. Even if it's a hundred percent chance to lose all their annual profits - some companies will still do it to pick up investors, to gain market share/destroy a competitor, and such.

  • by kimvette (919543) on Monday August 10, 2009 @08:33AM (#29009419) Homepage Journal

    So protecting your work is evil but knocking off some one else's hard work is good? If I spend five years developing a device but some one else can knock it off in a matter of months then what's the point of developing anything new?

    That's not the problem. The problem is these are getting patents:

    [$SomethingDoneForCenturies] but on a computer

    [$SomethingDoneForCenturies] but done wirelessly

    [$SomethingObviousToThoseSkilledInTheTrade]

    Those are all not allowed to be patented, and yet due to work overload and quotas, USPTO clerks are rubber-stamping these patent apps and are leaving it up to the courts to sort out. Compounding the problem is that the clerks who SHOULD know better can fix this problem but due to workloads and quotas do not, while the courts know exactly shit about patents and technology and uphold patents which should not due to clever arguments based in emotion and propoganda and not based on law.

    The end result is the little guy is getting fucked.

  • by tc9 (674357) on Monday August 10, 2009 @10:00AM (#29010159) Homepage Journal

    Imagine a civilizational crisis. War, Famine, Disease, whatever. How will we recover without Britannica and its peers. The renaissance was sparked by the rediscovery of ancient books. If we lose technolgoy, how would we ever recover digitial records? A CD or DVD is a nearly magical device, with assumption piled on techniology atop compression algorithm, with healthy amounts of assumptions about scan rates and directions tossed in.

    Wikipedia will be, not surprisingly, off-line.

    The last print Britannica might be the last back-up check point for our civilization.

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