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Intellectual Ventures' Patent Protection Racket 152

Posted by kdawson
from the know-people-who-know-people dept.
David Gerard writes "Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures doesn't sue people over patents, because that would be patent trolling! No, instead they just threaten to sell the patent to a known litigious patent troll. So that's all right then. Timothy Lee details how using patents to crush profitable innovation works in practice, and concludes: 'In thinking about how to reform the patent system, a good yardstick would be to look for policy changes that would tend to put Myhrvold and his firm out of business.'"
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Intellectual Ventures' Patent Protection Racket

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  • All talk... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by religious freak (1005821) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:23PM (#29358449)
    When is something going to actually be done about this??? It's been a topic of discussion for years, it impacts major companies in a net negative way and still nothing gets done. I don't understand it...
    • Re:All talk... (Score:5, Informative)

      by scamper_22 (1073470) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:09PM (#29359647)

      The order of importance:

      Government workers > Lawyers > corporations > citizens

    • by H4x0r Jim Duggan (757476) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @11:37PM (#29361513) Homepage Journal

          The Supreme Court's review of Bilski [swpat.org] is the first time since 1981 [swpat.org] that they've decided to look at the patentability of software. The Supreme Court needs facts, studies, and opinions (but only if they're
      from very respected people, which includes Timothy B. Lee). You can help gather and document these things on the public swpat.org wiki:

      This is our big chance to fix the problem!

    • Can't we just patent the process of setting up a patent with the sole intention of suing others for breaching it and then sue the trolls?
      Or would this fall down because of prior art?
      • They would just patent the process that's one meta-level above that and then counter sue. Later, the universe crashes with a stack overflow.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    He sure made money off MS, but he couldn't cut it as a researcher in particle physics. And he knows it.

    • As much as I agree with your post, the fact still remains: he has his money.
    • by Joe U (443617)

      Geez, I used to have some respect for the guy, I thought he was a really good research developer.

      Nathan, go back to research, aim to be the next Woz, not the next Jobs.

  • by noidentity (188756) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:24PM (#29358467)

    Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures doesn't sue people over patents, because that would be patent trolling! No, instead they just threaten to sell the patent to a known litigious patent troll. So that's all right then. Timothy Lee details how using patents to crush profitable innovation works in practice, and concludes: 'In thinking about how to reform the patent system, a good yardstick would be to look for policy changes that would tend to put Myhrvold and his firm out of business.'

    Please, summarize without injecting your childish sarcasm; save those for a comment reply. For example:

    In order to avoid blatant patent trolling, Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures doesn't sue people over patents; they instead threaten to sell the patent to a known litigious patent troll. Timothy Lee details how using patents to crush profitable innovation works in practice, and concludes: 'In thinking about how to reform the patent system, a good yardstick would be to look for policy changes that would tend to put Myhrvold and his firm out of business.'

    I much prefer the latter summary to the former, and I doubt I'm alone.

    • by haruchai (17472) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:35PM (#29358607)

      Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures doesn't sue people over patents, because that would be patent trolling! No, instead they just threaten to sell the patent to a known litigious patent troll. So that's all right then. Timothy Lee details how using patents to crush profitable innovation works in practice, and concludes: 'In thinking about how to reform the patent system, a good yardstick would be to look for policy changes that would tend to put Myhrvold and his firm out of business.'

      Please, summarize without injecting your childish sarcasm; save those for a comment reply. For example:

      In order to avoid blatant patent trolling, Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures doesn't sue people over patents; they instead threaten to sell the patent to a known litigious patent troll. Timothy Lee details how using patents to crush profitable innovation works in practice, and concludes: 'In thinking about how to reform the patent system, a good yardstick would be to look for policy changes that would tend to put Myhrvold and his firm out of business.'

      I much prefer the latter summary to the former, and I doubt I'm alone.

      And, I don't really care, so long as the linked article is interesting and informative, and I doubt I'm alone.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by causality (777677)

      Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures doesn't sue people over patents, because that would be patent trolling! No, instead they just threaten to sell the patent to a known litigious patent troll. So that's all right then. Timothy Lee details how using patents to crush profitable innovation works in practice, and concludes: 'In thinking about how to reform the patent system, a good yardstick would be to look for policy changes that would tend to put Myhrvold and his firm out of business.'

      Please, summarize without injecting your childish sarcasm; save those for a comment reply. For example:

      In order to avoid blatant patent trolling, Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures doesn't sue people over patents; they instead threaten to sell the patent to a known litigious patent troll. Timothy Lee details how using patents to crush profitable innovation works in practice, and concludes: 'In thinking about how to reform the patent system, a good yardstick would be to look for policy changes that would tend to put Myhrvold and his firm out of business.'

      I much prefer the latter summary to the former, and I doubt I'm alone.

      I don't believe this happens in isolation. I think it's directly caused by the frustration of seeing repeated instances of abusive behavior. That this abusive behavior is legal means that there is currently very little that anyone can do about it. No decent person enjoys seeing injustice with no remedy. That this might be revealed in the way a summary is worded is not really surprising. You certainly can successfully argue that it is less than professional, but I think that's much more useful when it'

      • by mckinnsb (984522) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @07:17PM (#29359165)

        Exactly. We are all pretty steamed about this and I would not qualify this behavior as childish sarcasm; I would qualify it as sarcasm generally held by a community reflected through the medium delivered to the community. I think it is pretty safe to say that 80-90% of people here on ./ would like to see some serious Software patent reform and we are pretty exasperated about that reform not happening. I am willing to submit that certainly, that is not every ./ reader. However, the fact that new businesses are being established which further exploit the broken system could easily anger the ./ reader whom is exasperated(I would like to clarify that I don't think that is the intent here). While sarcasm in journalism is generally not called for or necessarily professional (there has been far too much of it lately, I will agree with you there), sometimes it is admissible because it reflects the elevation of tension in the community, and that is really what the reporter's job is - to tell everybody else whats going on on the ground.

        It is important to realize that /. is not a pure news site, being in the transient twilit realm of new media. It mostly links 'real' (old media) news, and the rest of its independently generated content mostly consist of reviews, journal entries, and interviews. However, I am not surprised that people expect ./ to follow some journalistic standards.

        kdawson does lay it on a little thick sometimes, and I wish he would have more discretion in using that particular journalistic device, but I will give him a personal 'pass' on this one.

  • by haruchai (17472) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:25PM (#29358485)

      Despite his considerable intellect, he didn't accomplish much of note at M$ and now has sunk even lower. He should stick to cooking
    and taking photos.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by NoYob (1630681)

      Despite his considerable intellect, he didn't accomplish much of note at M$ and now has sunk even lower. He should stick to cooking and taking photos.

      I call arriving as a poor slob and leaving with several hundred million dollars quite an accomplishment. If that's sinking low, gimme a lead weight baby!

      • by dfetter (2035) <david@fetter.org> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @07:24PM (#29359235) Homepage Journal

        Acquiring a fortune isn't the same thing as actually accomplishing something. Frequently, it's a matter of being at the right place at the right time. Come to think of it, I know of no fortune that would be possible without that essential bit of luck.

        • by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @07:39PM (#29359409) Journal

          Acquiring a fortune isn't the same thing as actually accomplishing something. Frequently, it's a matter of being at the right place at the right time. Come to think of it, I know of no fortune that would be possible without that essential bit of luck.

          True... but when the moment is there, you have to seize it. Bill Gates and MS did that, a couple of times. And I know of a few good but failed ideas that might have been great had they been launched 5 years earlier or later. I knew a guy, not rich but a regular Joe, who had a knack to always position himself to allow him to reap praise for projects already on the track to success, and get out of failing projects in time. He got plenty of promotions without really accomplishing something, but his success did require that special knack.

          Of course, sometimes just being there is enough. Joining a startup that grows into a success despite your best efforts, and suddenly that crappy stock you got in lieu of a decent salary is worth 8 figures...

    • by haruchai (17472)

      My apologies for the typo in the subject line; I was rushing to head for home.

  • Shorter lifetime? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BigJClark (1226554) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:26PM (#29358491)

    Why not shorten the standard lifetime of patents from 20 years(I think its 20, anyways), to say, for example 5?

    In this way, the owner of the patent will have motivation not to sit on it, maximize profit and then move on to the next innovation.
    Seems like this wouldn't be a bad idea, although, I will be the first to admit, I only understand the very basics of the patent problem.

    Thoughts?
    • Re:Shorter lifetime? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Lehk228 (705449) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:31PM (#29358563) Journal
      make it the lesser of three, 20 years. or 5 years from the first licensed product containing the patent being available for sale, or 7 years from the first infringing product being available for sale.
      • by NoYob (1630681) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:45PM (#29358757)

        make it the lesser of three, 20 years. or 5 years from the first licensed product containing the patent being available for sale, or 7 years from the first infringing product being available for sale.

        The only thing I can see there it wouldn't worth it for the inventor is if he invented something that can't be priced to recoup the investment in R&D , let alone make a profit, in that time frame.

        Then there are inventions that are ahead of their time and there aren't too many profitable applications for a while - the LASER comes to mind. The Laser was invented in 1958 at Bell Labs, bit it didn't see widespread use until what, the 1980s? So, what will happen in a time from of 7 years or less would be that the inventor has spent all that time and money on R&D and would be unable to reap the benefits.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:54PM (#29358871)

          Many (like myself) will point out that the difference between the time of invention and the expiration of the patent correspond with the time it took for the invention to become popular.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Isn't it too curious that widespread use started AFTER the patent expired? (1958+20=1978, widespread use in the 80s) It seems to me that after the patent expired, when everyone could start experimenting with lasers, then several uses nor foreseen by Bell Labs where found out for lasers.

        • by larry bagina (561269) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @07:17PM (#29359167) Journal
          AT&T had more than enough monopoly money, so Bell Labs didn't patent their research. And we (everyone other than AT&T) are collectively better off for it.
          • AT&T did, in fact patent _ALL_ of their research. The difference was in another area...

            The grant of monopoly to AT&T, which funded Bell Labs, basically _forbade_ them from selling _anything_ (and so on). So AT&T made telephones and rented them as part of the service, and they licensed their Bell Labs patents for trivial amounts and so on. In particular the reciprocal in-perpetuity licensing that let Unix grow from nothing via return contributions from Berkley and Apple and everybody else would n

        • by Lehk228 (705449)
          The only thing I can see there it wouldn't worth it for the inventor is if he invented something that can't be priced to recoup the investment in R&D , let alone make a profit, in that time frame. it's not like everyone will stop buying from the inventor after the patent expires, and 5 years should be enough of a head start marketing to ensure continued sales after competitors.
        • by sjames (1099) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @07:55PM (#29359555) Homepage

          Considering that corporations today are seriously allergic to anything long term and often barely manage to see beyond the next quarter, it's doubtful that anything that couldn't fully recoup development costs and turn a nice profit in 5 years TOTAL would be pursued at all. Even Bell Labs has turned away from the sort of basic research that gained it it's reputation these days to focus on shorter term profit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Yvan256 (722131)

      Ripley (talking about Aliens): You know, Burke, I don't know which species is worse. You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.

    • Re:Shorter lifetime? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Ragingguppy (464321) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:36PM (#29358621)

      For any of you who know patent lawyers that think that software patents and patents on business processes are a good idea show them this patent. Here is the link.

      http://www.google.com/patents?id=ZUUNAAAAEBAJ&printsec=abstract&zoom=4#v=onepage&q=&f=false [google.com]

      • For any of you who know patent lawyers that think that software patents and patents on business processes are a good idea show them this patent. Here is the link.

        http://www.google.com/patents?id=ZUUNAAAAEBAJ&printsec=abstract&zoom=4#v=onepage&q=&f=false [google.com]

        I looked up the patent on PAIR and what's interesting is that this particular application was never rejected - it was allowed on the first try. I suspect that there were no real reasons given - it's a fundamentally silly application that would never stand up to an infringement suit or even a reexamination, kind of like the famed "method of swinging on a swing" application or the one about an interstellar warp drive that uses zero point energy.

        I think all this shows really that the USPTO is overworked and

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by labnet (457441)

      Why not shorten the standard lifetime of patents from 20 years(I think its 20, anyways), to say, for example 5?

      Because for most technology, it takes at least 5 years to ramp up, and you often havn't recovered your engineering by then. (I'm talking about real physical products here, not the stupid stuff you often see discussed here like business methods and software patents which should not be allowed) As a development engineer, I can say that the 'invention' part is only a small part of the pain. The real pain is ironing out the bugs, testing, building relationships with customers and distribution networks, suppor

      • by sjames (1099) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @07:58PM (#29359577) Homepage

        We need a metric that doesn't involve a court trying to determine if some fuzzy thing is true. Part of the damage from patents now is the extreme cost of patent litigation.

        • by jimicus (737525)

          We need a metric that doesn't involve a court trying to determine if some fuzzy thing is true. Part of the damage from patents now is the extreme cost of patent litigation.

          Therein lies the problem with any legislation.

          You either write it so tightly that as soon as the remotest change in society occurs your law becomes useless and you have to rewrite it or you word it fairly loosely to account for such things - which inevitably means leaving bits up to interpretation.

          • by sjames (1099)

            I would say the test needs to be moved back to the patent office where it used to live. Return to the requirement of a working prototype. It doesn't have to be a slick market ready product, just a prototype that demonstrates the basic feasibility of the idea and a good faith effort to actually do something with the underlying idea.

            The last thing patent trolls want to do is produce a prototype, that's too much like work for them. A developer in good faith will consider a prototype to be a necessary step anyw

    • by deblau (68023) <slashdot.25.flickboy@spamgourmet.com> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @07:19PM (#29359195) Journal

      Big pharma would cry bloody murder, since it costs about a billion dollars to bring a single drug to market through theoretical research, synthesis, isolation, pharmacology, clinical trials, more clinical trials, and final FDA marketing approval.

      Also, we signed an international agreement [wikipedia.org] saying we wouldn't.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        signed agreements?

        that's just paper. paper means nothing anymore. see: constitution, if you still believe that paper has any weight anymore ($1 = 1g, but that's about all the weight it carries).

        governments break agreements all the time. so do companies. so do people.

        ethics are just 'in the way'. this is the new century, afterall!

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        that agreement is null and void, as far as I'm concerned:

        Copyright terms must extend to 50 years after the death of the author, although films and photographs are only required to have fixed 50 and to be at least 25 year terms, respectively.(Art. 7(2),(4))

        I don't follow unethical laws. this is one of them.

        fuck this law. don't obey it. (I know, you already are a few pages ahead of me on this).

        give me one GOOD reason why copyright should extend BEYOND the author's death. one good reason is all I'd like to

        • by orkysoft (93727) <orkysoft@myrealb[ ]com ['ox.' in gap]> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:31PM (#29359877) Journal

          give me one GOOD reason why copyright should extend BEYOND the author's death.

          To discourage big media companies from ordering hits ON, rather than FOR their stars.

          • by drsmithy (35869)

            To discourage big media companies from ordering hits ON, rather than FOR their stars.

            To what benefit is killing the copyright owner ? That just immediately puts their material into the public domain, effectively destroying any possibility of making money from it.

            To say nothing of the laughable idea that someone would choose to engage in the much more serious crime of premeditated murder rather than the typically civil offense of copyright infringement.

            • by Java Pimp (98454)

              To what benefit is killing the copyright owner ? That just immediately puts their material into the public domain, effectively destroying any possibility of making money from it.

              Not that I'd advocate killing copyright owners, works in the public domain are far from worthless. Disney has made tons of money from public domain material: Snow White, Cinderella, Pinocchio...

              More recently, Shrek made a ton of money incorporating public domain characters. (Imagine Disney ever giving permission to show Mickey wearing a pink thong!) Another movie that I though gave a brilliant twist on public domain fairy tales was The Brothers Grimm.

              There is plenty of money to be made from public domain ma

        • by Gribflex (177733)

          give me one GOOD reason why copyright should extend BEYOND the author's death.

          The creator's family is actually a pretty decent reason. (And, I suspect, the reason that the law was put in place.)

          Consider two people, one who creates tangible goods, such as gas stations, and one who creates intellectual property, such as novels. If both of them died today, what would they leave behind in their estate? Of course, both would leave behind any financial earnings from their business as well as things that they had purchased. But what about each person's 'legacy.'

          Obviously the gas station guy

          • by drsmithy (35869) <drsmithy@gmailFREEBSD.com minus bsd> on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @03:28AM (#29362825)

            The creator's family is actually a pretty decent reason. (And, I suspect, the reason that the law was put in place.)

            Only if you think companies should be legally required to continue to pay their employee's salaries after they die.

            Consider two people, one who creates tangible goods, such as gas stations, and one who creates intellectual property, such as novels. If both of them died today, what would they leave behind in their estate? Of course, both would leave behind any financial earnings from their business as well as things that they had purchased. But what about each person's 'legacy.'

            This is simply a matter of timing. If the gas station owner dies while he's still owing a large proportion of the initial expenses endured acquiring it, then his family will get squat. On the other hand, if the author dies after releasing his first blockbuster (but while finishing the second), then his family are going to get a lot of money.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Gribflex (177733)

              Only if you think companies should be legally required to continue to pay their employee's salaries after they die.

              Salary: No.
              Royalties: Yes.

              I also think that royalties should be paid to people even after they cease being an employee, unlike a salary.

    • The problem with really short patent times, is many products, especially higher tech ones, can take years to develop to the point they are ready for wide spread sale. Well it'd suck to get a patent on your new expensive R&D and then have it run out before the product is on sale.

      A better idea would be a "use it or lose it" clause. Basically what it would amount to is that you'd have a limited amount of time, like 6-12 months maybe, from when a product that uses your patent is introduced to contact them a

    • Why not shorten Nathan's Myhrvold's lifespan to next week? The human race benefit greatly.
    • by TheLink (130905)
      Not sure if it'll help much. Patents tend to reward "obvious but 'novel' enough to get past the patent examiner".

      If you are ahead of your time, even 20 years doesn't help you. Go ask Douglas Engelbart and his team.

      The patent system does reward genuine innovation, but it rewards trolls and "inventors of the obvious" more.

      The big companies cross license with each other so they can get stuff done AND they can also use that to keep out the small companies from entering their markets (the small companies are lik
  • by DaveInAustin (549058) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:29PM (#29358539) Homepage
    In this gushing article [newyorker.com] Malcom Gladwell [wikipedia.org] implies that this sort of patent trollism is some great innovation on it's own.
    Bill Gates, whose company, Microsoft, is one of the major investors in Intellectual Ventures, says, âoeI can give you fifty examples of ideas theyâ(TM)ve had where, if you take just one of them, youâ(TM)d have a startup company right there.â
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I can give you fifty examples of ideas they've had where, if you take just one of them, you'd have a startup company right there.

      By which Gates means, "a start-up company that pays monopoly rent to myself and other IV shareholders". If software patents had existed back in the day, there'd be no Microsoft. IIRC, Bill Gates has admitted as much... the guy's a moron.

    • by speedtux (1307149) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:29PM (#29360469)

      Good ideas are a dime a dozen. The hard part is making a business out of them.

      Apple, for example, has hardly ever come up with any original ideas, but they have done an excellent job turning other people's good ideas into successful products.

      • Well said.

        Making a great product is difficult and requires lots and lots of hard work. Sweating the little details. That's what makes Apple products so successful -- they sweat the little details that others gloss over and ignore.

  • Fractional pools (Score:5, Interesting)

    by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:35PM (#29358613) Homepage

    Consider the following replacement patent system, let's call it the fractional pool system.

    Let's say ACME Inc invents a new wonder drug at an approximate cost of $1 million. Let's also state that I is the "innovation incentive", a quasi-fixed constant specified by the government - sort of like the central banks base rate. I is expressed as a multiplier. For simplicity let's say I is 1.2

    Multiply the cost of development by I to arrive at $1.2 million. ACME Inc applies for a patent on their wonder drug, and it is deemed novel thus granted. A new pool is created with a value of $1.2 million. Anybody who wishes to license this patent (and anybody can - there is no exclusivity in the fractional pools system) must enter the pool by paying enough into it to split it evenly.

    For example, if MegaCorp wishes to compete with ACME Inc, they'd need to pay $600,000 into the pool, which is transferred to ACME Incs bank account. Now both companies are down $600k each. ZCorp sees that the wonder drug is popular and wants to enter the market too, so ZCorp pays $400k into the pool, which is split evenly between ACME Inc and MegaCorp. Thus all three participants in the pool are now down $400k.

    This continues until the cost of entering the pool reaches some minimal floor at which point the pool is cancelled and the invention becomes public property. There is no particular time limit on this. It happens whenever it happens. You can see that ACME Inc will eventually make back their $1 million plus an additional profit of nearly (but not quite) $200k.

    This scheme has some big advantages:

    • Pro - there is no exclusivity. Thus companies cannot blackmail other companies or cause widespread economic disruption by suspending the distribution of a popular product. Nor can a company sit on an invention for decades without using it.
    • Pro - the size of the pool is determined by the audited cost of development. Thus you cannot make millions off something trivial or obvious.
    • Pro - there is no arbitrary time limit on an invention, which will never be right for every industry.

    Of course there are some disadvantages too:

    • Con - It can be difficult to judge exactly how much a particular invention cost - where do you draw the line between costs specific to that invention and general shared costs?
    • Con - The "innovation incentive" is a fixed constant under political control. I used 1.2x in my example but perhaps a more realistic value is a lot higher, like 20x. Thus governments of the day can adjust it up or down - up likely means more inventions but higher costs to the eventual consumer, lower means cheaper toys but less R&D. Whilst the value could be adjusted per industry or even per invention, it will never be quite right for everything.
    • Con - The second entrant to the pool has the advantage of not needing to do the R&D yet can immediately benefit from the invention. First mover advantage might not be enough to offset this. Perhaps could be solved by throttling the entry rate to the pool.

    Despite these problems I think fractional pools are a more robust and flexible way to promote R&D than the existing patent system, which not only has arbitrary fixed constants but also gaping loopholes of the type we witness in this article. Discuss.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by NoYob (1630681)
      Thus governments of the day can adjust it up or down - up likely means more inventions but higher costs to the eventual consumer, lower means cheaper toys but less R&D.

      You make it sound so neat and easy. It's Government your talking about.

      • Government already fixes the length of patents at 20 years, so as I said, the "govt sets arbitrary constants" bridge was already crossed. And if it's really a problem, we could spin it out into an independent body like has been done with central banks and the interest rate.
    • I think this idea would cause a rift between R&D and companies that hawk the crap. Which I think is actually a Pro. There are a lot of factors not being taken into account of course so I don't know how such a system would turn out. That I didn't see any obvious reasons why it'd blow up in your face is pretty nice.
    • by Lloyd_Bryant (73136) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:07PM (#29360271)

      Multiply the cost of development by I to arrive at $1.2 million. ACME Inc applies for a patent on their wonder drug, and it is deemed novel thus granted. A new pool is created with a value of $1.2 million.

      I question whether using the actual cost of development is viable. In the case of drugs, a company may have to pay to develop 20 drugs before they get one that actually works and is profitable - that area research has a very high failure rate (drugs that don't work, have too many undesirable side effects, etc). Using actual cost of development could kill areas of research where it's expected that a small number of successes will offset the expenses of the large number of failures.

      Pro - the size of the pool is determined by the audited cost of development. Thus you cannot make millions off something trivial or obvious.

      I would consider this on a Con, rather than a Pro. You're basically setting up a system which will only benefit "big" inventions (meaning those funded by wealthy individuals or corporations). Consider the following scenario - working in my garage, I come up with some invention for a trivial amount, but which has massive utility (let's use the "better mousetrap" as an example). I only spend a few hundred dollars working on it, so the pool would be very small. MegaSuperEverything Corporation then jumps in, and for a trivial amount of money obtains the rights, and proceeds to sell many millions of them thanks to their existing marketing/distribution channels, while I can only sell a handful because of the competition. Knowing that this is likely to happen, what incentive do I have to patent the invention?

      Con - The second entrant to the pool has the advantage of not needing to do the R&D yet can immediately benefit from the invention. First mover advantage might not be enough to offset this. Perhaps could be solved by throttling the entry rate to the pool.

      Just have a decaying rate. For instance, in year one, the pool would be cost of development times 100 (or higher). In year 2, it drops to 75x. Year three down to 50x. Have a floor, so that after 10 years, it's at 1.5x, and remains there until the patent expires. This would tend to preserve the first mover advantage, without compromising the concept (provided the decay rate is reasonable).

      • You're basically setting up a system which will only benefit "big" inventions (meaning those funded by wealthy individuals or corporations).

        You're right, but I'm not convinced that's such a bad thing. The lone inventor producing a better mousetrap in his basement is something of a myth don't you think? Outside of web companies how often do you hear about a company becoming huge on the back of a single guys cheap invention? Google is perhaps the main example of this in recent years, but even so, developing t

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:39PM (#29358663)

    The problem isn't that businesses litigate over patent disputes. The problem isn't even so-called "patent trolls". It's the legal framework that creates it; The deeper judicial and legal principles. Patents were meant to cover an applied technological advancement; Not a theoretical one, or to intangibles like a process. But the patent system has been expanded to cover these, and it was done in a haphazard fashion by people who didn't fully understand the implications of doing so.

    The net result is that the patent system is being used to protect intangibles -- markets, processes, and "intellectual property". This was never the intend of the patent system. Even worse, the time limit of 7 to 14 years was needed due to slow business processes of the pre-computer era when it would take years to develop something and bring it to market. Now, development to market time can be weeks or months. While this was originally designed so that the inventor (an individual) could profit from his invention while safely making available details of how it worked to the public (thus advancing the state of the art), it nowadays functions as an impetiment to invention because of the long life of the patent and the nearly endless variations that are possible to keep basic inventions protected in perpetuity.

    What's needed is a radical rethink of business process and economics, and the removal of the extreme reliance upon the legal system to protect it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by causality (777677)

      The problem isn't that businesses litigate over patent disputes. The problem isn't even so-called "patent trolls".

      For dealing with the patent trolls, I have an idea. Why not make patents work like trademarks, in the sense that you must actively defend them or else you will lose them?

      Not just patents, but the whole intellectual property idea in general is not really working anymore because it no longer provides a good balance between incentive to produce and the benefit to society of having these things

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Kalriath (849904) *

        ** It's off-topic I know, but I always felt like forcing the entirety of the Windows source code to be public domain would have been the best punishment for Microsoft after they were convicted of abusing their monopoly. What better punishment for an abusive monopolist than to give anyone and everyone the ability to directly compete with them on their own turf? It's certainly a neater solution than meaningless fines or any of the proposals to split them up into multiple companies.

        It's actually relatively on-topic. Anyway, what you're suggesting would almost certainly violate the Berne Convention. And I'm pretty sure your government is legally obliged to adhere to international treaties.

        • I'll worry about the Berne Convention when they start enforcing everything in the Geneva Convention, all they way to the top.

          • Both Geneva and Berne are voluntary. A country doesn't have to sign up for all or some of it. In case of Geneva, many countries don't. However, U.S. had signed Berne.

        • by causality (777677)

          ** It's off-topic I know, but I always felt like forcing the entirety of the Windows source code to be public domain would have been the best punishment for Microsoft after they were convicted of abusing their monopoly. What better punishment for an abusive monopolist than to give anyone and everyone the ability to directly compete with them on their own turf? It's certainly a neater solution than meaningless fines or any of the proposals to split them up into multiple companies.

          It's actually relatively on-topic. Anyway, what you're suggesting would almost certainly violate the Berne Convention. And I'm pretty sure your government is legally obliged to adhere to international treaties.

          My answer to that, is that if a treaty interferes with doing the right and just thing, it is not the right and just thing which needs to be abandoned.

          Abandoning a treaty may have negative consequences, such as losing the reciprocal treatment you enjoyed while honoring it. To that, I say that the main reason why there are so many abusive practices in the world is because we care far too much about convenience.

        • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

          The Berne Convention merely states that you must give copyright holders of another Berne Convention country the same rights as copyright holders in your own country.

          It assures your laws apply to foreign copyright holders when stuff happens in your country involving said copyright. There are minimums, which you'll have to be careful of, but they are relatively short, and nothing like the copyright we currently have.

          That said, the appropriate response to abusing a monopoly is not opening up the source code,

  • Myhrvold is evil (Score:3, Insightful)

    by the_povinator (936048) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:47PM (#29358771) Homepage
    Some time ago I was having a conversation with some people about whether extrajudicial killing can ever be justified, and Nathan Myhrvold was the one person who we agreed there was really no good argument against it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by nomadic (141991)
      Some time ago I was having a conversation with some people about whether extrajudicial killing can ever be justified, and Nathan Myhrvold was the one person who we agreed there was really no good argument against it.

      Really? Because someone is doing something you find immoral/unethical? Stealing is wrong, do you condone extrajudicial killing for thieves?
  • by Tetsujin (103070) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:49PM (#29358803) Homepage Journal

    So like I was telling Mr. Lee, the extraordinarily not-Caucasian Chinese man who runs the Chinese Laundromat that's only open one or two days a month, my company has been threatened by Intellectual Ventures' Patent Protection Racket - but I guess Mr. Lee didn't know what he was talking about. I was looking for the A-Team, but all I found was this guy in a fake beard, overacting a ridiculous stereotype...

  • Myhrvold, sigh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheModelEskimo (968202) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:50PM (#29358825)
    Myhrvold's enterprise stunk to high heaven since the day it was conceived. Especially the part about paying scientists to come over to an exciting "tell us what's on your mind" conference and start brainstorming together, which was obviously done so that Myhrvold could collect, patent, and monetize those ideas.

    Reminds me of reading Dick Feynman's book about the U.S. government doing the same thing, asking scientists to come up with all sorts of uses for atomic energy that they could patent. Except, that's the government, and presumably they're accountable to someone. At least they ended up giving Feynman a dollar per patent so he could go buy some cookies. I've worked with companies who abuse scientists in similar ways, and to be honest I think our system trains scientists to be scientifically smart and realistically dumb - if you could explain to these guys that they don't have to sell out in order to make money, maybe we'd have MUCH better products and services today.
    • by TheLink (130905)
      There's one big thing you miss. The government might actually have implemented some of the patented stuff.

      AFAIK the patent trolls do not build anything (if they did, the likes of IBM could easily countersue them to bankruptcy).

      I daresay many inventors would be happier to give out their ideas for just a dollar if their ideas actually get implemented, than having them patented by a troll that doesn't build anything, and instead uses the patents to extort money and effectively slow down the pace of progress.

      Im
    • That Feynman story was brilliant. The chap from the government has the scientists sign over their ideas for $1 with the intention that it's a nominal sum. Feynman then insists that he actually be paid his dollar (as, then, does everyone else) and the poor chap who had to come to collect signatures had to pay out around $50 (this is the 1950s) from his own pocket. I occasionally wonder if he ever got that money back.

  • by RichardJenkins (1362463) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @06:59PM (#29358921)
    I suppose to my mind, a patent troll is a person/company that acquires broad or general patents with the intent to extort money from companies, or who creates patents to sit on them in case they become applicable to something widespread and popular. Seems to fit the summary nicely.
  • by way2trivial (601132) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @07:07PM (#29359043) Homepage Journal

    The obvious solution (imho)

    kinda like trademarks, --with trademarks you have to defend them or lose them.
    Patents- you get say one year- if you can't show it is in use-- it's released.....

    • by CannonballHead (842625) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @07:40PM (#29359411)

      Which means that only rich inventors are able to accomplish something. Great!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Desler (1608317)

      Patents- you get say one year- if you can't show it is in use-- it's released.....

      Yeah, because it never takes more than 1 year to get from invention to full-scale production on a product.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Theaetetus (590071)

      The obvious solution (imho)

      kinda like trademarks, --with trademarks you have to defend them or lose them. Patents- you get say one year- if you can't show it is in use-- it's released.....

      Pharmaceuticals may require as many as 7-10 years of testing before the FDA approves them. Does that count as "in use", even though the manufacturer isn't making a single dollar from them?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I'd say more like 3 - 5 years, because it can take 3 years of R&D to take an idea and actually make a functioning product, let alone figure out how to mass produce said product. We have something like that we developed 3 years ago as a prototype. It's taken that long to build a functional unit at the size we wanted that was throughly tested and we're confident that it will work as advertised. That includes going down a couple paths that turned out not to work in practice.

  • More of the Story (Score:2, Informative)

    by pablos (122458)

    I work at the Intellectual Ventures Lab [intellectu...reslab.com] where we work on inventions. While the patent system isn't ideal, we're certainly not the paragon of evil Timothy Lee makes us out to be. The invention we've invested the most in is a reactor powered by nuclear waste. We have over 30 scientists working on that now. We are developing many inventions to help eradicate malaria and have a team devoted to epidemiological modeling for that.

    Intellectual Ventures has already paid over $330MM to inventors from its licensing wo

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