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Is the Tide Turning On Patents? 172

Posted by Soulskill
from the slowly-but-surely dept.
Glyn Moody writes "The FSF has funded a new video, 'Patent Absurdity: how software patents broke the system,' freely available (of course) in Ogg Theora format (what else?). It comes at a time when a lot is happening in the world of patents. Recent work from leading academics has called into question their basis: 'The work in this paper, and that of many others, suggests that this traditionally-struck "devil's bargain" may not be beneficial.' We recently discussed how a judge struck down Myriad Genetics's patents on two genes because they involved a law of Nature, and were thus 'improperly granted.' Meanwhile, the imminent Supreme Court ruling In re Bilski is widely expected to have negative knock-on effects for business method and software patents. Is the tide beginning to turn?"
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Is the Tide Turning On Patents?

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  • by Rei (128717) on Friday April 16, 2010 @05:12PM (#31877332) Homepage

    My attorney encouraged me to focus not on the software aspects, but how the software interacted with the surrounding system (sensors, hardware, users, etc). It's been suspected for a while now that the vise was going to tighten up against patents on algorithms.

    And good, IMHO.

    • by poetmatt (793785) on Friday April 16, 2010 @06:03PM (#31877872) Journal

      as it has been shown before, when it comes to software it's better to innovate than waste time on patents. [techdirt.com] Unfortunately a lot of people think it's a great idea to get something patented and don't even consider that hundreds of other people may have done the same thing before.

      I work in an industry where I hear the phrase "I'm applying for a patent on my product" all day long. It doesn't mean shit, and you can get sued for claiming a patent on a product that doesn't get approved. You're applying for a patent for x? guess what, so are the other 25 people for doing the same thing. This goes double or triple for anything involving software in any form.

      • by Rei (128717) on Friday April 16, 2010 @07:24PM (#31878750) Homepage

        Yeah, tell me that patents don't matter when *you're* being told by potential investors that, gosh, you're a software company with an innovative product but you only have an app out for *one* patent? What are you thinking?

        Regardless of that particular lawyer's minority position, potential investors and even state and federal grant boards look strongly to whether you're taking steps to protect your IP. We have product *and* are patent pending. The product was developed privately before the patent was applied for. Most software companies launch on sweat equity. Early on, cash is for hardware, lawyers, travel, things of that nature.

        As for this "use the money to innovate instead" argument? Filing for a US patent costs about $10k, including attorney fees. An entry-level programmer costs you perhaps $65k after benefits -- we're talking entry level. So that's two months worth of salary + benefits. How much innovation do you think an entry level programmer is going to do in two months?

        Furthermore, all of the costs aren't upfront. You may only spend $6k or so up front, but more when you need to actually defend your patent. So that gets pushed down the road, which in a startup, is a *very good thing*. So off the bat, it's one month of a starting programmer's salary you're talking about.

        This is just the way business works. You either play the game or you get out of the pool. Many people here don't like patents because of their stifling effect on free software, and rightly so. But your anger needs to be directed at those who defend or seek to strengthen our current patent system rather than those who want it to be more reasonable but don't have a voice in the matter.

        Here's an issue that most people here probably aren't aware of. The patent system is skewed toward helping the Big Boys. Startups aren't your problem. Startups have less money, yet they have to pay more for patents because they don't have a big team of lawyers lying around. Startups often aren't familiar with all of the risks and intricacies of the patent process and may screw themselves over by talking in detail about what they're doing too soon or things like that. Startups *definitely* can't afford to patent troll, to file a bunch of random patents and see what sticks. Startups may not be able to afford to extend their coverage to new markets or cover their tech as well. So the whole system is biased in favor of big companies.

        What would I like to see in patent reform?

        * Shorter terms for software patents. The term on a patent of a given type should be proportional to the typical length of the product cycle, such that the term is, let's say, however long it generally takes for the third generation of said product to hit the shelves. So if you say the typical software innovation cycle is 2-3 years, then perhaps 5 years. From time of granting, not of filing.
        * Greater leniency for filing errors, but stricter standards for what's innovative
        * Faster processing times
        * A *higher* filing fee. This will make the percentage-difference in cost between patents from the big boys and startups smaller, as well as helping fund more people to review them faster and better.

        And you know... a lot of the business world would probably consider me a radical for this, but I'd like to see there be funding -- perhaps from the patent fees themselves -- for a governmental legal defense organization for nonprofits and individuals. That wouldn't mean that nonprofits and individuals would get a "violate patents risk-free" card. But it'd help stop meritless bullying from companies who know that their targets are too weak to fight back.

        • by Sark666 (756464)

          "Many people here don't like patents because of their stifling effect on free software, and rightly so."

          I don't like patents because it hinders innovation and impedes the building upon of what could be knowledge known and shared by all. It's effects on free software are secondary to this.

  • by Man On Pink Corner (1089867) on Friday April 16, 2010 @05:13PM (#31877346)

    I see a lot of parallels between Bilski and Eldred v. Ashcroft [lmgtfy.com]. They are both IP cases where the Court was asked to step in and do Congress's job for it. In Eldred they refused to issue any opinion whatsoever as to what would constitute an unreasonable extension of copyright terms. I see no Constitutional basis for them to hand down any other opinion in Bilski. IMHO the majority will refuse to state anything definitive on the issue, and mumble something about it being Congress's prerogative to interpret the "progress of science and the useful arts" clause in any way they see fit.

    At that point lobbyists will descend on Congress with checkbooks in hand, and we'll all end up worse off than we were before the case was ever brought.

    • D'oh, not sure how that clipboarded link got confused with an earlier one. Should have been Eldred v. Ashcroft [wikipedia.org], for the Wikipedia-challenged.

      It's been 1 minute since you last successfully posted a comment
      Sigh, and now they won't let me fix it. Morons with a copy of PHP For Dummies...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by b4upoo (166390)

      Maybe not! Hard times have changed the public attitude in some strange and unpredictable ways. People feel betrayed by businesses in many ways and for many people revenge is about a wink away. I would think that our politicians may not wish to be seen as business friendly right now.

      • MPAA news (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tepples (727027)

        I would think that our politicians may not wish to be seen as business friendly right now.

        All five major TV news networks (CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox) are owned by a movie studio in the MPAA. People who believe the TV news (and there are a lot of them) will believe a story that spins any consideration of narrowing copyrights or patents against bedroom authors and inventors.

    • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Friday April 16, 2010 @05:45PM (#31877668) Homepage

      The US Supreme Court has never upheld a software or business method patent. All they said in Diehr [swpat.org] is that things that are patentable can be managed/controlled by a person or a robot/computer. The CAFC and the USPTO ran with this and approved all kinds of programs for such a robot/computer, but they're not the authority here. The Supreme Court is now taking over again for the first time in 30 years, and all they have to do in order to abolish software patents is to clarify and repeat their previous rulings.

      The Supremes have always said that math isn't patentable, it's a fundamental truth that can't be "invented", and they've said that putting instructions, including math onto a computer is an obvious step.

      • by Dynedain (141758)

        The Supreme Court is now taking over again for the first time in 30 years, and all they have to do in order to abolish software patents is to clarify and repeat their previous rulings.

        Unfortunately, the tendencies of the Supreme Court have changed dramatically over the last 30 years. There also is an easy legal argument: "30 years ago, no-one could envision what computers are doing today, and the founding fathers even less so"

      • by mr_death (106532)
        Take two cases -- the RSA algorithm implemented in an FPGA, and the same algorithm implemented in software. Both are (or were, at the time of the invention) innovative and nonobvious. In the hardware version, the algorithm is the selection and interconnections between the hardware components; in the software version, the algorithm is in the code. Tell me why the hardware invention is deserving of patent protection, and the equivalent invention in software is not.
        • I'm guessing it's because the hardware version is patenting the physical process of implementing an algorithm, whereas the software version is the algorithm itself?

        • by Draek (916851)

          You're assuming the FPGA version is both a) outside the classification of 'software', and b) patentable. Remove those assumptions and the solution becomes obvious: neither is.

        • What makes you so sure that the hardware (FPGA) implementation is "deserving" of a patent? If a mathematical algorithm can be translated in a straightforward manner into HDL, which can then be automatically converted into a bitstream for an FPGA, then I would say that the resulting hardware design is just as obvious as the equivalent software running on a computer, and similarly ineligible.

          You might have a better case if you had to invent a novel and non-obvious process to map the algorithm to an FPGA bitst

    • by jonbryce (703250) on Friday April 16, 2010 @05:49PM (#31877688) Homepage

      The main difference is that this isn't a constitutional case. The law says that there shouldn't be patents for software or business methods, and the courts have interpreted this in a very strange way. What we are asking the court to do is interpret the law as congress intended it to be interpreted, not over-rule it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

        The main difference is that this isn't a constitutional case.

        Except for the fact that patents are laid down in the US Constitution, sure. Of course, that shouldn't make it a constitutional issue, should it?

        The Supreme Court certainly can and should decide whether or not restrictions placed on patents are constitutional. All laws are based on the constitution, and must not violate it. The SCOTUS's primary purpose is to ensure that this is the case.

        Now, the portion of the Constitution that allows for Patents and Copyright is small, and it's the US Patent and Copyrig

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by pavon (30274)

          Except that neither party in the Bilski case is presenting a constitutional argument.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jonbryce (703250)

          Nobody as far as I am aware is arguing that Congress were acting outside their powers in allowing patents to be granted. As far as I'm aware, Congress could pass a law allowing the software patents if they wanted to.

          They are arguing about whether or not a computer program that calculates the price of energy derivatives and buys or sells them in response to energy trades is patentable under the existing rules made by Congress.

          This invention appears to me to be part mathematical algorithm - calculating the p

    • by Touvan (868256)

      It seems as though you believe that appeals courts only concern themselves with what is "Constitutional" (and therefor in the actual Constitution) and not with applying all the laws that congress makes. Did I read that incorrectly?

      Courts deal with all laws - in addition to previously decided case law - not just the Constitution.

      • Courts deal with all laws - in addition to previously decided case law - not just the Constitution.

        The courts seem to be primarily concerned with not contradicting anything else ever decided at their level. So if one party gets away with something, then that's cool for any opportunist for all time. Right? Beuller? Anyone?

        • by Touvan (868256)

          That's the case law part of what I wrote, so yeah I'd agree with that statement. :-)

          Prevailing jurisprudence does change over time though, which can be good or bad (textualist jurisprudence being a particular retarded legal theory).

  • in Ogg Theora format (what else?)

    Google VP8.

  • I have a patent on turning tides
  • Yes and No. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MonsterTrimble (1205334) <monstertrimble@@@hotmail...com> on Friday April 16, 2010 @05:21PM (#31877432)

    Yes, but barely, and could easily return to the No side with big money backing it.

    That being said, whether it's next week or next year or 20 years from now, software patents will be be pointless. They will be ignored by everyone and their dog because countries like China and Russia completely ignore them and to compete with them, we will do the same thing.

    Open source is the future, believe it or not.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TooMuchToDo (882796)
      If open source is the future, and hardware can be made dirt cheap anywhere on the planet, how is anyone going to make any money? Service? Not when there are 7 billion people on the planet. There'll be plenty more work than people available.
      • If open source is the future, and hardware can be made dirt cheap anywhere on the planet, how is anyone going to make any money?

        I make good money designing custom software for my employer, as do something like 98% of programmers who develop in-house projects.

  • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Friday April 16, 2010 @05:35PM (#31877576) Homepage

    I'm very optimistic about Bilski. Not because I predict a big win, but because I think the worst of the reasonably likely scenarios amounts only to no change. A somewhat win is likely, and that would be great because it would leave the door open for us to make our arguments again in a future case. This is how the SC handled patentable subject matter in the 70s, they did a trilogy of cases: Benson [swpat.org], Flook [swpat.org], Diehr [swpat.org]. And that last one isn't as bad as the USPTO and the CAFC would have you think.

    • I'm very optimistic about Bilski. Not because I predict a big win, but because I think the worst of the reasonably likely scenarios amounts only to no change. A somewhat win is likely, and that would be great because it would leave the door open for us to make our arguments again in a future case.

      I wouldn't hold your breath. It's highly likely that Bilski's patent application will be tossed, and quite likely that business methods would be held nonstatutory, but almost certain that software, in some form - performed by a computer, tied to a machine, etc. - will be held statutory.

      There are two policy arguments at work... The first is that we don't want to make it possible for people to infringe in their heads - that would make thinking a thoughtcrime. So we don't want it to be possible to patent an

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Lloyd_Bryant (73136)

        But should we throw out all software patents because in the abstract sense, not tied to a computer, they're mathematical algorithms? That's where we get the other policy argument: the Supreme Court is a political body. Software is worth a lot and represents a huge portion of the GDP. We're just starting to come out of a recession. If the Supreme Court invalidates business method patents, that's fine, because people will still keep using them if they're economically efficient, and 'business methods' are not products that are sold. But if the Supreme invalidates all software patents at a swoop, they just slashed the GDP by a significant amount, and the resulting market crash will make the Great Depression look like a minor blip.

        How exactly would eliminating software patents have *any* effect on the GDP? Software will *still* be protected, as it always has been, by copyright law.

        The US is an exception in allowing software patents in the first place. The rest of the world has gotten along without them just fine.

        • Software will *still* be protected, as it always has been, by copyright law.

          This explains why no one bothers filing for software patents, right? After all, they cost $20,000-40,000 to get, while you can register copyright for about $35.
          Or, maybe not. The patent protects the idea. Copyright only protects one specific implementation. Rewrite a C program in C+ and copyright doesn't help.

          The US is an exception in allowing software patents in the first place. The rest of the world has gotten along without them just fine.

          People like to say this, and like to claim in particular that places like Europe ban software patents.
          You're wrong. Europe bans pure software patents, in exactly the same way as the CAFC Bilski decis

      • patents (Score:3, Informative)

        by zogger (617870)

        I disagree on your economic analysis with software patents. Patents on software are a type of "broken windows fallacy" argument, and as such, are a hindrance to the economy, not any sort of positive asset.

        This is *precisely* the time we should be abandoning outdated (**AA type numbers and agenda, the entertainment distribution "industry") /harmful(software and living things patenting) /useless(casino gambling banks and created out of thin air financial "products") /parasitic(governmental make-work m

      • by Dan Ost (415913)

        I wouldn't hold your breath. It's highly likely that Bilski's patent application will be tossed, and quite likely that business methods would be held nonstatutory, but almost certain that software, in some form - performed by a computer, tied to a machine, etc. - will be held statutory.

        Isn't that still a step in the right direction? The abolishing of business method patents even if it doesn't weaken Software patents is still a Good Thing.

        Is it possible that the bilski ruling could strengthen software patents? If so, then that would be someting to worry about.

  • A program is one big damn algorithm.
    An algorithm is a mathematical/logical THOUGHT set to words.
    You can't patent thought.

    Aaaaaaaaargh!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cosm (1072588)
      That is the the root of the issue at hand. From a reductionist standpoint, you could make that argument about anything. An inked cartoon character is just an ordered and structured collection of pigments. This construct can be represented by a polar graph of molecules and their locations. This can be made into an equation, which is just a mathematical construct, which is just an abstract arbitrary construct of mankind, which you cannot patent.

      That is the trouble with patents, delineating intellectual pr
      • by MarkvW (1037596)

        I can copyright my original expression of the algorithm and you can copyright your original expression of pigments, but who is either of us to tell the brilliant kid in the basement that he cannot independently create the same algorithm/cartoon!

  • This is progress? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by goodmanj (234846) on Friday April 16, 2010 @05:41PM (#31877620)

    Cited as evidence of a sea change in patent law: the FSF makes a Youtube video. Some academics wrote some papers.

    This puts patent law reform at about the same level of public interest as this video [youtube.com] on pouring shampoo out of a bottle.

    I'll wait for in re Bilski, thanks.

  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 16, 2010 @05:43PM (#31877636)

    The question is, if you were starting a business that provides a software solution, would you want to be able to protect your solution from the competition?

    Patents protect small businesses and innovation from competition, including big companies that will do anything in their power to stomp little companies with disruptive technologies. Open source is great, no doubt about it. But if you invent something, even if it is software, it deserves protection. Patents are part of capitalism, so no, there's no tide turning.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by NeutronCowboy (896098)

      Patents protect small businesses and innovation from competition, including big companies that will do anything in their power to stomp little companies with disruptive technologies.

      Nonsense. You want to know why? Because lawyers charge $500 an hour, and that includes the time they spend dreaming about the case while asleep. A small business does not have the money to litigate a tricky case against a large incumbent, unless the lawyers decide to take the case pro-bono. And even that's not a given, because even lawyers have to eat at some point, and can't run a pro-bono case forever. In other words: lawyers and customers protect a small business against a larger one. Patents are only ma

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mellon (7048)

        Patents are a government-granted monopoly. To be exact, they are actually the complete anti-thesis of capitalism.

        Not exactly. They are the exact antithesis of a free market. They are a form of market regulation. But they are an example of capitalism, since capitalism is the system of owning things, and exchanges based on that ownership. Increasing the scope of things one may own, therefore, increases the scope of capitalism.

        It's unfortunate that it's so common to conflate "free market" and "capital

    • by hedrick (701605)
      The proper protection for software is copyright. Patents aren't needed to protect software. The development work goes into the code, which needs and has protection available via copyright. Patents protect the idea. I have yet to see a software patent that isn't obvious, except for public-key cryptography. And that patent is a major cause of the current Internet security problems. (It was filed during the same time that the basic Internet protocols were being designed. If it hadn't been present, it is highly
      • I have yet to see a software patent that isn't obvious, except for public-key cryptography.

        How about video compression? Was the choice to use an in-loop deblock filter obvious when H.264 was being built?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by devent (1627873)

          Is the formula to calculate the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter obvious? Neither is E=MC2 obvious, but no algorithm can be patented. Why should be an algorithm for video compression be patentable?

          Only because you implement it in software and you run it on a general purpose computer, you argue it should be patentable. So you can implement the calculation of PI and E=MC2 in software and run it on a general purpose computer.

          Software are mathematical algorithms, nothing more. It's just that yo

          • Problem is, if you go far enough, everything is math. Any physical process, implemented in a machine built of sturdy wood and iron, can ultimately be described by a set of particle wave functions - which is pure math.

            You have to draw the line somewhere, and in that respect, drawing it between "software" and "hardware" really is rather arbitrary. Those who argue against patents in their entirety are much more consistent, IMO.

    • No they don't, no they aren't Mr. Shill.

    • by paulsnx2 (453081)

      Right. A Small business with one or two or ten patents (at anywhere from 50 grand to 100 grand apiece) is protected in what way from a single patent in the hand of a patent troll? The patent troll has no product to infringe on the patents held by this hypothetical small business.

      IBM and Microsoft and HP and Adobe and Amazon and Oracle all have thousands of patents. Each. Does your hypothetical small business have enough fire power to take any of these guys on, should they care to "stomp" you?

      In the 198

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      The question is, if you were starting a business that provides a software solution, would you want to be able to protect your solution from the competition?

      How about you ask Microsoft, Oracle, or Adobe that question? Since they all managed to become very successful software companies well before software patents became common, they probably have an answer.

    • by Draek (916851)

      The question is, if you were starting a business that provides a software solution, would you want to be able to protect your solution from the competition?

      I'd rather the competition couldn't protect themselves from me.

      Patents protect small businesses and innovation from competition, including big companies that will do anything in their power to stomp little companies with disruptive technologies.

      Prove it. Studies show that the overwhelming majority of patents are awarded to the 'big companies' you speak about, and I can't recall the last time I heard of a small business being on the winning side of patent litigation without being a patent troll (and therefore, not producing anything on which to base the enormous counter-lawsuit that typically follows from messing with the big guys).

      But if you invent something, even if it is software, it deserves protection.

      Prove it.

      Patents are part of capitalism

      Wrong.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by krenrox (1689506)
      I think you made some claims that require support. For instance, your statement that any invention "deserves protection" is not automatically true. Granting an innovator the right to a monopoly on his/her product is only beneficial to society as a whole if it improves the availability of technologies to more people than not granting these monopolies. Some, such as Lawrence Lessig (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Q25-S7jzgs) have argued that patents stifle innovation and are a detriment to society. I believ
  • Most people will start to snore or as others have mentioned, switch to videos with cute cats when that fellow first says the word 'matrix', and it doesn't refer to anything with Keanu Reeves. The math is necessary, but they need to find a way to brush quickly over it and only touch on the fact that general formulas are patented when someone assigns specific variable names to them... in a non-nerdy way. And doing this makes it difficult for others to create new programs to do the same thing but differently.
  • because they involved a law of Nature

    I support the ruling, but that sounds like a weak justification. Every technological discovery involves the laws of nature, whether it be the force of gravity, the propagation of electricity or radio waves. The entire field of engineering is the field of using the laws of nature to accomplish a purpose.

    • by RoboRay (735839)

      The point of most patents is that they do something with the law of nature. The patents in question are for essentially discovering the law of nature and not letting anyone else do anything with it.

    • Come on, this is a Slashdot summary of a 150+ page dense legal ruling distilled down to one single sentence. Of course it missed the point.

  • You know, we'd very likely solve all problems with genetically modified food, monocultures, etc. if we simply declared life unpatentable. We might even see Monsanto rushing to congress with anti-monoculture laws designed to force farmers to buy the ten distinct products they've just developed recently.

    Patents make sense when you must building a factory. Patents don't make sense when government grants paid for your R&D and your marginal cost is zero.

    • by sowth (748135) *

      I thought the problems with genetically modified food were: a) food safety and b) taking over other farmer's crops like weeds (then suing the farmer for "stealing" the company's "IP"--which would be where the patents come in, but this is only a minor part).

      I agree patents do not make sense for government paid R&D. The government should contract out research and "own" the patents themselves, which they allow everyone in the country to use freely.

      I am not sure where I stand on if they should collect

  • by NZheretic (23872) on Friday April 16, 2010 @06:26PM (#31878144) Homepage Journal

    Fed-Soc.org - Patents: Legitimate Rights or Grubstakes that Obstruct Progress? - Winter 2000 [archive.org]

    This history shows the patent / free competition balance to be dialectical, not static. In this country, since the turn of the century, the pendulum has cycled twice between the patent right and free competition poles. The last free-competition era occurred between 1930-1950. Perhaps the zenith (or nadir, depending on point of view) was Mercoid Corp. v. Mid-Continent Inv. Co., 320 U.S. 661 (1944) where the Supreme Court held that tying sales of a non-patented product to a patented product constituted an impermissible extension of the patent monopoly and therefore patent misuse. Ironically, Mercoid facts today could support loss of profits damages under Rite-Hite Corp. v. Kelley Co., 56 F.3d 1538 (Fed. Cir. 1995). Partially as a reaction to certain court decisions (including the need to overturn Mercoid), the 1952 Patent Act slowly turned the pendulum back in a pro-patent direction. That movement accelerated full-bore with creation in 1983 of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to hear all appeals from trial court patent infringement decisions.

    As I said before [slashdot.org] The 2000-2010 "Intellectual Property" boom is about to go the way of the "Subprime" Mortgage, Dot-Com vapor startup, Junk bond and Dutch Tulip futures. The Patent Troll Business Model is inherently flawed, and just like the aforementioned others, add nothing to a nations REAL economy.

  • by rm999 (775449) on Friday April 16, 2010 @06:28PM (#31878190)

    I'm a bit troubled by Slashdot's blanket reaction to software patents.

    In the line of work I am in (broadly: statistical analytics), almost all innovation comes in the form of creating improved methods that are implemented in software. It takes a large amount of resources to come up with these improved methods (they are generally far from obvious), and they can easily be transferred across the industry. Most companies in my industry would refuse to pay for innovation if they knew people could join, learn every recent innovation in two months, and then leave to the highest competitor bidder, effectively destroying any competitive advantage. Non-compete agreements are legally useless in my state, and NDAs are tenuous and practically hard to enforce. Patents (or stealing IP) are really the primary methods companies in my industry survive.

    tldr: software patents can and do vastly encourage innovation in several competitive and useful industries.

    • So what you're saying is that without patents your company wouldn't bother to develop new techniques? Wouldn't you be left in the dust by those that did? It seems like the "insider" scenario could easily be mitigated by background checks and the like. It works for the Intelligence community.
      • The reason a company would develop new ideas is to gain an advantage over the competition. However developing new ideas takes time and effort to develop and put the ideas into practice (resources). There is also a risk the idea might fail, having a negative impact. If your new ideas are instantly copied by others you have spent resources and taken risk but have not gained a competitive advantage there is no point in developing that idea. You actually end up worse off having used the resources and taken risk

        • by pipedwho (1174327)

          I see VERY FEW patents that are truly worthy of the protection they have been granted. Most seem to be so ridiculously obvious to anyone skilled in their fields that if they were kept as trade secrets there would be no net loss to the advancement of the state-of-the-art in that field.

          I believe that patents have their place, but that the bar must be raised considerably higher than it has been set historically. And by considerably higher, I don't mean just a couple of rungs, I mean way above the scale as it c

    • by MarkvW (1037596)

      I think your argument is faulty. You can still COPYRIGHT your ultra-complex original algorithm--just like an author can copyright his story.

      Nobody can then COPY it.

      But why should you be able to prevent somebody from independently deriving tht same algorithm? They'd have to go through the same expensive creation process that you did. . .

      • by rm999 (775449)

        We aren't a software company, you could implement our patents in 500 lines of code. It's not the implementation that is hard to come up with, it is the idea. I mean a stroke of genius to come up with it and dozens of hours to prove it is worth doing. Once you prove the idea is worth doing, anyone can learn it and implement it in a working day.

        These are the kinds of things that are worth protecting, and exactly what patents are made for. But they still fall under the insanely broad category of "software pate

        • In the days before IP patents, ideas were not patentable--only implementations of ideas. You couldn't patent the concept of "a machine to distill alcohol from fermented grain" only the physical implementation of a still. Other people were completely free to build their own design (using the same laws of physics) as long as it wasn't sufficiently like yours.

          In the software world, other people should be able to implement the same idea as long as they don't copy your code.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            The abstract process to produce alcohol from fermented grain is in fact patentable. The specific implementation is protected by copyright. Chemical engineering is full of both patents and copyrights. There is nothing special about algorithm patents in this regard. You are not copyrighting the algorithm, just a specific reduction to practice. All types of patents are like this, abstract designs being patentable and reductions to practice having copyright protections.

            Chemical process patents are pretty much

      • You can still COPYRIGHT your ultra-complex original algorithm

        You can't copyright an algorithm. You can copyright code implementing that algorithm, but then the algorithm itself can still be copied by clean-room reverse-engineering - get some guy to look at the code and write down the description of the algorithm (in English), and then let another guy read that description and write code from it.

      • by mellon (7048)

        You kind of missed his point. Once an algorithm has been worked out, it's usually pretty easy to see how it works, or at least comparatively easy. So the first producer pays for the innovation, and everyone benefits.

        This is a real problem. However, when you solve it with a government-sponsored monopoly on your discovery, it creates a host of new problems. And there are other ways to solve this problem that don't create that same host of problems. After all, as a previous poster pointed out, Einste

    • by bit01 (644603)

      Most companies in my industry would refuse to pay for innovation.

      They will if it gives them some short term advantage, even if it's eventually going to be copied. Businesses do this every day.

      tldr: software patents can and do vastly encourage innovation in several competitive and useful industries.

      What you're saying is the improvement in your industry only comes in sufficiently large quanta so that businesses won't engage in incremental improvements to get short term improvement until they're copied. I

  • it was evident that when you started to allow patent on thoughts and logical constructs, patents would eventually start to infringe upon nature's laws. because, in the vast space of thought, nature's laws are nothing different than any other thought/logical construct.

    patents need to be abolished. imagine someone patenting "if a b and b c then a c" in a bundle with other logic constructs. you would say that its a simple basic logical operator and it cant be patented, but once numerous patents like these a

  • The fundamental flaw is that the original bargain is not being upheld. The deal was, you disclose how your thing works and we'll give you a monopoly on it for a while. The first failure is that we no longer require an idea to be "reduced to practice." That is you only have to describe something that could be built and this allows the new class of patent trolls to "front run" technology with vaguely defined ideas. The second failure is that the disclosure no longer allows/requires you to describe it in
  • It seems like one of the biggest justifications for software patents is this:

    Say I develop an algorithm that performs some task better than other existing algorithms. As soon as I ship my software, it can be reverse-engineered by my clever competitors who figure out my algorithm and implement it in their own software, where they can presumably undercut me on price because their reverse-engineering was less expensive than my original development. This makes me unhappy, because I feel like I've wasted my mo

  • Slashdot has long been a forum where two intelligent sides present their perspectives on an issue. Often, this issue has been about software patents and patentability. There have been, and likely still are (let's face it, no amount of fact will change a person's mind when it is in his best interest to believe otherwise) people who see software as an invention and should be patentable. The video goes into great detail as to why software isn't and shouldn't be. But the real point that drives it home is in

    • That is silly. All works of man, not just music are derivative. The question is what is the value of your contribution, which of course is an extension of the work of others.

  • by GiMP (10923) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @12:21AM (#31880354)

    It is well known that small businesses are innovators. Software patents are necessary to allow small businesses to compete with the large corporations which might otherwise copy, repackage, and sell the innovations of small businesses. There are definitely problems in the patent system, it is all too frequently abused. The negative attitude here on slashdot is, I'm afraid, a result of a successful campaign by the Free Software Foundation. I love open source software, both as a user and as a contributor, and it is unfortunate that patents do negatively affect, in many ways, the work of the free software movement. That does not, however, make patents evil, they are a necessity for the continued growth of technology and of a capitalistic economy.

    In regard, again, to free software, it does seem more and more like the comparison of communism versus capitalism. Surely, there is some innovation in free software, but much of that originates from commercial entities looking to upsell other products. It is reminiscent of how the only innovation in (classic) communist countries originated from a national agenda, such as the Russian space program. However, even in the commercially supported open source software realm, many of the "good parts" are often kept under a lock and key, such as with Zimbra or SugarCRM. My point is, that without a capitalistic agenda, innovation does not happen. Innovation does not happen without a strong patent system, as inventors are motivated by money. It is not that companies and people won't invent without money, but that money stimulates and motivates in a way that pure interest, desire, and passion do not -- keeping in mind that the financial stimulation is in addition to, not in lieu of passion-based innovations!

    The point? Do you work for free? What if you built a better mousetrap and began marketing it, but before you had the time to take it off the ground, a large national manufacturer began selling copies of your design? This wouldn't be protected under copyright, but would be covered under patents. This same scenario can happen with software too and small independent developers need protection, or they'll stop innovating completely, sell their businesses, and get themselves hired by large firms. Without competition, the large firms will stop innovating as well, and we'll all just twiddle our thumbs as we wait for the rest of the world to eclipse our rotting corpse of an economy.

    • by bit01 (644603)

      Software patents are necessary to allow small businesses to compete with the large corporations

      The same handwaving propaganda that first appeared on slashdot several years ago and is repeated on a weekly basis. Why are you pretending you didn't know that?

      Patents are just a tool. They are used by large corporations as well as small businesses. They in no way change the balance of power between the two.

      In regard, again, to free software, it does seem more and more like the comparison of communism versus ca

    • As a small developer, you can be absolutely sure that just about any useful software you write will infringe on numerous patents. The only thing keeping you 'safe' is that you are either flying below the radar of those that hold the patents, or those patents currently remain unenforced against small developers.

      No one is saying that you have to work for free, but unless you're a supra-genius, chances are that your idea is not as original as you think it is. I have seen very few exceptions to this, and the on

  • For some reason, when I read this, I did not see "patents" but instead I saw "parents".

    So I thought it was somehow an article about how parents have lost control completely. I say this as my 2 year old (boy) is trashing my living room and screaming for no apparent reason.

    So I put him to bed.

    Come to think of it, there's a lot of patents that should be put to bed too.

    There, not completely off topic anymore..

Someone is unenthusiastic about your work.

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