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Venture Capitalists Lobby Against Software Patents 127

Posted by Soulskill
from the lobby-vs-lobby dept.
ciaran_o_riordan writes "No matter which side the US Supreme Court's Bilski decision pleases, it will be just the beginning of the software patent debate in the USA — the other side will start a legislative battle. The lobbying has already begun, with venture capitalist Brad Feld arguing against software patents, mailing a copy of Patent Absurdity to 200 patent policy setters. As Feld puts it, 'Specifically, I'm hoping the film will bring you to an understanding of why patents on software are a massive tax on and retardant of innovation in the US.' The patent lawyers and big patent holders often tell us that patents are needed to secure investment, so it's interesting to see now that venture capitalists are refuting that. And Brad Feld isn't the only vocal one; there's a growing list."
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Venture Capitalists Lobby Against Software Patents

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  • Absurdly obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

    by burnin1965 (535071) on Monday June 07, 2010 @02:58PM (#32488308) Homepage

    The patent lawyers and big patent holders often tell us that patents are needed to secure investment, so it's interesting to see now that venture capitalists are refuting that.

    Seems logical that a venture capitalist would see the absurdity in software patents. After all, how many venture capitalists are investing in all the fresh innovations and inventions coming out of Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, etc.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, 2010 @03:00PM (#32488336)

    For some reason, America just doesn't understand how to do proper regulation. Every attempt at regulation ends up causing more problems than it manages to fix, or the lack of regulation ends up allowing horrid behavior to occur. But the problem isn't with regulation itself; many other Western nations manage to employ regulation very sensibly, and it ends up benefitting their societies as a whole.

    Look at Prohibition. Look at the deregulation of the financial system. Look at the "War on Drugs". Look at the "War on Terror". Look at the deregulation of the oil industry. Will we soon be looking at software patents, as well?

  • by Jeng (926980) on Monday June 07, 2010 @03:06PM (#32488410)

    Lots and lots of them actually.

    Just the venture firms invest in what those companies would purchase instead of investing directly into the big names.

    Now if those little firms did not hold patents would the large companies just copy the little guy?

  • by bersl2 (689221) on Monday June 07, 2010 @03:15PM (#32488532) Journal

    The start-up is first to market (by definition), and a huge multinational corporation does not turn on a dime. Nor will they chase after every new idea, nor will they always identify which ideas are the most important ones in the market for the future.

  • by burnin1965 (535071) on Monday June 07, 2010 @03:21PM (#32488606) Homepage

    Lots and lots of them actually.

    Just the venture firms invest in what those companies would purchase instead of investing directly into the big names.

    Pardon me if I am misunderstanding your logic but it appears that you care suggesting investment in start ups is equivalent to investment in the big corps because the hope is the big corporation will buy the start up. While it is true that VC investment in start ups hope to profit by eventually selling to a larger corporation it is far from an equivalent to investing in the big corporations R&D.

    Software patents are used to prevent unforeseen competition from fresh start ups and they cut the VCs out of the loop because they don't invest in the big corporations, otherwise they would not be VCs they would just be investors.

    For a VC it makes sense to stop the software patent nonsense because it is destroying not just start ups and new ideas but it also destroys investment opportunities in those start ups and new ideas.

  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Monday June 07, 2010 @03:29PM (#32488716) Homepage Journal

    To refute something means to disprove it.

    From TFS:

    The patent lawyers and big patent holders often tell us that patents are needed to secure investment, so it's interesting to see now that venture capitalists are refuting that.

    A venture capitalist said that patents are not needed to secure investment. That pretty damn well refutes the idea that venture capitalists won't invest without patents.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, 2010 @03:37PM (#32488810)

    Campaign contributions - is at the root of all the other issues listed. Until campaign finance is reformed the elected (with a few rare exceptions) will be beholden to those with the deepest pockets instead of those who elect them.

  • by Alwin Henseler (640539) on Monday June 07, 2010 @03:37PM (#32488818) Homepage

    My hope is that software patents will be made irrelevant one way or the other... by those countries that don't implement them.

    In effect, it's trying to force a (IMHO: ridiculous) concept onto the rest of the world. Some countries may go along with that, and patent holders (& lawyers!) will profit. But other countries may not, and will be able to do things that would require lots of red tape elsewhere. And thus: be more competitive by ignoring software patents.

    Any type of 'intellectual property' is only a profitable starter if you can get others to go along. But the more you push things into the realm of ridiculous, the fewer people/countries actually will. And when that happens, you have the red tape slowing you down, they don't.

    Copyrights may have a place, patents may have their place (I'm not so sure about either), but patents on pure software constructs are totally uncalled for. The sooner they're abandoned, the better.

  • by Tanktalus (794810) on Monday June 07, 2010 @03:51PM (#32489010) Journal

    Of course, the problem with that is that then they start to profit from the broken system, and then desire to perpetuate the status quo to continue to profit from it, perhaps even lobbying to keep the status quo, or extending it. Don't get them sucking on that teat, or we'll lose an ally.

  • Re:oh my.... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Monday June 07, 2010 @03:51PM (#32489012)

    am no fan of Michael Moore (well, i liked TV Nation)...but these dudes could learn a lot from his style of instigation-based film-making.

    So, your saying they should make things up and edit the video to make it look like the other side says things they've never said?

  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Monday June 07, 2010 @03:53PM (#32489036) Homepage Journal

    The VCs dispute that patents are needed to secure investment.

    I got the point, but he was wrong. The VCs are the people who do the investing. If they say they'll still invest even without patent protections, then the premise that VCs won't invest without patent protections has been refuted.

  • Bad assumption (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Benfea (1365845) on Monday June 07, 2010 @04:05PM (#32489216)

    Patents don't mean diddlysquat anyway if you're a small start up going up against the big dogs. They will simply steal your idea anyway, then if you try to sue them, they will keep the case tied up in court long enough for the legal costs to drive you out of business. The only patents that are worth squat if you're an individual or a small business is a chemical patent, because a chemical either is or isn't a particular chemical, and no amount of fancy lawyerspeak will ever manage to obfuscate that fact.

    The problem with software patents is that large corporations can patent things that are obvious or that everyone is already doing anyway, then use complex legal cases to drive their competitors out of business.

  • by Benfea (1365845) on Monday June 07, 2010 @04:08PM (#32489246)

    ...is that the regulation is generally written by the very industries whose behavior the legislation is supposed to curtail. This is a consequence of our corrupt campaign financing system in which large corporations have more say than voters in what our government does. If you don't believe me, just look at how the supposedly-socialist Obama administration is using government resources to prevent reporters from taking photographs of wildlife injured by the oil spill. This serves no purpose other than to help BP manage their PR crisis, and certainly isn't in the best interest of the public.

  • From the description of the film...

    Patent Absurdity explores the case of software patents and the history of judicial activism that led to their rise, and the harm being done to software developers and the wider economy

    Call it a fallacy, but using that term automatically destroys a significant amount of your credibility. Particularly when you use it incorrectly. It does not mean, "any judicial decision which I dislike." Judicial activism is when a judge writes new law... For example, if a judge were to look at 35 USC 101, which says that patentable subject material includes "any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter" and pretend that software is not a process, or that "process" doesn't include software, that would be judicial activism.

    In fact, technically, the rule that everyone who's against software patents points to for why software should not be patentable - no patenting abstract algorithms - was a judicial decision writing a new limitation into the law, and was therefore "judicial activism". But we don't call it that, because we like that decision.

  • by e2d2 (115622) on Monday June 07, 2010 @04:18PM (#32489338)

    Don't think about this topic at all! You may be exposing yourself to risk. As your counsel I advise you to not question me on these matters because that may expose you to even greater risk!

  • by Xtifr (1323) on Monday June 07, 2010 @04:29PM (#32489468) Homepage

    For some reason, America just doesn't understand how to do proper regulation. Every attempt at regulation ends up causing more problems than it manages to fix, or the lack of regulation ends up allowing horrid behavior to occur.

    "Every attempt"? Nice rhetorical device, but I think you seriously underestimate how many regulations there are, and how many of them work reasonably well--not to mention how many things are unregulated without problem. The thing is that when regulation works well, it's almost unnoticeable, but when it fails, the results are often spectacularly obvious (as with your examples). This is the "man bites dog" effect: dogs frequently bite men, so that's not news, but the other way around is definitely news, so if you go just by the news, you'd conclude that men are more likely to bite dogs than the other way around.

    For that matter, while I would tend to agree with you about other western nations, there are some notable exceptions. An obvious example is US vs. UK laws about libel and slander; in the US, truth is considered a defense, a proposition I find it hard to imagine that anyone could reject. Likewise, while copyright law is a general mess on both sides of the pond, I think "fair use" is a good example of something that the US got more right than most.

  • by zQuo (1050152) on Monday June 07, 2010 @04:52PM (#32489738)
    This is so true! According to "Innovation for Dummies" book, a patent only grants the right to forbid others to make a product. Patents do not give you any right to make anything. This is a very important distinction. A patent is the ability to deny others, not the ability to make something.

    If you build a better airplane, you can patent all the innovative features (and not so innovative ones) as much as you like... and then you probably still can't make the plane... because there will be other patents or IP that your innovative airplane incorporates. If you can't get all the patent holders to agree to let you make the airplane, then you cannot make a product. The only way to make money off of your patent is to further deny others the ability to use the idea until they pay.

    The notion of counting the patents issued in a country to measure "innovation" is terrible. It really means the opposite; that progress is actually slower in that country the more patents are issued. It doesn't mean that the whole idea of patents are bad, but each patent already issued slows future product development for the country as a whole . Given the societal costs of an issued patent, we really should put the bar higher, and grant patents only for really great innovations. Each current issued patent is like a grit of sand gumming up new product development... so each patent issued, if any, had better be worth quite a bit.
  • by burnin1965 (535071) on Monday June 07, 2010 @04:53PM (#32489746) Homepage

    had those things not been in place to begin with, sane fiscal policies would have been made by the banks

    There was this event in history commonly referred to as The Great Depression [wikipedia.org] which was followed by many of the same regulations that were removed because prior to implementing these regulations there was a similar financial melt down in many cases caused by similar financial bubbles and out of control chicanery.

    I find it to be more than a coincidence that the S&L crisis [fdic.gov] followed deregulation and the current financial melt down also followed deregulation.

    And the fact that the regulations, like the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, came after the Great Depression suggests your conclusion about the regulations causing the crisis are dead wrong. Hell, the deregulation is what created "To Big to Fail" not the enactment of regulations.

  • Re:oh my.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday June 07, 2010 @05:07PM (#32489876) Journal

    these dudes could learn a lot from his style of instigation-based film-making

    Seriously? I always assumed Michael Moore was a right-wing fifth columnist. He manages to present things in such a way that if he said 'the sky is blue' I'd want to contradict him.

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