Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Patents Oracle Software Sun Microsystems Your Rights Online

Why Software Patents Are a Joke — Literally 311

Posted by Soulskill
from the so-funny-i-forgot-to-laugh dept.
eburnette writes "A former Sun/Oracle employee explains how developers created patents in an unofficial contest to see who could get the goofiest patent through the system. James Gosling said, '... we got sued, and lost. The penalty was huge. Nearly put us out of business. We survived, but to help protect us from future suits we went on a patenting binge. Even though we had a basic distaste for patents, the game is what it is, and patents are essential in modern corporations, if only as a defensive measure. There was even an unofficial competition to see who could get the goofiest patent through the system. My entry wasn't nearly the goofiest.' Now Oracle is using patents from the same folks as the basis for its lawsuit against Google."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Why Software Patents Are a Joke — Literally

Comments Filter:
  • by mykos (1627575) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @01:54AM (#33272756)
    The way patent law works now, nobody can just start up a business and invent shit. They need mountains upon mountains of patents to fight against other companies with mountains of patents. Then they need an army of lawyers to examine their inventions to make sure it doesn't violate any patents. I applaud these guys for making a mockery of the USPTO, although they were beaten to it by the USPTO themselves.
    • by Martian_Kyo (1161137) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:19AM (#33272856)

      Here's the algorithm

      1. Patent an 'invention'
      2. If you notice someone is using your invention, DON'T SUE
      3. Wait for them to actually succeed, and invest time. money and creativity in creating something useful that's loosely based on your half-baked idea that you patented
      4. Sue the successful company
      5. Profit

      or just randomly sue successful start ups until you find one that used your patent

      Patents have really lost their purpose.

      By the way I've just patented

      1 step one
      2 ???
      3 profit

      pattern so from now on I can sue anyone who used a systematic approach to generated profit.

      P.S.
      Anyone else chuckled after reading the name Charles Nutter?

      • by sznupi (719324)

        3. Wait for them to actually succeed, and invest time. money and creativity in creating something useful that's loosely similar to your half-baked idea that you patented

        "Related" might convey things which didn't really take place...

      • Laches (Score:5, Informative)

        by tepples (727027) <tepples&gmail,com> on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:47AM (#33272958) Homepage Journal

        2. If you notice someone is using your invention, DON'T SUE
        3. Wait for them to actually succeed, and invest time

        If someone convinces a judge that you did this, then you can't collect damages under the "laches" rule.

        • Re:Laches (Score:5, Interesting)

          by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:12AM (#33273446) Journal
          Not quite true. You can't collect any damages for infringements that occur between noticing and sending them notification of infringement. You can, however, wait until they're shipping a million units a day and then demand that the court awards an injunction to make them stop shipping, at which point they don't have much option but to give in to your royalty demands.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ShakaUVM (157947)

        Well, apparently, the guy has patented light switches, turning computers on and off, and wiring buildings for power.

        I suppose he can sue anyone he wants, eh?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Anyone else chuckled after reading the name Charles Nutter?

        I did, but for a different reason -- he's a core developer of JRuby. I saw him demo some very cool JRuby-on-Android things this summer. If he's crazy, it's the good kind of crazy.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:53AM (#33273602)

        I disagree on one point only. The first is not "Patent an invention" but "Patent a sci-fi concept that in the future will be realized as a real product/service by someone".

        This is simply absurd. You cannot patent a lamp without a working prototype of a lamp, but you can patent an abstract software concept without showing USPTO a single line of code.

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        By the way I've just patented

        1 step one
        2 ???
        3 profit

        There's a little guy standing out on my front lawn that says he's got prior art on your patent. Maybe you can hire him now and lock up his services as an expert witness at the trial.

    • by FlorianMueller (801981) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:20AM (#33272868) Homepage

      For years I've been criticizing all those fake solutions to the patent problem, such as "patent pledges" or the Open Invention Network (OIN) [blogspot.com]. Both Google and Oracle are licensees of the OIN. The OIN patent agreement is meant to be a non-aggression pact between its members, with respect to "the Linux System" [blogspot.com].

      Given that Android is a Linux distro (and a strategically very important one), it should be fully covered by the OIN as the self-proclaimed protective shield for the Linux ecosystem. Consequently, Oracle should be prohibited by the OIN cross-license agreement to sue its fellow OIN licensee Google. I'm not the only one to have raised that question. I saw Simon Phipps (OSI board member, former chief open source exec at Sun, now at ForgeRock) and Bradley Kuhn of the Software Freedom Law Center (and formerly FSF) raise the same kind of question on Twitter/identica. Now TheRegister contacted the OIN and wanted a comment on Oracle vs. Google, and the OIN declined to comment [theregister.co.uk].

      By the way, Eben Moglen promoted the OIN big time at LinuxCon, just a few days before Oracle announced its lawsuit.

      What's certainly not a fake solution (although difficult to achieve) is the proposal to abolish software patents. The EndSoftPatents.org campaign runs the software patent wiki and has a pretty informative Wiki page on Oracle vs. Google. [swpat.org]

      • Hm, though Android is currently essentially branched from the Linux, kernel, into its own tree; even with bits of unmaintaned contributions to the mainline deleted...

        Yeah, we know it's still Linux for most practical purpose. But such perdiod of (basically) forking could be something to drag legal proceedings on for years, I guess... (in the meantime seeding doubt among manufacturers, etc.)

        • by FlorianMueller (801981) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:57AM (#33272990) Homepage

          Just to make this clear, I don't mean to defend everything Google does or did, especially in connection with Android. Most Android-based phones appear to be closed source in practical terms, and the forking you mention plays a role in that.

          But the OIN is not about free software or open source values. It claims to protect companies in the open source ecosystem, and Google became a licensee a couple of years ago and now sees that it doesn't get any benefit from its membership.

          What IBM does with Websphere/Apache is also forking by the way.

          • There was some "patent blogger" on first story regarding this absurd decision by Oracle. Guy was actually giving "Mono", yes Mono as example of how things should be done.

            Perhaps some companies actually started to think that open source guys are dumb? I mean you come to a story speaking about a big company suing other for patents and you come up with mono advertisement. One really has to have balls to do that on slashdot.

            • by hairyfeet (841228)

              Question: I'm not a Linux guy, so maybe you or someone else could explain exactly why .NET and Mono is supposed to be bad? I mean Google is collecting truly scary amounts of data on everybody, it looks like Oracle are gonna act like asses and have OO.o and Java, who knows what will happen there, and MSFT is...uhhh...how exactly are they gonna get you with .NET and Mono? I don't know how it is on Linux, but on windows with the exception of the ATI driver GUI I frankly never use .NET, and it certainly doesn't

      • by PhilHibbs (4537)

        The case is nothing to do with Linux, it's to do with Java. The fact that they are running Java on Linux is irrelevant, and doesn't contravene the OIN.

      • by c0lo (1497653) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:32AM (#33273288)

        Both Google and Oracle are licensees of the OIN. The OIN patent agreement is meant to be a non-aggression pact between its members, with respect to "the Linux System" [blogspot.com].

        Given that Android is a Linux distro ...

        I don;t see how Android being a Linux distro is relevant in an "aggression" conducted on Java-related patents. Would you please care to elaborate?
        Not saying that I do agree with software patents, not saying that OIN is a good or a bad thing, just saying that Linux != Java != Dalvik, thus the OIN issue have little relevance in my opinion. I mean, some (countries/govs) can agree to a non-proliferation nuclear pact and disagree on a carbon emission trading scheme, right?

        • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:18AM (#33273466) Journal
          Which makes OIN rather meaningless. Linux is a tiny part of any Free Software system. In terms of binary size, it's easily dwarfed by the C and C++ standard libraries; X.org, various toolkits and so on make up a bigger blob. People have been using 'Linux' as a term to describe this entire system (and shouting down people who say GNU/Linux because 'Linux is the important bit') for so long that it's easy to forget this. If the patent pledge only affects Linux, then it doesn't cover 90% of the code on a typical Linux system.
      • by DrXym (126579)
        Android isn't Linux in the traditional sense. It's a Linux kernel with BSD user land bolted on, e.g. the C runtime is called BIONIC and is a cutdown spinoff of the standard BSD libc. Drivers and stuff are accessed through abstraction layers to minimize dependencies between the kernel and the runtime. I guess Google did this so that if necessary they could dump Linux and use something else. Perhaps they even intend to do just that at some point.

        Companies like Oracle might reasonably be able to argue that A

    • by Technician (215283) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:30AM (#33272912)

      Your patent is pretty much already done with prior art. The DMX512 with relay outputs and a programmable console such as any of the inteligent consoles with soft patch in them preceeds your patent.

      I guess the last lighting installation I did is in violation of your patent simply by using off the shelf components.

      A lighting console with softpatch takes care of reassigning switches and addressable dimmer/relay packs takes care of the addressable outlets.

      Good luck defending your patent against the DMX512 1990 revised standard.
      http://www.usitt.org/standards/DMX512.html [usitt.org]

    • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:08AM (#33273210) Journal
      ... in America.
      This week China became #2 economy in the world. Don't you think America that it is time to worry about keeping up with innovation, USA ? You won't top Chinese labs with lawyer companies.
      • by turkeyfish (950384) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @06:23AM (#33273748)

        You obviously don' t understand. Rupert Murdoch owns Fox News, which owns the republican party. The Chinese are shrewed enough to recognize that Murdoch can be easily manipulated by his insatiable greed. To maintain his business in China he has to do what the Chinese want, which is to insure that America's ability to attend to its political and economic problems are overwhelmed by mind numbing, inane "info-tainment" to rile up those incapable of thinking for themselves or support the debt they incur, yet who, by virtue of their numbers, can obstruct progress directed toward solutions of any kind that might set America on a path of "innovation" or "success". America is doomed to being caught between Glenn Beck and the lawyers, who represent Murdoch and his corporate clients. Technical advances in all spheres of human activity will steadily gravitate toward China until about 2020, when the Chinese overtake the US and call in our debts.

        • Now you're stretching it. While it is obvious that Rupert Murdoch's media empire is nothing more than a multibillion dollar propaganda business for American conservatives and the Republican party, to claim that they are doing this at the behest of China is just being silly. They would be doing this with or without the influence of China because they mistakenly believe that their actions won't result in America being ground into third world nation status; on the contrary, they think doing these things will m

      • by Sarten-X (1102295)
        America is worried about innovation. We're worried that without patents, someone else might come along and steal our poor American's idea for a self-lighting candle with built-in gerbil feeder! We can't have that, can we?
      • The EU passed the USA years back for biggest economy. If China is now #2 then the USA is #3.

    • by Trevelyan (535381) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:27AM (#33273496)
      TED had an interesting talk [ted.com] about patents and innovation from the perspective of the fashion industry, in comparison to the software industry. The point being that the fashion industry has no patent protection, is full of innovation and makes a bucket load of money.

      The reasons why the fashion industry wasn't allowed patents is also interesting, I would say the same arguments could apply to software.
  • by gmuslera (3436) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:04AM (#33272798) Homepage Journal
    Whats next? Entire cultures seeing suicide as something cool that should be tried at least once by anyone?
    • Suicidal company? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ilgaz (86384) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @03:05AM (#33273026) Homepage

      I started to feel like Oracle's acquisition of Sun will end up like Amiga focusing on CD32, Sinclair spending millions to ship that weird C5, IBM rejecting Win32 API on OS/2. You know tech stories like "Company was doing great, if they didn't make that horrible decision."

      I was telling they can't be that stupid to undermine Java or MySQL, things turned out to be very different. Java and J2ME already have some questions and as this patent lawsuit is on, I am sure some companies question their inclusion of java techology in operating system, devices. Did you also figure IBM is still silent about this? If I were Ellison, I would think about it.

      • We continue to put our faith and trust in corporations and religions as the approach that will deliver humanity from the growing environmental crises that face it, largely because of the faint hope that we may find ourselves among the favored few. Yet as we watch corporations, their lawyers and the righteous battle it out and stomp on the "little people", its not hard to figure out where this is all headed. If humanity has another 300 years, I would be surprised.

    • by shadowofwind (1209890) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:22PM (#33277058)

      Whats next? Entire cultures seeing suicide as something cool that should be tried at least once by anyone?

      In my view that's basically what recreational drug use is, alcohol included. Its just too slow for most people to see it.

      Much of what people do to earn money, like patent trolling, isn't real work in the sense that it actually adds value to the system. It just games the system, making one's own piece of the pie bigger, for a time, while the pie gets smaller. Gradually the system decays. How is this related to drug use? You're more content that your professional life is hollow if you can fill the void with after-hours partying. And the good feeling that real work can provide doesn't mean as much to you if you if you've been finding your good feelings in other diversions. You forget what real accomplishment feels like, and even if you remember, at some point it becomes nearly impossible to find it when the environment you're in is no longer structured towards that ends. But we all need to feel good, so we cling tighter to what has been slowly destroying us, while justifying it.

      Pleasure is the positive feedback your body gives you when you do successful things like eat or procreate. Its like currency for biologically successful behavior. Any activity that gives you significant pleasure without contributing towards your well being in some meaningful sense is poison, because its counterfeit. It doesn't even matter if the thing is chemically addictive or has any other nasty side effects. Just the fact that it feels good but doesn't actually make you healthier dilutes your ability to choose other worthwhile things. Gradually you can no longer find the motivation for honest endeavor.

      Prohibition doesn't fix the problem - it creates crime, particularly in weaker economies that supply the drugs. Puritanism doesn't fix it. Where does one draw the line? Recreational sex? Video games? Chewing gum? Music? We have to proceed from where we are, and trying to go cold turkey on vanity would make most of us deathly miserable. But at least understanding our situation a little better helps I think.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:05AM (#33272802)

    This is a problem with the patent system, not with software patents themselves. The software industry is more affected because it depends much more on innovation than other industries. Plus, with the speed at which the technology moves, the length of a patent is effectively much longer than in other industries.

    • by melikamp (631205) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @03:19AM (#33273058) Homepage Journal

      The software industry is more affected because it depends much more on innovation than other industries.

      In particular, it depends on the incremental innovation, whereas almost all new inventions are typically (and in some cases by logical necessity) are old inventions slightly reconfigured. Patents stop the incremental innovations in its tracks, since an "inventor" of a killer app has all the reasons to sue everyone in sight and none of the reasons to improve on the app. And even if the patent holder does use the monopoly profits to innovate further, it cannot possibly make up for excluding everyone else from the process. Imagine for a moment that a compiler was patented. Only a few biggest players could then afford licenses required to develop commercial software, and free OSes like BSD or GNU/Linux would be illegal. Proponents of software patents must admit that that is the way we should have went: if anything deserves to be called an innovation in software, a compiler certainly does. They also must close their eyes on the fact that the free software community produced and now maintains not one, but two best OSes of today, while competing with an entrenched monopolist. Anyone who believes that software patents are producing any good for the society is either grossly misinformed about the software market or is an enemy of the public (that is, a corporate cock sucker) and a hater of the computer science in general.

    • by alexhs (877055)

      Anonymous Coward (Score:4, Interesting)
      This is a problem with the patent system, not with software patents themselves.

      Boiling frogs, don't you love them ?

    • by aaaaaaargh! (1150173) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @09:20AM (#33274850)

      This is a problem with the patent system, not with software patents themselves.

      That is not true at all. It is a problem with software patents. They are a scandal. Hardware patents have worked well in the past, because hardware development is completely different from software development. By the Curry-Howard isomorphism a large part of mathematics is software and can nowadays be patented. This fact alone speaks rigorously against software patents, but has been ignored with pretty lame excuses by lawmakers and jurisdiction since attention was drawn to it. In fact, various parts of mathematics already already have been patented as we speak. Moreover, writing software mostly consists in assembling together various pieces, subroutines, and algorithms to achieve some goal, as Richard Stallman rightly said it is a bit like building with Lego bricks. When there are thousands of software patents covering all aspects of an application it becomes completely impossible to write and publish even a non-innovative program, not to speak of a true innovation, without potentially violating hundreds of patents. If the current trend is not reversed, the idea of having a universally programmable device at home will become obsolete in future, because it will simply be illegal to write your own software.

      The funny, or perhaps better to say ironic, aspect of software patents is that even the big players cannot have an interest in them in the long run. Right now, they can innovate and use software patents to ensure mutual destruction and for patent trolling. But if the number of software patents keeps growing even the big players will have their possibilities for innovation blocked entirely within a few decades. Software patents are a time bomb that is going to explode not within the next few years but within a foreseeable future. Unfortunately, neither politicians nor many end-consumers (=voters) are able to get this into their brains, because it takes a (small but significant) amount of experience with software engineering and knowledge about the foundations of computer science to understand the issue.

      For a shareware author like me the situation is already devastating today. As long as I do not have success, I can sell whatever I like. However, having success would invariably mean that I'd get sued for infringement of *some* patent I have never heard of and subsequently loose everything. The same applies to any and all individual software authors, FOSS projects, and small companies, because existing software patents already cover many aspects of programming (GUIs in particular). It is an absolute scandal that software patents have been allowed in the first place, and the process has to be reversed by all means. The vast majority of people that argue for them are forced to do so, because they are on the payroll of a large company that holds software patents. It's as simple as that.

      • by scamper_22 (1073470) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:03PM (#33276780)

        You have probably never worked with hardware patents.

        http://www.wiley.com/legacy/products/subject/business/forbes/ford.html [wiley.com] [wiley.com]
        ----------
        In 1879, a Rochester lawyer named George Selden applied for a U.S. patent for a road vehicle powered by a gasoline engine. Through his own delays and those of the government, however, a funny thing happened. Selden, who never built an actual automobile, received the patent on it in 1895, long after other people were building automobiles. In return for a percent of future revenues, Selden assigned the valuable patent to a group of New York financiers in 1897, and they defended it vigorously. In the first years of the century, they settled on a process by which automakers joined the Association of Licensed Automotive Manufacturers (ALAM), which served as a conduit for licensing fees for 1 1/4 percent on annual sales. Most of the country's automakers seemed reconciled to joining ALAM.
        ---------

        Read a little bit about hardware patents. They're the same obvious, lawyer filled crap that software patents are.

  • that it's Sun's patents that are being used in this litigation. Imagine if the patents were original Oracle submissions?
  • by FlorianMueller (801981) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:09AM (#33272824) Homepage
    ...is quoted by TheRegister [theregister.co.uk]:

    "It's a sad comment on the morality of large modern software companies that Microsoft, while I don't think they've gotten any better since Sun sued them, probably has the high ground."

    He seems to mean this primarily in terms of compliance with the official Java specification but one could also look at it in terms of software patent action against FOSS. I recently wrote about Microsoft's use of patents in connection with open source [blogspot.com] and got bashed for simply telling the truth: so far it's actually other companies who make the truly hostile moves. Far be it from me to defend software patents; I just mean to point out that there are different ways in which they get used, and in light of Oracle vs. Google, I believe more people will agree with me now.

    One group of people James Gosling doesn't criticize are all those former Sun execs who strongly supported Oracle's acquisition of Sun because it was financially advantageous for them, only to leave the combined company as soon as possible after the closing of the deal. Many of those told the FOSS community that Sun had patents that could be very dangerous for open source, and Oracle was such a "reasonable" patent holder that it would be much better for them to acquire those patents than to take any risk that maybe Microsoft (which by the way never made a bid for Sun) could get them.

    I opposed Oracle's acquisition of Sun. I also had concerns over the Java part but kept quiet about that and focused on MySQL. That's because I cooperated with Monty (the original author and founder of MySQL) and he wanted to be neutral about programming languages. For those who heard the slander that my work in that context aimed to change MySQL's license from the GPL to something else (which some even propagated here on Slashdot), I've meanwhile posted a detailed explanation, including links to several documents I used during my fight against the Oracle/Sun deal, in order to provide conclusive evidence that I argued against -- not for -- a license change. You can find that information in this blog posting (the link leads directly to a passage on MySQL and the GPL). [blogspot.com]

    • But what about possible proxy wars of Microsoft? Some funding of SCO, apparently. Or sabotaging ISO standarization via small partners (OK, this one not exactly about patents; but showing modus operandi)

      • by FlorianMueller (801981) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:46AM (#33272950) Homepage

        SCO is a copyright case. While copyright litigation can also cause problems, there's a fundamental difference: you don't infringe copyright inadvertently. Theoretically you could, but practically you won't just by coincidence write a significant number of lines of code the same way someone else did. But patents are broad and you can infringe them totally unknowingly. That's why programmers who make independent creations never have to worry about copyright but unfortunately do have to worry about patents.

        Concerning standardization, both Oracle and Google (as well as IBM and Red Hat) are member of "OpenForum Europe", a lobby group in the EU that pushes for "open standards". Here's a blog posting [blogspot.com] in which I criticized the hypocrisy of that group last month. If you look at the flawed Java Community Process [blogspot.com], that's also a serious standardization problem.

        All large corporations try to use the patent system or standardization processes and standards policy to their advantage...

        • by houghi (78078) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:25AM (#33273490)

          Theoretically you could, but practically you won't just by coincidence write a significant number of lines of code the same way someone else did.

          Apparently you have no idea how many monkeys I have. Unfortunately they keep coming up with Hamlet and not any kind of code.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:47AM (#33272956)

      He seems to mean this primarily in terms of compliance with the official Java specification but one could also look at it in terms of software patent action against FOSS. I recently wrote about Microsoft's use of patents in connection with open source and got bashed for simply telling the truth: so far it's actually other companies who make the truly hostile moves. Far be it from me to defend software patents; I just mean to point out that there are different ways in which they get used, and in light of Oracle vs. Google, I believe more people will agree with me now.

      You totally misinterpreted his comment, and it looks intentional. Gosling is obviously stating that Microsoft is a horrible company, but the rest of the industry has become so much worse recently that Microsoft seems benign in comparison (i.e., it is a sad truth). Microsoft is still the mortal threat to open source that it has always been.

      I'm going to come right out and say it, I guess, since I'm posting AC anyway: I suspect you're shilling. This stinks like a PR campaign.

      • by Penguinisto (415985) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @03:49AM (#33273146) Journal

        AC has a point up there, especially when you consider that Microsoft doesn't sue openly, but instead makes all of its threats quietly (see also Novell's little pact, as well as various little or unpopular distros making similar pacts...) There's also the TomTom case. Microsoft wasn't exactly a Boy Scout whipping around that FAT32 patent like they had.

        SCO was a copyright case, but in Microsoft's eyes, IP is IP (Ballmer has a nasty habit of not making distinctions in that particular realm either). Also, while in a similar post you go on and on about how one doesn't "inadvertently" infringe copyright, you missed something. Fact is, SCO posted (IIRC) as their one and only public 'encrypted evidence' snippet... a piece of BSD-licensed code that drifted into SysV's reference codebase even before the whole AT&T vs. Berkeley fights (I know, I know - Early Pleistocene and stuff). BUT - the point stands: anyone who has taken even a cursory glance at the whole BSD vs. SysV legal wars (and more importantly, their outcomes) knows better than to say something like "you don't infringe copyright inadvertently". Sheesh.

        But anyway - while they're not as noisy about it (given their record of losing so many of such cases, little wonder why), Microsoft does do more than the usual amount of backroom intimidations and back-alley shakedowns in this whole "intellectual property" circus.

      • by mcvos (645701) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @06:02AM (#33273652)

        Gosling is obviously stating that Microsoft is a horrible company, but the rest of the industry has become so much worse recently that Microsoft seems benign in comparison (i.e., it is a sad truth).

        It's true. I admit I've recently been thinking less bad about Microsoft. I'm not going to be a fan any time soon, but MS seems to have remained rather stationary on the Evil scale (possibly even edging slightly away from the evil end, but that might be an illusion), while everybody else seems to be in a hurry to overtake them and dive off the deep end of the scale.

        10 years ago I didn't think it was possible, but in the mean time many companies have proven that it is indeed possible to be far more evil than Microsoft.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    He tried to patent the light switch and switching lights on.
    All of it is pretty silly, but Claim No7 contains some gems:
    7. A method for controlling electrical power coupled to a plurality of electrical devices, said method comprising the steps of: ...
    - providing a control unit comprising an identification map
    - connecting said electrical power from a power source to each of said power outlets;
    Which can describe the wiring in the wall.

    • Claims frequently recite boring and commonplace elements, because those elements serve as a foundation for other elements which are novel and non-obvious. It doesn't mean they're getting a patent on those boring and commonplace elements in isolation, but rather that in order to infringe the claim, a product or method must include those elements as well as all the other ones recited in the claim.

      In this case (although I don't have time this morning to sort through the prosecution history to be sure), the ne

  • Similarly, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) recently obtained an Energy Star certification [nytimes.com] for a gasoline powered clock radio, among other things. It's a pencil whipping operation with no credible investigation of manufacturers claims. Worry not! The EPA has since announced [usatoday.com] reforms to this stellar program, so have no doubt that whatever price premium such august recognition demands is worth every certified penny.

  • Even though we had a basic distaste for patents, the game is what it is, and patents are essential in modern corporations, if only as a defensive measure.

    I really appreciate their work at mocking patents law system, but I can't agree with this part. While we can't change patent laws, we can at least avoid having them. We're not forced to patent our ideas just to protect them, because nobody can make sure the very same patents won't be used for suing other developers. I live in Iran and our patent system isn't as silly and as serious as America's, but I'm trying to avoid even this. I've come with an idea for a new Persian soft keyboard for our own commercial

    • by Shihar (153932) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @03:38AM (#33273124)

      You might not need a patent for your keyboard, but in any complex technology, you do. The Apple Vs HTC is a great example. HTC is building off of the 'no shit' next steps in cell phone technology. What is patented by Apple is stuff that, even if they did "invent" first (which is a dubious claim to even begin with), would have been invented in the very near future by others who were running down the same path. So, Apple sues HTC claiming infringement on a pile of obvious next step technologies that are absurdly broadly defined to begin with. HTCs only defense is to turn around and do the same. So, HTC has some stupid and obvious patents that they then claim Apple is infringing upon. The defensive pattens are not there to protect your technology, they are there to be used against a company trying to sue you.

      Patents are like nuclear weapons. Even if you don't want to use the damned things offensively against others, you still want them so that you can threaten to use them on anyone who uses them on you.

      Sadly, what this leads to is a stifling of creativity and innovation. The point of a patent is to encourage people to invent. As soon as a patent fails at that, it fails at its purpose. So, in the case of cellphone makers, it isn't like the lack of the ability to patent some overly broad technology would have prevented Apple from using and developing it. It is being used now ONLY to prevent creativity and innovation. It basically means that no one who doesn't already have an arsenal of patents can't jump into the market. The thought of a small time specialized cell phone maker jumping into the market is laughable because you can't enter the market unless you are armed to the teeth with your own defensive patents. Hell, the very reason why HTC is getting attacked by Apple is because they have the smallest patent portfolio.

      • by Dr. Evil (3501)

        "Patents are like nuclear weapons. Even if you don't want to use the damned things offensively against others, you still want them so that you can threaten to use them on anyone who uses them on you."

        Patents are different in Iran, they're only used for peaceful purposes.

    • I don't understand how you can say that after reading that Sun nearly went out of business because IBM sued them for violating patents.

    • While we can't change patent laws, we can at least avoid having them. We're not forced to patent our ideas just to protect them, because nobody can make sure the very same patents won't be used for suing other developers.

      ...and then someone will reverse-engineer your work, patent it, and sue you over it [uspto.gov].

  • Just about anything and everything has been patented. Even minute variations in between. I really wish we could go back to core roots of what held society together. Service and customer support. That's where the importance should be laid at, not tangible goods.

    Of course, tangible goods are very important too. Which is why I'm in favor of temporary patents. We don't need to be feeding the lawyers and stifling innovation. Some idea of a patent system is a nice system to have (but not abused). The idea is that

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Pirate Party is not only against patents on software, we work actively against it.

  • They don't ask a simple question, a very simple one.

    "We have our technology preinstalled to near billion handheld/mobile devices. We have industry giants who submits their own enhancements. Opera Mini (and soon Locago) proved those users will care to install something if it means something to them. So, what was wrong with J2ME and why Google went their own way instead of enhancing J2ME?"

    If you can get answer, ask any high level executive in MS what would they feel if some MS technology, like "silverlight li

  • Inventor's Oath? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    All inventors must sign an oath [uspto.gov] stating that they have disclosed all information known to them to be material to patentability. If you think your patent is invalid from the start, you are under an obligation to disclose whatever prior art you think is relevant. Am I the only one who finds it a little disturbing that luminaries are now admitting to fraud on the patent office?

    • Am I the only one who finds it a little disturbing that luminaries are now admitting to fraud on the patent office?

      Yes. They all do it, it's only a matter of time before they start openly admitting it.

    • When you engage in Civil Disobedience, you can expect the system to slap you back, hard. That's the entire idea.
    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:51AM (#33273594) Journal
      They're not admitting fraud. They're admitting submitting patents that are ludicrous according to the standards of common sense, but valid according to the standards of law. They are admitting bending the rules as much as possible without breaking them, and demonstrating exactly how insane the rules actually are. They are not admitting to breaking the rules.
  • by Kman_xth (529883) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @03:29AM (#33273096)

    Android has pretty much played out the way that we feared: there is enough fragmentation among Android handsets to significantly restrict the freedom of software developers.

    The notion that Android suffers from a huge fragmentation problem seems to be repeated everywhere, but I really don't understand where this is coming from. I've developed JME and Android applications and the amount of fragmentation on Android is mostly non-existent. Apart from some small number of device-specific bugs (that are fixed with phone updates) that won't affect most Android apps, cross-device development is a breeze. I remember JME development was way more troublesome, where model-specific versions were the rule instead of the exception.

    • Depends, do you have meet QA assurances to customers? I know we've dropped QA assurance for Android devices from our contracts now unless the client asks for specific models with specific OS's. We still offer a QA assurance standard for iOS based applications because it's not costing us $8k a year for hardware like it was with Android for iDevices. Making sure your application runs on android isn't a problem. Guaranteeing it works well across a range of devices is a different ball-game.

  • Gosling's patent (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BrianOL (1880336)
    It is a really important story. When you read the patent, it becomes obvious that the patent was issued for something that is not any innovation and had been in use for years. Now the author of the patent himself admits that openly. So, what the consequences will be? Not for the battle (Oracle vs. Google) but for the war (humanity vs. patents)? None. The patent system is so deep rooted, so many things depend on it (like the value of so many corporations) that practically nothing can be done. It's frustratin
  • by GrpA (691294) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:06AM (#33273206)

    About 18 years ago, I did the same.. We had to come up with patents for a product that was the owner's pet project... Well, I had to come up with a patent too, since I had worked on the project, so I wrote up a patent for a steering wheel. It was a complete joke and i used as much obfuscation as I could, describing complex equations defining circular motion such as X^2+y^2=1 and the likes.. It had the other engineers in stitches... We all thought it was hilarious and the boss slipped it into the pile to go to the patent office so they could enjoy the joke as well... Some time later the boss came in stony faced and simply said "The patent for the steering wheel. No one ever jokes about it again. Ever. Period." then walked out. Seems it was the only patent that stood up to scrutiny.... All the rest were rejected... So, the owner of the "Timezone" amusement centers around Australia formally owned the patent on every electronic steering wheel that controls a vehicle... Ever invented. Anywhere. Even if it uses mechanical linkages. Especially if it was in the shape of a circle, but it also counted if was a joystick that could be moved through a "virtual circle"... Not that it didn't stop the engineers rolling around on the floor laughing for a few minutes when I told them all. Yep. another literal joke patent... And to their credit, they all kept a straight face when the "Big" boss came in to congratulate us all.

    GrpA

  • by bysin (173686)

    "There was even an unofficial competition to see who could get the goofiest patent through the system."

    I believe this is how Amazon's 1-Click patent got started.

  • by Confuse Ed (59383) <edmund&greenius,ltd,uk> on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:34AM (#33273522) Homepage

    I was at the london science museum last week and saw something interesting on the information board regarding one of the steam engines on display. Unfortunately I didn't think to take a photograph / transcribe it, but this blog gives a summary: http://www.currybet.net/cbet_blog/2006/08/engineering-parallels-at-the-s.php [currybet.net]

    To quote the blog's transcription of the caption:

    In 1769, James Watt had taken out a patent that allowed him to dominate steam-engine design and improvement. As a result, other engineers were prevented by law from developing new, alternative designs."

    When the patent expired other engineers were able to innovate again, particularly Richard Trevithick. He experimented with using steam under a much higher pressure, and as a result was able to build smaller and more powerful engines, which enabled him to build the first locomotive railway engine capable of hauling a load.

    So even the science museum is suggesting that patent's stiffle innovation, and have been doing so for over 200 years

  • by knarf (34928) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @06:39AM (#33273832) Homepage

    Software patents are to the IT community as malware is to operating systems.

    First thing to do with a new Windows machine is to remove the Symantec crap which it came infected with. As what to do with all those lawyers I'll just refer to Shakespeare [spectacle.org] and leave it to you, dear reader, to interpret this quote by the Bard of Avon...

  • ... is for a LIGHT SWITCH! Either the guy is brilliant for weasling that one through or the patent office is sleeping at the (Gosling patented) switch for letting that one through.
  • Literally? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WormholeFiend (674934) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @09:40AM (#33275042)

    You mean "figuratively".

    http://xkcd.com/725/ [xkcd.com]

    • Re:Literally? (Score:5, Informative)

      by eburnette (1871394) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @10:54AM (#33275880) Homepage
      No, I meant literally. There were actual joke patents being filed. I don't know if any got approved, but the light switch one in Gosling's blog churned around for several years in the system before it was abandoned (as opposed to getting rejected immediately with prejudice, or not filed in the first place).

In any formula, constants (especially those obtained from handbooks) are to be treated as variables.

Working...