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Google's Patent Lawyer On Why the Patent System Is Broken 260

Posted by timothy
from the but-that's-absurd dept.
The San Francisco Chronicle features an interview with Google's patent counsel, Tim Porter, who argues that "... what many people can agree on is the current system is broken and there are a large number of software patents out there fueling litigation that resulted from a 10- or 15-year period when the issuance of software patents was too lax. Things that seemed obvious made it through the office until 2007, when the Supreme Court finally said that the patent examiners could use common sense. Patents were written in a way that was vague and overly broad. (Companies are) trying to claim something that's really an idea (which isn't patentable). There are only so many ways to describe a piston, but software patents are written by lawyers in a language that software engineers don't even understand. They're being used to hinder innovation or skim revenue off the top of a successful product." Porter is speaking in particular about the snarls that have faced (and still face) Android, based on Microsoft patents; he blames some of the mess on a patent regime where "you don't know what patents cover until courts declare that in litigation. What that means is people have to make decisions about whether to fight or whether to reach agreements."
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Google's Patent Lawyer On Why the Patent System Is Broken

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  • yup (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arbiter1 (1204146) on Sunday November 06, 2011 @10:27PM (#37969946)
    Most new products come out and they don't even know they violated patents for years in most cases cause companies that hold the so called patent even know they could claim anything til years later.
    • by FyRE666 (263011)

      Why shouldn't it be the responsibility of the patent owner to contact the company intending to develop a product, before they sink resources into it?

      Much like building planning works (in the UK at least) the company involved must declare their intentions in the local papers, and posters around the area, so that anyone with an concern or complaint can find an avenue to raise their objections.

      If there were a site where any company could post details of what they were intending to produce, then the patent trol

      • Re:yup (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 07, 2011 @01:54AM (#37970860)

        The system you describe is utterly ridiculous. It requires that anyone creating a new product broadcast detailed information to their competitors, while also requiring patent holders to maintain a constant vigil where they have to read the perhaps 10's of thousands of posts day to see if anything from there portfolio is being infringed. Do you realize the manpower that would take? For a company with a large number of patents they would require dozens or even hundreds of reviewers, each of which would have to have sufficient education to have the entire portfolio memorized, while also understanding the detailed technical specifications of myriad products.

        It would be far easier to simply modify the patent system so that obviousness and prior art is given much more weight patent examiners.

      • Re:yup (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bloodhawk (813939) on Monday November 07, 2011 @02:05AM (#37970890)
        The current patent system is ridiculous, however your suggestion takes that ridiculousness to a whole new level, by some chance do you work for the patent office? that is the type of even more broken system I would expect to come out of there. You want companies to broadcast their plans to their competitors? you want people with patents to read through what would be thousands of product ideas a day? hell you would need a team dedicated 24x7 to read all of the intended product developments.
        • Re:yup (Score:4, Insightful)

          by FyRE666 (263011) on Monday November 07, 2011 @09:25AM (#37972172) Homepage

          Exactly - i wrote that to hilight just how bad the current situation is, by reversing it (I thought I'd added enough sarcasm to the comment, but still) :

          "you want people with patents to read through what would be thousands of product ideas a day?"

          This, in a nutshell is the problem currently, but in reverse, with the person WITHOUT the patents having to read through potentially 10's or 100's of thousands of vague patents, AND understanding all of those patents, before having any confidence they can go ahead without being accused of criminality.

          "hell you would need a team dedicated 24x7 to read all of the intended product developments"
          =
          "hell you currently need a team dedicated 24x7 to read all of the vague product patents"

  • Still is bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 06, 2011 @10:27PM (#37969948)

    The issuance of patents is *still* bad, it wasn't just some period in the past.

    The problem stems from the core software patent problem, trade secrets work so well in software's case that no patent examiner can be aware of the body of prior art that exists. Likewise he can't know if it's an invention, or just an incremental change from what already exists.

    And he may be fooled that the patent office has changed its spots, it hasn't. It still defaults to issuing patents when in doubt.

    • Likewise he can't know if it's an invention, or just an incremental change from what already exists.

      My favorite personal infringement was "use of XOR to draw a cursor" - wow, like, can I patent the use of a coin in a random game of chance with 50/50 outcome, too?

      The only possible benefit of the trolls is that, 17 years after they've done their trolling, it is then clearly in the public domain. That XOR patent expired sometime in the 1990s.

      • My favorite personal infringement was "use of XOR to draw a cursor"

        To be fair the XOR cursor patent was filed in Jan 1978. Perhaps in 1977 when folks were working on this it was not quite so obvious as it is to us today. I'm just adding some context, I'm not saying it was necessarily patent worthy. I think we would need to know more about raster graphics used in TV, it may be more relevant than computer graphics.
        "In the late 1970s and ’80s raster graphics, derived from television technology, became more common, though still limited to expensive graphics workstation

        • by horza (87255)

          Coin operated arcade games have been out since 1971. The Atari 2600 came out in 1976. The PCs started coming out in 1981, eg the ZX81 and BBC Micro. Computer graphics have been common throughout both the 1970s and the 1980s.

          Phillip.

    • Re:Still is bad (Score:5, Insightful)

      by billcopc (196330) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Sunday November 06, 2011 @11:24PM (#37970250) Homepage

      That is the fundamental problem. To the average human, a patent is total gibberish. To an expert, it is still gibberish. The only people who can "read" patents are lawyers, and they lack the subject matter expertise to make any real sense of it.

      I say patent writers need to "sell" the patent examiner on the merit of their patent. You want an exclusive license to extort the world with an idea ? Ok, prove to me that you've actually created something new. If it's a tech patent, it needs to be reviewed by an examiner with at least 5-10 years of experience in the field. That way they will be better equipped to tell if the patent covers something trivial.

      If the greedy hypercapitalist swine who support the patent system aren't willing to abolish it, then we should at least require that the patents be written in such a way that a novice can understand it. It's like usability testing. I don't expect my 80-year-old grandparents to understand (for example) FTP, but even a first-year CS student should be able to figure out from the first paragraph that it is a file transfer protocol that copies bits from one networked computer to another. By extension, an examiner with 5-10 years of applied experience should be able to identify which parts of a proposed file transfer protocol are painfully obvious, and which parts are innovative and potentially patent-worthy.

      I personally can't think of any such innovations over existing protocols, but that's why I don't hold any patents. To a one-trick tech wizard like me, everything is obvious, as it should be. Just like my father thinks I'm a retard for not knowing that light flutter in my car's hum is caused by a bad fuel line pump, because he's a freakin' mechanic - it's obvious to him. We need to ditch obvious patents once and for all so the lawyers can find something better to do, and leave us experts in peace so we can start innovating again.

      • Re:Still is bad (Score:4, Insightful)

        by dkf (304284) <donal.k.fellows@manchester.ac.uk> on Monday November 07, 2011 @05:34AM (#37971426) Homepage

        If the greedy hypercapitalist swine who support the patent system aren't willing to abolish it, then we should at least require that the patents be written in such a way that a novice can understand it.

        Not a novice. Someone with 5 years experience in the field, so that they count as someone "with ordinary skill in the art". That has always been the whole point of a patent, in any field, and it's desperately wrong that some patents are issued which do not make things clear enough; such patents should be struck from the record and the cost of any related proceedings pushed back on the (ex-)patent holder.

        I'm not saying there should never be patents on software — sometimes you see something that is a genuine massive innovation, such as some of the compression or security codes where there have been times when the state of the art has advanced hugely when others thought it impossible — but they're issued too often for too little and are too unclear. I suppose it would help if software patents had to include all relevant source code as part of the patent (with all claim to copyright ceded) so that when the patent expires the exact protected method would be free to use for anyone; that would be much like patents in other fields.

        • Re:Still is bad (Score:4, Informative)

          by Midnight Thunder (17205) on Monday November 07, 2011 @07:26AM (#37971724) Homepage Journal

          Lawyers sometimes seem to be in ivory tower when it comes to the technology around them. IT moves so fast, that even as a professional in the field it is hard to keep up. I would be surprised that someone who has a legal background can do as much.

          I remember one story about a computer science student doing her masters thought she had come up with something new. She passed her course, but the problem is that people working outside of acedemia saw her work as something that had already been done in industry. Just because something seems new, it doesn't mean it is. Unlike scientific fields, anyone has easy access to IT, so this means that there is so much room for new ideas, but also people thinking they have a new idea. For most professionals solving problems and coming solutions is often more important than understanding everything that went before, especially when there is so much innovation coming at you like a speeding locomotive.

      • I like your post, it is spot-on. However, I have the feeling that most slashdotters need not be informed how the patent system is failing, or even what modifications to the system would be appropriate. I just wish the discussions here would shift focus from the problem to the solution, or else I'm afraid we'll see another decade of patent-frustrations posted to slashdot.

  • by jbolden (176878) on Sunday November 06, 2011 @10:33PM (#37969980) Homepage

    I think we are close to serious patent reform which is going to be good for everyone. Everyone agrees the system is broken and everyone agrees there are insane patents.

    • I think we are close to serious patent reform which is going to be good for everyone. Everyone agrees the system is broken and everyone agrees there are insane patents.

      Unfortunately, it seems to me like it will take executive (Presidential) action to get reform moving, and I can't see patent reform as an issue worth fighting for, from the perspective of a President running for re-election, or a newly elected President, or even a President in mid-term. It's just not as painful for people as the other issues that currently need addressing.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jbolden (176878)

        First off congress is on this issue. And it is bipartisan. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) are the two leading the charge. As for Obama, he was a big supporter of the 2009 Patent reform act Patent Reform Act of 2009 (S. 515), whose modified version went into law in September. While nowhere near enough this is progress.

        • Yes, lots of talk, but when it comes to making it actually happen... I hope they're better than their records suggest.

          • by jbolden (176878)

            Better than whose record? There are 3 people in my comment above.

          • Fortunately, congress has been busy passing a lot of important legislation lately. [nytimes.com] I'm sure we can trust these wonderful representatives to continue to stand up for the issues that matter as they diligently work to bring this country back to the prominent state God intended it to be in. I'm sure that once congress has passed comprehensive patent reform, they'll soon get to on other digital issues such as legally enforcing net-neutrality and guaranteeing that using the internet does not void one's fourth ame

      • by poetmatt (793785)

        No, it won't take some presidential action.

        Did you read the petition to end software patents? The president's office said clearly: this is a matter of congress.

        So whoever is president will have zero to do with the situation. So a president, no matter who it is, is not going to fix this.

        • Oh yeah, I forgot about that... Well, then, we just have to get 535 squabbling politicians to get behind this and make it happen... I do hope they surpass my expectations.

        • Health care is also a matter of congress but everyone still calls it "Obamacare" and he seems happy to put his name behind it.

          The president has quite a bit of sway over his party and can get congress to address whichever issues he deems important. The response to the software patents petition was basically "we don't want to change this" but they did so by pretended they are powerless.

      • by anubi (640541) on Monday November 07, 2011 @01:19AM (#37970728) Journal
        < sarconal >

        Somehow, when I read of all this patent fury, I think of the kids who got to the playground first and "put dibs" on all the playground toys. They could extort other kid's lunch money to play. The kids who got there first liked this arrangement and bribed the teacher to let them do this, and the teacher would enforce their "rights".

        Problem is some of the other kids started building more stuff that wasn't under control of the kids who had the "rights" to the existing stuff. But how to you claim rights to keep other kids from doing it?

        Simple! Laws already exist for Property. Call it Property!

        Now, we have property tax, but we want to make sure that this new property can be claimed, yet we shouldn't be taxed on it because ... uh... why?

        With today's sore need of government revenues, why isn't this taxed? I own a house. I pay over 2% of the market value of my house every year for tax.

        Wouldn't this stop the patent trolls dead in their tracks if each patent was taxed on the value its owner assigns to it? In the event of an IP "violation", a property owner can sue up to the value he placed on his IP, at which case,upon paying the IP holder his valuation, the sue-ee ends up holding the so-called property and he is free to value it at whatever he thinks its worth.

        We love to privatize the gains and socialize the losses.

        Stuff like this will get the people benefiting from our method of protecting monopolies to help pay for the people deprived from building things. Think of it as one of the costs of living in a society where armed police will enforce highly profitable monopolies and keep competition at bay. The American Way. Just as pioneered by Al Capone.

        The American Way will work as long as we control the world's reserve currency, and can depend on the fruit of our printing press to exchange for our needs.

        < /sarconal >
      • by JustNilt (984644)

        This is not an issue for the Executive branch. The Constitution clearly states, in Article 1, Section 8 that "The Congress shall have power ..." then there are several clauses after. Clause 8 lays out the authority for patents: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries".

        This issue must be decided by Congress. The President can urge, suggest, bitch and moan but PotUS has no mo

    • by whoever57 (658626)

      think we are close to serious patent reform which is going to be good for everyone. Everyone agrees the system is broken and everyone agrees there are insane patents.

      Unfortunately, I believe you are deluding yourself. Lots of large companies (eg. Microsoft and Apple) display no sign of agreeing that the system is broken.

      • by jbolden (176878) on Sunday November 06, 2011 @11:28PM (#37970276) Homepage

        Horacio Gutiérrez, the deputy general counsel in charge of Microsoft’s intellectual property group is a major proponent of patent reform including the bill passed in September. For example

        I think we’ve come a long way, but there remain some areas where the practices in the context of litigation as well as in some administrative proceedings could be adapted to really try to curb the abuses of the system by nonpracticing entities [polite term for patent trolls]..There is currently debate emerging over whether nonpracticing entities should be entitled to obtain an injunction either in court or in the International Trade Commission.

        Microsoft is on our side on this one.

        As for Apple they are one of the founding companies in the Coalition for Patent Fairness [patentfairness.org].

        So I'm not sure where you are getting this idea they support the current system from.

        • by jonwil (467024) on Monday November 07, 2011 @12:07AM (#37970474)

          Microsoft and Apple may not support the system as it stands. But anyone who thinks either company wants the kind of patent reform that many others in the tech industry (including the Google guy posting in TFA) want is deluded. Both companies would think nothing of spending whatever it takes to lobby against any bill that actually made software un-patentable or that tightened up the criteria for what is and isn't patentable in the software field.

          • by jbolden (176878) on Monday November 07, 2011 @12:16AM (#37970502) Homepage

            What makes you say that? I can point to them having taken positive steps towards trying for meaningful reform and complaining about the patents. Microsoft and Apple have both been harassed by patents and mostly are pretty successful in innovating. Since their self interest may very well be better served with a less aggressive patent structure, I take them at their word.

            • by jonwil (467024) on Monday November 07, 2011 @12:29AM (#37970560)

              Microsoft makes big money using its patent portfolio for lawsuits and FUD surrounding Linux and Android so it has no incentive to push for reform that makes those patents easier to challenge, harder to get or harder to sue with.

              Apple right now is on a mission to crush Android in any court that it can get a hearing in, they dont want to see change that makes it harder for them to do that.

              • by jbolden (176878)

                Microsoft isn't making big money on those lawsuits. Mainly they are attempting to make sure there is space for the Windows 8 mobile, that Android isn't seen as an obvious cost saving maneuver. And Apple has gotten sued by manufacturers as well.

                I'd agree that Android is taking more blows right now from Apple and Microsoft. But both of them, Microsoft especially have had to pay quite a lot for "patent violations".

              • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday November 07, 2011 @12:52AM (#37970640) Journal

                Microsoft makes big money using its patent portfolio for lawsuits and FUD surrounding Linux and Android so it has no incentive to push for reform that makes those patents easier to challenge, harder to get or harder to sue with.

                You forget that Microsoft also pays licensing fees to other companies for the use of their patents in its products (IIRC, one of them is Oracle's patent on JIT compilation that they've used against Google). You need to look at the balance of those fees to see whether it is profitable for the company. Then also account processing fees on company's own patents - building up a portfolio of your own is not free, and it is necessary to be able to retaliate. Indeed, the latter is the biggest reason why no-one's really happy about it - it's not just about being patent trolled, it's also about all the time and money wasted to keep on par with everyone else in the patent MAD game.

                To the best of my knowledge, pretty much no tech companies that actually produce something are in favor of software patents as they stand. Most would prefer some reasonable middle ground (i.e. keep patents, but significantly raise the bar of what's patentable), but I think that many of them would ultimately prefer no patents to the current situation if those were the only two choices.

          • They want to get rid of the trolls, because even when they win it just costs money, fighting other companies has benefits so they don't mind that ...

        • by kanto (1851816)

          Horacio Gutiérrez, the deputy general counsel in charge of Microsoft’s intellectual property group is a major proponent of patent reform including the bill passed in September. For example

          I think we’ve come a long way, but there remain some areas where the practices in the context of litigation as well as in some administrative proceedings could be adapted to really try to curb the abuses of the system by nonpracticing entities [polite term for patent trolls]..There is currently debate emerging over whether nonpracticing entities should be entitled to obtain an injunction either in court or in the International Trade Commission.

          Microsoft is on our side on this one.

          As for Apple they are one of the founding companies in the Coalition for Patent Fairness [patentfairness.org].

          So I'm not sure where you are getting this idea they support the current system from.

          The way I read that quote is that Microsoft wants immunity from patent trolls, nothing there about them being on "our" side which I assume wants everyone to be safe from harassment by practicing entities also. This stance reminds me of the joke that the puritans did not so much escape persecution as wanting themselves to be free to persecute.

    • by jonwil (467024)

      The only people who make money from software patents are patent trolls, lawyers and companies who would rather litigate than innovate (Microsoft being one example, Apple being another)

      • by anubi (640541)
        Why Do So Many College Science Majors Drop Out?

        Why would you want to run stop signs? Why would you want to risk illegal music downloads? Why would you want to risk designing something around thoughts that may not be your own.

        Remember, your college education? If you stole from ONE, its called "plagiarism". Steal from many? They call that "research". Don't steal? That's called "re-inventing the wheel". You cannot win.

        Like walking through minefields? I have. Its a big risk.

        You can do a lot
        • by mwvdlee (775178)

          Remember, your college education? If you stole from ONE, its called "plagiarism". Steal from many? They call that "research". Don't steal? That's called "re-inventing the wheel". You cannot win.

          Atleast one of the three outcomes sounds like a win.
          Ofcourse there's also the alternative of actually doing the work, but those probably aren't the drop outs you were refering to.

  • Isn't it ironic? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by scottbomb (1290580) on Sunday November 06, 2011 @10:34PM (#37969988) Journal

    Some of the companies that are most innovative are doing everything they can to stifle innovation.

    • Some of the companies that WERE most innovative are doing everything they can to stifle innovation.

      There... FTFY. :)

  • by mveloso (325617) on Sunday November 06, 2011 @10:35PM (#37969990)

    Tim Porter may be a nice guy and all, but if it was Google with all those so-called bogus/lax patents he'd be up there talking about how the patent system is fine and the problem really is more that the enforcement process depends on endless litigation and how the determination of infringement needs to be more streamlined.

    He's a lawyer, his job is to be an advocate/mouthpiece for his employer's interests.

    • by aiken_d (127097) <brooks.tangentry@com> on Sunday November 06, 2011 @11:04PM (#37970144) Homepage

      This. There is some value in well-articulated arguments and having a company with Google's clout bringing attention to the patent mess, but the moment Google stands to make more money from the system, this same guy will cheerfully advocate the other side. Which is fine, it's his job.

    • by williamhb (758070) on Sunday November 06, 2011 @11:53PM (#37970436) Journal

      Tim Porter may be a nice guy and all, but if it was Google with all those so-called bogus/lax patents he'd be up there talking about how the patent system is fine and the problem really is more that the enforcement process depends on endless litigation and how the determination of infringement needs to be more streamlined.

      He's a lawyer, his job is to be an advocate/mouthpiece for his employer's interests.

      They (and most companies) play both sides of the fence. At the same time as saying how bad patents are for impinging on their products, they are buying as many companies with far-reaching patents as they can get their hands on -- "Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio", Larry Page. It's a genuine tragedy of the commons -- many of the same people who think patents are bad news are also having to go out and register or acquire them at ever increasing rates so they are armed with them. And the first person to lay down their patents and walk away would be the big loser (as Android nearly found out with its previous strategy of not having many patents, and wound up on the wrong end of so many patent lawsuits).

      • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday November 07, 2011 @01:55AM (#37970866) Homepage Journal

        Tim Porter may be a nice guy and all, but if it was Google with all those so-called bogus/lax patents he'd be up there talking about how the patent system is fine and the problem really is more that the enforcement process depends on endless litigation and how the determination of infringement needs to be more streamlined.

        He's a lawyer, his job is to be an advocate/mouthpiece for his employer's interests.

        They (and most companies) play both sides of the fence. At the same time as saying how bad patents are for impinging on their products, they are buying as many companies with far-reaching patents as they can get their hands on -- "Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio", Larry Page.

        You omitted the last half of that quote: "which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies." What he was saying was that Google's new patents will increase competition by helping to prevent MS and Apple from shutting Android down, and I think his point is indisputable: Allowing MS and Apple to kill Android would reduce competition, so preserving android increases competition.

        I truly don't think Google plays both sides of this fence; everything I've ever seen from Google's leadership decries the patent mess as a problem, and explains Google's own focus on acquiring and growing patents as a necessary evil. AFAIK (and I have paid attention), Google has never asserted any patents against anyone, except defensively.

        I think Google really would prefer to change patent law and get rid of all these crap software patents -- or even all software patents, period. I think this is as much reflection of Google's arrogance as Google's altruism -- Google believes that given a level field they can beat the competition in any area they focus on. But I think there is actually a large dose of "good for society" thinking as well. You have to remember that fully half of Google's employees and nearly all of Google's management are software engineers, and the vast majority of software engineers think that software patents are bad for innovation, and software engineers love cool new technology. Google's engineers are no different all the way up to and including Sergey and Larry.

        (Disclaimer: I'm a Google engineer, but all of the above is based on public information plus my perception of general attitudes within the company.)

        • by ryanw (131814)

          Tim Porter may be a nice guy and all, but if it was Google with all those so-called bogus/lax patents he'd be up there talking about how the patent system is fine and the problem really is more that the enforcement process depends on endless litigation and how the determination of infringement needs to be more streamlined.

          He's a lawyer, his job is to be an advocate/mouthpiece for his employer's interests.

          They (and most companies) play both sides of the fence. At the same time as saying how bad patents are for impinging on their products, they are buying as many companies with far-reaching patents as they can get their hands on -- "Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio", Larry Page.

          You omitted the last half of that quote: "which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies." What he was saying was that Google's new patents will increase competition by helping to prevent MS and Apple from shutting Android down, and I think his point is indisputable: Allowing MS and Apple to kill Android would reduce competition, so preserving android increases competition.

          I truly don't think Google plays both sides of this fence; everything I've ever seen from Google's leadership decries the patent mess as a problem, and explains Google's own focus on acquiring and growing patents as a necessary evil. AFAIK (and I have paid attention), Google has never asserted any patents against anyone, except defensively.

          I think Google really would prefer to change patent law and get rid of all these crap software patents -- or even all software patents, period. I think this is as much reflection of Google's arrogance as Google's altruism -- Google believes that given a level field they can beat the competition in any area they focus on. But I think there is actually a large dose of "good for society" thinking as well. You have to remember that fully half of Google's employees and nearly all of Google's management are software engineers, and the vast majority of software engineers think that software patents are bad for innovation, and software engineers love cool new technology. Google's engineers are no different all the way up to and including Sergey and Larry.

          (Disclaimer: I'm a Google engineer, but all of the above is based on public information plus my perception of general attitudes within the company.)

          Um, no duh! Of course Google would prefer to get rid of all patents. If you look at their business model it's all about 'ad revenue'. What do they care what software or hardware you run their ads on? The more software and hardware that hits their ads instead of other people's ads, the better.

          So if they abolished all apple's patents (and everyone else for that matter) and people could make the best mobile device for free and not pay homage to any license (ie. java, or other), then there would exist more, che

    • by kermidge (2221646) on Monday November 07, 2011 @12:26AM (#37970554) Journal

      True enough, but just because he's "got a dog in this race" doesn't preclude him from having a useful view, no?

    • by Riceballsan (816702) on Monday November 07, 2011 @12:36AM (#37970588)
      Agreed, but you also have to look at one thing. Google is not the company with tons of bogus lax patents, and from my observations that seems to be more or less by choice. Does it seem imposible that a company google's size with google's legal budget, that they could not have say squeezed through enough pattents to keep microsoft in court for years trying to fight to get bing across. Or say patented their circles following feeds etc... in a way that facebook would have had to wait a few months for a court to invalidate patents before facebook could match every feature of G+. I agree a lawyer speaks in the interest of the client, but I do have to point out, the client specifically chose not to be a patent troll. If someone asks for harsher sentances for serial killers, is your first response "Yeah but if he were a serial killer he'd probably think differently"
    • What's the problem being a lawyer paid by someone? Is the argument valuable? Yes or no? If yes, then value it. What does it change from who's mouth the argument came? Of course, everyone is paid by someone and everyone is having interests and nobody is objective in this life. It doesn't mean everybody should shut up.

    • by mgiuca (1040724)

      So what you're saying is, "if Google had put themselves in a position to be evil, they might be evil. But they haven't put themselves in that position, and therefore, they're being good."

      I see it as a virtue that they didn't put themselves into that position in the first place -- this is a point of differentiation between Google and, say, Apple. You seem to be suggesting that Google is fundamentally no different to everybody else, because if they had put themselves in that position, they might abuse it. I t

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      In the beginning, Google didn't patent much for a reason. Now they are forced to buy up heaps of bogus patents to defend themselves after being hit by others, but you can't say they didn't try.

  • I didn't know Google Lawyers were fans of the Bard

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I've never heard that title applied to Elizabeth Barrett Browning [wikipedia.org] before.

      • heya,

        Lol, why the heck did the parent get downvoted.

        He/she is right, "How do I love thee, let me count the ways" is from Elizabeth Browning's Sonnet XLIII.

        However, then again, I'm not sure where in this article the "Let me count the ways" reference is even from...?

        Cheers,
        Victor

        • by syousef (465911)

          Interesting. A cusory Google search suggests AC is right and the quote is often misattributed to Shakespeare but was written by Browning. I stand corrected, excise me while I wipe the egg off my face.

    • by gmhowell (26755)

      I didn't know Google Lawyers were fans of the Bard

      They don't. [spectacle.org]

  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Sunday November 06, 2011 @10:35PM (#37969996)

    software patents are written by lawyers in a language that software engineers don't even understand.

    That's been true across many industries, at least since the 1970s (which is as far back as I ever researched prior art...)

    The real indicator of what's broken in the patent system can be read in the patent numbers themselves... in 1992 we were at 5 million and something, since the start of the United States Patent Office, now we're roughly double that number?!

    Sorry, everything useful hasn't already been invented, but something is just out of synch. I think an ex-CEO of mine (ex high school football quarterback too) summed up the problem in his own words: "Our competitors were granted 62 patents last year, while we got three, can anybody tell me what that means?" I'm told there was stunned silence in the boardroom. "It means that WE'RE 59 BEHIND, now let's get going!" Patents have been turned into fuel for lawsuits, and they're reaching a scale where even a crappy little $100M/year company can hire a small army of patent attorneys to stock their powder magazine.

    • by backslashdot (95548) on Sunday November 06, 2011 @11:08PM (#37970170)

      The best example of overbroad patenting is the fact that Apple got a patent for Mag-safe (the breakaway connector on their laptops). Magnetic breakaways had been invented in the 90s and were used on deep fryers. They took the existing work and added the words "computer or electronic device". And guess what now they have a 20year monopoly on magnetic connectors for laptops.

      • That's the loophole in the patent office: application areas. If you're working in a "new field," you can dig up the steam engine and patent the application of the steam engine in your field.

        Somehow, a neighbor of mine got a patent on a "passive braking light," the idea being that when you lift your foot off the accelerator, you slow down, and thus, should flash a warning lamp to traffic behind you. Funny thing was, before he even filed the patent, city buses had this feature: both amber turn indicators wo

        • by pipedwho (1174327)

          This has also existed on trucks for decades in what is known generically as the 'engine retarder'. There are many different types of retarders from just using engine compression, hydraulic systems and regenerative braking systems. Most trucks have options to augment the brake lights when the vehicle is decelerating due to use of the retarder.

        • When someone invents a flying car somebody else (or maybe him) will again steal the bus manufacturer's idea and append the words flying car.

          They'll probably do it with GPS too "system and method of navigation assistance ... in a flying car" .. then nobody can put a GPS in a flying car without paying royalty.

  • Human beings are.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by blahplusplus (757119) on Sunday November 06, 2011 @10:37PM (#37970004)

    ... too incompetent to judge the quality of patents anymore, especially regarding software and mathematics. There is an infinite amount of work to be discovered/yet undone. Over time the complexity of modern products/etc has out-stripped human capability and human judgement so we have just ridiculousness things getting patented. Companies will just patent the low hanging fruit which are the foundations of all future work and hang everyone else with it. It's time to put the system down and severely restrain it. We have copyrights that go on forever and the public domain has been completely stolen by corporations.

    This is especially apparent with abandon/out-dated/breakware video games or companies that can't afford and whose teams have long since left/died/moved on. Games and IP just sits collecting dust when it should be able to be used by others. I often wonder if take say a hot property universe for the sake of argument say: Transformers, let companies compete on making good games instead of trying to lock down licenses. It's time to get these companies competing on product quality instead.

    I think we've all seen companies just lock down stuff and then make mediocre crap with it, it's time for a more sane system.

    • ... too incompetent to judge the quality of patents anymore, especially regarding software and mathematics. There is an infinite amount of work to be discovered/yet undone.

      I've always thought that the peer review system would be a good patch for the system. If you want to patent something in a very narrow field, file your application, but know that it will be your competitors reviewing the patent application and pointing out prior art for the final review by the patent office.

    • by hairyfeet (841228)

      The scary part is thanks to Citizens United I bet things will get a hell of a lot worse, not better. Remember once upon a time we had relatively sane copyright laws as well, then the megacorps saw some of their cash cows were headed into PD territory and through treasonous bribery ended up with Valenti's "forever minus a single day" copyright laws.

      I wouldn't be surprised if the MSFTs and the Googles and the Apples end up getting together and deciding no matter how much they dislike each other its in their

    • You're mixing up patents, copyrights, and trademarks.

      While there are *major* (systemic) problems with the first two of these, they're not the same problems.

      As for trademarks--yes, there are some issues here as well, but these are comparatively minor.

  • I'm pretty sure 99% of developers visiting Slashdot know the patent system is broken. You should not be able to patent mathematics. We know this. The problem is, to fix it, we have to not only teach people who have no clue what computer science even is how code works and how it is all mathematical formulas at the end of the day, but the people that need to know that patenting software is akin to patenting a paragraph of a book have been listening to lawyers and patent trolls for years, and those are the
    • by am 2k (217885)

      I'm pretty sure 99% of developers visiting Slashdot know the patent system is broken. You should not be able to patent mathematics.

      That's the wrong way to approach the argument. In the end, every patent is mathematics, every mechanism. The problem with software patents is something else:

      * Unlike basic mechanics, software is completely incomprehensible to the common man. A nonprogrammer or even a programmer from a different field cannot judge whether a piece of software is truly innovative or just an application of well-known knowledge. For example, the h.264 codec really is an achievement, but why are there patents on basic stuff like

  • by afabbro (33948) on Sunday November 06, 2011 @10:46PM (#37970042) Homepage

    you don't know what patents cover until courts declare that in litigation

    Same thing is true for civil liberties.

    Same thing is true for torts and liabilities.

    Same thing is true for criminal law.

    Etc. It's the nature of our English law system. It provides extreme flexibility at the cost of being vague.

    On the other hand, various continental systems are much more exact, but less flexible.

    Of course, if every time there's a question of law, it takes hours and hours to research (at $500/hr), lawyers tend to get rich. Which means the chances of reform in the US are nil.

  • Vote again:
    https://wwws.whitehouse.gov/PETITIONS#!/petition/pursue-software-patent-abolition/fHkD8wYM [whitehouse.gov]

    My guess is that they STILL won't get the message, but one can always hope...
    • A stupid petition, on a par with the legalise marijuana petitions. A) it's too absolute, software patents will never be abolished, B) it's not within the power of the Executive, and he won't expend political capital in a hostile Congress on a guaranteed fail (see A), and C) since they've already dismissed it, it just reads like a spoiled whine, hence you exclude 99% of potential supporters.

      Try something more moderate and deliverable:

      (wepetitiontheobamaadministrationto:) "<title>Use the wisdom of the

  • The other lie that everyone believes is that patent protection is only 20 years from filing date. This is a major lie. Since the patent office itself takes years to approve an invention the inventor can petition that the time taken to approve the patent be added on.. not only that the inventor himself can delay the actual approval of the patent and thus get even more time added on while "blaming" it on the patent office.

    An example of this is the fact that there were some patents on HDTV technology that was

  • If you leave enough monkeys alone long enough with type writers and lawyers..
  • Software Patents are broken, but can we really trust the opinion of someone who has a vested interest in Liberating Patents owned by their competitors.

    I'm sure if we asked to liberate patents based on Google's IP, it would be a whole other ball game. The source code for Android 3.x still isn't freely available and the Source Code to Google's data mining algorithms aren't likely to be made open source any time soon.

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