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Expect a Flood of Competitions As US Tries To Spur Public Inventions 75

Posted by samzenpus
from the ninety-nine-percent-perspiration dept.
coondoggie writes "When it comes to stirring the brains of genius, a good competition can bring forward some really great ideas. That's the driving notion behind myriad public competitions, or challenges, as they are often labeled, that will take place in the near future sponsored by the U.S. government. The competitions are increasing by design as part of the $45 billion America Competes Act renewed by Congress last year that gave every federal department and agency the authority to conduct prize competitions, according to the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy."
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Expect a Flood of Competitions As US Tries To Spur Public Inventions

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  • Well, okay... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @01:31PM (#39647455)

    Is the government going to indemnify me if my invention happens to violate one of the fifty gazillion patents that are already out there?

    • by firex726 (1188453)

      That's my main concern for something like this too.
      You can't shake a stick out there without stepping on a dozen patents owned by corporations with armies of lawyers.

      • Re:Well, okay... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by cpu6502 (1960974) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @02:59PM (#39648687)

        It's been that way for a long, long time. FM Radio was not released in the 1930s because RCA had secured the patents on broadcasting, and they desired to protect their existing AM service. They even petitioned the government to provide monoplistic protection.

        • by CondeZer0 (158969)

          > They even petitioned the government to provide monoplistic protection.

          That is *precisely* what a patent is: a government granted and enforced monopoly.

          Boggles the mind how anyone thinks patents are a good way to encourage innovation, monopolies hate innovation. And patents have a very long track record of being used to keep whole industries from making any progress, from the steam engine to aircrafts.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You hit the nail on the head, You can't create a product these days without a $50 Million dollar war chest of patents and lawyers. You can hold all of the competitions and provide capital for all of the small manufactures you want but if the patent system isn't reigned most are going to be ground under the heal of some international corporation looking to stifle the compilation or die the death of a thousand cuts from patent trolls looking to pillage every cent they can using the patent system as a pirate

    • Patents and Copyrights were originally conceived to encourage this type of creativity for the good of everyone. How's that working out?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I imagine a lot of note-taking at these things.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @01:37PM (#39647561)

    If the US government wants to spur innovation and competition, it needs to fix the broken patent system. To see how bad the problem is, one need look no further than the morass of patent litigation that has beset the cell phone industry.

    • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @01:39PM (#39647593) Homepage Journal
      No! All we need to do is throw more money at the problem! Money always solves everything!
      • I know the thing that keeps me from inventing some world changing new gizmo is i don't think i can gain anything from it. Maybe if i knew i could win a thousand bucks, i'd do it.
    • If the US government wants to spur innovation and competition, it needs to fix the broken patent system. To see how bad the problem is, one need look no further than the morass of patent litigation that has beset the cell phone industry.

      ... as opposed to how the cell phone industry was innovating prior to patents, in the 1500s.

      Are you sure you're not taking your already-existing animus towards the patent system and using it as a post hoc explanation for everything related to technology?

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @01:40PM (#39647613) Homepage

    Patent infringement lawsuits because the patent system is so out of control and most new items "invented" will violate 1 or more patents that should have never been issued.

    • by rtb61 (674572)

      It's a trap, in this case the patent first legislation simply opens you up to a massive civil suit to regain your invention from favoured corporations who will get first peek at competition entries. Along the lines of, 'Shit that one looks good, don't publish it, pretend it was lost in the mail, while I patent it, let the schmuck spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars in court trying to get back 'MY' patented invention'.

      Those competitions had better be pretty bloody public and inventions submitted ha

  • by DroolTwist (1357725) * on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @01:41PM (#39647617)
    ... they are having competitions to see who can steal the ideas from our competitions first!
  • Scam (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @01:43PM (#39647669) Journal

    This kind of thing is a scam. Hold a contest for ideas, pay for only the best idea, and then you can use any of the losing ideas you want for free. It's not a "contest", it's an end run around labor laws.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Generally it's the teams who spend over and above the prize money who win anyway ...

    • by cmorriss (471077)

      Hmm, kind of reminds me of this:

      http://www.atari.com/pongdeveloperchallenge [atari.com]

      I read through the rules. It's nothing short of slave labor. They pay for only a few submissions and according to the rules every submission whether it wins or not is completely owned by Atari with all rights and copyrights included.

      Oh and the "prizes" for the winners are only actually potential prizes. The actual amount paid is based on a percentage of the revenue from the game with the "prize" as the maximum.

      What a f| |cking scam.

  • by SkOink (212592) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @01:47PM (#39647737) Homepage

    Expect innovation to dwindle until such time as a garage-shop inventor doesn't need to worry about getting sued for patent infringement.

    • Wasn't the idea for having patents in the first place mainly to spur on the small time inventor? Hello, sir or madame government person, how is that working out? These contests appear to be another sign that it isn't going so well!
  • The problem with competitions is that they tend to produce solutions optimized to win the competition - and that may or may not be a solution that's actually useful to solve the real-world problems the competition is notionally aimed at.

    • It seems to me that competitions really focus the currently existing players in a field for publicity purposes. The solutions for contests are often already feasible, but the unclear rewards and the risk of failure deter the investment levels required for the attempts. Somehow the prize money tips the scale and forces the existing player to take on more risk (often even out of proportion to the reward). Maybe that's not particuarly useful to advance technology leading up to the prize, but it does help wi

      • For example, the Orteig Prize inspired the Lindbergh flight

        And it's a shining example of exactly what I was talking about. The Spirit of St. Louis was a point solution optimized to win the prize - technologically and evolutionarily it was a dead end.

        After the contest, there was a surge in investement in aviation based companies which no-doubt fueled research in solving even more "real-world" problems.

        Correlation does not imply causation. The rising demand (in general) for aviation, and the rising

  • We want to stir the brains of geniuses! But don't you dare learn about evolution in school!
  • by StillNeedMoreCoffee (123989) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @01:57PM (#39647897)

    Darpa has had the Shredder document challenge (http://archive.darpa.mil/shredderchallenge/) , Nasa has had a roboic spheres challenge (http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/jan/HQ_12-029_SPHERES_Challenge_Winner.html)

    Darpa has been having the autonomous vehicle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DARPA_Grand_Challenge)

    The Navy the underwater autonomous vehicle comp. (http://www.sdnews.com/view/full_story/302685/article-Navy-readies-to-host-autonomous-underwater-vehicle-competition)

    it seems that these competitions have already been started, there is a track record for this producing results. I worked on the shredder challenge, I found it fun and had a good time creating what I did. It is a good way to focus many people on solutions.

    But you are right, the patent/copyright laws are out of whack and are now an impediment to progress, which means an impediment to profit in general just not in specific. The patent time line should go back to 35 years or so.

    • by Desler (1608317)

      So you are against patents but want patent lengths to be more than doubled? Huh?

      • Sorry I always confuse the copyright and patent times, it appears to be 20 years from earliest claimed filing date, and filed before 1995 17 years from issue or 20 years from earliest claimed domestic priority date, the longer term applying (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_patent_law)

        So for more recent patents, its 20 years or 57% of what I said. I am not against patents or copyright. Copyright for up to 120 years for regurlar works
        that is 70 years after the death of the author or 120 years afte

        • by dwye (1127395)

          But in terms of Patents, am I wrong that a patent can be renewed multiple times with minor changes to extend the protection of a patent?

          Incorrect, rather than totally wrong. That is, a new patent can be issued to anyone making changes to a previously patented invention (how minor is left as an exercise for the new inventor, his examiner, and the courts). The changed patent cannot affect the term of the original patent, however. If the new patent is sufficiently better than the old one, no one would use the original design, but that does not mean that they *couldn't*.

          Example: SFB Morse patents the original click-click telegraph (as oppose

  • spend (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nimbius (983462) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @02:04PM (#39647991) Homepage
    40 years stripping funding from public education,
    passing asinine laws like "teach the controversy"
    raising tuition costs at public universities
    outsourcing technical jobs to the phillipines and china

    only to hold a "public competition" to see who among those left standing from academia can invent something bold, new, and amazing which will then be targeted for acquisition by one of americas officially approved, sanctioned tech companies (google, apple, microsoft, pick one it doesnt matter) and if there is any resistance to this process, it will be obliterated through patent litigation or lobbied to death until no one has it. At which time megacorp will proclaim a new and bold innovation that sounds strikingly familiar.

    america doesnt want innovation because it has the power to displace monopolistic plutocracies. another fact of the matter is that health insurance, dental, vision, 401k, retirement, and all the cool things about being an employee are really fucking expensive. companies would rather not hire 50 people to come up with a new invention, especially during a recession that some of these companies were directly complicit in creating. just take a few grand for your efforts and give us the goods, they say. on the government level its also why DARPA hosts most of these things. Keep working on fun new robots but for god sake dont question the economic or foreign policy that relegated you to joining a damn competition so you can afford dental work.
  • by PPH (736903)

    Can anyone participate?

    - - Zhang Wei

  • All for competitions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rclandrum (870572) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @02:26PM (#39648213) Homepage

    Having led the Shredder challenge for all of a week or so (the teams killed me :), I can attest that the cash prize offered was (for me) an incredible incentive to come up with a solution. Offering direct prizes for innovative solutions to specific, limited, problems is a great idea and one that can help foster a spirit of inventiveness. Patents are a non-issue unless you plan on commercializing a solution, and if that is the case, you (or the government) could license what is needed.

    Take even a cursory look at the inventions produced (and commercialized) by citizens of the United States, and you quickly realize that we created most of the things used in the modern world. It is exactly that spirit of inventiveness that the government should be encouraging to help create new jobs, and a challenge program is a direct and productive way to go about it.

    • Patents are a non-issue unless you plan on commercializing a solution, and if that is the case, you (or the government) could license what is needed.

      How do you find out which patents you've touched upon without paying for lawyers? How do you find the money to license said patents before you've made any money from your product?

      • by rclandrum (870572)

        Patents are a non-issue unless you plan on commercializing a solution, and if that is the case, you (or the government) could license what is needed.

        How do you find out which patents you've touched upon without paying for lawyers? How do you find the money to license said patents before you've made any money from your product?

        If you come up with a commercially viable (i.e. can make money) product or process, angel or VC money can help you get a jump start. In addition, those type of people have been through the process of helping to get patents on whatever unique stuff you bring to the table as well as providing management and negotiating experience should you find that your product or process requires licensing.

        Or perhaps your new shiny thing has a very limited potential market (left-handed shrimp farmers, sane tea party membe

      • by ace37 (2302468)

        There is no system like what you're asking for. You do your due diligence (maybe as simple as googling keywords) and call it good. Hopefully you're right. If anyone has a patent, they are the ones that have to find you and contact and/or sue you.

        In the end it doesn't matter. If you make too much money and get noticed by the wrong folks, you can end up in court. It wouldn't matter if the patent bringing suit played a direct role in your invention, was a legitimate 'it was my innovative new idea before you ha

    • by cbope (130292)

      Take even a cursory look at the inventions produced (and commercialized) by citizens of the United States, and you quickly realize that we created most of the things used in the modern world.

      Bwahahaha. Seriously, you have been drinking the Kool-Aid too long. Ignorance is bliss I suppose. After moving out of the US, I soon discovered the white-washing that is American history as taught in US schools. With few exceptions, a lot of so-called American inventions were actually invented elsewhere first, and the ideas were stolen and "commercialized" in the US where credit was taken. Invention of the telephone? Not Bell. Airplane? Not the Wright brothers. I can go on and on...

      Sure, the US was usually

  • One huge issue is that the inventor is the last person to get paid when their invention goes big. And the pay isn't enough. Now it seems being dumb enough to have a great invention and taking it to a company for marketing and sales is a nice invitition to buy the Board a round of yachts while you make .00002 cents on the dollar for contributing nothing but the idea to this fine product.
    • by tomhath (637240)

      I think the competition is because most of these will have little or no commercial potential, at least in the near term. If there was a potential for a marketable product the government wouldn't need to throw money at it. There's nothing wrong with funding pure research though.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The whole free market economy is already supposed to be a 'competition'.

    1.) You come up with a new, cool solution to a problem.
    2.) Sell it or start a business around it.
    3.) "Win" your monetary prize

    The fact that they need to sponsor a sub-system within the existing system just demonstrates that the parent system is broken. Many reasons already mentioned....

    1.) broken patents
    2.) too much govt regulation
    3.) too much existing corporate power (yes you can have 2 & 3 at ths same time!)

    • by doston (2372830)

      The whole free market economy is already supposed to be a 'competition'.

      1.) You come up with a new, cool solution to a problem. 2.) Sell it or start a business around it. 3.) "Win" your monetary prize

      The fact that they need to sponsor a sub-system within the existing system just demonstrates that the parent system is broken. Many reasons already mentioned....

      1.) broken patents 2.) too much govt regulation 3.) too much existing corporate power (yes you can have 2 & 3 at ths same time!)

      You might be right, but 2 is totally over publicized that 3 is not even allowed public discourse. 3 is the most important problem of our day. Period. Yes, even above female contraception and gay marriage! Gasp.

    • by tomhath (637240)
      Look at some of the competitions they're talking about though. "Flu App Challenge", "Energy & Water from Waste", etc. There's no market potential outside of government spending.
  • What's the point of making something new? If you're successful you'll just get sued for patent infringement when some company that's never produced anything (or whose business is in decline) matches up an overly broad patent on a trivial concept with your new development.
  • Nice Idea in Theory (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DaKong (150846) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @05:17PM (#39650385)

    I have a startup that is bootstrapping itself as we speak. It is difficult. Banks won't lend to you. VCs want to exploit you. Access to funds is non-existent. One of the ways that the government claims to help startups is with the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants. They are exceptionally restrictive and prone to cronyism at worst, and extreme risk aversion at best. Solyndra in particular has exacerbated the latter.

    Bureaucrats are about the world's least able people to evaluate business ideas or technological innovation. Bureaucrats are the diametric opposite of the risk-takers that entrepreneurs are. They are the last people who ought to be sitting in judgement on the merits of innovative ideas.

    So, holding competitions to award prize money to great ideas sounds like an excellent proposition in theory, but in practice it gets sucked down into the mire of why our country is failing badly: the wrong people are in charge.

  • Yet another way for the government to get work done for nothing. They pay a trifle and get hordes of people working. Who sponsors the work of all those who do not win this lottery?
    • by dwye (1127395)

      Yet another way for the government to get work done for nothing. They pay a trifle and get hordes of people working. Who sponsors the work of all those who do not win this lottery?

      FOSS companies? Who pays programmers for improved Linux software (as opposed to paying programmers to try to improve it, in hopes that they get improvements where the company needs it, versus a new entry in /usr/games)?

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