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Patents Politics

UN Wades Into Patent War Mess 178

Posted by timothy
from the in-other-news-nokia-apple-samsung-rim-motorola-google dept.
Rambo Tribble writes "The BBC is reporting that the worldwide, tangled mess of IP litigation has come to the attention of the UN's International Telecommunication Union. The agency has announced it will be holding talks aimed at reducing this massive drag on the digital economy. Good luck."
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UN Wades Into Patent War Mess

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  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Sunday July 08, 2012 @05:21AM (#40580959)

    If there's one organization I think of when it comes to taking effective, decisive, timely action - it is the United Nations.

    • by Fuzzums (250400)

      I thing they practically invented wading through red tape, so what's not to like about them?

    • Re:Thank goodness! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by solidraven (1633185) on Sunday July 08, 2012 @06:50AM (#40581149)
      Of all the UN-related organisations out there ITU is one of the few that actually takes decisive action on a regular basis. Might take a while until we see results, but ITU won't back down for Apple or Microsoft.
      • Re:Thank goodness! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by gbjbaanb (229885) on Sunday July 08, 2012 @11:26AM (#40582323)

        unfortunately it looks like it already has - the investigation is into the use of 'essential' patents (ie boring stuff like GSM and JPEG patents) and not the use of crap like slide-to-unlock or the shape of a rectangle.

        In other words, Motorola, who invented useful things, is to be investigated for not letting Microsoft and Apple have them for free, whereas Apple, who had a vague idea on rubbing your finger on a screen in a left-right way, isn't to be investigated at all.

    • Re:Thank goodness! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Tom (822) on Sunday July 08, 2012 @06:57AM (#40581169) Homepage Journal

      It's not like anyone else has been moving at any speed towards more sanity in that area.

      • The only thing moving us towards more sanity in the area of patent law is reality. The existence of the Internet and free software, and the crater filled legal battlegrounds and minefields of patent wars, have done more to show the perversity of "intellectual property" than any philosophical arguments.

        Big organizations are the last to accept a paradigm shift. All the UN is really doing is acknowledging that there is a problem. They're still a long way from seeing that the problem is not the use of pate

        • by Tom (822)

          Actually, I disagree strongly with you. A part of how I make my living relies on copyright, and even the GPL does what it does through copyright law.

          I'll agree that the current versions are insanity incarnate. That doesn't mean the concept is flawed. There are many aspects in this that people overlook in their zeal. For example, the arguments against extending copyright past the author's death overlooks that in prior times and in many cultures today, giving your children something to inherit is a big motiva

          • A part of how I make my living relies on copyright

            I shouldn't put it that way. Copyright and patents are only a means, a rationale, an agreement for transferring money from consumers to producers. A living from writing software or books relies on people paying for these things, just not necessarily through such agreements.

            It's not so easy to extract a fair deal or enforce compliance on big players if they try to cheat. You may be obliged to honor their copyrights, but they can get away with violating yours. Some people are evidently willing to pay yo

    • I can see it now: Apple HQ surrounded by blue helmets.

  • I for one am not going to forget about that proposal.

  • Guess how that is going to turn out then ?

    Seriously, there are far too many lawyers involved in this mess for them to agree to the self destruction of their livelyhoods (and political ambitions..:) )

    • by Znork (31774)

      Indeed. The only way to actually solve the issues with monopoly rights like patents is to turn them into non-confrontational compensation rights where a third party (such as the patent office) provides compensation due based on usage. Such a system would reasonably have a limited budget, ensuring that the system players have an interest in keeping the quality of compensation rights high as if more rights get granted everyone would get less per use.

      But a non-confrontational system would require and support f

      • by KiloByte (825081)

        The only way to actually solve the issues with monopoly rights like patents is to turn them into non-confrontational compensation rights where a third party (such as the patent office) provides compensation due based on usage.

        No, there is a third way: drop patents completely. Like copyright, they began as ways for a king to get additional funds: by legalizing bribes, so someone could pay to have his competition declared illegal. And like copyright, they never has any purpose that's beneficial to the society at large (despite what their proponents say).

        I don't think anyone can say with a straight face that patents promote innovation.

        • I wouldn't mind dropping patents completely. However, there is a problem that I think needs addressed before anyone takes the idea seriously. Say, I'm a poor man, living on ramen noodles and tap water, and no hope in sight. I invent widget X, which is really useful and would, in a flourishing scenario, make me rich. But if there are no protections, there is nothing keeping MegaCorp Y from just looking at my widget X, and mass producing a version that sells for cheaper than I can even buy my widget parts for
          • I know of 2 viable alternatives to intellectual property. First is nothing. No patent law, and no other explicit form of encouragement. You would have to make good use of your first mover advantage to benefit from your widget. You may still be able to negotiate a deal with MegaCorp, but they tend to cheat and renege on deals if they think they can get away with it.

            If the public feels there ought to be something more, then there is the other alternative, some form of patronage. Rather than trying to r

            • Well, with the first, what I see happening inventors will be "employed" by MegaCorp, because no small Joe wants to try and out-commercialize MegaCorp. The big ones get bigger, at a rate even faster than they do without current protections.

              The second assumes that people are less than assholes when it comes to money. That will never be the case.

              I actually put a little more thought into it. Something I think everyone can get behind. Lets have what we call a pre-patent. Before getting a patent, you get the pr
              • You believe patents should be able to last indefinitely? I don't think that's something "everyone can get behind".

                • If the idea is brilliant, isn't obvious, and everybody wants one forever and ever, sure. I see the problem with patents ultimately is to keep things/ideas from being used by others. I tried my best to illustrate that in my proposition, the target of getting a patent would be making this thing available. Meh, that was my 20 minutes of toilet time pondering.
                  • I don't think you understood what I said.

                    the problem with patents ultimately is to keep things/ideas from being used by others.

                    Exactly! I think the solution is not to tweak how we get permission to use an idea. The solution is to make it so we don't have to get permission.

                    An inventor ought to be compensated. But that does not mean an inventor should be handed any kind of control, veto power, or even much of a say on the amount of the compensation. The amount is for the public and impartial measures to decide, not the inventor. Giving all those powers to an inventor just gums up the wo

          • If you do not have the capability to bring something to market, you do not have the capability to capitalize on it. You'd need to partner up, sell it/yourself as much as you can, etc, but there really is no fundamental claim that you should be compensated if you yourself do not (including "can not") execute.

            Many people who have advanced humanity through their ideas and innovations did not receive any sort of windfall funding after the fact; it's simply not to be expected as normal. We are most likely in a

          • by hughk (248126)
            The funny thing is that unless you are exceptionally wealthy, i.e. a megacorp, there is little hat you can do to stop another megacorp expropriating your ideas. The best you can do is to sell it to someone else who has the money to defend it.
        • by chrismcb (983081)
          Patents promote innovation. I don't think anyone can say with a straight face that patents don't promote innovation.
          Its simple, why would I invest money in R&D when I could instead just invest money in stealing the idea? Why would I invest my own time and money in inventing something, when someone can just steal it from me when I'm done? Without patents innovation would pretty much be stopped dead.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 08, 2012 @06:51AM (#40581151)

      I'd love to see the UN troops with their blue hats march into the courtroom and tell the lawyers of both sides to back off.

      And a nice little red cross tent outside taking care of the wounded lawyers who burned themselves choking on their coffee.

  • by Ducon Lajoie (30475) on Sunday July 08, 2012 @06:30AM (#40581101)

    I think this may actually not be a waste of time. A lot of the mess we see now is due to the inclusion of patented technology in international standards (be they ITU, ETSI, ISO-IEC, ANSI whatever). And the fact that there was so little oversight on this, the validity of patent claims and subsequent licensing, was due to the direct wishes of the telecom/technology companies themselves. The standard bodies were all to happy to accommodate their constituents in this point for years.

    Now the companies, and the government who are in the awkward position of depriving their citizens of the latest cell phone because of some obscure patent law issue, are realizing that they are in the process of hanging themselves with the rope they had requested.

    This is a very broad issue and the ITU has had a decent track record of elevating previously obscure tech issues into the international policy realm. If anyone expects overnight binding measures to come from this, they are deluded. But raising awareness of the issue and getting the various actors to take a position is the unavoidable first step in resolving any complex issue.

    Good luck to them.

  • by Tom (822) on Sunday July 08, 2012 @06:56AM (#40581165) Homepage Journal

    For some people, the UN could announce a cure for cancer, free unlimited food for everyone, a low-cost solution to global warming and a Mars colony project on the same date, and they would comment with NWO paranoia, evil overlord nonsense and "don't mess with my rights" bullshit.

    A huge majority of those comments come from americans. Are you so unconfident that you can't accept someone else besides the "land of the free and the home of the brave" (which has long since turned into a joke to everyone outside the US) as someone setting international agendas?

    We have a similar phenomenon over here in Europe, btw. - it is directed against the European Union, which is always blamed for everything that goes wrong, even though at least lately they have made a ton of excellent decisions (rejecting ACTA being the most prominent one). That is in part caused by our coward, corrupt, evil politicians, who abuse the EU to push through laws they want but know would never get popular support for. It goes roughly like that: Come up with law, test it with a few controlled "leaks", notice popular outrage. Publicly call the scapegoat you prepared for a crazy idea and ascertain public that the party line is different. Quietly move law to the EU level and get it passed as an EU directive. A year or two later, dig up old law again and complain how you really don't want to do it, but the EU forces you to...

    So I wonder where the anti-UN sentiment in the US comes from?

    • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Sunday July 08, 2012 @08:52AM (#40581493)

      For some people, the UN could announce a cure for cancer, free unlimited food for everyone, a low-cost solution to global warming and a Mars colony project on the same date, and they would comment with NWO paranoia, evil overlord nonsense and "don't mess with my rights" bullshit.

      A lot of people would comment on that because where do you think most of the money for those programs, or the free food would come from? That's right, the US. We already have enough problems ourselves that we have to fix first.

      A huge majority of those comments come from americans. Are you so unconfident that you can't accept someone else besides the "land of the free and the home of the brave" (which has long since turned into a joke to everyone outside the US) as someone setting international agendas?

      You know, we here in the US do kind of have cause to be uncomfortable with being controlled by a higher body. I mean, the country itself exists only because Americans got tired of being ruled over by a government that they saw as foreign and insensitive to their needs and only wanted to exploit them to fund it's wasteful wars and other expensive programs.

      We have a similar phenomenon over here in Europe, btw. - it is directed against the European Union, which is always blamed for everything that goes wrong, even though at least lately they have made a ton of excellent decisions (rejecting ACTA being the most prominent one).

      That is because people don't like to give up sovereignty. By giving up power to a higher regional entity, the "local" (state) governments lose their independence and quite a bit of their power. Look at what is happening in Greece and you can see how people like getting told what to do by an outside power overriding their own sovereignty. The same situation happened in America 150 years ago. Hopefully Europe can avoid the war we were unable to.

      • by Tom (822)

        A lot of people would comment on that because where do you think most of the money for those programs, or the free food would come from? That's right, the US. We already have enough problems ourselves that we have to fix first.

        I can relate to that argument better than you think, because I'm german and we germans are the ones largely paying for the whole EU thing.

        However, we are also profiting from the EU a lot more than the mainstream media or the politicians care to admit.

        I wouldn't be surprised if the same would be true for the US. Of course, the facts won't be easily available, because politically, the UN is the perfect scapegoat.

        You know, we here in the US do kind of have cause to be uncomfortable with being controlled by a higher body. I mean, the country itself exists only because Americans got tired of being ruled over by a government that they saw as foreign and insensitive to their needs and only wanted to exploit them to fund it's wasteful wars and other expensive programs.

        That's pretty ironic because the end result of it all has been that you've created your own govern

        • by Nidi62 (1525137)

          Strawman. They already have. The question is not giving it up or not, the question is solely to whom.

          It is not a strawman, because at least nominally a state government is still beholden to the people of the state, and are supposed to act in the best interests of the people. If they do not, then the people should be able to install a new government that does. In the case of the EU, the state government can no longer operate in the best interest of its people, as it is under the control of the EC and EP. The problem we are seeing is that the strong states in the EC are forcing decisions that best help th

          • by Tom (822)

            I agree, in parts.

            But the EU does have a parliament, and it has been made more powerful with the latest reforms.

            The UN doesn't have a parliament. Would that help your fears? Considering that more than half of the representatives (if selected by population sizes) would be from Asia? And only about 5% from the USA?

            • by Nidi62 (1525137)
              Nope. I'd rather not have the UN at all. To me it's about as effective as the League of Nations was, except their only purpose is to try and gain as much power and control over things as they can. But despite that it is essentially toothless when it comes to enforcement, which is why they keep trying to encroach on everything.
        • by roman_mir (125474)

          Germany is getting nothing from the European Union, the problem with the Germans is that about half of them are now socialists, and they are not learning from their mistakes. They already paid to subsidise the Eastern part, they can't stop being masochistic.

          When I first visited Germany maybe 5 years ago, I asked some of the gov't workers on a train from Belgium to Baden Baden: when are you going to get out of Euro, it's destroying your purchasing power and your standard of life?

          They said: it's better to pay

      • by Pieroxy (222434)

        You know, we here in the US do kind of have cause to be uncomfortable with being controlled by a higher body.

        Doesn't everyone?

        Look at what is happening in Greece and you can see how people like getting told what to do by an outside power overriding their own sovereignty.

        Don't be so sure about it. They HATE their complacent and stupid government, but most of them see the Europe as the only way out of the third world. So all in all, quite the opposite of what you're stating.

    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      The European Union isn't the problem - its the European Parliament or the European Commission. One makes useless shit up and pays vast amounts to their politicos, the other sensibly rejects the crap like ACTA.

      Then there's the European Court of Human Rights and European Court of Justice, one lets convicted murders remain in a country because they had a girlfriend and imprisoned drug addicts continue to receive drugs, the other upholds bans on xboxes because Microsoft refused to pay for patents they used.

      Its

    • by Solandri (704621)

      So I wonder where the anti-UN sentiment in the US comes from?

      The UN is funded by member nations in proportion to their GDP. In the past, this has meant that the U.S. has been paying for more than 25% of the UN's activities. Many Americans felt we weren't "getting our money's worth" from that investment, paying a lot of money to support an organization which frequently worked counter to U.S. interests. On the flip side, many people who are anti-U.S. tried to use the UN to thwart U.S. interests while expe

    • So I wonder where the anti-UN sentiment in the US comes from?

      LOL. I am not Anit-U.N. but I can easily see where the comments come from. Look at the headlines in the news recently. Does Syria ring a bell? Are civilians dying? Are kids being murdered for political ends? What is the U.N. proposing? Is it stopping any of the people from dying? Is there ANY FUCKING CHANCE whatsoever that the U.N. will make the slightest bit of difference there?

      It seems clear the U.N. is utterly pointless in effecting any sort of change. Something is going on in Syria and NOBODY is reveali

  • 1) All patents expire after 2 years. If you can't make money from having a 2-year monopoly on an invention, it obviously wasn't very good anyway. 2) Getting a patent costs a €LARGE_AMOUNT of money, which goes into a fund that the government uses to invest into research. 3) No sales bans. The only penatly for "violating" a patent is compensation for actual damages, the burden of proof for which lie on the patent holder. 4) If out of a random sample of five university students in the appropriate field, at least three find your idea obvious and/or trivial to come up with, your patent is rejected. 5) (Very) generous exemptions from the all of the above for non-profits, educational users and independent (non-corporate) inventors.
  • Finding Nemo (Score:4, Informative)

    by scsirob (246572) on Sunday July 08, 2012 @07:09AM (#40581209)

    This whole patent mess reminds me of the animation movie "Finding Nemo". Somewhere a flock of seagulls attacks, mindlessly screaming "Mine! Mine! Mine!"

    This is what the industry is like today. Lawyer driven madness, where everyone is trying to put a claim on any thought that might be remotely original. It is a huge drag on innovation and leads to destruction. I can only hope the ITU will be able to put up a sail between these gullible seagulls and real innovation. Just like in the movie.

    • by Eyeball97 (816684)

      D'ya really think they care whether it might be "remotely original"?

      The current state of the patent office and the current rounds of litigation would suggest they're not even bothering to pretend any more...

    • Putting on my cynical hat, I'd have to question whether or not it has always been like this. Complexity and magnitude have grown, and perhaps the struggle for the oligarchy has swayed more to the plutocrats than the autocrats, but we're still the same cogs in the same wheels, grown bigger.
  • by Shag (3737) on Sunday July 08, 2012 @08:27AM (#40581431) Homepage

    Other acronyms are going to quickly get dragged into this, mainly the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) which is much more about this sort of stuff, and possibly the World Trade Organization (WTO) if, for example, Korea were to complain that the US ITC is being overly kind to Apple and should be letting Korean products in.

    • by hughk (248126)
      Funnily enough, all three organisations (the ITU, WIPO and WTO) are Geneva based. A lovely little town on the lake of that name, unfortunately blighted by too many international conferences. WIPO is known for being so phenomenally out of touch as to lecture CERN on its failure to monetize the web. WTO is known for its negotiation rounds that go on for years.

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