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Patents GUI Microsoft

How Joel Spolsky Shot Down a Microsoft Patent In 15 Minutes 175

Posted by timothy
from the method-or-art-of-taking-down-software-patents dept.
Thornburg contributes news of a story spotted on Techmeme, writing: "[Joel Spolsky of] Joel On Software has a story about how he found and submitted prior art for a Microsoft patent listed on Ask Patents in 15 minutes. The patent was rejected based largely on the document he submitted." Spolsky gives a very readable introduction to the patent system, and software patents in particular; I especially like this part: "Software patent applications are of uniformly poor quality. They are remarkably easy to find prior art for. Ask Patents can be used to block them with very little work. And this kind of individual destruction of one software patent application at a time might start to make a dent in the mountain of bad patents getting granted. ... How cool would it be if Apple, Samsung, Oracle and Google got into a Mexican Standoff on Ask Patents? If each of those companies had three or four engineers dedicating a few hours every day to picking off their competitors’ applications, the number of granted patents to those companies would grind to a halt."
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How Joel Spolsky Shot Down a Microsoft Patent In 15 Minutes

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  • by Joining Yet Again (2992179) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @08:45AM (#44360389)

    The big boys build weaponry to keep each other in check, and to eliminate all the smaller boys.

    Works nicely for them all.

    Don't know why they'd rock the boat.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @09:05AM (#44360555)

      Works nicely for them all.

      Not any more.

      "The ‘irrelevance of Microsoft’ illustrated in a single chart
      Microsoft’s share of connected device sales peaked at more than 90% in early 2009. Consider that for a moment — more than nine out of every 10 connected devices sold were powered by a Microsoft operating system. Fast forward to the first quarter of 2013 and Microsoft’s share of connected device sales has plummeted to just over 20%."
      http://bgr.com/2013/07/22/microsoft-market-share-connected-devices/ [bgr.com]

      • by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @09:12AM (#44360637)

        The irrelevance of who?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by jalopezp (2622345)
          of whom.
          • by cold fjord (826450) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @09:39AM (#44360905)

            I tried watching Dr. Whom once. Didn't much care for it.

          • by Myopic (18616) *

            'Whom' is archaic. Only pedants use it, and that has been true for a couple hundred years at least. Do you also insist on "thou" as a second-person pronoun? Do you complain that "curse" and "horse" are unacceptable bastardizations of "cuss" and "hoss"?

            As a grammar nazi myself, I advise you to let this one go. The language is better without 'whom', and speakers have long since left it behind.

            • 'Whom' is archaic. Only pedants use it, and that has been true for a couple hundred years at least. Do you also insist on "thou" as a second-person pronoun? Do you complain that "curse" and "horse" are unacceptable bastardizations of "cuss" and "hoss"?

              As a grammar nazi myself, I advise you to let this one go. The language is better without 'whom', and speakers have long since left it behind.

              ur right also we shud get rid of of speling punctionn an gramer as there not needed in modern languag

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        Yes, but only because they started connecting a whole new class of devices. Microsoft isn't interested in making fridges, but some of those are connected to the internet now. They still have over 90% of the PC market, which is undergoing some shrinkage due to people not needing to upgrade as often, but MS still has a very sustainable market. They might need to lay off a few people, but it's not like MS is going to disappear completely. Even if they lost the entire consumer market because everybody wanted t
        • Oops or Shill? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by s.petry (762400) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @11:21AM (#44361983)
          Are you just shilling? A quick 10 second Wiki search [wikipedia.org] shows that MS now owns less than 40% of the server market share, down from 80% in their prime. Desktops, it depends on who's stats you believe. Most rate Windows in the high 70% range%, but there is a rating of over 90. Since I see how many people are using MAC now days, I tend to disbelieve the 90%. I won't even get into the amount of PCs as a whole declining so causing MS to lose tons of market share to IOS and Android.
          • by whitroth (9367)

            Um, servers. Apple doesn't do servers - as I understand it, they finally killed off their little "server". Most of the rest: Unix, and overwhelmingly that Unix love child, Linux.

            I work onsite for a federal contractor. In our division, we have well over 100 servers... one? two? run Windows server. Vastly cheaper - no "purchase" cost, unless you buy one of the corporate distros, like RedHat; ditto on annual maintenance fees. Many folks buy a few RHEL licenses... and use free distros for the rest of the server

          • by CastrTroy (595695)
            The parent post I was referring to linked to this article [bgr.com] states:

            Microsoft still dominates the PC market by a staggering margin; Windows currently powers 91.5% of all PCs currently in use, according to Net Applicationsâ(TM) June data.

            I'm not sure which number is really correct. but Windows really does dominate the desktop market. I would be more inclined to believe that it's close to 90% than the 70% figure you state, based on what I've seen in the real world. And depending on how you end up coun

            • by cellocgw (617879)

              It's all in how you read that stats. Maybe 70 or 90% of desktop machines are Windows, but 99% of those are in corporate environments where one or two asswipes (CTO) choose the machines for everyone. If you re-do the numbers to rank Windows vs Linux vs OSX, etc. by the number of actual people *making* the choice, I bet you'd get a dramatically different number. I understand that from a cash-flow point of view, this is irrelevant, but don't confuse money (and centralized power) with popularity.

              • Right. Because nobody really wants to use Windows and Office in a corporate environment.

                • by cellocgw (617879)

                  You're missing the point. It's not a choice for us peons. Granted, for 90% of the folks, you could put a framed landscape on their desk with a piece of string attached to a hockey puck and they couldn't tell the difference, but for the few of us who actually know something, things like The Ribbon make workflow incredibly slower than drop-menus (which BTW used to be completely configurable, too).
                  What is necessary in a corporate environment is document compatibility among users. That can be far better ac

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by fustakrakich (1673220)

        That's alright. Microsoft owns a piece of Apple and all the other players. Only the Microsoft name 'loses' something in this shell game.

      • by bondsbw (888959) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @09:51AM (#44361005)

        Funny, even though the article says that Windows 95 was the peak for Microsoft, the same article says

        PC sales were 59m units in 1995 and rose to over 350m in 2012

        I'll be glad to take some of that failure off their hands.

      • by shentino (1139071)

        What worries me is that this boat might only get rocked one way and that political favors from the USPTO pushed down from on high result in a one sided disarmament that screws over everyone else that didn't grease the right palms.

        There's a reason we don't completely disarm our nukes. We can't trust that everyone else will do the same.

        Also, there's still the risk that a wild patent troll, err...terrorist will nab a loose nuke and launch it anyway.

      • by Caetel (1057316)
        That's the 'benefit' of patents - you don't need to sell your own products in order to profit. What percentage of Android devices sold do Microsoft get patent royalties for? Less so for iOS, but there's still some degree of licencing - ActiveSync for example.
    • by jeffmeden (135043) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @09:07AM (#44360575) Homepage Journal

      The big boys build weaponry to keep each other in check, and to eliminate all the smaller boys.

      Works nicely for them all.

      Don't know why they'd rock the boat.

      This, thread over. It "would be cool" as Joel points out, if the patent gorillas did their own policing via Ask Patents but it will never happen, they are in a profitable standoff now, why would they ever want to trade it for an unprofitable one?

      Come up with a way to force peer review with proper incentives (maybe for every one you submit you must read and sign off on three more, and the more you shoot down the higher on the list yours goes for priority granting if it passes) and you might have a system that starts to work in a quasi-normal way.

      • Because the first one to send an FU to its competitors will trigger a hot war?

        It's the prisoner's dilemma really, all it takes is one of the competitors to realize its sinking by maintaining its patent truce with the others and try to get a first-mover advantage by sniping the others patents. Things after that would quickly escalate.

        Just look what happened with the patent lawsuit and Apple.

    • by farrellj (563) * on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @09:09AM (#44360601) Homepage Journal

      So let's change the rules...create a Kickstarter campaign to fund a patent-bounty system. If funded, the fund pays out $10 per-patent that is squashed. Suddenly, it becomes a game for people to compete with each other to kill off patents. Even if a person can only do one an hour, that is better pay than minimum wage in many US States, or around the world. And once a year, they can throw a conference, and give out awards to the top "sharp-shooters" who kill off the most patents!

      Turn killing bad patents into a game where you can make money, and we can have the patent-trolls slain in short order!

      • by robot_love (1089921) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @09:50AM (#44360983)

        A bunch of small minded people are going to tell you this is impossible, but that's because many people react to new ideas with "I can think of a problem with your idea, therefore it won't work" rather than "let's see how we can make this work".

        I think you may well be on to something. It could be the most important thing you do in your life. Explore this further. If you need someone to write some software for it (a web app?), let me know, and I'll contribute.

      • by DarkOx (621550) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @10:21AM (#44361245) Journal

        If you really want to tear down the system of software patents though what you want to do is disrupt the balance of power. Right now big industry rivals share patent pools etc because it keeps new guys from entering the market; the pools work because they know if they don't all cooperate anyone of them could totally derail the business of the other.

        So what really really want do is identify the pools, and players. Take a group like RIM/Apple/Google and focus your energy on just one of them. If you invalidate enough of Apple's key patents it puts them in a position where RIM and Google could use theirs as a club to gain market advantage, so Apple will be forced to take swipes at invalidating RIM and Google's patents in order to disarm them. You'd get a force multiplier effect.

      • by rjstanford (69735) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @10:40AM (#44361471) Homepage Journal

        Even if a person can only do one an hour...

        You do realize that one per hour is the great exception rather than the rule, right? It probably takes over an hour to read and understand most patents well enough to determine what exactly what nuanced change is being described as novel - not because of obfuscation, but because non-obvious things are non-obvious to explain.

        • by neonfrog (442362)
          http://www.danshapiro.com/blog/2010/09/how-to-read-a-patent-in-60-second/ [danshapiro.com] Referenced in the Spolsky post.
        • by Livius (318358)

          ...because non-obvious things are non-obvious to explain.

          And obvious things are often harder to explain, which is usually kind of thing in these 'patents'.

          To say nothing of explaining something obvious but trying to sound non-obvious...

        • by Raenex (947668)

          It's pretty much obfuscation, perhaps necessitated by the peculiarities of patent applications, or perhaps deliberate just to make something sound technically novel when it isn't. I've read torturous software patents before that could have been described very simply otherwise.

          • by Raenex (947668)

            And just to follow up, if you read the article [joelonsoftware.com], Joel talks a fair bit about unnecessary obfuscation, starting with:

            The first technique is to try to make the language of the patent as confusing and obfuscated as possible. That actually makes it harder for a patent examiner to identify prior art or evaluate if the invention is obvious.

            and an example from the patent in question:

            This patent was, typically, obfuscated, and it used terms like "pixel density" for something that every other programmer in the world would call "resolution," either accidentally (because Microsoft's lawyers were not programmers), or, more likely, because the obfuscation makes it that much harder to search.

      • Increase the patent filing fee by some flat amount plus some amount that's based on how many patents the filer has had accepted and has has rejected in the past year or two (this curve should be fairly steep.) Put a portion or all of that increase in escrow. Once patents are published for public review, if someone reports to the patent office prior art that causes the patent to be rejected, the first person to report that prior art receive the bounty. [In the case of multiple pieces of prior art causing the

      • I second robot_love. Let's do it.

        • by aiht (1017790)

          I second robot_love. Let's do it.

          I also support robot love! Equal rights for all beings!
          Oh wait... that's a previous poster's name? My bad.

      • All, brb, applying for a software patent on a method to kill software patents. On a computer.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @10:09AM (#44361137)
      Also they're taking the sea urchin approach.

      Sea urchins spew out sperm and eggs into the ocean, making millions of embryos. The numbers is the advantage. Each individual embryo is incredibly weak and defenseless, most will be gulped up by some predator. Doesn't matter, enough will get through for the sea urchin to successfully reproduce.

      This guy shot down a MS patent in 15 minutes? Every bit helps, but until we do something about the thousands of parasitic, idiotic patents that people aren't catching, it won't be much.

      For this metaphor to REALLY fit, sea urchins would have to attach to computers, mobile phones, and technology and eat it. But fortunately they don't. That would be really annoying and gross.
    • The big boys build weaponry to keep each other in check, and to eliminate all the smaller boys.
      Works nicely for them all.

      Hmm... I think I saw some prior art for this in a movie [wikipedia.org]:

      Joshua: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      Because spawning small troll companies allows them to sue anonymously, thus evading retribution.

    • by Jonner (189691)

      Ask Patents is a new weapon that could be used against competitors so I doubt those with large patent portfolios will be able to ignore it for long. If one of the "big boys" starts to use it, all the others will have to as well. Hopefully, it will be a catalyst to make it abundantly clear to everyone that software patents are harmful to society as a whole as more and more of them are revealed to be of poor quality and intentionally misleading.

  • Huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Type44Q (1233630) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @08:53AM (#44360463)

    If each of those companies had three or four engineers dedicating a few hours every day to picking off their competitorsâ(TM) applications, the number of granted patents to those companies would grind to a halt.

    Why would these arguably-sociopathic organizations engage in what amounts to mutually-assured destruction for the sake of leveing the playing field?! :p

    • That's why some companies even build patent portfolios. They wouldn't engage in this for a standoff.. if they're really smart then they already have employees doing this kind of thing to block competitors' patents..

    • by Ksevio (865461)
      Because their competitor got an upperhand and they feel the need to level it again. No one thought Apple and Samsung would unleash their patent arsenals on each other for the same reason
    • Why would these arguably-sociopathic organizations engage in what amounts to mutually-assured destruction for the sake of leveing the playing field?! :p

      Because the first one to start doing it might gain a competitive advantage for a few years?

  • Not new (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @08:59AM (#44360505)

    This outfit [articleonepartners.com] (previously covered on /. though I didn't find the link as quickly as I'd wanted it) does something similar, though with a different money model.

    (Full disclosure: No connection to either, though I had email contact with article one at one time.)

  • hire some old burnt out developer who started back in cobol and assembly. maybe basic as well
    feed him patents to read and shoot them down because he had probably done the same thing or read about it

    the kids these days, all the know is dragging boxes in an IDE and typing a few words to connect them together

  • Read the article. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stewsters (1406737) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @09:05AM (#44360561)
    Here is some more prior art: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mipmap [wikipedia.org]
  • Standoff? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nitehawk214 (222219) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @09:08AM (#44360591)

    It already is a standoff. The big companies have an unwritten agreement not to assault each other's patents. When one things it has the upper hand it might start a battle such as Apple vs Samsung, but these are rare. This allows them to use their patents to crush smaller companies without being in danger of having their own patents assaulted.

  • I didn't bother reading past the point the author claims that pixel density and resolution are synonyms, when the patent at least in the summary appears to be using pixel density correctly.
    • by hAckz0r (989977)
      Pixel density can only be a measure as applied to a physical device, because 'density' is a measure of pixels per square cm/mm/um or other standard unit of measure. This is not to be confused with an image comprised of binary bits that can be displayed on anything having the total number of pixels necessary to hold the bits in its display storage, regardless of physical size of the device. A display in time square can have the same number of pixels as your cell phone, but they are orders of magnitudes diffe
      • There's also a concept of angular density: the pixels per radian at the expected viewing distance. For example, a 7" Nexus 7 tablet with a 720p-class display has the same angular density as a 28" 720p-class TV or a 42" 1080p TV at four times the seating distance. The CSS 'px' unit, for example, is defined as a unit of angular density: 1/2688 of the viewing distance.
    • Given a screen size, they are "equivalent" and somewhat interchangeable. Also, when dealing with scaling images, you really cant talk of pixel density without meaning "resolution"; on-screen widgets arent going to be aware of or able to interact with the pixel density.

  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @09:10AM (#44360613) Homepage Journal

    I still don't understand it, but there was a patent issue a few years back, where the smaller player put up a plea to the community for help invalidating a certain patent that the megalocorp was wielding against it.

    Being curious, I did a quick Google Groups search (Splotsky's 15 minutes sounds about right) and submitted the prior art (a then-defunct software package that was announced on a Usenet group which had the same functionality years before).

    A few months later, I got a note from council, asking if I had any contacts with that software company and that they were using my submission as the basis as their challenge, which they ultimately won a couple years later.

    Anyway, the surprise was how easy it was for me to find that prior art when the company hadn't managed to. The work I do overlaps with what they do, so, yeah, I had some domain expertise, but so did their employees.

    FWIW, they never offered me a token copy of their software or anything for my help. I wasn't expecting it (I'd have no use for it anyway - they make complex proprietary configurations of open source software, while I tend to use the simple-blocks model), but it was also surprising to me that there was no follow-up or loop-closing after the fact. So, if you get into this kind of hobby, do it for the knowledge that you're helping defeat a dangerous patent system.

    • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @09:39AM (#44360915) Journal
      I am very sure some engineer out there wanted to say thank you and legal stepped in and squashed it saying, "no no no, that guy might sue us for money! If we acknowledge we got some benefit from them, they might ask for huge sums of money. It is better to be thought as selfish jerks than to expose the company for huge claims!"
    • by alen (225700)

      i've had a computer since my first coleco vision in 1982 or 1983 and i'm always surprised how these start ups don't find prior art. we had the cloud back in the 80's

      its probably a symptom of being a dumb 20 something where you think the old people are dumb and you are creating something cool and awesome for the first time and you are too lazy to do some of this boring grunt work like researching AOL and CompuServe from the 80's. i mean people of this generation will get the pox just thinking AOL

    • Not quite sure why the focus is so much on prior art. Sure an idea that has prior art can serve as proof of the obviousness of something, but at some point in time someone is, in fact, the first to propose some blend of existing ideas and call it new. Do we really need to permit that person a patent? For most low lying fruit this is basically the equivalent of a land grab.

      The way I see it patents need to be granted in proportion to the amount of work required to explore the possible parameter space to find

    • The lawyers aren't really interested in prior art until they think they might actually have to go to court. These days, it's all about licensing (or cross-licensing, between companies that have comparable portfolios), using the _threat_ of litigation. Coming up with prior art to invalidate a patent is absolutely the _last_ thing they consider, when all else fails.

      You don't get to use prior art as a defense unless and until you actually go to trial, which is extremely expensive.

  • by Theaetetus (590071) <theaetetus...slashdot@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @09:13AM (#44360645) Homepage Journal
    ... by Joel's own logic. FTFA:

    Have you ever seen a patent application that appears ridiculously broad? (“Good lord, they’re trying to patent CARS!”). Here’s why. The applicant is deliberately overreaching, that is, striving to get the broadest possible patent knowing that the worst thing that can happen is that the patent examiner whittles their claims down to what they were entitled to patent anyway...

    An example might help. Imagine a simple application with these three claims:

    1. A method of transportation
    2. The method of transportation in claim 1, wherein there is an engine connected to wheels
    3. The method of transportation in claim 2, wherein the engine runs on water

    ... Now, suppose you invented the water-powered car. When you submit your patent, you might submit it this way even knowing that there’s prior art for “methods of transportation” and you can’t really claim all of them as your invention. The theory is that (a) hey, you might get lucky! and (b) even if you don’t get lucky and the first claim is rejected, the narrower claims will still stand.

    What he's done is equivalent to finding "a method of transportation," knocking out the ridiculously over-broad claim, which Joel describes as "a long shot lottery ticket". The narrower, dependent claims may still be patentable.

    Additionally, this was the first office action in this patent application (not an issued patent, contrary to the /. summary). Would the Examiner have found this piece of prior art or another piece of prior art that knocks out that over-broad claim? Almost certainly, again according to Joel's logic. In fact, the Examiner went on to using 5 other pieces of prior art to address the dependent claims. Any of those could well anticipate the independent claim too.
    Is it a good thing to crowdsource prior art searches? Absolutely. But people doing the search can't stop at just a single piece of prior art to knock out the one over-broad long shot lottery ticket claim. In Joel's example claims, finding prior art describing a method of transportation may allow you to run a victory lap and get a Slashdot story, but it does nothing for invalidating the claim to an engine that runs on water, which is really what the patent is about.

    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      I think this is actually a bad example, because to infringe on a patent, you actually have to infringe on all the claims. This is actually a less broad patent, because it would only cover cars, with wheels, that used the engine that ran on water. So if you then took the engine that ran on water, and used it to make a generator (which isn't a method of transportation), you would no longer be in violation of the patent. Similarly, if you used it to make a boat motor, you wouldn't be in violation of the paten
      • I think this is actually a bad example, because to infringe on a patent, you actually have to infringe on all the claims.

        That's absolutely incorrect. You have to infringe each and every element in a claim, but only have to infringe a single claim to infringe the patent.

        But I think that was just a misstatement, because you have it right here:

        This is actually a less broad patent, because it would only cover cars, with wheels, that used the engine that ran on water. So if you then took the engine that ran on water, and used it to make a generator (which isn't a method of transportation), you would no longer be in violation of the patent. Similarly, if you used it to make a boat motor, you wouldn't be in violation of the patent, because your boat most likely doesn't have wheels.

        To paraphrase, if the claims are:
        1. A.
        2. The method of claim 1, further comprising B.
        3. The method of claim 2, further comprising C.

        ... then to infringe claim 1, you need only do A. To infringe claim 2, you need to do A+B. To infringe claim 3, you need to do A+B+C. If claim 1 is inval

  • "If each of those companies had three or four engineers dedicating a few hours every day to picking off their competitors’ applications, the number of granted patents to those companies would grind to a halt."
    There is absolutely zero correlation between those two items. Invalidating a bunch later doesn't reduce the amount they file in the first place. If anything, they'd file more or re-file more specific versions.
  • A patent application has been filed for "Single Seating Furniture Anger Relief System", submitted by, you guessed it, Steve Ballmer.
  • How cool would it be if Apple, Samsung, Oracle and Google got into a Mexican Standoff on Ask Patents? If each of those companies had three or four engineers dedicating a few hours every day to picking off their competitors’ applications, the number of granted patents to those companies would grind to a halt."

    What, if anything, is stopping other countries (Russia, China, or even Venezuela & Cuba) from sponsoring engineers to pick off patent applications from US companies?

  • by catfood (40112) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @09:41AM (#44360923) Homepage

    If each of those companies had three or four engineers dedicating a few hours every day to picking off their competitors’ applications, the number of granted patents to those companies would grind to a halt.

    The fact that not one of them is doing that is evidence of collusion. They're using patents to protect their circle and keep lesser entities out.

    • by Tawnos (1030370)

      Not quite. If we start reading patents, it opens up liability for treble damages should we be found in violation of a patent. For example, we're investigating patents, there's that doesn't have prior art, a few months/years later we're found to be in violation of that patent. At that point their lawyers say "hey, you guys were looking at patents and should have known about this one. Triple the damages!"

      • Not quite. If we start reading patents, it opens up liability for treble damages should we be found in violation of a patent. For example, we're investigating patents, there's that doesn't have prior art, a few months/years later we're found to be in violation of that patent. At that point their lawyers say "hey, you guys were looking at patents and should have known about this one. Triple the damages!"

        And at that point, your lawyers say, "yeah, we knew about this one, but we investigated and reasonably believed we did not infringe because of (a) and (b). We also thought the patent was invalid because of (c) and (d). Therefore, we did not willingly infringe your patent, both because we did not think it applied and because we thought it was shiat."

        Willful infringement has gotten very, very hard to prove lately. Merely reading the patent is not going to be enough.

  • So Joel Spolsky writes about how efficient and wonderful his own website [stackoverflow.com] is and no one here notices ? OK, sterling work on shooting down a rubbish patent, but that is how the US patent system has been working for a long, long time. If any one had come after me with a claim of infringement on such a patent I would have laughed.
  • I imagine with a little extra funding the USPTO could hire folks like Joel in order to find prior art for these patents.

    The issue, as always with government services, is funding.

    Perhaps we should consider a frequent filer fine. That would avoid increasing the costs for small businesses or independent engineers.

    Alternately we could decide as a society that all of us chipping in some more money each year to improve the USPTO is a reasonable sacrifice to make, but that strikes me as less likely and it punishe

    • The issue, as always with government services, is funding.

      The issue is that the USPTO is 100% funded by application and maintenance fees [uspto.gov] so they have a conflict of interest in regards to denying new patents. Fewer active patents means fewer patents to renew and less revenue for the USPTO. The whole reason why they allow software patents in the first place is because the USPTO saw what a gold mine they would be for their agency. It took an act of Congress [wikipedia.org] to get them to change their system, making it possible for Ask Patents to exist.

  • Description:
    1. Follow a well-fed dog around for a while, carrying a plastic baggie.
    2. Use your imagination.
    There. I have both characterized and shown how to implement the U.S. software patent system.
  • Ask patents is a step in the right direction, but the USPTO still assumes that prior art is the only thing that cna make something non patentable. The non-obviousness criterion is never taken into account.

  • I remember running into a patent that Google owned on something my software company was implementing. It probably took me 5 minutes to find extremely well documented prior art. Not that this stopped the already awarded patent.

  • I have a hard time reading through Nokia's patents that VP8 supposedly infringes on. I thought it was just my inability to read patents, but as no-one on ask patents has been able to help...

    Any slashdoters [stackexchange.com] want to give it a try?

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