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Report Says Patents Threaten Software Innovation 274

GORby_ writes "According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, software patents are 'a particular threat to the European ICT Industry.' Quote from the report: 'There are particular threats to the European ICT industry such as the current discussion on the patent on software. The mild regime of IP protection in the past has led to a very innovative and competitive software industry with low entry barriers. A software patent, which serves to protect inventions of a non-technical nature, could kill the high innovation rate.' The full report (pdf) discusses Europe's ICT strategy."
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Report Says Patents Threaten Software Innovation

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  • by SirFozzie ( 442268 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @08:58AM (#10328007)
    Slashdot users say.. "Well, DUUUUHhhhh.."
    • by Anonymous Coward
      So please explain to me, as a software engineer, innovator with several patents and a small business owner, how are software patents hurting innovations?
      * If I was unable to patent my idea, then there would be NO use in my pursuing it because a large company like MS could throw money to make their own solution after seeing my development. So how does THAT encourage me to take risk, go out and start a company, thus employing other people?
      If I could not patent my ideas, then as soon as I came to market, some
      • >>* If I was unable to patent my idea, then there would be NO use in my pursuing it because a large company like MS could throw money to make their own solution after seeing my development. So how does THAT encourage me to take risk, go out and start a company, thus employing other people?>As to fighting the problem in court? That is pretty rare, more often then not, >Capitalism vs Socialism, Innovation vs Stagnation. Its a pretty simple choice once you actually have seen and lived how it works.
      • I am listed as the inventor for several patents as well, though the patents are actually held (and were applied for) by the company I was woring for at the time.

        I don't see the value of these patents. The patents involved were essentially an attempt to landgrab beyond the bounds of what was actually invented. A mix of copyright, and trade secrets (via closed source code) would have been entirely sufficient to protect the systems I designed from competitors.

        What extra value do software patents provide be
      • by PenguiN42 ( 86863 ) <taylork@@@alum...mit...edu> on Thursday September 23, 2004 @04:37PM (#10333747) Journal
        Care to link to your patents?

        Anyway, the problem with software patents is that with software, the line between "idea" and "implementation" is incredibly wide and fuzzy. This is because, once you have an idea to do *something* in code, there are very few different ways to actually go about doing it. Oh sure, there are different algorithms you could use for each step -- but more often than not software patents don't even get that detailed. All they seem to do is list what each step does, not how exactly it does it, and that's good enough for the USPO.

        The other reason that the line between software implementations and ideas is so blurry is because there's never a physical invention. All you're doing is writing down instructions for a machine to follow. In essence, you're just stating your *idea* in a way that the machine understands.

        For example, if you're to tell any semi-competent programmer who's never heard of Amazon.com that you wanted to make a web site that lets users buy an item with only one click, the great majority of them will come up with the same basic implementation -- store in a database all the information needed to make a purchase for that user, track which user is logged in, when the button is pressed cross reference the user into the database and automatically send the information through the purchasing mechanism. There really is no other reasonable way to go about implementing this kind of thing. Obviously, there's details depending on exactly how their database is set up, but it doesn't matter. The patent, as it's written and accepted by the USPO, effectively covers any attempt to do this sort of straightforward manouver.

        Even if this programmer who's never heard of amazon comes up with the idea all by themselves they can't make a product that uses it because amazon has the "rights" to the idea.

        Contrast this with an actual, physical invention -- say, one-button 4 wheel drive in an explorer. Now this is an idea that requires a lot of detail to hash out and get patented. And there's a lot of ways to go about doing it, none of which are very obvious. To get it patented, you have to have an electromechanical system pretty much designed that *works*, and that requires a lot of R&D.

        To get the equivalent software patent accepted, all you need is the idea, and a rudimentary knowledge of how computer systems are set up. You practically don't have to do *any* R&D at all. And ideas are supposedly not patentable but for some reason high level software implementations are.

        ---

        Ok, that answers why software patents may be bad philosophically, but you wanted to know why they're bad practically? Well, because it's so easy to "develop" a software patent, companies create thousands and thousands of patents as fast as they can to try to "stake out" their territory on the IP map. All that matters is that they were the first to be granted the patent, and no one else had used that particular technique yet. They may not have been the first to think of it, the first to R&D it (if they even did any R&D), or even the first to file for a patent! But they get a temporary monopoly on that new technology and that stifles innovation.

        It also hurts the little guy -- smaller companies don't have the resources to push patents through with the same efficiency *or* to take on the big boys when patent disputes come into play.

        Finally:
        Capitalism vs Socialism
        You think that having the government grant you a temporary monopoly in a certain area is "capitalism" and letting the market work for itself is "socialism"? Wow. Just wow.
    • ...when accounting/auditing firms say it, it begins to become obvious to the suits. This is indeed good news.
  • No shit. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:00AM (#10328014)
    There's a report that favors one side of a heated debate. Who thought we'd see the day.

    Software patents are a reality, whether you and me want them or not. There is too much money on the pro side for software patents to go away, so stop dreaming. Better start thinking of ways to deal with the situation.
    • Re:No shit. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by 0x0d0a ( 568518 )
      There's too much economic inefficiency associated with the existence of software patents to allow them to exist.
      • Re:No shit. (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        They may go away after a while, but not before the industry leaders have used them to their advantage. If you still hope for Europe to stay software patent free, you're deluding yourself.
      • Re:No shit. (Score:2, Insightful)

        by fitten ( 521191 )
        Having software patents has benefits, not having them has benefits as well. Both cases benefit the larger companies.

        Without software patents, the instant anybody comes up with an idea, they've generated a new revenue stream for a large company. The large company simply sees and likes the idea so develops a product around it and sells it. Sure, products may become cheaper because not having software patents allows every Tom, Dick, and Harry to have their own versions of the software, but the large compan
        • Re:No shit. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by 0x0d0a ( 568518 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @10:37AM (#10328878) Journal
          Having software patents has benefits, not having them has benefits as well. Both cases benefit the larger companies.

          That's logically nonsensical: Given A or ~A, A benefits large companies and ~A benefits large companies.

          Without software patents, the instant anybody comes up with an idea, they've generated a new revenue stream for a large company. The large company simply sees and likes the idea so develops a product around it and sells it.

          Except that:

          (a) Implementation time in software relative to product cycle time is very long, making the value of being the first person to implement something still valuable without the need for an artificial monopoly. Traditional patents were designed for systems where ideas were pretty simple ("use a new sort of gear here") and the product lifecycle was long ("Yes, we've been making this type of plow for seven years now"). This vastly decreases the benefits of patents in the software field.

          (b) Nobody uses patents as intended, in a manner that benefits the population as a whole. Large companies just maintain patent portfolios to keep people from entering and cross-license with their competitors. Little incentive to produce better products. Lots of companies have hard caps on what they'll pay for a license due to outrageous software patent litigation. For example, IIRC (and this may be out of date), Intel has a hard limit on a one-time $100K fee per patent, though they are willing to cross-license with other holders. That's not a very conducive environment to protect that little independent researcher that you're thinking of.

          Sure, products may become cheaper because not having software patents allows every Tom, Dick, and Harry to have their own versions of the software, but the large companies who can employ a lot of folks can have more resources to develop the application further.

          Software patents have absolutely nothing to do with encouraging companies to do research. In a corporate lab environment, real advancements don't get patented, because then all your competitors have cross-licensed access to your research. They remain secret.

          Along those lines, we should do away with copyrights on software as well for the same reason. Once someone writes some code, why should it be limited in how you can use it? Why have to have someone rewrite more code to do the same thing? All code written should be released under the BSD license, then.

          Of course not. Copyright doesn't have the problems of software patents (you don't have "obvious copyrights"). Copyright does a better job than patents of dealing with the long-implementation short-lifecycle approach of software.
    • Re:No shit. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Frans Faase ( 648933 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:09AM (#10328081) Homepage
      If we would give all power to those that are in control of the money, democracy and freedom of speech would be gone soon. Governments are there for promoting the well being of all, and in some cases this means controling the power that the rich (people and companies) have. They also should prevent corruption (the misuse of money for the purpose of executing power). And BTW, there are no software patents yet in Europe yet.
      • Re:No shit. (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        There are no software patents in Europe, but there are lots of patents on devices which are only set apart from general purpose computers by their software. These are in effect software patents, because software without a machine to run it on is useless, but with the machine it is a patented combination.

        If you think they'll leave it at that, I admire your high opinion of our political system. I myself expect a little struggle for the media, followed by clear patentability of software.
    • Re:No shit. (Score:2, Informative)

      by ninthwave ( 150430 )
      They aren't in Europe. Most EU countries have a higher test for granting a patent than the US.
    • Re:No shit. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Halo1 ( 136547 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:29AM (#10328213)
      Software patents are a reality, whether you and me want them or not.
      They're not in Europe.
      There is too much money on the pro side for software patents to go away,
      There's also a lot of money to be lost on the other side for them to be introduced in Europe. In fact within about a week, you'll see a large campaign against software patents in Europe (carried by multinationals) being started.
      so stop dreaming. Better start thinking of ways to deal with the situation.
      Actually you'd better wake up to the real world, instead of believing you are one of those "realists"...
      • Re:No shit. (Score:3, Informative)

        by torokun ( 148213 )
        Software patents are a reality, whether you and me want them or not.
        They're not in Europe.
        Actually they are. Regardless of the provision you refer to, most if not all software innovations can be patented in the EU.

    • Re:No shit. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by argent ( 18001 ) <peter AT slashdo ... taronga DOT com> on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:48AM (#10328370) Homepage Journal
      There is too much money on the pro side for software patents to go away

      Possibly true. That doesn't mean that this is a two-sided debate in any sense... the pro-patent side doesn't involve themselves in the debate. They involve themselves with lobbyists. If you have a reference for the "other side" that actually addresses the arguments from this side, I'd love to see it.

      Better start thinking of ways to deal with the situation

      Move software development out of the US and other places with broken patent laws. Remember the "ITAR subsidy" for non-US cryptography companies?

      That would hit the "pro side" in their pocketbooks.
    • That's because we've got the best democracies money can buy right?
  • Smoking causes cancer!
  • The ./ effect is stopping me reading it at the moment but what I want to know is who paid for the study?
  • duh nuh (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    This is pretty interesting. PWC was purchased by IBM, one of the largest patent holders, many of which are software patents.
    • Re:duh nuh (Score:2, Informative)

      by wa1ter ( 593634 )
      PWC Consulting was taken over by IBM and turned into IBM Business Consulting Services. Advisory Services (most likely to have written this report) are still PWC.
  • by doodlelogic ( 773522 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:05AM (#10328049)
  • A good oppurtunity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by intx13 ( 808988 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:05AM (#10328050) Homepage
    Although the preceeding comments have been largely on the order of "duh, /. users knew this for years!", we need to make sure this oppurtunity doesn't go to waste. If you've known it for years, then make sure other people know it as well. This is a good oppurtunity to spread the word. As the issue gets more press, it's going to be important to make sure it's given the gravity that it deserves.
    • by ykardia ( 645087 )

      Also, *we* might have known it for years and told people about it, but if a conservative consultancy/ accountancy firm says it, it immediately makes it more credible in the eyes of the mainstream media, the public, and in the eyes of our representative. It makes it easier to convince people that the issue is real and serious.

      On a slightly different note, who knows where I can find the MEPs for London?

  • Deja vu... (Score:5, Informative)

    by mirko ( 198274 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:05AM (#10328051) Journal
    It's not the first time we read such reports on slashdot...
    1 [slashdot.org], 2 [slashdot.org], 3 [slashdot.org], 4 [slashdot.org], 5 [slashdot.org], 6 [slashdot.org], 7 [slashdot.org], 8 [slashdot.org]...

    Now, with whatever threatens innovation, we guess if these reports were true, it should Darwinianly be extinct by now. :)
  • Now is the time (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sanity ( 1431 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:06AM (#10328055) Homepage Journal
    Despite setbacks, those opposed to software patents in the EU have had a significant impact, successfully lobbying the European Parliament to reject software patents. Proponents of software patents, who like to dismiss opponents as "extremists", have even taken to flat out denials that they are pushing for a US-style patent system, even though this is precisely what they are seeking to achieve (simply ask them which of the 30,000 illegally granted EU software patents would not be permitted under their proposed language).

    There are two opportunities left. The Council of Ministers has already voted in favour [ffii.org] of a pro-swpat text, but this has yet to be confirmed, and while uncommon, it is still possible for countries to change their vote. Given the extremely suspect way the original decision was reached (which would be scarily familiar to fans of "Yes Minister"), this could happen, but national governments must be lobbied, particularly the Netherlands and Germany.

    If this fails, then the European Parliament gets to amend the Council's text, however this is much more difficult than that first time around, and so all Europeans that care about this issue must lobby their MEPs to ensure that they vote in the correct way.

    We have made a difference, we can still make a difference, but only by engaging with the political process. If anyone would like to learn more, please visit the FFII [ffii.org] website.

    • Minister Brinkhorst (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Frans Faase ( 648933 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:18AM (#10328134) Homepage
      Most interesting is the fact that the Dutch parlement is trying to force Minister Brinkhorst to change his vote and that he continues to refuse to do so [ffii.org]. The only reason he seems to be able to get away with this is that it is not a political issue, because the Dutch media not understanding software patents is not giving it any attention. The infection in the feet of our prime minister is far more interesting. (The latest rumours are that it was a rather serious infection, which might have killed him.)
    • This is great news. I know a lot of you think Duh, but you have to look at it from the other side. This report was not meant for the /. crowd, it was meant for the ministry of economic affairs in The Netherlands. The minister himself had to change it's vote after a vote in the parliament [slashdot.org].

      This give the recall of the vote a lot more cloud and hopefully will start to appeal to parliaments in other EU countries.
    • Re:Now is the time (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:31AM (#10328228)
      The Council of Ministers has already voted in favour of a pro-swpat text, but this has yet to be confirmed, and while uncommon, it is still possible for countries to change their vote.

      German IT news site heise.de reported today [heise.de] that the confirmation, originally scheduled for tomorrow, has been postponed. There is indication - but no certainty - the paper is going back to the relevant comittee for further discussion and possible changes.

      European IT experts and smaller firms have fought hard against software patents over the last months. While the battle is far from won, it is good to see there is some sort of effect, and lobbying work has not entirely immunized the EU to reason.
    • I'm Dutch and I did send letters. Other Dutchmen/women join me!
  • outlook (Score:3, Insightful)

    by smallguy78 ( 775828 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:06AM (#10328065) Homepage
    Will this be enforced on existing software or is it just new software? All those applications that steal the outlook look and feel (or the components that mimic outlook) could mean Microsoft rake in a fortune.
  • DMCA erosions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by alatesystems ( 51331 ) <chris@nOSpaM.talkingtoad.com> on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:08AM (#10328077) Homepage Journal
    It really is sad for IP and science in general when we have to go to court for a while to find out if we can make a garage door opener remote [itconversations.com]. The DMCA is possibly the worst thing that has ever happened to science in general. It lets companies be anti-competitive legally under a shroud of "protecting their intellectual property".

    We all(I already have) should be going to the EFF [eff.org]'s DMCA Action Page [eff.org].

    Contact your senators and representatives.(USA).

    Chris
  • by Mirk ( 184717 ) <slashdot@miketaylor . o r g .uk> on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:09AM (#10328079) Homepage
    This is excellent news indeed. A close friend worked for PriceWaterhouseCooper until recently, and eventually left because he couldn't keep living with the mentality that cared about nothing but money. I guess this is not unique to PWC, but is a tendency that will tend to afflict all big companies.

    The point is that they, unlike for example Richard Stallman, most surely have no axe to grind when they talk about software patents stifling innovation. When they complain about the effects of software patents, they are complaining only about their effect on the bottom line - and every informed analyst will know that. So their stance against software patents will carry a lot more weight than that of the people who've been crying out in the wilderness for all these years.

    It's strange the friends we seem to be making these days ... First IBM, now PWC.

    • by anothy ( 83176 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:26AM (#10328188) Homepage
      they're not bad guys, really. they're interested in making money, but that doesn't inherently make them evil. IBM and PWC simply have more foresight and long-term vision than most other companies. we hate the DMCA and friends because they're bad for innovation, which means it's harder for us to do our jobs and we have less interesting toys to play with. they hate the DMCA and friends because they're bad for innovation, which means less stuff for them to make money on. there's no conflict here. and you're right, it gives them a lot more weight, since governments are much more interested in people who make (for themselves, and generate) money than people who want nifty toys to play with.
  • by SimianOverlord ( 727643 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:10AM (#10328083) Homepage Journal
    ...that this is just the fault of the patent system, it is a flaw in the legal system, and it is a flaw in the community. Where patents are demonstratedly wrong, it should be easier for small companies or individuals to challenge that bad patent. Bad patents shouldn't just stand becasue one party has deeper pockets. And parties who are in thei right shouldn't be so cowardly as to run from these fights, if they want to change the system, they must work at it. It's all very well bitching about C&D and takedown notices, but you Americans meekly agree to do whatever they say anyway, grow some backbone.

    I feel sorry for the USPTO. They obviously lack technical expertise, and can't afford the salaries to attain it. If they were getting feedback on what patents were downright bad from the court system, they could train and evolve to start granting more deserved patents.
    • Bad patents shouldn't just stand becasue one party has deeper pockets.

      And a patent system that makes it too hard to challenge patents and too easy to amend them to expand their reach isn't at fault?
  • by Boss, Pointy Haired ( 537010 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:13AM (#10328110)
    ...is that the large software companies have patented so much of the fundamental building blocks of software engineering that even if you do come up with something truly "new and innovative" they can still get you on the sub-component functionality.

    This means they can effectively hold to ransome any new software venture that turns out to be succesful, regardless of what they do.
    • ...is that the large software companies have patented so much of the fundamental building blocks of software engineering that even if you do come up with something truly "new and innovative" they can still get you on the sub-component functionality.

      It seems like most of what I studied in university is becoming patented. I can't think of any other professions where the basic techniques can get patented.

      Imagine if the 'using a bunsen burner to apply heat' or 'using a saw to chop wood' was patented.

      The cr

  • The report will be pulled within one week.
  • Well yes, but (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RsG ( 809189 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:21AM (#10328155)
    I don't think anyone here is surprised. And I'm glad to see a report that supports what has been a rather undereported debate.

    What concerns me though is: if we do away with patents what will replace them? Have any /.ers seen or thought of a solution to this problem? I'm all for making software as "free" as possible, but I'm also of the mind that there would have to be some kind of IP structure in place.

    My thinking has always been that too much control of too much information has been in the hands of too few individuals. Software patents, as they're presently implimented, worsen this problem by allowing exclusivity and ownership of ideas that are otherwise easy to disribute. What concerns me is that those ideas don't come from nowhere; creativity is required at some stage. Even if the originator of an idea doesn't own it, (s)he was still presumably paid for it. Do we, the geeks, beleive that total freedom of information will leave an incentive to actually invent anything new? I've seen the argument that the benefit will come from somewhere else, like geeks supporting the software, bands getting paid by touring, etc. Ultimately you can't get something for nothing, though, and unless I'm mistaken the above shift would have us bitching about ludicrous ticket prices and support charges.

    Has anyone run into an IP scheme that would balance the creator/user relationship? Our present system is skewed and prone to monopolism, and a total absence of ownership would entail its own set of problems. We have to pay for something, somewhere (not that I'm a free market capitalist, but when the flow of money stops people starve).
    • Re:Well yes, but (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dyfet ( 154716 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:44AM (#10328328) Homepage
      It's called copyright. Software was and remained subject to copyright even with the very recent addition of software patenting. In fact, while copyright deals principly with the dissemination of a work, patents deal with the legal right to use or perform. Since the two represent different and somewhat complimentary exclusive restrictions, most every other technical field that uses patents does not permit or use copyright as well, since both together are especially oppressive.

      Furthermore, patent filings, which express the "ideas" of a patent, are themselves neither patented nor even allowed to be copyrighted. After all, patents were intended to give incentive to disseminate information, and restricting patent filings in effect would undermine their claimed purpose. Similarly, source code expresses the "ideas" of a given software work and certainly should not be subject to patents in part for this very same goal.

      Finally, since patents are about use, when they are applied to non-tangible things where use is expression, they in effect are a legal barrier to the very right to think. Hence, for thinking about, or using an idea, even in private, is at least theoretically a patent infingement. Certainly we do not patent books, and for many of the very same reasons we should not patent software.

      All in all, I would love to see an active software patent repeal movement in this country.

    • Re:Well yes, but (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:47AM (#10328357) Journal
      What concerns me though is: if we do away with patents what will replace them? Have any /.ers seen or thought of a solution to this problem? I'm all for making software as "free" as possible, but I'm also of the mind that there would have to be some kind of IP structure in place.
      I think patents serve a useful function , however in the case of software patents we can do without them altogether.

      Most software involves problem solving that is merely the means to an end, not an end in itself. Take for example the (patented) use of the XOR function for mouse pointers. The XOR function is not an invention that stands on its own as a result of long, painstaking and expensive research that eventually enabled the mouse pointer to be invented. It's the other way around: someone was programming a mouse pointer and decided to use the existing XOR function to solve the problem of restoring the graphics that the pointer passes over. This use of the XOR function does not qualify as an invention or research, it was simply a (very obvious) solution that needed to be solved to achieve the end result. It needed to be solved because these guys were the first to implement a mouse pointer, and as such they were able to patent this solution.

      Simply being the first to solve a trivial and hitherto irrelevant problem should not be good enough to be awarded with a patent. Patents are designed to establish ownership of the result of expensive and difficult research, but most of the software patents protect things that were neither expensive or difficult to find, and are not worth 'protecting'
      Our present system is skewed and prone to monopolism, and a total absence of ownership would entail its own set of problems. We have to pay for something, somewhere (not that I'm a free market capitalist, but when the flow of money stops people starve).
      Ownership of software can be (and is) established through copyright; we don't need patents on top of that. Look at the current crop of lawsuits concerning software patents. Are they
      a) An effort to defend the fruits of painstaking, expensive research that resulted in genuinely new ideas, or
      b) An effort to lock out competitors, who would have spent the same 5 minutes to solve the problem under dispute without any effort, had they been there first rather than second.
      Most cases are of type B. This is not surprising as another ./ poster pointed out with a good analogy, comparing software to a recipy for apple pie.

      Take Mom's Secret Recipe for apple pie. Copyright protects the entire recipe: I'm not allowed to publish it without Mom's permission. However if I decide to publish a slighty different recipe, using cinnamon rather than vanilla essence or something, I'll probably be in the clear.
      Software patents are similar to patents on the various steps to make the pie: Mom might have patented the use of flour and butter to protect her particular recipe, but this means that I owe Mom royalties even if I am making apple pie to my own recipe, or even a completely different kind of pie.
    • I haven't RTFA, but the summary implies it was specifically about software patents. Europe doesn't have them at the moment - why would the US need something to replace them? Companies will continue to innovate because there's an advantage to being the first in a field; academics will continue to innovate because that gives them papers to publish.
    • What concerns me though is: if we do away with patents what will replace them?

      Quicksort, simulated annealing, B*-trees, ReiserFS, the Banker's algorithm, quad trees, top down parsing, binary search, programming languages, PGP, PNG, bongo drums.

      These are things which were never protected by patents, and yet were still created. What should replace software patents? Nothing, that's what.
    • by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @10:19AM (#10328679)
      What concerns me though is: if we do away with patents what will replace them?

      You start off with a false premise: that something must replace patents (else there will be little or no innovation)

      Patents do not need to be replaced with anything. The software world experienced much more innovation without them, and continued innovation in the United States only exists because they go largely unenforced.

      Have any /.ers seen or thought of a solution to this problem?

      There is no such problem. Your assumption is false.

      I'm all for making software as "free" as possible, but I'm also of the mind that there would have to be some kind of IP structure in place.

      I am assuming you are new to the software industry (apologies if this is not the case, but your statement indicates that you are unfamiliar with how the software economy worked in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s prior to software patents, and prior to their being widespread). Having said that, you have some interesting thoughts despite the false premise from which you begin (you very correctly identify and express unease with the monopoly entitlement the government is granting on so many basic ideas and software implimentations, and the catastrophic consiquences to a robust and free market that follow).

      Software has always enjoyed the protection of copyright, which has always been enough protection for companies large and small (c.f. Apple Computers, Microsoft & Joe's consulting) to make excellent profits. Patents are in fact antithetical to this, as they lock down basic ideas. Patents only came along much later (in the 1980s IIRC) If you write software in the United States, you violate patents. You can thank your lucky stars no one has decided to enforce them against you ... if they did, you would probably be broke.

      Has anyone run into an IP scheme that would balance the creator/user relationship? Our present system is skewed and prone to monopolism, and a total absence of ownership would entail its own set of problems.

      It depends on what you mean by "IP". If you're talking about trade secrets, the current laws work reasonably well. If you're talking about trademarks, the current scheme works pretty well modulo people abusing trademark law to silence critics using their name (this seems to get sorted out reasonably by the courts most of the time).

      If you're talking about patents, the best reform is to eliminate patents. Government entitlement monopolies have been shown historically to not only NOT encourage innovation, but to actively stifle it. As an example, read up on the history of the airplane, the Wright Brother's patents, and America's desperation to catch up to advanced European (non-patent-encumbered) aviation technology during world war I. For those to lazy or uninterested to look it up, the short answer is that the US Government, in a tacit admission that the Wright Brother's patent on airplanes stifled innovation and improvements, effectively seized their patent (nationalized it), paid them a flat 1% royalty, and threw the technology open to all comers and competitors to develop modern airplanes. The amount of innovation that followed was truly phenominal.

      If you are talking about copyrights, some have suggested a form of non-monopoly "authorright" as an alternative ... a type of non-transferable copyright with manditory licensing attached, where the author is entitled to some percentage of any money made on their work (or derivative works), but cannot restrict how their work (or any derivative works) are used, with anti-plagerism statues requiring citation in perpetuity. Others have suggested shortening the length of copyrights back to their original 12 or 24 years. Reform is needed, and many have suggested all kinds of innovative approaches to replace or at least weaken the current monopoly entitlement schemes ... it is a subject that has b
  • by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <pig,hogger&gmail,com> on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:22AM (#10328156) Journal
    Breaktrough 6: Develop a strategic response to job migration to low-wage countries

    Economic growth and employment can be seriously affected by the accelerated job migration to low-wage countries. The EU needs to develop a strategic response.

    duh? Well, how about CUSTOMS TARIFFS designed to bring the price of low wages countries products more in line with those in the high wages coutries??? If a country pays jack shit to it's workers, the tarrifs go back in the importing country's government's pockets who can then use it to help increase that country's competitivity. But if it pays it's workers better, in turn, THEY BECOME MORE COMPETITIVE, because the receiving countries' tarrifs drop, and the extra price they are able to get for their products stays in the exporting country as profits, instead of tariffs in the importing country!!!

    Geee whizz, in the last century, Henry Ford generated quite a commotion when he raised his worker's pay; that enabled them to BUY automobiles, which propelled Ford at the forefront of the industry!

    But nowadays, bourgeois have no more foresight, and the swarms of MBAs they fatly pay have no more common-sense than a brain-dead sponge (with or without square pants), so they keep doing everything in the name of ultra-myopic short-sight. Free-trade only benefits the company owners, for the rest of the population, it means a steady decrease in the standard of living!
    • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:37AM (#10328271)
      "Well, how about CUSTOMS TARIFFS designed to bring the price of low wages countries products more in line with those in the high wages coutries???"

      What a brilliant idea: let's increase the cost of goods to poor people in the West and shovel even more of their money to unproductive government workers through the new taxes.
      • Yes, and lets impose Customs Tariffs to keep companies from investing in poorer nations, forcing even them to cut more corners (such as reduce already pitiful wages even further) in order to compete in a marketplace that is already tilted in favour of the rich.

        Countries that impose protectionist tariffs are not known for voluntarily and unilaterally reducing those tariffs for the benefit of foreign competition. If anyone thinks imposing tariffs as a threat for a country to pay its workers better, guess wha
    • Well, how about CUSTOMS TARIFFS designed to bring the price of low wages countries products more in line with those in the high wages coutries??? If a country pays jack shit to it's workers, the tarrifs go back in the importing country's government's pockets who can then use it to help increase that country's competitivity. But if it pays it's workers better, in turn, THEY BECOME MORE COMPETITIVE, because the receiving countries' tarrifs drop, and the extra price they are able to get for their products stay
      • blockquote> Clearly you have no understanding of international business. You can't just impose tariffs, especially if you are within a free-trade zone (such as Mexico/US). If you impose tariffs on them they can impose tariffs on you (not necessarily for the same goods). All tariffs do is reduce the trade between countries (or groups of countries)

        Of course other countries can impose tariffs!!! That's called levelling the playing field !!! The idea is to let governments act for the BEST INTEREST OF THEI

    • Yeah. Let's see who benefits from trade barriers. Do consumers benefit ? No, they have to pay higher prices. Do in-country business owners benefit ? Yes, their competition was just hamstringed. Wow. You got it exactly backwards.

      All economics is based on human nature because the actions of humans combine to make the economy. If you don't understand basic human nature, you can't understand basic economics.

      Here are the basic principles of human nature you miss :
      • insulate people from the effects of t
  • I heard the Irish govt is one big Microsoft customer.. and it seems like the guys backing the software patent nonsense in the EU are also the irish.

    Presumably due to "lobbie$" and "political contribution$$$" I guess.

    Many other EU states are against it actually.

    Same bullshit everywhere.

    Which brings to mind, why are the irish so powerful? Are they what, the president of the EU or something?

    Not that I'm very in tune with politics in that part of the world, so would like to hear more from those living ther
    • Which brings to mind, why are the irish so powerful? Are they what, the president of the EU or something?

      They were last year, when they brought this up. The EU is (for now) using a rotating presidency: every 6 months, presidency goes to another member country.

      Besides, such issues that are not seen as big ticket issues by the general public are commonly used as bargaining chips to get support for other proposals. Add to this either incompetence or malice/corruption of some of the representatives of member
    • They had the Presidency for the first half of 2004.
  • by ozric99 ( 162412 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:23AM (#10328170) Journal
    Is this the same Price Waterhouse Coopers that recently changed their name to Monday and registered introducingmonday.com forgetting to register the .co.uk [introducingmonday.co.uk] domain? :D
  • by tdvaughan ( 582870 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:24AM (#10328174) Homepage
    Should check out the "Best Deals: Patents" link under "Related Links". Clicking on it allows you to Comparison shop for patents [pricegrabber.com]. Thank God the slashdot devs decided to implement this fantastic functionality rather than making Slashdot W3C compliant!
  • by Boss, Pointy Haired ( 537010 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:24AM (#10328176)
    Thank you for your letter of 28 September 2004, the contents of which I note. :D

    In it, you are asserting that $FEATURE of my software product is infringing upon your $PATENT.

    What is interesting, is that we recently received a similar letter from another company claiming that $FEATURE is infact an infringement of their $PATENT.

    On further examination, it would appear that the USPTO has awarded you both a patent for the same thing ROAFLOL :D

    If you chose to take this action no further we shall also consider this matter closed. If, however you wish to continue with a claim for breach of patent infringement our first line of defence shall be to have your patent annulled on the grounds of duplication. You may wish to consider this seriously if you are already receiving royalties from $PATENT from other parties.

    Yours,

    PHB.
  • There was a bit of a discussion about software patents on the BBC Radio4 program 'You and Yours' yesterday.

    You can listen [bbc.co.uk] to it if you want to. But I think that if it's getting time on a mid-morning general interest program then people must be becoming more aware of software patents and the problems they might cause.

  • by tabdelgawad ( 590061 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:31AM (#10328233)
    This may seem obvious, but legislators seem to forget (boy do they ever!) that the rationale for IP protections (patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc) has nothing to do with who deserves compensation for their work, and everything to do with guaranteeing that markets provide certain types of innovative goods for consumers. This is even codified in the US constitution:

    "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;"

    Of course, the "limited Times" phrase is there because protections prevent other types of innovation (based on immitation) from taking place. It is there so that (sadly) politicians can decide where to strike that balance for each market.

    So the main question about software patents should be: to what extent has the absence of software patents negatively impacted the pace of software innovation? As far as I can tell, copyrights have been more than sufficient to strike the balance I talked about earlier, and patents would simply tilt the balance and harm innovation. European legislators should understand this and avoid going down the misguided path of the US congress in their counterproductive copyright extension route.
  • A recent study shows that 3 out of 4 people make up 75% of the population!
  • by servoled ( 174239 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:50AM (#10328382)
    A software patent, which serves to protect inventions of a non-technical nature, could kill the high innovation rate.

    What high innovation rate? Software is doing the same shit today that it was doing back in '95, we just have prettier interfaces now. I'd hardly call that innovation.

    I keep hearing that the computer world is special because of the high turnover rate of products, but outside of the hardware world I really don't see it. Most people I know have been using the same basic software since at least 2000 but have upgraded their mobo/proc at least twice during that period of time.

    The only "innovation" I have seen out of software is various bug fixes which shouldn't be there in the first place, but since the software writers are held to ridiculously low standards for quality control they can release the same piece of software 5 times and say: "Look at our high rate of innovation". Perhaps someone can point out all the great software innovations that have occured over the last 10 years. Since there is such a high rate of innovation it should be a trivial excersize for the typical slashdot reader.
      • MP3
      • DivX
      • Napster
      • eBay
      • weblogging
      • SETI@Home
      • DeCSS
      • mouse gestures
      • ICQ

      I have a hard time believing that you can honestly look at your OS of choice and claim that there have been no innovative changes in it since 1994.

      Does it still provide the same basic functions? Sure; file handling, I/O, disk writing and the like are still what the OS does. But by the same token, transportation without personal labor is what the car does...just like the horse and buggy did.

      I don't think anyone who uses computers on an e

  • It isn't just a software problem.
    Patents threaten innovation across all fields.
    But it was decided that this was a fair trade off to get commercial interest in developing these new ideas.

    What we need is to fix the patent system.

    Banning software patents will just require a bit more lawyerwork to change it into another category.

  • by wikinerd ( 809585 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:56AM (#10328441) Journal
    RMS [stallman.org] gives very interesting and informative talks on software patents from time to time. Recently I went to such a speech and discovered how rewarding it can be for people who want to understand better the problem with patents. (I wrote some info on my blog [wikinerds.org]). People who are interested on these subjects should have a look at FSF website [gnu.org].

    EU should never allow any kind of software patents. Such mistake would destroy the software economy and force small or mid-sized companies to spend more on legal costs rather than software research and development. Also, the patents will not protect small businesses from hungry MegaCorps (tm): These laws are made for MegaCorps, not for protecting innovation. Inventors and programmers do not want and do not need software patents; without public domain stuff you cannot build or invent something new.

  • Does anyone else also think that the text is more equivocal than suggested by the submitter?

    As far as I can tell, this is the relevant paragraph from the report: 342 There are particular threats to the European ICT industry such as the current discussion on the patent on software. The mild regime of IP protection in the past has led to a very innovative and competitive software industry with low entry barriers. A software patent, which serves to protect inventions of a non-technical nature, could kill

  • The Deadweight Loss (economics term look it up) created by the rampant implementation of patents across the board, specifically in the Software Industry, are larger than anyone has even guessed. Back in the days before globalization when there was a little thing called the "Infant Industry Argument", modern economic theory provided solid reasoning to a government protecting a single corporate entity such that it could grow and prosper quickly enough to stave off the foreign implementations of the new techn
  • From the report:

    Breakthrough 4: Realize the vision of 'any content, anytime, anywhere, any platform'

    Content is considered an important engine for future economic growth and employment. The EU needs to fuel this engine by realizing the vision of 'any content, anytime, anywhere, any platform' by e.g. introducing multiplatform access for content producers and new digital rights management regimes.

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