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In Defense Of Patents and Copyright 283

Romer!can writes "C|Net Editor Michael Kanellos offers a potentially contentious opinion piece about patents and copyright on the CNet site. Highlights of the fairly biased piece include: a cheap shot dismissing open source projects as existing only to act as a foil for Microsoft, blatantly equating copyright infringement with stealing, and an embarrassing failure to even casually mention the current term lengths of patents and copyrights as a driving factor behind popular dissatisfaction. Instead, he wades through obscure humor and emotional appeals characterizing patent trolls as the guy next door. 'Nearly every so-called [patent] troll turned out to have a somewhat persuasive story. Intellectual Ventures, a patent firm started by former Microsoft chief scientist Nathan Myhrvold, was staffed with fairly renowned scientists who didn't fit the profile of people trying to make a quick buck in court. Another man, criticized as one of the most litigious people in the U.S., had a great explanation for his behavior. He had only sued people who had signed--and then violated--nondisclosure agreements.'"
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In Defense Of Patents and Copyright

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  • by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) * on Thursday May 10, 2007 @03:57PM (#19073393) Journal
    Intellectual Ventures, a patent firm [and alleged patent troll] started by former Microsoft chief scientist Nathan Myhrvold, was staffed with fairly renowned scientists who didn't fit the profile of people trying to make a quick buck in court.

    Why isn't that a persuasive argument? Isn't that kind of argument used all the time around here? Don't believe me? Have you ever heard:

    "Drug companies don't deserve patents/as-lengthy-patents because they spend more on advertising than research."

    They're both rank appeals to one's sympathy (or lack thereof) with the patent holder.
  • by GodWasAnAlien ( 206300 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:09PM (#19073613)
    In 2095, Windows 2000 binaries enter the public domain. The source, was never published and died on some overwritten/corrupted backup media long before.

    Would the binaries be useful at all?
    If not, the the copyright duration is effectively infinite.

    Now compare the Public domain Windows 2000 of 2095 with ReactOS or Linux in 2095. which is more useful?

    But you don't need to wait 95 years to see this result.

    How many years of development do you think it takes for ReactOS to surpass Windows2000?

    How many years of development does it take for Linux to Surpass an abandoned UNIX, like IRIX?

    If for some reason, you wanted to create a DOS system, would you use MSDOS 6, or FreeDOS?

  • Patent benefits (Score:5, Interesting)

    by debrain ( 29228 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:19PM (#19073793) Journal
    Make no mistake, the Chinese are famous for having invented many of the greatest inventions in history. Problem is, they often did it multiple times, independently. In the Western universe, I seem to recall that intellectual property was kept as trade secrets, to the exclusion of the public and similarly lost to antiquity.

    The reason for the prior (retention) is often equated to their lack of proprietary interest in intellectual property, and the reason for the latter (publicity) is adjoined by the consequences of divulging your technological advantages. While the incentive exists to invent gunpowder (for its usefulness), the incentive and mechanism to publicly retain a collective body of knowledge for such inventions in Chinese society did not exist. Thus, I believe the secret to gunpowder was lost to the Chinese on more than one occasion, only to be re-invented later. (Or perhaps that wasn't gunpowder, but some other set of inventions).

    Patents help alleviate this loss of intellectual achievements to both antiquity and secrecy. However, in our society they have gone to an extreme, whereby we can rightly complain that they stifle innovation, undermine competition, and they may even be unnecessary in light of modern mechanisms for keeping tabs on new IP, notably the internet, and public collaborative projects like open source.

    Nonetheless, patents are predictable, and having arisen out of hundreds of years of jurisprudence over the need to retain and publicize useful inventions. They appear to be econommically over-bearing nowadays, and may even be superfluous in light of modern technology for retention and dissemination of intellectual property (i.e. the internet), but they are integrated into our economy in ways that make it superbly difficult (not to mention prohibitively expensive, as in the USA the government may have to compensate patent holders by weakening their rights) to completely do away with the system. They also still serve the purpose for which they were intended, publishing and retaining useful innovations, but they have side effects which now make us question their value.

    While we can and should criticize the patent system for its failures, we should also bear in mind the consequences of going too far in the opposite direction. Too few discussions of patent reform have an intelligent, informed and balanced basis in the purpose and benefits of the current patent system, with suggestions for either balanced reform across all arenas where patent law is applied (drugs, software, hardware, automobiles, etc.), or any sound alternative that is not subject to the same criticisms that are inherent to what we have now.

    (That being said, I think the idea of patenting software strikes me as wholly inappropriate, the problems of publicity and retention long having been solved by the internet and open source projects, and the value software patents provide to the public is virtually nil in almost every way.)
  • Re:It never fails (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:30PM (#19073987)
    You do live in a capitalism, right? You are aware that many parents can't afford a babysitter, so they are forced to resort to corporate indoctrination (we call it TV in the land of the almighty dollar)? This babysitter-that-is-television indoctrinates them, perhaps before they can walk, to be good consumers, to want nothing less than the immediate fullfillment of every desire they could have. Why, then, should it be a corporate right to indoctrinate consumers to want to consume, what they never can? Why should corporations be allowed to deprive us of fulfillment in our lives, hollow though that fulfillment may be?

    When it stops being a corporate right to clog every free inch of the world with pollution and commercials, essentially consuming the world beyond their means, is (in my view) when it will stop being my right to consume beyond my economic means.
  • That's no troll (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:40PM (#19074131)
    I found that C-Net is only anticipating a change in the political views when this article appeared. It's no different than watching how Amazon vs IBM turned into a crying match over patents, with IBM puting-down Amazon for no legaly-prevailing reason. Both could have easily proved their points, with the interested parties to decide the purpose and intent of their Patents, but instead it was a dog and pony show because there are some things about patent law that they don't want to reveal until the very end of societies willing to tolerate eachother's patents. Don't pat me down on that matter, but consider my petting the ideal outcome. It's pretense to war, when societies divide one from another. Entire countries have gone to war over patents; in the past it was over cotton fabrics, tavern beer, competition to established barristers, mint of money, the conduct of currencies, and the preservation of rites. The first deception on the intent of patents is to isolate counterfeit matters, when in fact there is no such thing as counterfeiting a thing until computers came along. Now patents are trying to establish their foot-hold on computer software because it is arguable if the data on one disk shares the same time and space continuum as that on another disk; it's the matter pressed (pat) of origin (ent) is the cause.

    This [lastexitonly.com] will help you out on the matter.
  • Re:FUCK YOU AMERICA! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Gorshkov ( 932507 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [vokhsroGlarimdA]> on Thursday May 10, 2007 @05:20PM (#19074849)

    Telephone: Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell, Americans both.
    Bell was born in Scotland in 1847, immigrated to Canada and didn't move the the USA until 1871. He never became a citizen until 1882 - the telephone was invented in 1874, so the telephone was NOT invented by "two americans".

    Go back to school, fucko.
    Sounds like a good idea to me.
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday May 10, 2007 @05:56PM (#19075403) Homepage Journal
    How can you be for any copyrights?

    Why should someone own the exclusive right to make copies?

    The only sensible reason you could possibly have for such an extreme position like that is that it is somehow to the benefit of every person in society to willingly refrain from copying these works. That's a pretty hard argument to make.

    Of course, you don't have to make the argument.. cause the status quo is one of restriction.. which the majority of people just ignore anyway.
  • by earthforce_1 ( 454968 ) <earthforce_1@@@yahoo...com> on Thursday May 10, 2007 @06:46PM (#19076077) Journal
    One is the hoarding of books and knowledge by the church during the middle ages - only a privileged few was allowed access to them. The industrial revolution started when knowledge became freely shared.

    It also reminds me of the final scene in the Hitchhiker's Triology, where survivors of the B ark burned down all of the trees so they could use the few remaining leaves as currency. He tries to justify the same thing - trying to create an artificial scarcity on things which are plentiful and easy to reproduce.

  • Re:Oh boy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ClassMyAss ( 976281 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @07:19PM (#19076479) Homepage

    All you whiners who hate on "Old Media" and want everything completely free should hang out on YouTube and exclusively watch all the video blogs and clips of people running into each other with shopping carts. Because if you're successful in killing Old Media, that's all you'll have! Sorry guys. It may not require tens of millions of dollars to produce gobs and gobs of high quality video entertainment with mass appeal, but it does take more then a couple dudes with a camcorder and six bucks.
    Whether or not the ultimate quality of media in the country would decline, the point is that killing Old Media is, or at least should be, perfectly within the rights of the people - if people do not think they should have to pay for a product (especially a non-physical product the copying of which does not directly cost the company any goods or money), for whatever reason, then it is the peoples' right to revoke the protections offered to that product, i.e. copyright. It is not a priori obvious that an idea or a work of art should be illegal to copy, in fact it would seem a bit counterintuitive except for the fact that we've grown up used to the idea. Though I definitely agree with you that currently, the people have not revoked this right explicitly (even if their actions indicate strong desire to do so), and if you believe in the rule of law then there is no justification for sharing this stuff; if you don't believe in following laws that you disagree with, so be it, that's your right, just don't get caught. There certainly is some rationale for ignoring unjust laws, but those who do so should at least admit that that's what they're doing - it IS stealing as our current law defines it, even if the current laws don't seem reasonable.

    I'm not with you, though, that we'd only be left with guys running shopping carts into each other if Old Media fizzled and popped. Traditional television runs on an advertising model, and this translates to the web quite well; frankly I'd love to see the means of TV distribution become much more decentralized. And good music is going to come out whether or not it's sold by the millions for $20 a pop or through donations that just barely pay the rent for a band, because there really are that many people who love to make it. I know plenty of extremely talented musicians who have never seen a dime due to any copyright ownership, but make very happy livings playing gigs and selling CDs, mostly to people who could just copy their stuff anyways but don't because they prefer to support the artist. You might not have the megastars like Britney Spears, but trust me, people were creating and enjoying great music WAY before it ever became big business. Movies, I suppose, are the rub - these really do cost a tremendous amount of money to create, and should we decide to kill off that industry we probably won't see the gap filled for quite a while, at least if what you're interested in seeing is huge budget Spiderman type stuff (the indie scene will continue with business as usual, though, and would probably even thrive off of the market hole left behind). Personally I would not mourn any of these changes, as it seems like a little bit of a money drought in the entertainment business would lead to a fruitful starved-beast period, hopefully resulting in a more stable industry that relies on providing something of value to the consumer rather than threatening him with its lawyers.

    Pretty much everything about the internet is devoted to the idea that attention == money. So I'm sorry, I have to dismiss the claim that nobody will put money behind something good if they can't sell it. We live in an age where companies with zero profits, large amounts of debt, and extremely precarious legal situations are sold for hundreds of millions of dollars just because a lot of people go to their website; it's no longer possible to seriously claim that the only motivation for creation is the opportunity to sell your IP in such an environment.
  • by TheVelvetFlamebait ( 986083 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @11:57PM (#19078757) Journal
    Your comment made me think. Copyright has to start at somewhere definite in order for it to end. Where does the copyright period begin for software? Does it begin upon the entire package's completion? Does it begin (and therefore end) in a staggered way, with certain parts of the code being copyrighted as they are written? If it is the former, wouldn't the already written code be protected only as a trade secret, and therefore anyone could leak the code?

    Are there any lawyers who could help me out here?

If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. -- Isaac Newton