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Why Software Patents Are a Joke — Literally 311

eburnette writes "A former Sun/Oracle employee explains how developers created patents in an unofficial contest to see who could get the goofiest patent through the system. James Gosling said, '... we got sued, and lost. The penalty was huge. Nearly put us out of business. We survived, but to help protect us from future suits we went on a patenting binge. Even though we had a basic distaste for patents, the game is what it is, and patents are essential in modern corporations, if only as a defensive measure. There was even an unofficial competition to see who could get the goofiest patent through the system. My entry wasn't nearly the goofiest.' Now Oracle is using patents from the same folks as the basis for its lawsuit against Google."
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Why Software Patents Are a Joke — Literally

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  • by FlorianMueller ( 801981 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:09AM (#33272824) Homepage quoted by TheRegister []:

    "It's a sad comment on the morality of large modern software companies that Microsoft, while I don't think they've gotten any better since Sun sued them, probably has the high ground."

    He seems to mean this primarily in terms of compliance with the official Java specification but one could also look at it in terms of software patent action against FOSS. I recently wrote about Microsoft's use of patents in connection with open source [] and got bashed for simply telling the truth: so far it's actually other companies who make the truly hostile moves. Far be it from me to defend software patents; I just mean to point out that there are different ways in which they get used, and in light of Oracle vs. Google, I believe more people will agree with me now.

    One group of people James Gosling doesn't criticize are all those former Sun execs who strongly supported Oracle's acquisition of Sun because it was financially advantageous for them, only to leave the combined company as soon as possible after the closing of the deal. Many of those told the FOSS community that Sun had patents that could be very dangerous for open source, and Oracle was such a "reasonable" patent holder that it would be much better for them to acquire those patents than to take any risk that maybe Microsoft (which by the way never made a bid for Sun) could get them.

    I opposed Oracle's acquisition of Sun. I also had concerns over the Java part but kept quiet about that and focused on MySQL. That's because I cooperated with Monty (the original author and founder of MySQL) and he wanted to be neutral about programming languages. For those who heard the slander that my work in that context aimed to change MySQL's license from the GPL to something else (which some even propagated here on Slashdot), I've meanwhile posted a detailed explanation, including links to several documents I used during my fight against the Oracle/Sun deal, in order to provide conclusive evidence that I argued against -- not for -- a license change. You can find that information in this blog posting (the link leads directly to a passage on MySQL and the GPL). []

  • by Technician ( 215283 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:30AM (#33272912)

    Your patent is pretty much already done with prior art. The DMX512 with relay outputs and a programmable console such as any of the inteligent consoles with soft patch in them preceeds your patent.

    I guess the last lighting installation I did is in violation of your patent simply by using off the shelf components.

    A lighting console with softpatch takes care of reassigning switches and addressable dimmer/relay packs takes care of the addressable outlets.

    Good luck defending your patent against the DMX512 1990 revised standard. []

  • by FlorianMueller ( 801981 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:39AM (#33272928) Homepage

    I wanted to recommend this detailed blog posting (about 8,500 words, plenty of scrolling) on Oracle vs. Google [].

    It discussed many aspects of the dispute and in particular goes into detail on the seven patents Oracle seeks to enforce against Google, and inhowfar they may or may not read on Android.

    I posted a correction in the comments there to point out that Oracle changed its stance on software patents years ago, not just after acquiring Sun's patent portfolio.

  • Laches (Score:5, Informative)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <> on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:47AM (#33272958) Homepage Journal

    2. If you notice someone is using your invention, DON'T SUE
    3. Wait for them to actually succeed, and invest time

    If someone convinces a judge that you did this, then you can't collect damages under the "laches" rule.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:48AM (#33272964)

    He tried to patent the light switch and switching lights on.
    All of it is pretty silly, but Claim No7 contains some gems:
    7. A method for controlling electrical power coupled to a plurality of electrical devices, said method comprising the steps of: ...
    - providing a control unit comprising an identification map
    - connecting said electrical power from a power source to each of said power outlets;
    Which can describe the wiring in the wall.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:53AM (#33272974)

    Pirate Party is not only against patents on software, we work actively against it.

  • by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @03:50AM (#33273148) Journal

    Anyone else chuckled after reading the name Charles Nutter?

    I did, but for a different reason -- he's a core developer of JRuby. I saw him demo some very cool JRuby-on-Android things this summer. If he's crazy, it's the good kind of crazy.

  • by c0lo ( 1497653 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:32AM (#33273288)

    Both Google and Oracle are licensees of the OIN. The OIN patent agreement is meant to be a non-aggression pact between its members, with respect to "the Linux System" [].

    Given that Android is a Linux distro ...

    I don;t see how Android being a Linux distro is relevant in an "aggression" conducted on Java-related patents. Would you please care to elaborate?
    Not saying that I do agree with software patents, not saying that OIN is a good or a bad thing, just saying that Linux != Java != Dalvik, thus the OIN issue have little relevance in my opinion. I mean, some (countries/govs) can agree to a non-proliferation nuclear pact and disagree on a carbon emission trading scheme, right?

  • by TrisexualPuppy ( 976893 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @10:46AM (#33275754)

    I thought they had a rule that you could not patent a perpetual motion machine? Why would that be?

    Because it has been tried so many times that the USPTO was sick and fed up with it and decided to make this exception.

    "With the exception of cases involving perpetual motion, a model is not ordinarily required by the Office to demonstrate the operability of a device. If operability of a device is questioned, the applicant must establish it to the satisfaction of the examiner, but he or she may choose his or her own way of so doing."

  • Re:Literally? (Score:5, Informative)

    by eburnette ( 1871394 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @10:54AM (#33275880) Homepage
    No, I meant literally. There were actual joke patents being filed. I don't know if any got approved, but the light switch one in Gosling's blog churned around for several years in the system before it was abandoned (as opposed to getting rejected immediately with prejudice, or not filed in the first place).
  • by scamper_22 ( 1073470 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:03PM (#33276780)

    You have probably never worked with hardware patents. [] []
    In 1879, a Rochester lawyer named George Selden applied for a U.S. patent for a road vehicle powered by a gasoline engine. Through his own delays and those of the government, however, a funny thing happened. Selden, who never built an actual automobile, received the patent on it in 1895, long after other people were building automobiles. In return for a percent of future revenues, Selden assigned the valuable patent to a group of New York financiers in 1897, and they defended it vigorously. In the first years of the century, they settled on a process by which automakers joined the Association of Licensed Automotive Manufacturers (ALAM), which served as a conduit for licensing fees for 1 1/4 percent on annual sales. Most of the country's automakers seemed reconciled to joining ALAM.

    Read a little bit about hardware patents. They're the same obvious, lawyer filled crap that software patents are.

  • Re:Why? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Cornelius the Great ( 555189 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @01:29PM (#33278010)
    Patents are a monopolistic privileges granted by the government, as they require government assistance to enforce. Most prominent anarcho-capitalists (ie- the ones who oppose any regulation) are strongly opposed to the idea of patents, and many oppose all forms of intellectual property- though the philosophy that one can "own" ideas is largely independent of the economic spectrum.
  • by enjerth ( 892959 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @01:40PM (#33278172)

    An inventor has up to 1 year after the invention goes public to file for a patent.

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