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Who Invented the Linux-Based Wireless Router? 154

mtaht writes "I've just had the interesting experience of being deposed to talk about one of the first embedded, Linux-based, wireless routers. Our (free!) 1998 publication of how to make one predates patent #7035281, filed September 13, 2000, by someone else. Their patent was recently granted and is now being disputed in court, in part using our how-to as an example of prior art. The lawsuit continues; the case goes before a judge shortly, and a jury trial if necessary is scheduled for the spring. I find myself plagued with the question: So... who invented the embedded Linux based wireless router? What relevance does 'who' have, when there is such an enormous confluence of ideas from thousands of people? What constitutes invention, anyway?"
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Who Invented the Linux-Based Wireless Router?

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  • by popo ( 107611 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @02:23PM (#33988294) Homepage

    Every new platform (almost by definition of the term "platform") allows it to be married to myriad other technologies. Unfortunately the USPTO does not seem to understand that each one of these secondary permutations does not (should not) constitute "invention".

    But ultimately -- the answer, like most answers to legal questions, isn't a matter of who's right and who's wrong, or even "what is the truth?". The answer depends on who has the combination of legal-budget and willpower to pursue the patent.

  • Obviousness? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fnkmaster ( 89084 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @02:25PM (#33988320)

    Do they have to prove exact prior art, if they can prove that the differences between the prior art and the patent are obvious to a practitioner of the art?

    A patent really should only cover non-obvious extensions of existing ideas. As the guy himself states, there was nothing in what he did that was particularly non-obvious to any person who did networking at the time, so it's silly that it should even be patentable, let alone an example of prior art. Rather, their effort just happened to occur at a point in time where wireless networking was just being introduced.

    So why on earth should merely combining the words "embedded", "Linux", "wireless" and "router" make something patentable? These are not novel combinations that required a leap of creative insight, but rather extremely straightforward and obvious combinations.

  • This is good! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by countSudoku() ( 1047544 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @02:25PM (#33988322) Homepage

    Our submitter is doing the right thing here; testifying against a company that tried to patent an already freely available idea. No patent should be allowed to protect this device's software. The hardware is a separate issue. Thanks for doing the right thing!

  • by MichaelKristopeit 12 ( 1916012 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @02:40PM (#33988556)
    whatever the judge at the highest level court that will hear your case says it is.
  • IEEE 802.11 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jklovanc ( 1603149 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @02:48PM (#33988664)

    How can someone get a patent on an obvious implementation of a new standard, in this case 802.11? I wonder if Anthony Spearman or Andrew Tompkins had any access or input into the standard? I wonder if they were part of the standards process but realized they couldn't patent the standard so the patented the implementation.

  • Did you even read TF Summary? He is the prior art! He's just trying to figure out if there was someone there before him, or how to give credit to those pieces which were already built into the Linux code.
  • by cm613 ( 1493893 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:16PM (#33989068)
    In our economy: Invention is the right to a revenue stream if you can afford patent law litigation.
  • by cm613 ( 1493893 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:25PM (#33989206)
    If and only if you can afford to fight your way there. If not it is what the other guy, with the established business, says it is.
  • by wiredlogic ( 135348 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:40PM (#33989426)

    You just quoted excerpts from the summary of the invention. It goes through such drivel as explaining the OSI model and other known-in-the-art fluff intended to bog down the examiner. That text has no bearing on the validity of the patent. The claims are all that matter, with claim 1 being the most important. That claim doesn't cover any new ground and just mentions an obvious combination of networking components, packet routing, and an authentication mechanism as provided by the 802.11 standard.

  • by slinches ( 1540051 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @04:02PM (#33989740)

    They didn't "invent" anything. They did do something new, and then they shared it like nice people. I just fail to see how putting together three existing technologies in what is a fairly logical configuration merits a patent.

    I'm not so sure it's that simple. Nearly every mechanical device invented has just been a combination of simple machines in different configurations. I think the distinction between invention and merely an alternative application is whether the item being patented provides a new capability or one that is significantly improved.

    Using this case as a hypothetical example. If there were already wireless routers running a proprietary OS and the OS was just replaced with another that provided similar functionality, that would not (in my opinion) be an invention. If instead, there was no such thing as a wireless router at the time and they used Linux, an antenna and some existing computer hardware to create one, that would be a novel and patentable invention.

    I don't know all of the details of the state of the art at the time or what the patent actually claims, but from what I do know, I don't think this patent falls clearly into either category.

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @04:04PM (#33989762) Homepage

    You don't seem to know what 'invent' means.

    Well, I don't know what the legal threshold for "inventing" is in this case. The guy who did 'invent' it isn't sure he actually invented anything. And he did it before the guy who patented it.

    Built? Sure. Assembled? Fine. Extended someting? Absolutely. Invented? I honestly don't know.

    Take any functionality that already existed on a computer in the late 90's, add "wirelessly" to it -- have you "invented" anything? Or extended something that was already well known? I would argue it's a (fairly) predictable application of existing tech -- wireless is just one in a long line of 802.* protocols; does going from 802.3 to 802.11 cause magic to happen?

    They didn't invent the router. They didn't invent wireless networking. They just sorta smushed them together, and in a way that is consistent with how you might expect them to be used.

    Did Jeff Bezos "invent" one-click purchases? Or did he basically take the well-known concept of "button" and apply it to the well-known concept of "purchase"? Many of us would argue that it's a stupid patent.

    This is before the courts, and has to go through a jury trial. It might be a little premature to get all smug and say that you can definitively conclude that this was, in fact, an "invention" or not. If it was so easy, we wouldn't be reading the article and debating what exactly "invent" means in this case.

  • by cm613 ( 1493893 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @04:40PM (#33990188)

    Thank you for your kind words. I can tell by the way your thoughts transform into free flowing words and by your condescending tone that you are most likely not an idiot like me and you have probably had an easy life.

    I too am bitter for some of the things in this world. For example, patent law and corporate control of government policy, which are not mutually exclusive. I don't take it out on anyone I just throw out assertions on the way I see things on message boards such as this. I take it that you don't agree and that's okay with me, you are allowed your opinion.

    I disagree with your argument about applying the law yourself. An independent inventor may not have the desire or the ability to apply law and spend time arguing in a courtroom. He or she may be more interested in building a business around something they invented or inventing other things. He or she may not be capable of decorum required in a court of law because they can't communicate without calling people names like idiot, ignorant or hypocrite. Established businesses, on the other hand, have legal departments that are paid to quash other businesses competing with them or else collect royalty from them. In this scenario, patent law is the instrument to make the rich richer and the keep the emergent down. That's the fundamental thing I don't like which lead me to make my comment.

"It takes all sorts of in & out-door schooling to get adapted to my kind of fooling" - R. Frost