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Congress Asks Patent Office To Consider Secret Patents 285

Fluffeh writes "The USPTO is considering a rather interesting request straight from lobbyists via congress: that certain 'Economically Significant' patents should be kept secret during the process (PDF Warning) of being evaluated and granted. While this does occur at the moment on a very select few patents 'due to national security' for things like nuclear energy and the like — this would allow it to go much, much further. 'By statute, patent applications are published no earlier than 18 months after the filing date, but it takes an average of about three years for a patent application to be processed. This period of time between publication and patent award provides worldwide access to the information included in those applications. In some circumstances, this information allows competitors to design around U.S. technologies and seize markets before the U.S. inventor is able to raise financing and secure a market.'"
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Congress Asks Patent Office To Consider Secret Patents

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  • by David Gerard ( 12369 ) <slashdot@nOspAm.davidgerard.co.uk> on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:05AM (#39843507) Homepage

    ... nothing to see here. The success of the corruption program has reached far enough they can pull blatant shit like this and it's hard to stop them.

    So what are the likely consequences of this terrible, terrible idea?

  • Trade secrets (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bradley13 ( 1118935 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:07AM (#39843515) Homepage

    If you want to keep you sooper-seekrit advantage, it's called a "trade secret" and you don't patent it.

    If your technology is so non-useful that someone can easily design around it and capture the market in 18 months, it is either useless, or so trivial that it shouldn't be patented in the first place.

    Sound like the patent trolls are funding lobbiests.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:09AM (#39843533)
    ...and fixing the apparent actual problem instead? The USPTO should make the process faster and/or the US should become more innovative in general, if they don't want to be overtaken by "non-US" competitors.
  • Sounds like they're playing right into the hands of the patent trolls... The whole point seems to be to hope someone accidentally infringes so they can go after them later. I thought the goal of the patent system was to foster innovation. How does this do anything but impede it?

  • Re:Trade secrets (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:20AM (#39843609)

    If it is cheaper to design around a patent than it is to license it, the license cost is too high. This is very common for patent that are worth next to nothing. Being awarded a patent is no guarenty that it is worth more than zero.
    Interestingly, the "design around" is worth _exactly_ as much as the license cost of the original patent, and your competitor can patent and market this work-around.

  • Trap (Score:5, Insightful)

    by glorybe ( 946151 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:23AM (#39843617)
    If secret patents are in the works how are others with similar product ideas protected? To not be able to discover that a patent or art work exists for an invention and then be forced to pay for violating the patent seems like an outrage to me.
  • Wrong Solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:26AM (#39843631)

    The answer is not 'Secret Patents'.

    It's to fully staff the US Patent Office with sufficient qualified researches that granting patents does not have an average three-year schedule.

    'Secret Patents' are one of the worst ideas I've ever heard. You thought the NPE problem was bad -before-?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:36AM (#39843721)

    I grew up on a farm in the uk in the 80's, we were climbing in grain silos to shovel them flat whilst filling from the age of 7 or 8 - also climbing in the combine to help grease it daily and even from the age of 10 or 11 driving tractors around the farm tracks ferrying grain from field to dryer.

    For small holdings - child labour is a matter of economic neccessity

  • Catch 22 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:44AM (#39843779) Homepage Journal

    -Sir, you are being accused of violating a patent.
    -What patent?
    -We cannot tell you that, catch 22.
    -But don't you have to tell me what I am violating?
    -No, it's the law.

  • Re:Wrong Solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:45AM (#39843785) Homepage Journal

    I agree that secret patents are a stupid idea. However,

    fully staff the US Patent Office with sufficient qualified researches that granting patents does not have an average three-year schedule

    This is also the wrong solution. We could do without yet even more federal employees.

    The correct solution is to not allow stupid shit like software patents and one-click business model patents in the first place. Then BAM, watch the number of patent applications plummet.

    AFAIK, all of the software patent insanity stemmed from *one* activist judge in the early 80's who interpreted existing patent laws to encompass software. Again AFAIK, patent laws do not (yet) explicitly state whether computer software is patentable or not... it was a court ruling that said it is.

  • Re:Trade secrets (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:47AM (#39843799) Homepage

    Yet these are exactly the kind of thing patents were invented for.
    Patents are meant to publically disclose specific solution in exchange for a short period of exclusivity.
    Ideas should not be patentable.
    Problems should not be patentable.
    Implementations of a solution should not be patentable (copyright applies in this case).
    Any protection stretching beyond the period of commercial viability of the solution should not be allowed (IMHO, it should be less).

    Patents were not meant to reward the act of inventing. They were meant to compensate for act of sharing.

  • by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:54AM (#39843867) Homepage

    ... nothing to see here. Period.

    Likely consequences are absolutely nothing, in the grand scheme of information freedom. Patent protection remains the same, but there's less risk in patenting technologies that are likely to be copied outright by other companies.

    Currently, if you file a major patent for a Widget that will change the world, it'll take three years for that patent to be approved. During those three years, a smart businessman will be gathering funding to produce Widgets (or license them off to someone who can) to recoup the research investment. In 18 months, an evil company will likely see the patent application, and start preparing legal battles to screw with the inventor while producing their own FooBarBaz. If the inventor is financially weaker than the aggressor, there's a good chance FooBarBaz will be able to enter production faster and penetrate the market better, defeating the whole point of the patent process in the first place.

    By allowing patents to be secret until they're protected, the inventor doesn't need to rush into license and production negotiations, because the cloning company can't sprint past them. When they do start negotiations, the inventor has a bit more leverage, because their technology is patented, rather than just pending.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:01AM (#39843937)


    Patent trolls cost real companies making real exportable goods and services $80 billion. Each true R&D company needs to earn significantly more per invention to make it viable in order to pay these trolls.

    The patent is protection for an invention, not a *concept* for an invention. The patent is the DESCRIPTION of the invention. You can't describe something that does not exist. If you haven't made the invention then the patent is a work of fiction describing a fictional invention.

    So when the patent office started handing out patents for everything they really created the problem. It's not unusual that a parasitic industry lobbies in its own interests, but they need to realize that parasite is killing the host.

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:05AM (#39843975)

    By allowing secret patents people could be infringing and have no way of knowing. A applies for a patent, B produces the item not knowing of A's pending patent has good sales for two years and then is sued into the ground.

  • by Pinky's Brain ( 1158667 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:14AM (#39844063)

    Obviously feudalism came first ... that said, capitalism is just feudalism with a more even distribution of ownership of productive assets.

    Only exponential growth and socialism can keep capitalism from devolving back into feudalism ... and exponential growth has hit the wall of peak fucking everything.

  • Re:Trade secrets (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:16AM (#39844093) Homepage

    Implementations of a solution should not be patentable (copyright applies in this case).

    Yes they should, and no, it doesn't.

    A patent covers the mechanism of an implementation: Lever A pushes toggle B changing path C...

    Copyright covers the details: Lever A (which is built of steel truss and painted royal blue, whose fulcrum is an axle mounted between two oak panels) pushes toggle B (built of brushed aluminum, and attached to a platform holding so a little statue of a German holding a full beer stein, raised to chin level as in a toast) changing path C (which is a semicircular track made from copper mesh, which carries blue marbles made of recycled glass, at a 5% incline)...

    Or, to put it another absurd way, copyright covers Star Wars. A patent would cover the monomyth. You can write a different story using the same design by changing the characters and circumstances, but the underlying design is still the same.

    Copyright and patents have entirely different intents. Neither one solves the other's problem.

  • by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:27AM (#39844203) Homepage

    Then company B walks into a courtroom, says "the patent was secret. We had no way of knowing the patented technology. Unless A can prove espionage, the patent should be re-examined and thrown out as being obvious, since our researchers were clearly able to produce the same technology from simply the current state of the art."

  • by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @10:05AM (#39844641) Homepage

    I want cloning companies to sprint past "inventors", so that they can keep single players from holding back progress.

    So you're saying you don't want patents at all. Okay. "Survival of the most-connected" is a valid theory, though I personally don't think it's best for most people.

    If sprinting past them is even possible, then the "inventor" has no business getting a patent.

    "I've spent 5 years inventing this Widget, but I'm not a shrewd businessman who's well-connected to suppliers and fabricators. I guess I shouldn't be inventing."

    What you want is further empowerment of trolls. This is downright evil, and I have no choice but assuming that you work for a patent troll or are one yourself.

    I want empowerment of people who invest their time and money inventing things. I'm one myself, and so's my uncle, my father, great-grandfather, and more of my inlaws than I can recall. Not one of our patents have ever been trollish, or done anything but contribute to their field (though the portable chiropractic table is debatable). You must be right though... since I disagree with you, I'm clearly a paid shill working for a patent troll. Funny how it looks like the IT department of a financial service company...

    As it stands, it is possible to corner huge markets with pretty minor contributions by just being shrewd in ways that have nothing to do with the technology itself

    Congratulations, you've discovered marketing. Welcome to the last millennium.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @10:38AM (#39845037) Homepage

    "Survival of the most-connected" is a valid theory, though I personally don't think it's best for most people.

    it's the one we are currently running on, contrary to the fairy tales told to you in school.

  • by s73v3r ( 963317 ) <s73v3r.gmail@com> on Monday April 30, 2012 @12:54PM (#39846715)

    The cool part about Capitalism, is the elaborate parade that makes the people actually THINK they are a part of the system by allowing them to vote.

    Vote? Capitalism has nothing to do with Free Elections. You can have Socialism with Free Elections, hell, you can have Communism with Free Elections too.

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