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Do Patents Stop Companies From Creating 'Perfect' Products? 292

Posted by Zonk
from the would-have-gotten-away-with-it-if-it-wasn't-for-those-darn-patents dept.
Chris M writes "In a recent CNET article, the mobile phone editor writes about what he thinks would make a perfect phone. Unfortunately, as someone in the comments section points out, much of the technology that is used in this concept phone belongs to separate companies. 'I'm sorry to be the Devil's Advocate here, but most of those feautres are patented to separate companies. It would require almost all the major manufacturers [working together] to do this, which is highly unlikely.' Do you think patents are stopping companies from creating 'perfect' devices, or are there other factors at work?"
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Do Patents Stop Companies From Creating 'Perfect' Products?

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  • by Gabrill (556503) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @03:51PM (#19569463)
    To me, a layman, it does seam like basic tools have most of their "methods" and "apparatus" patented, so that startups have no hope of making anything more complex than a wheelbarrow without stepping at least one patent or another. Maybe it would be a good idea to farm recently outdated patents for business ideas. Anything made to those patents' specifications should be immune to newer patents, and a good way to invalidate copycat patents.
  • by khasim (1285) <> on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @03:51PM (#19569465)

    Probably more familiar then 90% of the people who post on slashdot and rail against the patent system.

    I'm so bleeding smart that I don't know the basics about what I've just claimed to be so smart about.

    Check out Amazon's "One Click" patent. Go ahead.
  • Not a problem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Lodragandraoidh (639696) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @04:00PM (#19569645) Journal
    This is not a big problem - for a big company. A Big company could easily license the IP from their competitors to build the 'perfect' phone.

    Of course, that elimenates all the little guys from competing because they can't afford to license the technology.

    On the other hand, companies prefer to purposefully 'differentiate' their products so the customer is presented with a choice - which the company is banking on. You will probably never see the 'perfect' phone, as a result. It is the nature of the beast.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <> on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @04:09PM (#19569773) Homepage Journal

    Is there a device with enough ROM space available to fit OGG in at the supposed near-zero cost the parent claims? Maybe. But there isn't any real interest. Certainly not on a feature-to-feature comparison chart. They are going to use that ROM space to add features that count to the Average Joe, not the niche OGG market.

    There's plenty of devices with unused space in ROM. And do you know how visionaries become recognized as such? They spot opportunities before others do - perhaps even before the market is aware of their desire - and they exploit them.

    In other words, no one serious has attempted to create a market for ogg. It might not be a very hard sell, but who's attempted it?

  • by interiot (50685) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @04:10PM (#19569781) Homepage

    That's the way the patent system is supposed to work. The patent system is a tradeoff... we slow down progress slightly (by making people wait at most 20 years to build the perfect device), but hope that we speed it up more by giving people extra incentives to innovate.

    Unfortunately, that's not the way the system actually works. When the patent office lets you patent things that were obvious 10 or 20 years ago (eg. patenting xor, or patenting the idea of VoIP/POTS integration when the idea was an integral part of the design of various VoIP standards released years ago), then the patent system doesn't just slow things down 20 years, it's actually 30 or 40 years instead. And when there aren't realistically sufficient checks to prevent obvious things being patented, it means that a bad patent examiner can slow things down for 50 or 60 years in a few cases where they really screw it up.

    Also, in the modern world, clearly companies already have a huge incentive to innovate. Was the dot-com boom driven by the fact that companies could patent things, and monopolize the area for 20 years? Or was it instead driven mostly by VC's hoping to profit from first mover advantage []? In my mind, it was clearly the latter.

  • by MSTCrow5429 (642744) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @04:48PM (#19570427)
    What if every feature I could want on a cellphone isn't softmoddable? I might want more RAM, or a faster CPU, or an advanced GPU. I might want a bigger screen or a different form factor. I might even want it to make me eggs.
  • Your exactly right. Personally, the design and durability of a phone is far more important than the software bells and whistles.

    I want something small enough to fit in my pocket that won't die on me when it's in my shirt pocket and lean over the pool or toilet (both have happened) and it falls in.

    Other than that, I really don't care. Sure, the camera feature is neat and I do find myself spending time playing sudoko on my phone to kill time, but I don't text message, I've never seen the need to read email on my phone and the like.

    Just give me a phone that will stand up to anything that doesn't look retarded, and I'd buy it.

  • Worked so far... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nick_davison (217681) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:15PM (#19570823)

    I say that because the patent system, good, bad or otherwise, has been around long enough that if there was genuine smothering of genius going on, it would have been a major topic long since
    Except the world changes...

    Communication is now essentially instantaneous. Bob in New York patents a better belt buckle in 1850, Jim in San Francisco designs something similar. It'll be a minumum of a few months before someone who's seen one happens to see the other and he almost certainly won't care about whether it is or isn't patented and Bob isn't going to go to the expense of sending his lawyer across country for several months to find out. Even if there is a clash, the markets are so separate, it's not worth pursuing getting both sides in a single courtroom.

    The pace of invention has continued to dramatically increase. Modern machinery turned up with the industrial revolution. Electricity only became a common power source in the last century. Computers are 60 or so years old. Home computers are less than 30 years old and only common in the last 15. The internet has only really spread in the last 10. And, right now, 3D prototyping tools are becoming available for the first time. Combine those increases in the power of tools for realizing ideas with the increase in population and you're comparing a patent system designed for one level of patenting with one that's being asked to handle exponentially more.

    What can be patented has changed. The criteria of "That a reasonable person couldn't come up with on their own" sure as hell doesn't apply to One Click shopping (Wow, really, people would prefer less hassle? Rocket science!) nor does it apply to, Creative's "I have a large collection of music, I'd like to divide it up somehow, perhaps some kind of a folder analogy." which Apple got sued over for daring to copy from the desktop where it was common to MP3 players where somehow Creative were the only people who could ever think of it. Add in being able to patent everything from genes to ways of doing business and you've got a system that is in no way representative of the past.

    In the scheme of things, 25 years isn't that long to wait. In a world where computing of 10 years ago is utterly different to the computing of today, a 25 year patent means "a means for using a casette player to store data" would just be coming out of patent protection. So, yes, in terms of digital technology and gene research where 25 years is the entire lifetime of the field, it absolutely stifles things and makes a great case for those mediums to have a 10, or ideally 5 year patent term limit - enough to benefit from your invention, not enough to stifle the whole industry for as long as it's been around again.
  • by edbosanquet (729289) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:16PM (#19570845)
    Patents are only valid for a fixed period of time. So if you have a patent improvment based on an expired patent then you don't need to license the change. If the previous patent is still valid then you need to obtain the license. Since your improvement came after the orgional then there will probably be at least a short period of time where you have your improvement without licensing fees.
  • by rhizome (115711) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @06:00PM (#19571499) Homepage Journal
    But isn't this what the patent system is designed to do, to slow down adoption and reuse?
  • by pbhj (607776) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @06:21PM (#19571757) Homepage Journal
    If _I_ "make the device without the permission of the original patent holder" then it's fine.

    Why? It's non-commercial "R&D" use. I (personally) can use the disclosure to create a device for "R&D" as long as it's not used commercially (which might include giving it away as that could cause commercial harm to the patent rights owner or licensee).

    This stands in most jurisdictions but the US non-commercial use allowed is very limited and R&D by businesses (which includes Universities in US patent law) is not allowed unless licensed by the patent holder.

    There's also the issue of territorial rights. I'm sure you can find somewhere in the world in which even WO patents aren't recognised (ie outside EPO, OAPI, ARIPO, US, etc.).

    IANAPA 5609/1018?siteid=sci&ijkey=kOiAnw9uhtbsM&keytype=r ef []

    As with all instances of pedantry I'm sure there is an error (at least) in this post!
  • Re:Not Really (Score:4, Interesting)

    by siddesu (698447) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @06:31PM (#19571899)
    I ain't sure about them phones, and I am just a casual observer, but I can't help but notice that about 20-30 companies released "electronic cash" systems in Japan in the past two years or so. There has been talk about using e-cash in Japan for a decade, and the technology has been there ... only we didn't have much in terms of actual implementation.

    Now, using this kind of "e-cash" is extremely convenient -- you can use it on teh train, in teh shop, etc. etc. There are some kinds that have your name on it, there are some that are (nearly) anonymous. Pretty neat, really. But, we didn't have it until like yesterday. So, why did this boom come _now_?

    It seems that most of the e-cash/e-money/e-payment patents taken out by a few small and innovative companies in the late 80s (which innovative companies AFAIK have traditionally requested egregious licensing fees) expired just around the time the e-cash boom started. So now we have the implementations built on those ideas popping up, as it is finally feasible, sans the patent fees.

    Since the implementations and the features are now largely non-exlusive, companies have to compete hard on the service; and since there are no licensing fees and no risks now from using _that_ technology, people concentrate resources on the solution instead on risk avoidance and litigation.

    Finally, I can't see how the patent holders have profited from the patent-- noone licensed them then, noone's paying fees now. So, the patents in this case seem to have stopped inovative product development that benefits the society for what -- a decade?

    I bet enough research into the way patents are used will show it results only in preventing competition and raising the price of the service, countering the intent of the patent in the first place.
  • by mollymoo (202721) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @11:06PM (#19574299) Journal

    Those are the "worthless" design patents. What most of us think of as a "patent" is an "idea patent" -- like "waterbeds" or "tapping a card", "one-click" or "how to make a cheap OLED."

    There is no such thing as an "idea patent". There is such a thing as an "invention patent". You can't patent an idea. You can patent an implementation of an idea. Amazon's one-click patent doesn't patent the idea of one-click shopping. It patents the only practical implementation of one-click shopping, which isn't strictly the same thing. I could patent a hugely cumbersome version of one-click and license it, but nobody would buy a license, because it would be hugely cumbersome to implement (as in hamsters carrying postcards cumbersome). The problem with US patents at the moment is that patents like one-click, where the implementation is obvious to anyone skilled in the art, are granted and those patents do amount to patents on ideas because no other practical implementation is possible. Something like the limited slip differential is a better example of how patents should work - there are several different LSD designs which work, so if you didn't want to pay the cash to use a Torsen diff, you had other options to achieve a similar result. Money was made from the Torsen LSD patent because it was a good design for an LSD, not because it was the only practical way to make an LSD. One-click is indicative of a broken patent system, it isn't representative of the idea behind patents.

  • by salec (791463) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @04:47AM (#19576149)
    When I read the topic, it was exactly what I thought government should do - step in to give it a push forward. Well, not exactly force cross-licensing, but to cover royalties for a very useful or obstacle patent for everyone who needs it for further progress, if it is essentially important for everybody: i.e. patents that are needed to make environment-friendly mass produced products. I mean, there is similar reason behind that as it is behind spending for national defense or fundamental scientific research: common money for common good. Oh, another thing is: holding a patent without using it or licensing it to others who use it, should greatly shorten the protection period to prevent "anti-patents" (when you patent something for the sole purpose of forbidding anyone from making it).

UNIX was not designed to stop you from doing stupid things, because that would also stop you from doing clever things. -- Doug Gwyn