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Ask Slashdot: Reducing Software Patent Life-Spans? 274

Posted by timothy
from the getting-rid-of-seems-the-obvious-answer dept.
seattle_coder writes "Many have advocated for the elimination of software patents. The arguments generally are that software patents are handed out too easily, and that they're too difficult and expensive to fight. Some say that patents just plain don't make sense for software, which is such a dynamic technology. Given that the standard patent lifetime is 20 years, and software changes so rapidly, is the life-span the problem for software patents? Would reducing the software patent lifetime to 5 years or even less be the thing to do?"
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Ask Slashdot: Reducing Software Patent Life-Spans?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    No, because the process to get a patent can easily stretch five years. Also that doesn't solve some of the other fundamental problems with software patents, such as software being math.

    • by Odinlake (1057938)

      Would reducing the software patent lifetime to 5 years or even less be the thing to do?

      I think that would solve the problem, say, in the same way that we could stop obesity by poisoning all refined sugars with arsenic.

      Better to just abolish them altogether then.

      I've filed two (fairly insignificant) software patents for my employer. Of course this is one way they fund their research and can afford having smart people (and some others like me) sitting around and coming up with fancy stuff. The process isn't inherently bad (imho). The problem both with patents in general but with software patent

      • Well said. I also have a number of software patents I feel forced into. I avoided them for years, and then a competitor patented a software algorithm I'd invented and used as a trade secret for years. Since then, I probably filed a dozen software patents, though every one reduces a coder's ability to innovate. Feel free to search for "William Cox" and "QuickLogic" for the first few. I have never seen a software inovator create new algorithms because of the draw of patents. I have only seen large compa

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 09, 2011 @06:05PM (#36394864)

    We shouldn't be able to patent software for the same reason we can't patent mathematics. Copyright protection is sufficient and suitable for software.

    • Except when companies like Eharmony get to patent mathematics. Really, a software patent is a mathematics patent, with concrete and potentially meaningful names assigned to the variables. Software is mathematics (CL, Lambda calculus, mu-recursive functions, etc.) dressed up to look prettier and be more human-readable (and perhaps machine readable too). A patent on software, without a specific underlying machine (e.g. like the original software patent from which this entire mess is descended), is a patent
      • by blair1q (305137)

        They didn't patent math. They patented a process for reducing the search set of a large database using a method involving a certain sort of fuzzy pattern matching. The fact that they can model that in math is irrelevant, except that it's the necessary to use that math to describe how it works in a patent application, though it's by no means sufficient to use only math to describe the entire invention.

      • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @07:47PM (#36395682)

        "A patent on software coupled with a specific underlying machine is about as far as patents should be allowed to go, and only because of the modern reality of industrial processes and control equipment."

        That argument was shot down over 100 years ago, in court cases regarding to player piano rolls that controlled machines... the pianos.

        The courts ruled (quite properly) that the "software" -- the rolls that controlled the pianos -- were simply expressions of written music, and therefore the appropriate law for protecting them was copyright law, not patent law. They reasoned that a written work is a written work, no matter what physical form it may take, and regardless of whether it controlled a machine... a piece of punched paper telling a machine what to play did not fundamentally differ from a printed piece of paper telling a human musician what to play. It was exactly the same music, only the physical form had changed.

        Recent years have brought nothing new to the table. There is no real difference between a piece of software (which is ultimately written by human beings) telling a computer what to do, than an English translation of the software telling a bunch of people with pencils and paper what to do. The only real difference is speed... nothing fundamental has changed at all.

        • The real argument against software patents is that they provide nothing of value. The purpose of a patent (in theory) is to encourage disclosure, so that other people can implement the same idea without having to reinvent it independently. When was the last time you heard of a software developer wanting a solution to a problem and doing a patent search? Developers at big companies are explicitly told not to do this, because it increases the company's liability if they are caught infringing a patent.

          Do

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          A programmable general purpose computer is a very different thing from a piano, and a piece of software is a very different thing from a piano roll, or for that matter, a MIDI file.

          I don't disagree that software patents are ridiculous, but this ain't the reason.

        • There is no real difference between a piece of software (which is ultimately written by human beings) telling a computer what to do, than an English translation of the software telling a bunch of people with pencils and paper what to do. The only real difference is speed... nothing fundamental has changed at all.

          That's entirely true, and it would be relevant if people were patenting just the software. But they're not - they patent various electronic components including processors and memory performing the steps of the software. There's a huge difference between that and a bunch of people with pencils and paper - no electronic processors in the latter. See In re Warmerdam - a patentable machine is patentable, even if performing unpatentable subject matter such as math.

          And before you say that that difference is obv

      • Any design is math Yes code is at least 1 step closer but a design for a really sweat engine can be just as well represented with '1's and '0's
    • I have a possibly naive question. When a company starts investing in hardcore R&D in computer science, they do it with some level of confidence that by the end of the research, they will get some patent-able results that they can use freely, and at the same time prevent other companies from outright copying them without the need for the huge initial investment.

      Basically, in such a situation, you get copy-cat trolls instead of patent trolls. How would you propose to solve this problem, if patents are el

      • by 1u3hr (530656)

        prevent other companies from outright copying them without the need for the huge initial investment....ls. How would you propose to solve this problem, if patents are eliminated all together?

        Because copyright still exists, so they can't "outright copy" your code. They have to reimplement it. And that's what uses the great amount of manhours needed to create working applications.

        • Copying your code does not apply for closed source applications anyway, my question has has more to do with the working algorithms that you put money and man-hours into. These are rarely used directly in your final application. Without patents, there is little incentive to put money into research, why not just wait for someone else to build and test a working prototype of an algorithm, and then implement it for your own application. You would be saving a lot of money this way. In case, you manage to produce

          • by 1u3hr (530656)

            You would be saving a lot of money this way. In case, you manage to produce a shinier product with the same algorithm, you are going to make more money.

            Tough for the inventor, good for the market.

            It takes a lot of work to make a "shinier product". You can keep polishing your product and building market share and reputation and stay ahead. In any case, if a big company wants to copy your idea, they'll just do it and you have to try to prove they used your patented method. Can take a decade and cost millions.

          • by Chirs (87576)

            In many pieces of software the algorithms are obvious and straightforward, it's just tedius to implement them and make them interface vwith the rest of the system. I would say it's actually rare that the algorithms are particularly innovative.

      • by dgatwood (11270)

        Basically, in such a situation, you get copy-cat trolls instead of patent trolls. How would you propose to solve this problem, if patents are eliminated all together?

        You seem to be under the mistaken notion that this is something that someone needs to protect against.

        Writing good software is not trivial. If somebody can knock off your "invention" in six weeks of coding, then your "invention" can't possibly be sufficiently non-obvious or non-trivial to be worthy of patent protection anyway. And if it take

      • Companies do research because there is a problem (with a market) that needs solved. You never research purely with the goal of a patent. A patent w/o a product to apply it to is useless to a legitimate company.

        You don't require patents. Other factors such as better implementation and first to market are huge bonuses for whoever invents a technology (software or not). Copiers will always be one step behind you.

        The other thing with software patents is that the provide poor notice of what they actually cov

    • by blair1q (305137)

      You can't patent math, but you can patent a process that applies it.

      In other words, if you come up with a theorem, you can't prevent me from coming up with a new theorem that uses or requires your theorem.

      But you can patent any new process for converting matter or data into other matter or data that depends on the truth of that theorem. If my theorem includes your theorem (rather than just requiring it to be true to prove mine is true), then I would owe you royalties because any process derived from my the

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CastrTroy (595695)
      I have no problem with software patents so long as they want to divulge full source code as part of the patent, so that we don't have to redo their discovery when the patent expires. It's seems a little odd that they can get a patent, and then not release the source code in order to make the patent useful. There is no reason that the same piece of source code should get patent, copyright, and trade secret protections.
    • No, it's not. De-compiling to source then re-compiling using a different compiler will result in different (machine) code, the copyright won't match. The only way to protect software is with short term patents, and that patent needs to include both source code and the algorithm- or sufficient info to allow it to be implemented. Some people suggest software isn't deserving of protection, but if you just spent 5 years full time building a mission critical embedded RTOS for a commodity router you'd want to
      • by Dwonis (52652) *

        No, it's not. De-compiling to source then re-compiling using a different compiler will result in different (machine) code, the copyright won't match. The only way to protect software is with short term patents...

        It doesn't work that way. As it turns out, judges are not stupid. Copyright law already applies to translations of a work, and for software, there's the abstraction-filtration-comparison test [wikipedia.org].

        if you just spent 5 years full time building a mission critical embedded RTOS for a commodity router you'd want to be paid for it.

        In my experience, if you're building anything of value, you have customers and/or investors lined up while you're building it. Patents really don't make much of a difference.

    • by Odinlake (1057938)

      We shouldn't be able to patent software for the same reason we can't patent mathematics. Copyright protection is sufficient and suitable for software.

      That's oversimplifying. A piece of software can be seen as a component of a physical machine - which it in fact is whenever it would be used in practice (electrons arranged so-and-so in transistors etc.). There is no clear boundary between software and hardware because pretty much any interesting piece of hardware you look at today has some amount of software built in to it.

      • by robbak (775424)

        Yes there is. If you can knock on it, it's hardware, and can be patented. If you can't, it's software, and you can copyright it. Why is this hard?

        "It can be seen" = we'll try to twist this until the fact becomes hidden. "It can be seen" != "is true".

        • by Odinlake (1057938)

          Yes there is. If you can knock on it, it's hardware, and can be patented. If you can't, it's software, and you can copyright it. Why is this hard?

          "It can be seen" = we'll try to twist this until the fact becomes hidden. "It can be seen" != "is true".

          Because I can formulated my bubble-sort patent like so: "A machine, that you can knock on, that represents integers as [10 pages to explain] and sorts them by doing [10 more pages to explain]". As soon as you program your computer to do bubble sort it becomes exactly the machine I just described, and you are infringing on my patent.

    • by bunratty (545641)
      Patents are granted for ideas. You can have an idea for building a machine or an idea for building a program. Those ideas can be patented. If you implement the idea in software, that particular implementation is copyrightable. Patents and copyrights apply to different things, You're playing a semantic game by calling a program software and also an algorithm software, and trying to claim copyrights and patents apply to both.
    • by westlake (615356)

      We shouldn't be able to patent software for the same reason we can't patent mathematics. Copyright protection is sufficient and suitable for software.

      I am tempted to think that software is more than math, it is math and logic applied to a particular problem in the real world --- where the sucess or failure of your solution isn't defined by mathematical or logical rules.

      But by how much it will cost to mplement. How quickly it can be brought to market. The pupose will it serve.

      These aren't the kind of questions that define a man as a mathematician --- but they most certainly are the questions that define a man as an inventor.

      Copyright gives an writer a

    • by retchdog (1319261)

      this is in much the same sense, that any physical device is "math" because it obeys the laws of physics.

      yes, you can say that the mathematical description of the physical device only approximates the real device. however, i analogously would dare you to fix a non-trivial encoding system & compute the Church-numbers for some meaningful programs... you can start with emacs and vi. :)

      i'm against software patents (see sig), but this argument, although formally true in some sense, is just silly; no software

  • by Lead Butthead (321013) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @06:06PM (#36394870) Journal

    the one that's holding all the cards isn't going to ask for a new hand. the broken patent system serves the interests of large corporations, and they'll fight tooth and nail against any changes that is against their interest. in summary - dream on.

  • Would reducing the software patent lifetime to 5 years or even less be the thing to do?

    Sometimes the patent has to be filed during development, not when the product is being released. So that proposed five year time frame could include a couple of years of development. Perhaps five is too short, or perhaps that five years begins with product release. Maybe eight years from filing or five years from product launch, whichever occurs first?

    • The individual product still gets copyright protection forever so the loss of patent only means that they can't exclude *everyone* from competing with their own products using their own code written from scratch.

      Patents are a terrible fit for software and should never have been applied to it in the first place. Copyright provides plenty of protection.

  • NO PATENTS (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 (1322357)

    No patents for software, period. Copyright protection is the only proper protection for software. I cannot compromise on that position. And, yes, copyright protections should be limited for software, as well. There is really almost nothing in the world today more than 15 years old which NEEDS protecting! It's so obsolete that no one wants to use it. It should be publicly available, and in the public domain, for student's use, more than anything.

    • I agree 100%. That's what the courts ruled in the past, and only recently has that changed. And just look at what a mess those changes have made.
    • by gronofer (838299)
      I'd like to see no patents, period. The situation isn't any better in other fields.
  • by cultiv8 (1660093) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @06:10PM (#36394918) Homepage

    is the life-span the problem for software patents?

    No, the problem is that software is an algorithm and shouldn't be subject to patent law anyways. It's like trying to patent a mathematical formula.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      Software isn't an algorithm. It's a device for controlling a computer.

    • No, you can't patent a mathematical formula, but it should be "ethical" to patent an implementation of a mathematical formula (=algorithm) for a specific application. Why the hell would someone spend years of research creating an algorithm if it is going to be easy to implement it a week after his/her labor and associated costs?

      Oh, and there is a world of difference between software and algorithm.

  • by telchine (719345) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @06:11PM (#36394930)

    I dunno about patents so much. I think used properly they are useful. Unfortunately they are more often used to stifle innovation than they are to encourage it like they were intended to do!

    My main worry is copyright. I think copyright law needs dramatic alteration! To me a Rudyard Kipling work that has been out-of-copyright for some time and bastardized by Disney to create "The Jungle Book" is more worthy of protection that a 20 year old computer game like "Tai-Chi Tortoise"

    The first has a great deal of artistic merit, and will be recided in its original form for hundreds of years. The second will be in copyright for many years, despite the fact it has slipped from memory already!

    There should be some distinction between a work that has potential monetary worth 75 years after its creation, and something that has no worth 5 years after creation.

    • There should be some distinction between a work that has potential monetary worth 75 years after its creation, and something that has no worth 5 years after creation.

      Not only no, but Hell No!

      If you create *any* sort of differentiation, then it will be exploited so that the big corporations' work gets the max protection, and stuff by little guys gets the minimum, regardless of any artistic merit or monetary value. It won't start out that way, of course, but over time corporations *will* find a way to corrupt the system for their benefit.

      Copyright would be just fine if the term was limited to something sane. After all, it exists for the sole purpose of encouraging the c

      • The sole determinant for whether a work should be in copyright is whether it will benefit the original creator for it to remain in copyright.

        Not only no, but Hell No!

        The issue is whether it will benefit the public for it to remain in copyright. Copyright exists for the sole purpose of serving the public interest, by promoting the progress of science. It does this in two ways: First, by encouraging the creation and publication of the greatest number of works which otherwise would not have been created and published; Second, by limiting the scope and duration of copyright as much as possible.

        It doesn't really matter what authors want, except insof

        • by Endo13 (1000782)

          Wish I could mod you up. So many people just don't realize what the reason for copyright is any more. It was never intended to generate monetary wealth. It was intended to generate cultural wealth by providing monetary incentive.

          • Thanks.

            It was never intended to generate monetary wealth. It was intended to generate cultural wealth by providing monetary incentive.

            Not even that; it's intended to generate cultural wealth for all by providing a possibility of a monetary incentive. The genius of copyright is that whether a particular copyright has actual economic value depends on the author, the publisher, and the receptiveness of the public. Most works, frankly, are economic flops. But so long as authors who otherwise would not create and publish works are drawn to do so by the chance that they could exploit their copyright for money, things keep rolling along.

            R

        • I'd say that the number one reform we need is to stop automatically granting copyrights; we need to require registrations and impose some strict formalities. A system of short overall terms comprised of even shorter initial and renewal terms would probably be number two, and a broad exception for non-commercial infringement by natural persons would probably be number three.

          That's precisely what needs to be done. I'd mod you up if I could.

        • by Rakishi (759894) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @10:07PM (#36396448)

          No, it would take more than that. In fact, I'd say that the number one reform we need is to stop automatically granting copyrights; we need to require registrations and impose some strict formalities. A system of short overall terms comprised of even shorter initial and renewal terms would probably be number two, and a broad exception for non-commercial infringement by natural persons would probably be number three.

          Congratulations, you're just killed 90% of open source software. And 90% of works created by individual artists and 90% of works put online by individuals.

          Those are all entities who cannot afford to copyright all their works. It's simply not economically feasible especially if they create many small works. Nonetheless they benefit from having copyright protection as it prevents excessive outright copying.

          Large corporations, who are the real source of problems, would simply pay the to them trivial fees for copyright and get on with their day. Trolls would probably also copyright the works of others, who didn't have the money to do it themselves, and then sue those who use them. That would be a fun lawsuit to see.

          • ongratulations, you're just killed 90% of open source software. And 90% of works created by individual artists and 90% of works put online by individuals.

            Those are all entities who cannot afford to copyright all their works.

            You seem to think that copyright is necessary for most authors, but this is not the case. There are many incentives for an author to create and publish a work: art for art's sake, fame, non-copyright related revenue (e.g. an original Picasso is worth a lot because of its provenance; an effectively identical copy by John Smith, not so much), commissions, etc. Copyright is an incentive, but hardly the only one, and in many cases probably not the most important one.

            Authors who don't care about copyright -- whi

            • by Rakishi (759894)

              Your counter-arguments boil down to "it's this way because I say so." You provide no studies, research or numbers to back up your claims. You make grand claims with nothing of substance to back them. Disjointed anecdotes and rhetoric. I've long ago learned not to trust anecdotes or random guesses at how many people are X.

              Of course, my post was no better but then again I'm not writing two page posts or making that many grand claims.. Seriously, even online I generally expect people who are as into something

    • by robbak (775424) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @08:42PM (#36396012) Homepage

      There should be some distinction between a work that has potential monetary worth 75 years after its creation, and something that has no worth 5 years after creation.

      I have a different opinion. Any work that still has relevance 20 years after it's release has become an important piece of cultural property that _desperately_ needs to be in the public domain, and the property of all.

    • I strongly disagree with you. Framing the copyright issue only from an economic stand-point is what got us in this mess, and to be sure that's not what the creators of copyright intended. To understand how wrong your definition is, consider this: should published artistic works that will always have monetary value (such as Homer, Shakespeare and Kipling) always remain in copyright because there will always be people who'd spend money to acquire them? Or, should those works eventually enter the "commons" whe

    • by wrook (134116)

      But why should either of them have protection? Rudyard Kipling is long dead. It's unlikely either of his daughters are still alive as they would be over 115 years old. A copyright "protecting" this work would not be owned by anyone even remotely connected with its creation. It would simply be a money making instrument for anyone lucky enough to be in possession of it. Why should a person or organisation who had nothing to do with the creation of a work collect money for doing absolutely nothing?

      The arg

  • Not a great solution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cjonslashdot (904508) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @06:11PM (#36394936)

    Yes, the lifespan of patents is a big problem.

    But in software, things change so rapidly that patent protection for even five years is an eternity: by then, it is game over.

    The fundamental problem with software patents is that companies patent simple ideas. The Amazon one-click purchase patent is a prime example. These kinds of ideas should be considered "obvious" by the USPTO, but unfortunately these kinds of things are routinely patented. The result is that there is a minefield of patents around every simple idea, every basic thing that one can do in software. Anyone who wants to create a startup company around a software product is at great risk, and instead of investing their time and energy into product development they now have to invest it in legal research. That is not a very good state of affairs for an industry that thrives on innovation.

    If patents are to be allowed to exist for software, the bar for what is not obvious should be much, much, much higher than it currently seems to be.

    • by stinerman (812158)

      The Amazon one-click purchase patent is a prime example.

      I see what you did there.

    • by dachshund (300733)

      The fundamental problem with software patents is that companies patent simple ideas. The Amazon one-click purchase patent is a prime example. These kinds of ideas should be considered "obvious".

      That's correct. Also, there's the fact that old software concepts can be re-patented simply by applying them to a new business area: so, the first person to patent shoe-tying in the context of an e-commerce application gets a monopoly on the idea for twenty years.

      I would note that this doesn't seem to occur in the f

  • Would reducing the software patent lifetime to 5 years or even less be the thing to do?

    No. Don't accept a compromise, it'll only look like you're trying to change the deal if you get it and then try to go further. If you oppose software patents, then oppose them.

  • Just stop granting random patents because the people who decide on 'em can't understand what's written in a paper.
    Let real tech people judge and - eventually - grant a *limited* patent, but stop giving away things because people can't read a proposal..

  • The problems (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @06:16PM (#36395008) Homepage

    Making them 3 years would solve many many problems.

    But, the TRIPS agreement says patents have to last 20 years.

    However, the TRIPS agreement doesn't say that software has to be patentable. So countries could declare that software isn't patentable, and then create some new legal thingy called "petents", and say that petents last 3 years and that software innovations can be petented.

    This would be hard work because some countries (USA for example) push the idea that TRIPS requires software patents.

    http://en.swpat.org/wiki/TRIPS [swpat.org]

    Really, shortening the duration would be as much work, and there's always the risk that the monopolists will find some other nasty clause to stick in to make 3-year petents really harmful.

    Let's just go for abolition. It will take time, but it's the only practical solution.

    http://en.swpat.org/wiki/Why_abolish_software_patents [swpat.org]

    • Mod this up. We don't have the flexibility to alter our domestic law in this manner any more. But, as parent suggests, we could implement some kind of utility model system, aka "petty patents" that are shorter. Whether we can do it and grant them within a reasonable time is a different question...
      • We don't have the flexibility to alter our domestic law in this manner any more.

        Sure we do. We can withdraw from TRIPS, Berne, etc. at any time. No one is forcing us to remain in these agreements. We just need the political power to get the country doing what is in the best interests of its people, rather than a privileged few.

        • by langelgjm (860756)

          Well, Berne Convention (and Paris Convention) compliance are required by TRIPs, so denouncing either one would involve violating or denouncing TRIPs - and as TRIPs is a crucial part of WTO membership, we would probably also have to leave the WTO, or face enormous retaliatory trade sanctions for non-compliance. None of that is going to happen, and in reality leaving tho WTO is probably not in the best interests of the country.

  • by jopet (538074) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @06:17PM (#36395012) Journal

    Anyone who has ever programmed just a little knows that programmers invent algorithms every day and reuse somebody else's algorithm every minute. It is just a greed-fuelled idiocy to patent random bits of what programmers invent as part of their work. It is like patenting a mathematical proof or a law of physics.
    Then there is another matter: when are two algorithms identical? When the code is exactly the same, including the naming of variables? No matter the variable naming? When they generate the same machine code on some machine? When they compute the same results (but this is undecidable formally)?

    Software patents are a stupidity to make lawyers richer and to make the life of developers more miserable.

    • To me this is the most important reason why patents are evil. Unlike copyrights which prevent making an exact copy of someone else's work and passing it off as your own, the patents are a form of thought censorship.

      A patent censors my right to think and act freely on my own thoughts, because someone else who I never met paid the government to get the exclusive rights on certain ideas. Worse, I don't even know if an idea I have is patented until I get sued out of nowhere long after I've moved on and develo

  • Make software patents shorter-term - six months to three years should be about right.

    Now, obviously, companies are going to start filing their software under non-software patents. But it's far easier to argue "this patent was misfiled, it should be a software patent (and thus expired two years ago)" than it is to argue "this patent is completely invalid and should never have been allowed". Remember, the people deciding these cases are bureaucrats - misfiled forms are something they can handle; the system
  • by dwandy (907337) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @06:28PM (#36395112) Homepage Journal
    There's numerous reasons why patents on software are invalid. The most difficult to understand for a non-technical person might be that it can be reduced to math, which is already not patentable; so be allowing patents on software you are allowing patents on math. And demonstrating this in court for any scenario could be somewhat difficult.
    But the simpler answer (from the start) should have been that you are not supposed to be able to patent an idea; you must patent an invention (implementation). In software it's either source code (covered by copyright) or it's an idea (not patentable).
    The simple question from the patent examiner or judge for a software patent is a request to see the implementation. Since there's no implementation in "a way to navigate the web using a touch interface" it should get tossed. On the other hand, the specific implementation could (I suppose) be patented, but since the implementation is already covered by copyright, why bother with the (inferior) patent...?
  • by sstamps (39313) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @06:31PM (#36395150) Homepage

    ..is NOT to reward someone who invested nothing other than a few neuronal sparks coming up with an idea, but to reward someone who risked a significant investment in time, money, and materials to be able to recoup that investment plus make a profit in exchange for sharing the fruits of that investment with everyone.

    The VAST majority of software and business-method related patents are nothing that someone competent with ordinary skill in the field could not come up with as a common-sense solution to a specific problem, WITHOUT said investment OR risk.

    That said, the problem is that bringing the original intent of patents back into the system is not in the best interests of those who decide who gets elected (it isn't the voters, natch) and, thus, will not happen without a revolution of some kind which circumvents their control.

    Even civil disobedience won't get us very far because, ultimately, most people could care less that they are controlled like sheep, and believe that their masters are the "good guys" and can "do no wrong". As a result, get used to it until the system explodes and has to be replaced by something else, hopefully better, but such is not guaranteed. It is the time-honored tradition of the human race since time immemorial to let the decay of civilization outrun our ability to contain or mitigate it, to ultimately consume and destroy us.

    I just wish it would hurry the hell up so we can start anew.

    • to reward someone who risked a significant investment in time, money, and materials to be able to recoup that investment plus make a profit in exchange for sharing the fruits of that investment with everyone.

      Not quite. The point of a patent is to encourage inventors to invent, disclose the workings of, and bring to market, the most useful, novel, nonobvious inventions which otherwise would not have been invented, disclosed, or brought to market, all for the least cost to the public by limiting the scope and duration of a monopoly.

      Whether the inventor actually risked anything, or whether the reward is adequate to recoup investment is really irrelevant. We just want the most inventions for the least cost to the p

  • Instead of looking at this with that same crappy "algorithms and software are math" (apologies, but it hasn't worked before, and it certainly won't now (unless we maaaaybe reduce EVERYTHING to 100% pure mathematics)) view, let's start looking for new ways of explaining it to the masses - they don't get it. The fault is not entirely their own cause of their ignorance, we haven't properly educated them. What do you do when people don't get the idea in political situations?

    Protest.
    Civil Disobedience.
    Lobbying.

    I

  • by copponex (13876) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @06:34PM (#36395182) Homepage

    The real issue is that patenting has moved from protecting the method of solving a problem into solving a particular problem.

    For instance, I cannot patent mowing a lawn. I can patent a lawn mowing machine, even one that exactly copies the pattern created by another lawn mower that also runs on gas and uses a rotary blade to do it. As long as my lawn mowing machine is different enough to merit the patent, I think it's fair so someone doesn't come along and copy my machine.

    Now people are patenting ideas. So when Amazon patents "one click shopping" and I write open source software with different libraries to complete the same task, they claim patent infringement, which is nonsense. They should be able to patent a particular method, which is really just their code, not an end result. Even then it's redundant, as it's already protected by copyright.

    Large corporations do not want patent law sane, because it's their multi-million dollar playground, and they can crush innovation and startups by simply filing a few law suits. The first nation with decent infrastructure to fix their system or abandon it will lead the way into the 21st century.

    tl;dr: The ability to patent end results instead of particular methods is why the current patent system is a failure.

  • If software is unlikely to be relevant after 20 years, then what is the danger of a 20 year patent?
    • It's not the current software's value that is the problem but the use of patents to block new developments even in unrelated area's not even thought about by the patent holder.

      Software patents are an intellectual tar pit. Luckily there are large area's of the world where software patents are invalid so innovation can continue sadly american software engineers are now bogged down in a legal quagmire which in the long term will contribute to making america a backwater instead of a leader in technology.

  • by TheSync (5291) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @06:52PM (#36395316) Journal

    (speaking for myself), I feel that the biggest problem is when a collection of intellectual property is bundled into a standard (such as H.264), but despite the valiant efforts of standards development organizations to require their participants to document their participant's intellectual property in a standard, you can't really ensure that "submarine patents" by non-participants are not accidently infringed upon, and frankly even the SDOs don't have any real police power over participants that either on purpose or accidently don't disclose IP.

    I feel that some organization (perhaps ANSI, or just the PTO) should be responsible for designating the most valuable standards (such as "national standards") for "mandatory IP declaration". This would start a process where within a set time (1-2 years), all intellectual property owners would have to "put up or shut up", i.e. declare that their intellectual property is covered by the national standard. If they don't declare during the limited time period, they forfeit their right to sue for infringement on implementation of the national standard.

    Real businesses do not generally have a problem licensing known intellectual property protected by patent. It is the unknown that is the bigger risk, and makes adoptions of new standards slower (I've personally seen this at a previous position).

  • You do realize it takes at least 5 years just to get something patented?
    So by the time your thing is patented, and you've paid up to $100,000 to do so worldwide, it's not worth anything anymore?

    Nice.

  • It would likely be a big improvement, but it doesn't mean that it fixes the problem. Also, doing so would almost certainly involve clearly legitimizing software patents.
  • by metalmaster (1005171) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @07:13PM (#36395462)
    People need to start patenting dumb software ideas; not just the great ones.

    How many $obnoxious_sound or $picOfTheDay apps do we really need? Some dumb schmuck needs to claim those ideas and put a limit on entrants to that cesspool.
  • by woboyle (1044168) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @07:23PM (#36395538)
    Generally, I am against software patents, however I do believe that there are some software innovations that should be patentable. My feeling is that they should be held to much higher standards of innovation, non-obviousness, and utility than current software patents are. I say this as the holder of a software patent related to adaptive systems that allows compiled applications to alter the structure and behavior of application classes at run time without writing code or recompiling the application source code. I honestly believe that the innovations I invented (and are in use by most semiconductor and similar high-tech manufacturing enterprises to enable them to tailor off-the-shelf manufacturing software to their particular enterprise without writing and integrating new code) meet the same standards required of physical devices and such. That said, most of the software patents I have read about, or studied in detail, are totally bogus and should have been laughed out of the Patent and Trademark Office. Period of time for software patents? 10 years max in my opinion. 20 years is absurd. As stated elsewhere in these comments, software innovations occur too rapidly to lock up some concept for that much time.
  • Let's pick a nice, round number to reduce it to. Zero is a nice, round number.

    Reducing the term to anything more is just putting a band-aid on a festering boil. Until the USPTO gets far more selective about what is considered patentable, and the courts get far more selective about what is considered infringement, there's no empirical way to tell whether software patents could have any value at all. As it is, they are clearly of negative value.

  • The biggest problem with software patents isn't the software part -- it's the patent part.

    We need to seriously examine our idea of what is patentworthy and what fails the "obviousness" test. Lots of things are patented which really, really should not be patented. For instance, I have a digital SLR made by Olympus. Olympus uses a unique sensor size (a little smaller than Canon and Nikon), has decided their standard distance from that sensor to the back of the lens mount, and has built a bunch of lenses tailo

  • I had a meeting once to develop someones patent (they had been granted the patent already). I spent the whole time confused until I realized that they had developed none of the technology they had patented, wanted me to write a demonstration demo - a look and feel front end that didn't actually do anything under the hood but demonstrated the idea. I told them they were hiring me to draw a flying car as they had patented "personal transportation vehicle (car) that operates in three dimensions" but hadn't act

  • by Jim Hall (2985) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @10:42PM (#36396580) Homepage

    I am already working for "software" patent reform [blogspot.com]. I live in Minnesota, and this morning I visited with Senator Franken's [senate.gov] office, discussing "software" patent reform. Sen. Franken is also the Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, [senate.gov] so this is a topic he's paying attention to.

    The America Invents Act [wikipedia.org] is already in progress, so the reality is that Congress won't have the appetite to pick up the patent topic again in the next few years. So I'm afraid that the window has closed to get a law to enact "software" patent reform. Temporarily, anyway. This is unfortunate, since AIA doesn't really address any issues related to "software" patents or patent trolls.

    However, it is possible to have a procedural change made with the USPTO. So I'm working that angle now.

    To do that, we need to build popular support, enough voices that the Subcommittee will hear. As cheesy as it sounds, that means we need your help to contact your Senator's office and voice your opinion. Seriously, call their office, write them a letter (handwritten carries the most impact, but typed will do), or visit them in their office. Ask your Senator to push for "software" patent reform. Have some examples of "software" patents handy, and feel free to make a suggestion for how to fix the system. I think the citizen review [blogspot.com] method is a workable option. I've been discussing this topic with Sen. Franken's office for a while now, so if you don't have a particular suggestion to offer, ask your Senator to see what Sen. Franken is up to. I'm not kidding, they do listen to that. You can reference Katie Topinka, in Sen. Franken's Minnesota office, as the staffer who's closest to this. I'm working with her on this (and hopefully she won't mind me mentioning her name.)

    If you live in Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Utah, or South Carolina, note that your Senator is already on the Subcommittee for Privacy, Technology and the Law. This is a topic they will listen to.

    The best advice I have heard in politics is that it's your politician's job to listen to you and to take that back to Washington to get it done. I'm lucky that my Senator actually does this. That's why if you don't feel your Senator will listen to you on "software" patent reform, you need to send them to Sen. Franken, because he will work on this. And Senators do talk to one another, even across the aisle.

    • Seriously. It's all very well for us to write letters. But we're busy trying to feed our families and keep our heads above water in this difficult economy, and cannot spare much time for that sort of thing, particularly when it is so likely to be wasted effort. If I'm going to take the time to write something, I prefer it to be available to a large audience, not an audience of 1 who may well be bought. As Lessig complained, our system is unable to reach the obvious conclusion that intellectual property

  • The problem is the breadth of the patent. "Hey dude your code does something kinda similar but not really but hey I to have a variable called "counter" so you violated my patent and now I will send my army of 100 million dollar lawyers at you and you cant afford to do anything so you LOOZE"
  • development costs are a small fraction of the profits involved, and the 'manufacturing' costs are small to nil. Lets not forget what patents are for: encouraging invention. We don't need to encourage people to write software. It's so profitable they'd do it anyway. Hell, millions do it for free. We need to encourage people to make drugs and machines et al because the investment costs are much higher. I'm writing software right now, and I'm doing it with the same tools and resources as the big guys (well, no
  • The length of the term is one of the problems, but at a practical level I would be more concerned about:

    - Patents that were not obvious when they were invented because they depend on infrastructure that didn't exist them (eg. ubiquitous Internet access, smartphones, fast processors, cheap storage etc.) so would have been useless, but are obvious and useful now.

    - Patents to solve a problem that the holder of the patent created, in order to protect a particular file format, protocol or suchlike. Microsoft's p

  • make it an infinitesimal short periode!
  • More in this paper [ssrn.com].

    Employing PatentSim, a multi-user interactive simulation of patent and non- patent (commons and open source) systems, this study compares rates of innovation, productivity, and societal utility. PatentSim uses an abstracted and cumulative model of the invention process, a database of potential innovations, an interactive interface that allows users to invent, patent, or open source these innovations, and a network over which users may interact with one another to license, assign, buy, infringe, and enforce patents.
    Data generated thus far using PatentSim suggest that a system combining patent and open source protection for inventions (that is, similar to modern patent systems) generates significantly lower rates of innovation (p<0.05), productivity (p<0.001), and societal utility (p<0.002) than does a commons system. These results are inconsistent with the orthodox justification for patent systems. However, they do accord well with evidence from the increasingly important field of user and open innovation.

  • House or Senate?

    Because if you're not in Congress, and I'm not in Congress, and neither of us can afford to buy a Representative or Senator, why are we fantasizing that our opinions matter?

  • As an example, 5 years ago the iPhone did not even exist on the market. Today it is 4 generations ahead of the original, the OS 5 generations, and phones of the original's caliber are considered extremely outdated and nearly useless (no 3rd party apps, slow CPU, 2G, etc) to the point that you can pick them up on eBay for $50 when they used to sell for $400.

    Unless the lifespan is cut to something reasonable like 12 months, then software patents have no place. The whole point of patents is supposed to be to

  • What would you call cutting the heads off the French aristocrats?
    A good start!

    So it is also with patents (and not just software patents). After reading about patent lawsuits for years I have come to the conclusion that the whole patent system should go. I doesn't serve the interest of the majority of the human race. Barring that, shortening the life span of a portion would be a tiny hen step in the right direction.

The reason that every major university maintains a department of mathematics is that it's cheaper than institutionalizing all those people.

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