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Patent Attempt on some forms of Dynamic Web Posting 143

Posted by Hemos
from the copyright-if-you-have-to-puhleez dept.
Scott Ainsworth writes "ZDNet has a new story on a company patenting distributed processing. This time it is about distributing the generation of Dynamic Web pages accross multiple servers. The story is here. " The company apparently says that they hold the patent on many of the load-balancing technqiues that companies use on the Web. *sigh*
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Patent Attempt on some forms of Dynamic Web Posting

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I've read through the patent description - seems pretty pitiful to me! I've got some problems with:
    1) It claims that Web Servers cannot process multiple requests at the same time because they only have one CPU...hmm...
    2) Their diagram shows the 'Page Server' with a shared page cache, but the documentation discusses balancing load based on whether a page server has it in ITS cach. Shouldn't the patent have been rejected for false supporting information?
    3) The patent discusses various 'embodiments' of the patented technology - it does not restrict it to these embodiments. So, if you take the worst-case scenario, the patent says that a system where you have a web server route requests to other 'page servers' which happen to be processes (or even threads?) on the same machine, and they create the response dynamically - you're probably infringing on the patent.

    I wonder how many dynamic web servers existed in 1996? Wasn't IIS 1.0 with its IDC/HTX around back then? Isn't this almost the same as a CGI program which is referenced in the patent's description?
    I wonder if they'll actually have the balls to take anyone to court, or if they'll just intimidate small software developers or try to squeeze $$ from the big guys...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I am a programmer. I speak english, french, C, Java, and machine code. I have freedom of conciousness, which allows me to conceive of any algorithm, and freedom of speach, which allows me to express these algorithms verbally and in writing. Sometimes I say them in english, other times I write them in C. I cannot be stopped from spreading my knowledge and ideas that I have developed myself. This is my inalienable right that no government, no corporation, no other can revoke. Try, and whereas yesterday that idea was clenched tight in my fist, today it will be everywhere on the Internet.

    Mark Collette
    mgcollet@acs.ucalgary.ca
  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's Microsoft's ClearType thingy (in honor of this thread I won't say "technology" :-). The idea actually is novel, although when it came up on /. the question was whether it's novel now or when Steve and Steve did something that's at least a little similar with the Apple II. The idea was that using only specific elements of a pixel would make certain displays easier to read - Microsoft was focusing on text display on laptop screens).

    You can read three Slashdot threads on the topic here [slashdot.org], here [slashdot.org], and here [slashdot.org].

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Companies interested in more information about the InfoSpinner patent should contact Brad Carl, vice
    president and general counsel for InfoSpinner, at 972-479-0135.

    ...and...

    Elizabeth Walker
    InfoSpinner, Inc.
    972-479-0135
    lizw@infospinner.com
  • It was about 2-3 years ago and somebody called our ISP to signup for an account. We asked him if he wanted a dial-up PPP or SLIP account, he immediately asked us what PPP was, we told him and he was furious. You see, this guy owned the trademark for PPP and during the phone conversation was threatening us to cease and desist using PPP without permission. His trademark represented each initial in his name, some sort of family tradition. At first he thought just our company was using the acronym, then when he realized that it was used across the computing industry as a whole he became more irate...

    He went on for weeks about how he was not going to permit the Internet to use his trademarked name and we all got a good chuckle over the whole thing...

    Bottom line? Watch your mouth and only use bland and generic words to describe the world around you ;)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    See my essay, written almost 5 years ago, on how the US patent system is totally out of control, and why software patents should be banned entirely: http://people.qualcomm.com/karn/patent s/patents.html [qualcomm.com]

    Basically, the patent system works far better in theory than in practice. For every abstract argument you can make about the need to spur innovation, I can give you a dozen horror stories from real life about how it has destroyed businesses, careers and products and denied the public the benefits of competition and innovation. I have personally been involved in the defense of a very high stakes patent dispute, and I can assure you that it is even more expensive, messy, arbitrary, unfair, emotionally draining and wasteful of talent and resources than you can possibly imagine if you haven't been through this experience.

    Even the patent attorneys I know concede, in their unguarded moments, that the system is almost totally broken. Why does it continue to exist? Some of it is simple governmental intertia. But the people with the most influence over the policy are the patent lawyers, and they always win whenever a patent is litigated, no matter what the outcome. The going rate for reasonably experienced patent attorneys working on a litigated case is $400/hour, and you may have several dozen working off and on over the space of a few years on a major case.

    Nor do the patent lawyers have a monopoly on greed. There are countless individuals who, mindless of the historical experience to the contrary and heedless of the general damage to society, see the patent system as an easy get-rich-quick scheme. It's the same mentality that keeps casinos and state lotteries in business. At least I have the choice of not playing the lottery or patronizing a casino; I don't have that option with the patent system.

    The whole thing is so sickening and depressing that it almost makes me want to give up engineering.

    Phil Karn [mailto]

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Perhaps we should create a list of companies that have filed questionable patents with the intent of boycotting them. I can't think of any other form of protest that would work or be generally free (i.e. hiring lawyers to fight these companies would be expensive). If companies learned that technology managers boycotted companies filing questionable patents it could have an effect. Along with the whole open source credo/ideal I personally don't want to support companies that seriously try to infringe on others people's ability to do basic tasks. Things like patenting style sheets, the whole idea of selling data online, etc.
  • Im going to patent networking. if you have two computers connected or sharing data in any way (even sneakernet) you owe me money.
    send your checks to nlucent@mindspring.com

    =)
  • I'm not a patent lawyer by any stretch of the imagination, but after reading the entire patent it seems to me that they're patenting having a link from a given web server to a sepearte "page server" which is in effect any database driven web server.

    If this is correct, then if I included something like a reference to http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=99/05/24/042123 3&mode=nested on my personal website, I would be infringing on this patent.

    Fortunately this is unenforceable, I just hope that the companies who have received said nasty latters from said lawyers realize that said company is a fine example of abuse of the said patent system and nothing truly threatening.
  • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Monday May 24, 1999 @10:35AM (#1880912) Homepage Journal
    I suspect (although I have not done the research) that there is quite a bit of prior art for this patent. Unfortunatly digging up configurations for the web servers from 3 years ago may be quite difficult.

    Of course what we really need is a documented channel for challenging patents that are too obvious/trivial.

    I guess this is as good a time as any for the obligatory "Why are they only looking into infringement opportunities now? Certainly they've seen these kind of server setups popping up all over the place for a couple of years now, why did they wait so long? It must be the money."
  • The Internet is safe. Trademarks are limited in scope. First of all, you can have the same trademark as somebody else, provided you aren't in the same business (example: Delta Airlines vs. Delta Faucets). Second, the trademark must be used in commercial activity. TCP/IP's use of PPP probably doesn't qualify as commercial. And, if all this fellow did was file a trademark on his initials and didn't actually use them in commerce, then his trademark would be invalidated.


    ...phil
  • And remember... it's just an idea.
    Why not allow patents on ideas?

    The patent holder could carefully word his/her idea and back it up with hard data. The patent holder could not keep anyone from using the idea but if money had been made using the idea then the patent holder would be entitled to a royalty. The royalty period would expire after a certain amount of time had passed.

    The idea is not to halt or impede the free flow of information but to reward those with good ideas! It would also allow scientists and engineers who were especially productive to get quite wealthy too! In turn, rapid advances in technology would result due to the increased incentive. New markets would be created for even higher profits for corporations. Private research would become commonplace.

    Is this idea workable? If it is then I've already gotten my patent application in for it.
  • Posted by jereades:

    ....no more harmful than copyright



    No more harmful than copyrights??? At least patents, according to your post, only last twenty years. Copyright just got extended to seventy-five -- this, presumably, so that Sony Bono could feel like the swill he and Cher produced had some artistic value.

  • Posted by The Masked Miscreant >:):

    I seem to remember reading somewhere that Disney Co. is pushing to have copyrights extended to 125 years now so their prize mouse won't become public domain in 2004 or some such. And it's gaining popularity in congress.
    And I'll bet nobody here can figure out why it's so popular. Big corporations have gained WAY to much pull in our government for our own good.
  • Im getting quite sick of these patents are evil, everything should be free garbage. For the most part (and this means you fellow American) our society could *not* be where it is today without patents and trademarks. They are what helped form and shape our capitalistic society. If you don't like the way its done look at the alternatives... they aren't doing so well.
    You're missing the point. Very few people are saying that the idea of patenting is bad. What is bad is the exceptionally broad patents being granted to companies without concern for years or decades of prior art. If this company got a patent on their specific way of distributing requests, it would be significantly less annoying than the PO giving them a patent covering all ways of doing something. The Patent Office has not been doing a good job of rewarding inventors or even their employers. They've been stifling innovation by granting patents which cover an entire field of work.
  • by adamsc (985) on Monday May 24, 1999 @11:30AM (#1880918) Homepage
    Yes - IBM's networks for the Olympics have been pretty impressive. In particular, that WOMPLEX system does seem like prior-art:
    Although the final product has not yet been named, it is based on a system called WOMPLEX (Web object model-plex), itself based on a high-performance Web server called WOMBeast. The system is specifically designed to allow a Web site supported by multiple servers to determine, based on a surfer's Internet Protocol address, which server can offer the best performance at a given moment and then direct the user to that machine.
    http://www.continuitylc.net/variou s/itranbus.htm [continuitylc.net] contributes:
    The 1996 Olympic Internet applications built by IBM are good examples of this type of massive multi-server environment. The WOMplex built for the Olympics involved over 100 individual computers, across five sites on the globe, acting as a single web server, www.atlanta.olympic.org
  • Remember the copyright continues for close to a century for works produced for hire. If a patent runs out in 18 months, we still can't legally distribute the software.

    That's because software is being patented AND copyrighted. That's just plain screwed up. It's either speech, and therefore copyrightable, or it's an invention/innovation, and therefore patentable. It shouldn't be subject to both. It should be one or the other, or we should come up with a whole new method that doesn't involve patents or copyrights.

  • Sure, copyrights last too long (and they're trying to make them last even longer). Other than that, though, I don't think they are doing that much harm. They are more of an annoyance than a real problem such as patents.

  • Tagline: None, just a repository for code to break patent claims.

  • dillon_rinker said:
    If I were really mean, once I'd done all my R&D for my original wipers, I would start the patent process, and drag it out r-e-a-l s-l-o-w. .... This kind of patent is known as a submarine patent, and many patent lawyers have gotten rich this way. Submarine patents are BAD.

    As I recall, the latest change to the patent law says that the patent is valid for 20 years after date of submission, as compared to 17 years after receiving the patent. This was partially to close the submarine patent loophole.

  • Umm, I think you mean expatriate...
    A person who has lost all respect/love for their country of citizenship is an ex-patriot.
    A peson who lives outside of their country of citizenship is an expatriate

    Big difference
    Nick

  • These are materials patents: they deal with operations on atoms and energy. This is the kind of thing patent law was designed for.

    Idiocies of the "let's patent the idea of using more than one computer to serve web pages" idea have little to nothing to do with material. They are operations on bits and time.

    Perhaps matter patents are being abused as flagrantly as software patents, but I'm not aware of it.

    In any case, asking the USPTO to make judgements on software patents is absurd.

    -Mars

    -Mars
  • The thought of the people responsible for bad patents being forced to pay for their failure is certainly a pleasant one. This is, however, very similar to the also-pleasant thought of having people who sue someone else, and then lose, being forced to pay for the legal fees of the winner.

    The problem with both of these ideas is that, however workable they may be, and however valuable they may be, they're unlikely to happen because of the enormous lobbying power of the lawyers in the U.S. It's a story that I personally feel should be told by the media much more often. This is why past attempts to limit damage claims in civil litigation have failed.
  • The US Patent Office has recently granted more and more "bad" patents. It seems that the people working for the US government in this department either doesn't know what they're doing, or don't care about their job. The patent office really needs to get some technologically savvy workers in order to evaluate a patent. These shouldn't be hard to find, as so many of the people that post replies on /. seem able to determine the workability of a patent. I'm not sure what problem the US patent office has, but it's pretty bad and getting worse.
  • No no no, you're missing the point. What I'm talking about would piggyback on the recent Appeals Court decision which ruled that the U.S. Law forbidding export of strong crypto could not be used to restrict publication of strong crypto source code, because such restriction would violate First Amendment rights. Essentially, source code is free speech which cannot be restricted.

    So, an SRPM is source code is free speech, and restrictions on it, e.g. Software Patents, are invalid. Same for a .tar.gz, cvs repository, or any other form of source code.

    As I said though, we do have to wait for the Supreme Court to either rule on the case or uphold the Appeals Court ruling before posting such code, because if they rule otherwise, then the case is shot and there could be pretty steep damages to pay. But if this works, then OSS gains MASSIVE competitive advantage!!

    Sorry I wasn't more explicit the first time. Is there any hole in my logic?
  • by hazelsct (2897) on Monday May 24, 1999 @11:07AM (#1880928)
    We have to wait a little while for the Supreme Court to rule, but...

    If source code is Speech, protected by the First Amendment, then software patents cannot legally restrict it, and we can post patent-breaking SRPMs with impunity, right?

    This would be fun to litigate. :-)
  • Beware of moving just because of stupid laws in the USA designed to strangle competition. Go somewhere else and they happen to have human rights violations in US sponsored plants, or perhaps a civil war, watch out!

    All countries suck. Just pick a country that sucks less.
  • Many areas of technology have load balancing. Why is this novel?

    At the manufacturing plant where we use steam to cure special plastic compounds, we have two boilers to balance the load during high demand. We have two electric feeds into the substations. We have a multimegawatt backup peaking generator. The list goes on and on.

    In fact, load balancing does not stop with technology, it has been in our lives. Some people balance high social needs with a backup significant other. Its human nature to be redundant.

    Patents are evil.
  • It would be nice to live in another country, perhaps for the experience. If some chick over the internet invited me overseas, I'd be over in a heartbeat (yeah, like that's really going to happen...) Meanwhile, I just read about the fun people have when they take long vacations or move, even if it is only across the border.

    My biggest fear about jumping ship is that I only know my native language. I could find myself quite unemployed and worthless. I do not think programming fluently in several computer languages count if I needed to talk in a new place.
  • Jumping is a thrill. The biggest fear is moving to a new place is knowing employment is not guaranteed.

    I jumped once. Four years ago, I quit what was thought to be a very good job working for the university administration in Kansas City. I moved for a sweetheart in some small Mississippi town (internet addiction does things like that.) I moved with $500 in cash. My credit card went unpaid for five months. In my case, I was lucky. I got what seemed a decent job at a decent place. Promotions came fast. Turned out I work for a very good employer. State run employment offices really do work. The only problem was I failed to do a background check on my partner. In that case, I was unlucky.

    Its great we have freedom to change. In my case, even good came from the bad. Would I move due to silly laws? I'm afraid it would take more than that for me as challenges seem to be a way of life. Its easier running to something good than running away from something bad.
  • It seems that the patent covers any sort of web redirection, as in what I used to have with the ATHOME project (http://yourname.home.ml.org --> http://your.com/website) and even more simpler ones that is used for example when you access http://somesite.com/somedir and it redirects you to http://somesite.com/somedir/

    I guess the purpose is NOT load balancing, but from my reading the patent covers the idea, not the purpose.

    Bullsh!t, bullsh!t, and more bs... Patents and trademarks are way out of control.
  • by adatta (3240) on Monday May 24, 1999 @10:37AM (#1880934)
    Uhhh, read this quote from InfoSpinner:

    "When the browser makes the request to a Web server,
    the patent covers the notion of redirecting that request to
    other machines [application servers] within a cluster and
    having those other machines dynamically produce a
    response,"

    No mention of load balancing here. Redirection fits into the above if you set cluster size=1.
    This is me playing devil's advocate in any case... and they probably couldn't stand up in court -- but that won't stop them from trying to intimidate others.... the granted patent may be more specific so InfoSpinner might get shot down in going the whole nine yards as indicated above. .. but I think we're in agreement that no matter how you read it the technologies have been around long before Apr 96.
  • As previously covered by slashdot.
    "Eddie is a suite of three software applications that together make web sites robust and scalable. It consists of a load-balancing DNS server,an admission controlfront-end and an IP migrating facility."
    http://slashdot.org/articles/98/11/09/1858201.sh tml

    "Eddie provides advanced automatic traffic management and configuration of geographically distributed server sites, consisting of one or more Local Area Networks."
    http://wwweddie.serc.rmit.edu.au/what.html
  • pointing guns at people and telling them to "innovate or die" would also encourage innovation. but it's a stupid idea.

    so are patents.

    nature already provides plenty of motivation to innovate. we don't need the government to mess with the incentive system given to us in the form of the free market.

    copyrights and patents are just another form of corporate welfare. copyright is the source of the next war on drugs.


    information is free.
    the only question is:

  • for us citizens it's quite a big difference. i'm currently just an expatriate (i live in ireland). if the economy keeps going well here and i decide to stay (75%) i'll probably become an ex-patriot. why? taxes.

    if i decide to live outside of the us for the rest of my life there's no way i'm going to pay taxes to the us which i will have to do if i make over a certain amount of money. and while taxes in the us are low (and trust me, they are really low) there's no way i'm going to pay for services i'm not using.

    the pro's for ireland by the way: no s/w patents, no encryption ban, good economy, guinness. the con's: net access is so-so, traffic.
  • Hmm... sounds sort of like all those clustering solutions (Univ of Washington's Uniform Access machines work like that, and did in 1991...one login to a "server", you get dumped onto one of N physical servers, determined by the loads on the machines.

    So the web "login" is different than a Unix login?

    Prior Art? Lack of originality?

  • I don't think the patent process is evil, per se.
    It's when it is applied to things like gene sequences ( but I can see patenting a process to derive a specific gene sequence from a specific host and a specific product made from that expressed gene sequence) in general (i.e., if you have a particular gene sequence, causing your body to generate a specific, unique protein, if Genentech "discovers" this sequence in some other animal and makes the same protein somewhere else, hey, they patent the *sequence*, not the entire process & product, so you've basically been patented).

    Or the guy who's trying to sequence everyone in Iceland for his company...

    Or software "patents". What would happen if straight, arithmetic addition were to be patented, more specifically, a specific configuration of TTL logic gates to perform that addition? Would we all retroactively be forced to pay Microsoft or Robert X. Cringely (who else would do this, either seriously or in jest) some sort of retroactive fee?

    Innovation has prospered in the past based on patents on real, PHYSICAL, processes and items. Software is not real (OK, probably a big philosophical point of contention here. Am I a Negropontist? maybe I am...), so why should a physical process that worked good for real, physical, things be used on such an ephemeral thing as software and algorithms?
  • Hmm... but where are the patents on WindowsNT/95/98?

    Microsoft says they're copyrighted, but the source is a Trade Secret...

  • Authors can't patent a particular passage, paragraph or novel. I believe software is more like a novel. It just happens to be written in a peculiar style with a rather limited vocabulary.


    Aye. But they can Trademark particular passages, or say that the only use they grant for their copyrighted work is that it be used in whole, with the recognition left in of the creator, etc., too...
  • by Hal Roberts (5525) on Monday May 24, 1999 @10:08AM (#1880942) Homepage

    Doesn't this patent simply describe apache (which existed before 1996) ? Apache uses a single parent process to receive all requests. This parent passes off requests to its children, which often generate dynamic content.

  • You should patent that idea, it's so good.

    Can anyone give me a legal description of Prior Art, though?

    And a pointer to some basic Patent Law? I'd be interested to see whether a US Patent will migrate to something more international or not.

    I've got a perfectly good webserver live on the net, and I might as well use it for something nice and friendly, as well as my own evil capitalistic aims. :-)

    It'll need a trust formed, to ensure that the patents granted, or Prior Art collected, will be free of use to software released under certain free licenses. Perhaps free to anyone who doesn't withhold their own patents?

    Anyone interested in lending a hand, drop me an email. (The email address is real - I have observed that publishing an email address with "spam" in it seriously damages the health of spam robots, who try to strip it out...)
  • by dynamo (6127) on Monday May 24, 1999 @11:05AM (#1880944) Journal
    Infospinner has done the research for you. On the main page of their website they reference this [vnunet.com] article from pcweek that talks about 20 other companies doing clustering solutions before infospinner is even mentioned. I can't believe they are this stupid. I wish there were criminal penalties for abusing the patent system like this (and I wish patent officials could be held responsible for their incompetency - even notary publics are held to be responsible)
  • "Don't throw the baby out with the bath-water" is an old adage. However, when the way you're doing things involves keeping the baby in the bathtub all the time, it's time to significantly rethink the whole mechanism.

    We can acknowledge the idea of patents as good and still have a severe problem with the way the U.S. Patent Office (or whoever) implements it. I stand in this particular category. I would really like to see the Patent Office working hand-in-hand with organizations in the software industry that are really knowledgeable and who would stand to gain by committing their legal department to verifying a patent application's viability (I'm sure in light of Microsoft's recent "CSS belongs to us" fiasco, the W3C is one group that would gladly lend some of its legal and technical advice to close the barn door BEFORE the horses have left).

    As long as the Patent Office continues to operate on its own, blindly, in the dark, I cannot in good conscience support it.
  • There are different types of patent law out there. E.g. the german patent law only allows you to patent processes, not products (some people claim that this was the reason for the dominance of the german chemical industry in the late 19th century: people were forced to develop new processes like hell which could be put to unforeseen new uses), while the american patent law also allow to patent products (but not general ideas like "all types of shoe polish"). At least this was the situation a hundred years ago.
  • Every other week we seem to come accros some silly patents granted for which prior art most certainly is available. Does anyone know it patent applications can be scanned on-line. If so maybe this community or whomever want to help could peruse this and alert the Patent Bureau in advance so we could avoid all this nonsense up front. Second this could help dissiminate really nifty technologies if potential patent holder were willing to license on the cheap.
  • I believe they were one of the driving forces. Mickey came into being around 1928, I think, and Disney was worried spitless someone would upset their moneywagon.

    --
  • Im getting quite sick of these patents are evil, everything should be free garbage. For the most part (and this means you fellow American) our society could *not* be where it is today without patents and trademarks. They are what helped form and shape our capitalistic society. If you don't like the way its done look at the alternatives... they aren't doing so well. In China things are stolen and ripped off so often there is very little drive to innovate. Japan tends to have even more protection for inventions than we do, and what do you know, they must seek more curious and interesting solutions to problems. Yes the patent office is letting some real crap through but for the most part it is doing a decent job of rewarding those that do innovate and do the hard work it takes to come up with a new idea. I would gather most of you have never seen what the patent process is really like, its not nearly as easy as you may think. I know because I am applying for a couple of patents right now... and yes I do think my ideas are different and novel enough to be rewarded (then again they arent really computer related).

    ---
    Openstep/NeXTSTEP/Solaris/FreeBSD/Linux/ultrix/OSF /...
  • by Douglas (9718) on Monday May 24, 1999 @12:23PM (#1880950)
    This patent described the process IBM implemented
    in it's CICS transaction processing system in the
    early 1970's. CICS implemented a system called
    Multi-Region Operation, where a Terminal Owning
    region would route transactions to various
    Application Owning regions, which would further
    route data requests to various Data Owning regions.

    Change the name of the Terminal Owning region to
    a Web Server and IBM's CICS is an exact duplicate
    of the patent.
  • I don't think so. As I understand it, this patent covers using web-redirection in order to load-balance. So, if Rob coded up a system where the perl-script requested a page construction from another machine in a load-balanced way, it wouldn't be covered by the patent. There's no redirection, the load-balancing is on the other side of the perl script. Of course, now the distribution script is a bottleneck that can't be escaped without violating the patent.
    Bookmark this comment. Code up this idea in an experimental example. It may be prior art someday.
    (Actually, I think these comments get deleted after a timeout, but you get my point.)

    --Parity
  • That would be cute, and not a bad thing to put in your keywords, but a proof of concept program isn't prior art yet, and it -does- have a purpose other than to break patents - namely, so that J. Random Hacker, who actually wants a practical version of a concept, can look at Q. Random Hacker's code before he starts coding.

    Doesn't really matter though, what people call it, as long as we all call it the same thing (or at least, by not too many different names) so that it can be found.

    --Parity
  • by Parity (12797) on Monday May 24, 1999 @10:58AM (#1880953)
    It seems to me that this kind of thing can be easily prevented for future patents. People in the open source movement code because they -enjoy- coding, they like experimenting with ideas. How many of us have written throwaway programs just to 'see if I can do it'? How many of those ideas are now patented by somebody?

    Don't throw away those 'see if I can' programs. Publish them on the 'net - preferably digitally signed to a newsgroup archived by DejaNews et. al. Just be sure to clearly label your program 'proof of concept' so that nobody thinks it's supposed to be more than that. And if everyone puts the phrase 'proof of concept' in the keywords of their postings, a search of deja-news will quickly spit out prior-arts to challenge future patents with - assuming, of course, that some enterprising soul doesn't start a prior-art archive somewhere with thousands of these little programs.

    Remember that most of these patents are founded on sloppy little programs just like that, that prove the concept but are utterly useless in the real world. And remember that it isn't prior art unless it's published.

    --Parity
  • Free software is every bit subject to patent law as commercial products. Traditionally, distribution of sources would likely be considered "contributory infringement", although if the (sensible) notion prevails that software is protected speech, that might be a way out. However, it would still infringe to compile and execute that software.

    There is also no exemption from patent law for research. A competitor can keep you from conducting research if it involves using their patents. This is a particular problem in the biotech industry, where patents on genes and gene products limit the kind of research other institutions can conduct.

    Those patents can also be used by private companies to force publically researchers to agree to restrictive terms when they want to conduct publically funded research involving genes or products that are patented.

    All of this is very recent, and I don't think the impact even has begun to make itself felt.

  • by jetson123 (13128) on Monday May 24, 1999 @01:10PM (#1880955)
    The reason why so many obvious things get patented is because there is every economic incentive to doing so. In fact, in order to survive, any company (in particular small companies) need to be a patent portfolio for bargaining. Many of the people who submit such patents don't believe in their non-obviousness themselves.

    When it comes to enforcing such patents, technical content makes little difference. What matters is mainly a tradeoff between management time spend on dealing with litigation vs. licensing cost. As long as the licensing cost is kept below the cost of management time, the patent will get licensed, valid or not.

    This is an economic problem: patents are enormously valuable and impose risk on others; their cost compared to their value is tiny (although the cost of entry for making any money off them is fairly high, since they need to be prepared carefully and be backed up by a believable legal team in order to actually get licensing revenue).

    And the solution, I believe, has to be economic, too: there should be real costs and risks to the patent holder if a patent is later invalidated because of obviousness or prior art. For example, people who paid licensing fees should be able to have them returned, legal fees should be reimbursed, companies who lost revenue because their management was kept busy through legal tactics should be able to recover expenses and damages, etc.

    Changing the patent office itself won't help, and neither will increasing patent fees (that will only keep out the small inventor). The beauty of making patent holders liable if their patents are invalidated is that it is self regulating and puts the burden of careful evaluation on the patent submitter, where it should be.

  • by jetson123 (13128) on Monday May 24, 1999 @01:17PM (#1880956)
    One grass-roots solution to the patent problem vs. free software could be a kind of "Free Patent Foundation".

    There are two things that can be usefully done:

    • Provide a forum where individuals can disclose ideas (possibly anonymously) that can serve as a repository of prior art and protect from future patent claims. Such a repository is pretty easy to set up (think of it as something like Slashdot, with each entry being a "disclosure" of an idea). Disclosure on USENET would be a possibility, of course, but USENET has become too messy to serve as an easily searchable repository of disclosures or prior art.
    • Actually make a volunteer effort to generate patents on some "donated" ideas and use them in bargaining with other companies to allow free use of their portfolios in free software.
  • I still refuse to admit that anything of this sort is technology. Everything from microsoft claiming turning on and off only the red / green / blue component of a pixel is a new technology, to these idiots claiming that redirecting an http request is a new technology. What isn't technology these days? It seems that as long as a computer is involved it's patentable.
  • Since when does anyone use an OS because of the patents it contains? I've never seen anyone quote me any of the patents contained in a Microsoft OS. They certainly don't market it this way.

    I would imagine that the vast majority of commercial software out there is probably not the result of a patent (legitimate or otherwise). Companies are still making money off of it because consumers have a need and buy the software. Whether or not the patent office exists isn't going to change the supply and demand.

    Remember the copyright continues for close to a century for works produced for hire. If a patent runs out in 18 months, we still can't legally distribute the software.
  • Patents and copyrights last much longer than that. Currently, patents expire 20 years after the initial date of filing for the patent. Copyrights expire 70 years after the death of the author.

    I don't really have much of a problem with copyrights, but patents really bug me. Especially these days, too many companies are patenting obvious processes by applying it to the Internet. All of a sudden, it's some whiz-bang new invention and the lawyers get richer.

    Software is much more analagous to writing than construction or invention. Copyright law protects an author from someone simply copying the sequence of words written on a page. Authors can't patent a particular passage, paragraph or novel. I believe software is more like a novel. It just happens to be written in a peculiar style with a rather limited vocabulary.

    Most of the time I see patents in other fields besides software, it's on tubes of toothpaste. Colgate can't make a squeeze tube like the one that Crest has, but does this really affect the product inside? I'm not convinced the patent office has a useful purpose these days.

  • I keep wondering whether or not they do realize the implications.
  • So now you have the chanse to create your own new freshmeat-status-thing! Just dedicate a large server and start program some good CGI-skripts to create the site and announce it here or at freshmeat... (I won't do that by myself, not now at least).
  • The Meta Certification Group [mcg.org.br] is run by a chap in Brazil called Ed Gerck.

    Ask him - he's one of the brightest people I know about.


    P.S. Read the site - it's interesting - he'll show you why the Wesenaar agreement is irrelevant.

    P.P.S. Could it be that the 'Anonymous Coward' here is a member of the group?
  • Firstly, this is not new.
    Secondly, this patent should fail the "nonobvious"
    test - such an approach is obvious to anyone in
    the networking field. Like many patents, this is
    a classic example of the ease with which the PTOs
    of many countries are abused.
    Any competent patent lawyer can probably invalidate the original patent by citing prior art and by getting a few expert witnesses to say this
    patent is an obvious application of well known
    principles of load distribution.
  • So if Rob was to set up a second machine to help dynamicaly create some of the many of thousands of webpages /. produces in a day would he be infringing on their patent?

    I seem to remember computers doing things like this way before 1996. Maybe it was the 70's or something. Really what is the difference between serving up webpages and distributed code compiling or distributed 3d rendering (ok 3d rendering wasn't happening in the 70's but you catch my drift.)

    Maybe it's time we started up a defence fund.
    ----
    "War doesn't determine who's right, just who's left"
  • Don't forget; Walt had good reason to want to protect Mickey. After all, M.M. was his second big creation, after some company (I'm not sure which) stole his first creation. At that time Disney wasn't a company, but just a struggling artist. I'm not sure about the details though.

    chris
  • Actually the tech laws are not my primary reason for leaving. But they are topical and represent a symptom that my fellow programmers can easily relate to.

    My primary concern is over a government that is already WAY too powerful and is doing everything it can to become even more so... Though the really sickening thing is that the majority* of the people in the US are more than happy to give up their liberties to the government. I'm looking to get out while the getting's good.

    [* please don't take this to necessarily mean you, most slashdot readers seem to have libertarian leanings, while most US citizens don't]
    ---

    "A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will deserve neither and lose both."

  • Sounds like a simple extension of .cgi scripts to have the .cgi run on a different machine that the one the original web request came in to.

    All you should need for blasting this pattent out of the water is to find a system where info requests came in, and were distributed out to requst processing servers. This is just a natural extension of that style of system. Highly likely that one or more of the large transaction processing systems did that as far back as the early to mid eighties, possibly even alot earlier.

  • by Yasha (17503) on Monday May 24, 1999 @10:36AM (#1880970)
    Come on...

    The US Patent office has issued so many unenforceable patents it is not even funny.

    If this patent went to court, it would be smashed apart. As far as I am aware, you can only patent a PROCESS. In software terms, this would mean patenting code.. not the IDEA for a code base. Ideas are un-patentable.

    But then.. we already have copyright for code, since it can be considered a written work. So what the hell is the patent office doing issuing patents for software based solutions?

    Let me put it another way.. you can patent the subsystem of a car, but you have to patent the apparatus that performs that work.. you can't patent the -idea- of a windshield wiper. You can only patent a particular windshield wiper assembly. You can even patent it all the way down to the rubber used in the wiper. But if Joe Cars sees your wiper, and comes up with his own method of making windshield wipers, you have no claim.

    Am I totally off base here? Hopelessly off my legal rocker? Please correct me, legions of legal liasons, and I shall recant. ;)

    ----
  • Sorry. ARPA. Prior art.

    Whoops, maybe you meant ethernet, the most popular LAN technology. Sorry. Xerox PARC. Prior art.

    Wait, I'll bet you meant WAN links. Sorry. AT&T. Prior art.

    Sigh...I guess you got me on the sneakernet thing, so - well, look at the time! Over 20 years since the invention of the floppy! Sorry.

    P.S. "lucent" is a registered trademark of Lucent Technologies. Our lawyers will now take possession of your immortal soul.

    :)

  • ...given away for free...can anything be done about it?
    At the least, the violators can be ordered to stop. At worst, they could be charged under criminal provisions of patent law.

    You can't just sue some of them, can you?
    Sure you can. Cops just give tickets to some speeders, after all. The only way you might have an out is if the patent holder only sued protected minorities.

    And you can't charge them royalties because they are not selling anything.
    Yes, you can. They didn't make any money to pay for those royalties, but that's their problem. Patent holders have nearly total control over their "inventions". The idea isn't "only the patent holder can make money off the patent"; the idea is "the patent holder can make money off the patent". If you give the product away, the patent holder can't sell it, and you are liable for his losses.

    ...encryption source code is considered free speech...
    ONE appeals court (which does NOT have national jurisdiction) has ruled that ONE particular piece of source code is free speech. I've got my fingers crossed that ultimately it will be as you describe, but that will have to wait for the Supreme Court's ruling.
  • Copyrights last longer but aren't as all-encompassing as patents. Copyrights have a higher voltage, but patents have a higher amperage - and it's the amperage that kills you (OK, so it's a silly analogy).

    If I patent an algorithm, you can't implement it without my permission for 20 years. Period. End of discussion. You can't even improve upon it, because that requires my original algorithm. On the other hand, if I copyright my algorithm, all you have to do is implement it in a different language or on a different architecture, or think of a different way to do the same thing.

    You can't copyright an idea, but you can patent one. The creator of Visicalc (Dan Bricklin?) could have patented the software but made an informed decision not to do so. If he had, though, no one would have been able to create a spreadsheet program legally without getting his permission - he would have been RICH.

    The patent law definitely has more teeth than the copyright law, and software patents are definitely bad. And I think the 75 years you mention is actually 75 years after the death of the creator, so if a corporation holds the copyright, it never ends. Though I could be wrong about that.
  • The way the system works is that someone files an obvious patent, rattles a saber, and then someone else in the industry goes to court to prove the patent obvious and thus unenforcable. That is exactly what is going to happen here.

    My $.02 -

    No corporation would EVER allow a judge to rule on their obvious patents, because they know they'd lose them. They'd settle out of court.

    The way the system works is that big corporations file obvious patents and rattle a saber. Then all the other big corporations rattle their sabers (their obvious patents). Then they all get together and cross-license their obvious patents. Then, when an upstart startup comes along (without a $10E6 legal budget), all the big corporations in the industry rattle their collective sabers and chase the little guys out of town.

    Obvious patents thus function as a barrier to entry. No sane non-lawyer would check to see if an obvious idea was patented, since (conventional wisdom) you can't patent obvious ideas. it wouldn't even occur to them that some procedure or algorithm they were using was patented. So a patent violation gets put into production and the giant corporate patent holder sues them out of business.
  • by dillon_rinker (17944) on Monday May 24, 1999 @11:58AM (#1880975) Homepage
    IANA Patent L, but I believe patents are intended to prevent the very situation you describe. Some inventions are obvious once you see them, but it can take years of development to create them. If you can look at my invention and reproduce it, I have no way to recoup the cost of developing it. If you

    (the following assumes NO windshield wipers yet exist) I can't patent the concept of wiping the windows, but I can patent a particular process - for example, I could patent the dual synchronized radial windshield wiper (the process used on most cars - and I made the name up). If I were actually doing research on windshield wiping, I would look at lots of different methods. I would market and produce only the best method I discovered, but I'd patent them all, even the crappy ones. That way, if you decided, after seeing my windshield wipers, to make wipers based on a different process (since I can't patent the idea, you're free to try), you would find that I'd already been there.

    What you could do, though, is try to patent all possible improvements to my original patents. Then, if I wanted to improve my windshield wipers, I'd find that YOU were already there. So we'd sign a cross-licensing agreement, and I wouldn't have to worry about getting sued for improving my product, and in return you could use my original patents.

    I once read that some Japanese consumer electronics companies were good at building "walls" of patents. For example, they'd take the basic VCR and improve on it in myriads of ways, patenting every improvement. They'd have to pay a license to produce a VCR, but theirs would be better than American ones. If the American firm tried to sell an improved product, they'd find the Japanese firm already held a patent on the improvement.

    If I were really mean, once I'd done all my R&D for my original wipers, I would start the patent process, and drag it out r-e-a-l s-l-o-w. You'd see my windshield wipers, check for a patent, find there wasn't one, and start copying them like crazy (which is legal to do, right, since there's no patent on them). Several years later, though, I get my patent, which is "valid" from the original application date. So I sue you, since you were violating my patent. This kind of patent is known as a submarine patent, and many patent lawyers have gotten rich this way. Submarine patents are BAD.

    So anyway, yes, algorithms and processes can be patented. Individual implementations of those algorithms can be copyrighted. Other algorithms which were slightly different but essentially the same would violate the patent but not a copyright. When MS starts revealing all their submarine software patents, we are all gonna die.
  • I'm going to patent bitching and griping.
  • by atomly (18477) on Monday May 24, 1999 @10:33AM (#1880977) Homepage
    This seems to apply more to load balancing than simply redirecting. I mean, the company couldn't patent a simple REFRESH tag (although I'm sure people will try).

    It seems they're claiming that they have a patent on the process of pushing web requests off to other servers which reside in a pool of available servers in a manner such that no server is overloaded. Hence load balancing.

    Even though this is more specific than redirecting or spawning new threads, it is still a very obvious process. I can't understand why the patent office is letting things like this slide. Why is such a simple process considered new when you put the word "web" in there somewhere?

    This exact thing has been done for years, but now that it's a web server (ooh, new technology!) it's patentable. I wish that the patent office would realize what all this technology they're reviewing means and what the implications of these broad patents are.

  • While patents may be being systematically abused, I can think of an example where a patent almost certainly exists or is applied for and makes perfect sense:

    Scientists working for IBM developed a method for depositing copper on silicon VLSI substrates. This is remarkable because copper (normally) would diffuse into the silicon lattice and "poison" the semiconductor junctions that make up the transisitors that make a chip useful in the first place. Prior to this some other metal was depositied (I think, actually, it was aluminum, but I am not an EE). Copper is superior as a conductor because it can handle more current per unit area (allowing more gates per square millimeter) and the device will, therefore, use less current and produce less heat. It can, therefore, also be clocked faster.

    AMD will be producing a CPU chip that uses copper technology. They are talking about GHz clock speeds and lower power requirements. Intel and Cyrix may be working on/with the technology, but they aren't telling us.

    Now, should these companies be able to go off and make billions upon billions of dollars without giving IBM (and/or the scientists who figured out how to do this) one red cent? I'm sure IBM will get their red cents. I'm also sure they should.

    There is a lot broken about patents, but I sure as heck don't think they should be scrapped.
  • by evilpenguin (18720) on Monday May 24, 1999 @10:57AM (#1880979)
    My co-workers and I have gone around and around on this topic over many a cold soyburger down in the corporate cafeteria (I hate turbo fish!). We went back and forth on the value of patents.

    Personally, I think patents are very important. They encourage two things:

    1) Innovation, by protecting the exclusive right to exploit an idea for a period of time, allowing a person to profit from his/her cleverness without getting trounced by someone with more money than ideas.

    2) Improvement in the state of the art. Part of the patent is an exhaustive description of the invention or process. (AFAIK, specific machines and specific processes are patentable). When the patent expires, there's the full description in the patent -- go to it folks, have a field day!

    This system works reasonably well for machines and industrial processes. The length of the patent (I'm not a lawyer, I know it is several years, and the the exact number varies from country to country -- how many years in the US? It's like 7 or 9 or something like that) makes sense for something you to "tool up" to make.

    My thought was that software, which has very low capital requirements to produce, and which, therefore, changes much more rapidly than machines and industrial processes, could use its own patent. A software patent would expire in 12-18 months. This is much more in line with the rate at which change occurs in our industry.

    This isn't a fully-fleshed out idea, just one of those ideas tossed out like turbo fish over lunch. Still, I think such a system would be better than applying current patents, and might even be better than copyright. Copyright has the virtue of protecting only an exact code version, but the defect of lasting much much longer than needed (60 years, isn't it?)

    Well, I'll let the amateur Matlocks point out how ignorant of the law I am... ;-)
  • The argument in favor of our patent system, as I understand it, is that a system which ensures that people are financially rewarded for their expertise/inventiveness/innovations/whatever will encourage them to make use of same.

    Under that theory, then the proper response when you find that your solution to a problem domain has already been patented is to be innovative and inventive and find another solution ...

    except. except that some modern day software patents are a little ... broad. a patent on dynamic load balancing is like a patent on building fences --- unlike, say, a patent on dynamic load balancing using steps or procedures XXX and YYY.

    also: except that in many cases you are investigating a particular problem domain, and find a solution, and that solution overlaps with a solution someone found to a completely different problem domain, and patented, and you don't even know about it until you get a call from a lawyer.

    on the other side, though ... and this is a hard thing to argue here, in the midst of the open-source community, but still: if I spend six months researching some problem and put together a solution that nobody else has put together, and someone wants to use that solution that i spent time and energy and resources to develop, shouldn't i be able to charge them for it, if i so desire? if not, then you are asking me to subsidize everyone else who wants to use the solution ... in essence, you are placing a tax on my inventiveness.

    in particular, and i've _seen_ this happen, shouldn't i have a recourse if i solve a problem and then someone else uses that solution and markets it and makes $xxx million off of it while I get nothing?

    Like most political-social problems, I don't know what the solution is. Patents as currently applied in the software industry often are absurd, and overly broad --- but no patents at all would hardly be a better solution.

  • However, this "tax" you speak of, unlike actual taxes, costs you nothing.


    Not so. If I, as a corporation, pay someone for six months to come up with a solution to a particular problem, and my competitor then takes the same solution my employee has developed and uses it, he gets it for free --- which means, if we're both applying the idea to the production of something, that he can sell that something for less than I can. So ... I do the work, he gets the business.

    That isn't a cost to me? That isn't a cost to _everyone_ once I go out of business?

    It's fine if an inventor chooses to make his ideas public. But I wouldn't like a regime in which an inventor couldn't NOT make his ideas public.
  • I was thinking of something similar to that as a sort of quick-fix for the problem (truthfully I still have a bit of a problem with patents in general, but that's for a different post [or not]).

    Accepting for the moment that patents are neccessary, the length of patents needs to be shortened and variable. The idea is that you need to allow an inventor to get a fair return for the time and money spent inventing something that can easily be copied. I can see that for some types of product this may need to be a reasonably long period of time (perhaps 10 years, still shorter than the current patent period). But some products are such huge money-makers, and the societal costs of having a monopoly-pricing on really neccessary products is so high, that the patent length should really be shortened to perhaps 2 years.

    One of the most egregious examples is pharmaceutical patents. The rate of innovation is such that many pharmaceuticals (think prozac) become obsolete before the patent term is over, and there is a new crop of high-priced patented replacements. Think of how much money would have been saved if the patent on Prozac had expired 5 years ago. Ely-Lily (I think) still would have made their bucket-full of money, and they still would be making money (because for some reason people still buy branded drugs even when you can get a generic for less than half the money), but it might actually be possible to treat acute depression without spending your life savings on medication.

    Of course I still think that most software-patents should just be thrown out altogether ;-)
  • What if a product (i.e. php3), is given away for free? Even though this product still infringes upon a patent, can anything be done about it? No one is making money off of it, and there could be a hundred different developers, from some bright 10 year old on his dad's computer, to a 90 year old guy with nothing better to do. You can't just sue some of them, can you?

    And you can't charge them royalties because they are not selling anything.

    What if it is just the source code that is distributed? The source code, in itself, does not infringe upon the patent because it doesn't do anything. Only the compiled binary would infringe upon the patent. With the recent ruling that encryption source code is considered free speech, wouldn't source code to php be considered free speech also? If so, banning people from releasing it would be a violation of our first amendment.

    Just a few thoughts.
  • Not really... Most OSes are protected because the source is secret, not because of patents.

    Think of short-term patents in something like portable music... MP3 isn't 'better' than all other proposed formats, it was simply the first to hit public conciousness. The music site mp3.com is an example of how people mistake the format for the content. This shows that 12-18 months of lead time for the company with the patent is more than enough to pimp their invention for all its worth.

    In fact, having short patents would probably make software less buggy in the sense that a company couldn't rely on being a monopoly, and they'd have to compete on product. (or, in some cases, illegal trade practices...)


    Side note: Win95/98/NT couldn't possibly be buggier... This isn't an anti-MS rant. If they were any buggier, people wouldn't use them. MS fixes just enough bugs to remain competetive layman-OS market, and ignores the rest.
  • In fact they make this claim: "This pioneering patent relates to technology associated with dynamic Web page generation and application serving that we believe is currently employed by numerous Web sites and Web service providers," So they just recieved a patent on technology that they know full well is already in use. prior to their receiving the patent!!
  • Perhaps this is a direction for prior art the prior art search:

    HTML is really just text!

    An HTML file is really nothing more than a text file with some codes in it. Surely the creation of text files was distributed well before 1996!
  • by scottsevertson (25582) on Monday May 24, 1999 @10:45AM (#1880989) Homepage

    The patent is available at:

    http://www.patents.i bm.com/details?pn=US05894554__&language=en [ibm.com]

    Review:
    • Things the patent DOESN'T cover: Load balancing with static content, hardware (i.e. router) based load balancing, round-robin load balancing.
    • The patent is designed around a single parent server, which passes off requests to children. Some load balancing implementations have all servers in the cluster take turns receiving requests, and passing off as needed, or use a round-robin DNS lookup, where requests come into a single DNS server (NOT a WEB SERVER, which the patent specifically states), and then pass out requests to the various web servers in the pool, without regard to current server load.
    • One possible infringer: Microsoft, which has built in new clustering technology in Windows 2000.

    On a side note, they reference a patent from Oracle which seems to claim that they invented the idea of having a web server retrieve data from a database through a stored procedure. It seems anyone can get a patent for anything these days.


    Scott Severtson
    Software Developer
    Auragen Communications
    scotty@auragen.com
  • by RebornData (25811) on Monday May 24, 1999 @10:47AM (#1880990)
    So, if I remember correctly, IBM used a system called "Womplex" to host the 1996 Olympic website. After receiving an HTTP request, the system would send out a message on a private WAN to several servers placed around the world and have them each ping the recipient, and then determine what the "best" webserver for the user to be on the resulting ping times. It would then feed the user a dynamically-built web page with all of the links pointing to the server that had the lowest latency to them.

    There was a C|Net article about this dated June, '96 (two months after the Infospinner filing), but the system obviously was built and running at that point. Sounds like prior art to me. Did anyone dig through InfoSpinner's filing enough to know?
  • At the last meeting of the Dallas Internet Society, the subject of software patents that were nothing but rehashes of old prior art with the word web attachted was brought up.

    The panel of lawyers response was in the line of,
    "So what you ignorant peasant, software patents are here to stay and we will make billions by being legal parasites."

    So much for open source...
  • That link doesn't work. This one [qualcomm.com] does.
  • You cant fix a problem by running from it. Thoughts similar to yours have indeed crossed my mind more than enough times. But you have to think.. who is this helping.. 'me' .. if that's the kind of person you are... then you've already doing what the gov wants of you.. the 'me' 'i' and 'mine' thing.. nothing gets accomplished thinking in that manner.. i work with people at work (yah its true) .. some are resigning because of things they dont like.. most people are in agreement of the samethings.. instead of ALL of them getting to gether to say what they feel.. instead 1 or 2 on an individual basis tells the boss/team leader off.. and nothing is accomplished.. its the sameway for people as a nation (the us).. you cant run.. like the previous poster said.. it isnt any better elsewhere.. (just looks greener on the other side) .. what this country needs -imo- is a revolution.. the people to stand.. and shout in one unified voice..

    'to each his own' - right.. =)

    -sorry this is off topic for the patent, but on topic for this individual.-
  • I don't understand why you consider patent law a symptom of big government. It is large corporations who who want broad patents, to lengthen copyright terms and to weaken fair use provisions. Bureaucrats just support whatever gets them the most campaign contributions.
  • > I'm getting sick of the US and their > ass-backward tech laws. Is there a country out > there which has good network access, reasonable > IP laws (ie. no patents and reasonable fair use > laws), good encryption laws, etc. Low/No taxes > and a healthy respect for personal liberties > would be a blessing to.

    So basically what you are saying is, that you are willing to leave the u.s. for another country as long as they have good net access, and they let you encrypt what??? your e-mail? ...in exchange for mediocre civil rights? read your post a few times over and think about re-wording some of those sentences.
  • Hmm - there's some irony here. I wonder if patents.ibm.com is a single server, or a load-balancing cluster?
  • I have no problem with the theory of patent law, nor with most of its applications. I have a problem with obvious patents.

    You are not supposed to be able to patent the obvious. For example, if someone builds a new method of storing video (say, a new competitor to VHS), one should not be able to patent the concept of using this method to store computer data. Once you leap over the hurdle that digital video data is similar to digital computer data, it is obvious.

    Patents should be granted only for non-obvious solutions. The patent in question seems to be related to the use of machines other than the Web server to help construct dynamic Web pages.

    Duh.

    If that is the case (I obviously haven't read the patent), the above idea is completely obvious and the patent should be overturned.

    If you have a Web server and a database, they're likely to be on two separate machines. One is on the firewall, the other is in a protected network. If you want to allow database access through the Web (which is effectively what the Web is for--database access), you have three choices. You can move the Web box inside, you can move the database outside, or you can let the database and its applications sit on the inside and talk to the server on the outside. Guess which one the sysadmins are going to let you do.

    In theory, patent offices should not accept obvious patents. In practics, patent office personnel are not experts in every field of technology. This is not their problem--who is an expert in every field of technology? If such a person exists, why would they work in a patent office?

    The way the system works is that someone files an obvious patent, rattles a saber, and then someone else in the industry goes to court to prove the patent obvious and thus unenforcable. That is exactly what is going to happen here.

    The only way I see the system working better is that the penalty for filing an obvious patent is enough to keep companies from doing that, so that they only file when they have a righteous claim.

  • Not obvious? How about this scheme:

    I have one reasonably fast machine up front fielding requests. Every so often the children computers send a load update depicting how busyy they are. Based on a table containing these values, the front machine achieves to balance the load by keeping the table at an average value via grade six math.

    This is SELF OBVIOUS load balancing. How can something like that be patented? Well, go to the USA and file it - you'll probably succeed.
  • It takes a long time to get a patent. If they filed in 1996, they may very well have received it this year.


  • I think the anger towards patents is based on the fact that the patent office apparently has *no* standards anymore. It seems like they'll give a patent to anyone, without looking into prior use.

    I agree that patents are needed. But I think an innovative way to handle this would be to make patent applications public right from the start. That way if I have a prior use issue, I can notify the patent office to let them know. Then they can look into it. It would save them money (since it's impossible to look at everything in the world for prior use) and save alot of people hassles and money.

    SGC
    ---
    Salem Gun Club
    Building a better world thru rage.
  • What is the Free Software Foundation doing in this matter? Sure they whine about software patents being introduced in the EU (possibly). But have they actually formed a committee or something at least?

    I think everyone here would agree that patents are the biggest threat to free software right now, much more than the copyright issue. So what are they waiting for?

  • Great. Another no-name company that holds a patent of one of the fundamental building blocks of the internet is going to sue everyone in sight.

    Reminds me of The Onion article [theonion.com]; "Microsoft patents 1's and 0's..."

    Sheesh. This gets stupider every day.
  • With any luck (?), patent office incompetence may prove to be the downfall of the patent system. When the American Public @ Large realise that the patent office does these antics on a regular basis, with any luck someone will decide that patents are a Bad Thing and get rid of them, or at least knock a bit sense into the patent system. Of course, this could be a few centuries down the road...
  • by youngsd (39343) on Monday May 24, 1999 @11:30AM (#1881007)
    Until recently, I was a patent attorney. I have written and secured software patents. IMHO, the patent system is hopelessly flawed, and I am not sure any form of patent protection is justified. I keep reading the Slashdot discussions regarding each new software patent, and I am waiting for people to wake up to what the patent system is about.

    People have this notion that a patent is granted on "real" inventions (you know, light-bulbs, transistors, etc). The idea is that we reward those who solve the big problems. Unfortunately, that is not how the system works. I have read thousands of patents, and I can tell you that very few of them solve a problem in a new way. The vast majority of the time, what happens is this: someone, upon stumbing on a new (to them) problem, quickly figures out the most obvious, straight-forward solution. The solution they find is the same one that most people in the same field would come to when they stumble onto the same problem. But because this particular individual was first to find the problem (in a fast moving area of technology, they may have found the problem a month or less before their competitors), they were first with the solution. They are, under our system, entitled to a patent, and entitled to exclude others from their solution. It simply doesn't matter (practically) that it was a simple solution and took no real spark of creativity. What matters is that this person was first.

    Follow the logic here: Everything was new at some point. Under our patent laws everything (at the time it was new) could have been patented and held up for a period of twenty years. As long as the person who came up with it first applies for a patent, forget about using it for twenty years. Does this promote science and the useful arts? In a sideways kind of way, it might. But generally (and overwhelmingly in an area like software), it cripples innovation.

    I have absolutely no idea whether this particular patent is valid. What I do know is that there is no reason in principle (under our patent system) that the person who first applied the notion of load-balancing to web-servers could not get a perfectly valid patent. What I see in this discussion is people trying desperately to explain why this particular patent may not be valid. The key is this: why do you want so much for it to be invalid? Because it would be wrong to stop programmers from applying a common-sense scheme like load-balancing to web-servers just because someone else was the first to run up against this particular problem. In other words, those who are trying to innovate can only hope that the patent system does not work as designed. In still other words, our patent system is wrong.

    I hope you will all forgive me for venting, but I have been close to this problem for a long time, and I hope that the day will come when ordinary people come to realize the nature of our patent system and dismantle it (or at least gut it so that it is no more harmful than copyright).

    -Steve, a recovering patent attorney
  • by Hobbex (41473) on Monday May 24, 1999 @11:21AM (#1881009)
    The world would not be were it is today without despotism and monarchy, without slavery and religious oppression, or without war and arms races. Just because these things have been important, I would even say necessary, for taking us to the level we are at today, does not mean that we should hold on to them.

    Their is am undeniable fundamental opposition between Intellectual Property and freedom of thought, and if we don't decide where we want to be on this issue, we are heading for big trouble. As long as the flows of information in our society were limited and controlled, the system of IP worked, and only then by bare necessity. When information flows freely, not only does the infringement on freedom become clearer: enforcement becomes impossible. The only thing hanging on to Intellectual Property will do to our society is to our data networks what the "War on drugs" has done to our cities.

    In matters of freedom, fuck the economy.
  • I know that these guys filed in April 1996, but we presented "Creole" in October 1996. Although the SIGDOC documentation says "Latte," we had discovered that Borland had a product in the works named that, so we changed the name to "Creole."


    Creole was an SGML/HTML parser and compiler with a built-in scripting language and virtual-machine -- the CVM (Creole Virtual Machine). Requests to any number of web servers would be passed by a webserver plug-in or CGI script to the Creole server for processing. Creole itself could also run as a CGI program.


    It seems to fit the bill.


    NC State University was using the first version of Latte on their website in late 1995 and 1996.


    We might have prior art... but it'll be hard to prove. I'd love to prove it, of course, for the sheer pleasure of invalidating their patent and returning to the public domain the idea of distributed processing for the web.



    The SICDOG proceedings abstract is here [mit.edu].

"Those who will be able to conquer software will be able to conquer the world." -- Tadahiro Sekimoto, president, NEC Corp.

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