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USPTO Seeks Public Comments On Patent Law Treaty 72

Anonymous Coward writes: "The U.S. Patent and Trademark office is seeking public comments (pdf form) on the Draft Patent Law Treaty. They say the treaty is intended to "simplify the formal requirements associated with patent applications." Here's your chance to weigh in alongside Tim O'Reilly, Jeff Bezos, RMS, et. al." WIPO will be meeting from May 11 to June 2 of this year in Geneva, and all public comments are due by April 21. The pdf linked to above lists fax, snail-mail and e-mail addresses to which you can direct your comments on their efforts to streamline patent applications and patents, "and the subsequent changes to United States law and practice." Non-U.S. residents, remember your voice is important here, too!
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USPTO Seeks Public Comments On Patent Law Treaty

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  • Its even worse than that, The European Patent Office has recently decided that software is patentable in Europe as well. See yesterday's posting [slashdot.org] for links and details

    C.

  • You claim that if patent law is removed, companies will just keep their algorithms and technologies secret, with just as much (or more) harm to society and innovation. While it is certainly true that companies will try hard to do exactly that, it is far from clear to me that *any* combination of other technologies could stifle innovation the way that a patent could, even if it were reduced to a 1-year term.

    As an example, remember Microsoft's "patented" ClearType technology for LCD displays? This technique turned out to already have been covered by expired Apple patents that were over 20 years old, but even had it not been...

    It took about a week for someone to read Microsoft's advertising blurb and figure out what they were doing, and present evidence that it was based on 20-year old technology. Now, having read the advertising blurb myself, it was far from obvious what they were talking about. If someone could figure it out from just the blurb in a week, imagine how quickly it would have been figured out from an actual released product! And since you could figure it out just by looking at an LCD screen in low resolution and seeing how letters were being represented, you wouldn't be subject to any kind of copyright license to prevent you implementing your own version.

    If something is worth doing, people will quickly figure out how it is done and produce a separate implementation. If nobody can figure it out... then it must be a *really* good innovation, and I'd suggest that a company that does that *deserves* to be able to keep a monopoly on it; it's so rare that I can't think of a *single* technology that couldn't be figured out by smart Open Source developers or a smart competitor.

    This is why software patents should be abolished; because disclosure gains you essentially nothing. A smart person looking at _what_ has been done can almost always figure out _how_, or alternatively a better way to do the same thing.

    Just my .4 nickels,
    Stuart.
  • you certainly don't have any "right" to involve yourselves in the legal and political processes of our country

    You are right. We don't have a right. We have a responsibility to be involved. By not shouldering this duty you risk forfeiting your rights and the opprotunities of letting your concerns be heard.

    That you are so completely ignorant of civic responsibility and the basic principles upon which this country was founded upon honestly makes me despair. You seem to think that the only people we vote into office are those with poli sci or jurisprudence degrees. Hell, we have had an actor in the White House and the people have elected a professional wrestler as governor. And look at some of the bad law passed by those who have prepared themselves to be professional politicians.

    Not being involved makes you worse than an anarchist. I have more respect for a sheep or a lemming than for a human being who consciously lives the position you advocate.

  • I like the compulsory licensing idea.

    Intel refuses to license some of their patents. This creates problems for AMD when they try to compete with Intel. Because AMD can't manufacture CPUs that use the patented Slot 1 architecture, AMD needs to spend R&D money to come up with their own Slot A architecture, which is incompatible with Slot 1. What does this mean to consumers? We end up with no competition on the dominant motherboard architecture, placing us at the mercy of Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers who don't want to offend Intel by making AMD Slot A compatible motherboards. The average consumer is confused by Slot 1 and Slot A. He doesn't know what he/she needs. What does Intel have to do? Just run a commercial saying, "Isn't it all very confusing? Just stick to buying Intel hardware.", and consumers will give up on the confusing AMD hardware.

    Consumers are stupid. Intel is merciless and smart. How many times has AMD almost gone out of business? How many more times will AMD be able to avoid chapter 11?

    No, this has nothing to do with software patents. This is a general computer industry patent issue. We *need* to protect the consumer and maintain competition in the marketplace. Laissez-faire economics has, to my mind, been shown not to benefit the consumers or corporations (except Intel and Microsoft!) in the computer industry.

    Hell with software patents. I couldn't care less about some dork registering a patent for adding two numbers and storing the result in a third. It won't hold up in court. But when Intel keeps back progress and competition, I get pissed off.

    Now that everyone in the CPU market but AMD, Intel, Alpha Processor Inc, and Sun have become itty, bitty players or disappeared, we need to be extra careful how we proceed from here on in.

    Without AMD, Cyrix, Motorola, TI, Zilog, IBM, DEC, Commodore, and many other companies, Andy Grove probably would have taken over the galaxy by now.

  • Dosent 5. Nobody, including the owner of the patent should be allowed to sell their own product for less than the combined value of the patents it uses mean that open source becomes unworkable?
    If you can open source off the patent then individual companies could pass the opened source of competitors patents around leaving the user to compile their competitors products.the result of this would in effect be that as long as you gave away other peoples products, you could charge for your own. This plan has far to many holes for legal vultures to stick hteir claws into.
  • Specify that the company requesting the patent has to keep it secret for a period X in order to get a patent for a period of 10*X. If the same invention is made independently by another party during the initial secrecy period, the patent is deemed "obvious" and is canceled.


    Why is this good? Because, for a truly non-obvious patent, a company would be willing to sit on it for a year or two to get a 10 - 20 year patent, safe in the knowledge that it won't be rediscovered. RSA is a good example of a software patent where the inventors would have little reason to fear independent discovery. I have no problem with something of this caliber being granted a 10 or 20 year patent.


    On the other hand, a company which comes up with something like one-click ordering would sit on it for just a month or so, getting a one or two year patent. That minimizes the damage the company can do with "obvious" patents.


    The beauty of the scheme is that it is self-adjusting. In mature, static fields, where each new invention requires real innovation, patents would be granted for a long period of time. In dynamic, chaotic fields, where inventions are a dime a dozen, patents would be granted for a short period of time. Either way, the patent time would be in sync with the "technology generation time" of the field in question, automatically.


    Not that I believe for a second that there's any chance of the patent law being changed this way :-(

  • "The PTO is not yet equipped to handle general email correspondence. General inquires should be made by hand-cranked telephone on in longhand on parchment to one of the addresses specified in the PTO directory. This directory may be found on stone tablets buried somewhere in the sands of the Egyptian desert.
  • Why is it a PDF form? It takes a fair bit of technical ability if you don't/can't use Adobe's products. And why should the government presume that we do? I know engineers have been stuck with the PDF publication curse, but this is just a form, meant to be filled out quickly. And PDF simply doesn't suit such a purpose in *any* way.

    Maybe I'm missing something here. Is this request for comments by the patent office just puffs of smoke from the chimney? Can we get to vote for the new pope that runs the patent office just like we can with the more insignificant post of president of the united states? It would make sense to, since all the real decisions are handled by another, more formally compliant branch, of the government: the judicial system. Nip it at the bud and make them publically responsible too, so we don't waste our monies on fighting stupidity in the wrong arena.

    And while I'm off-topic, I might as well add something on-topic in spite of myself. There's no way that there will ever be any international two-way streets. These, if they were to exist, correspond too fighteningly to the international-but-we-get-to-choose-which-one corporate juris that international corporations get away with too much. I'm sorry, but it smells of Denmark.

  • There's a major difference. In engineering professions and medical professions, the complexity is *required* to do the job. In the legal system, right now the complexity is still in the job, but I'm asking why it has to be there. Does always following logic exactly in the legal profession always lead to the correct answer?

  • The scary part is that the professional wrestler is better than most of the other professional polititions :)
  • First of all, I never meant to imply that anyone on /. had any real clue about the legal system :)

    Actually, I'm not a programmer, I just used that as an example because I thought it would be more effective in this particular forum. Lastly, this post is going to be shorter than an appropriate response to your (well written) previous post should be.

    Don't misunderstand me. I think that the legal profession is very important. And I certainly realize that a solution such as, "get rid of patents", or "make big companies pay more for a patent" has problems. What I guess bugs me at an emotional level is people taking advatage of the legal system by using the letter of the law instead of the spirit.

    I've got to run. Sorry I haven't written more, but that was a good post.
  • It's late and I'm tired, but I need to vent.

    If I were in court, of course I'd want a million dollar lawyer. But that does not make me *right*, it makes me rich. That is not a good way for a legal system to work.

    Somehow, a long time ago, people decided that the law should make sense, it should be logical. As there are more and more laws, built upon previous laws and precedent, we have created a logical nightmare. Maybe the best thing would be to not worry about the logic of the law and look back at the logic of the situation.

    It is my personal opinion that while logical reasoning in court is meant to make things as fair as possible, it has instead, due to the complexity of law, become a briar patch in which the most skilled lawyer can convice a judge of the veracity and logic of their arguement.

    Maybe when a law is not doing what it was intended to do, the offending party should be penalized even though they didn't break the letter of the law. I don't know, it's late, I'm tired, I'm just trying to see what others think.

    Anyway, my feeling is that most people reading Slashdot are fairly bright. And we have not only a right, but an obligation to involve ourselves in the legal and political process. (I am not involved in the film industry, and may not even be considered a film buff, but I sure as hell have opinions on all aspects of a film's creation -- same concept, just the legal system is more important.)

    And the legal system is not as hard to understand as most people would imagine. When I got a ticket for something that a police officer didn't even see and in fact I hadn't done, I went to a lawyer. He said that I could either retain him for 500 dollars or I could look up similar cases (which he found in a database) and fight the case on my own. I won. IANAL, but I've won in court. And anyone who hacks kernels or has a PhD in astrophysics, should have no trouble learning or even intuiting some of the fundamentals of the legal system. (I know, the devil is in the details, but the idea is sane.)

    Anyway, this post is quickly losing focus.

    So good night and happy /.ing
  • Well, have a look at what Bezos says:
    • He wants short-life patents (3 to 5 years), with a month public review period before: one month would have been sufficient to discover hundreds of web sites on the net who "invented" his "one-click" technology before him...
    • ...and how long will it take for a court judgement concerning a patent claim ? 2 years ? for a patent valid 3 years, hmm ?
    Bezos' ideas, if applied, would make life easier to those who are against software patents... Great, thanks Jeff ;)

  • Maybe so, but I haven't seen too much evidence of it lately. And just being "bright" doesn't mean your opinions are automatically valid, and you certainly don't have any "right" to involve yourselves in the legal and political processes of our country - that's what politicians are for. Leave them to do the job they are paid for. Doing otherwise makes you an anarchist who wants to tear down the fabric of our society.

    OK, I don't know what particular nation you're from, but many nations, and most of those with a respectable legal system, provide a reason to involve oneself in the political processes of the country-- the concept that power flows from the will of a nation's citizens. That, after all, is what elections are about. Wanting to be involved in the political processes of one's own country is NOT equivalent to being an anarchist, to wit:

    anarchist \An"arch*ist\, n. [Cf. F. anarchiste.] An anarch; one who advocates anarchy of aims at the overthrow of civil government.

    If a citizen wants to participate in the political processses of his or her nation without wanting to overthrow the civil government, then he or she is not an anarchist.

    Leaving the business of politics solely to the politicians leads to the kind of cronyism and special-interest-slanted laws that can be exemplified by the US Software Patent mess.

    PS-- WTF is the SCP forum?
  • The primary purpose of patents is to encourage inventors to disclose their invention. Software authors have often resorted to schemes such as encryption, restrictive license agreements and similar strategies to prevent their competitors from being able to copy the technologies they develop. KEEPING TECHNOLOGY SECRETS IF [sic] FUNDAMENTALLY BAD FOR PROGRESS.

    Report Card:
    Understanding of the subject: B
    Understanding real-world implications: F

    Although it is possible to argue the first point (and to argue that the purpose of patents is to protect innnovators), I basically agree with you on the purpose of patents. However, software patents do not lead to disclosure of "technology secrets." Let's take a look at a few examples:

    The Amazon.com one-click patent [164.195.100.11]
    The Amazon.com affiliate program patent [164.195.100.11]
    The Priceline business-method patent [164.195.100.11]

    Read these patents. Are any innovations disclosed? I've read all three, and I didn't see any disclosure of any technology secrets. What I saw were very broad descriptions of things that already existed in the physical world, or broad descriptions of things so obvious that calling them innovations demeans the term innovation.

    Alright class, repeat after me: If something exists in the physical world, and you describe it occurring over the Internet, it does not mean that it is innovation, and almost certainly does not mean that it needs the protection of a patent.
  • Seems to me it'd be better and faster to use an Expert System for technology patents. Although I've always objected to calling them part of Artificial Intelligence (since the're just a bunch of embedded if..then..else..clauses), humans can't possibly do as well as a machine in researching the mountains of patent descriptions that exist. Patent law DEFINITELY needs an overhaul and vast liberalization as a whole, but I feel there are still some legitimate uses of patenting. I can't quite place the line in terms of what "technologies" really should be patentable when it comes to software....but vaguelly perhaps a person could say, "the sole use of a complex algorythm not previously used by anyone else." Even this could be abused.. Copyrights on software are ok...I guess patents really don't make any sense at all. --Matthew
  • (lionel hutz - the simpsons)
  • I am horrified at what is going on in the US with companies patenting everything from GIFs to MP3s to DVDs. (What is worse is that Unisys only compained after LZW and GIFs had become a standard format.)

    Australia has recently had some bad press over stupid legislation, but does it allow software patents? If so, have any been filed? (I'm sorry if I sound ignorant here, but I don't know where to look for such things.)

  • The widespread, low-cost availability of the programmable computer has so dramatically lowered the cost of developing and deploying the products of original art that such innovations no longer present enough of a barrier to entry as to require the protections of patent law, and to the contrary, the burden of intellectual property law with respect to computer software now exceeds the burden of innovation.

    Abolish software patents.

  • " In a fast moving industry like the computer industry, a patent is obsolete after a few years, let alone 7 or 17." We've been here before. Back in the early days of industrial organic chemistry, the growth of synthetic dye production in the 1860-1890, there was both rapid introduction of new products and trival modifications of existing products. Fortunes were made and lost, industrial giants came into being, scams were run. And a process could be obsolete in a handful of years. An important difference was the tendency of industries to ignore patents issued in different countries. There was some parallel development in the industry, so long as the infringing company avoided marketing in the regions where the competitor held the patent(s). Note that in the early days of the US patent system there were few large organizations, patents tended to come from and be used by individuals.Things have changed, R&D often (but not always) is expensive, and a large capital base is needed to product a truely new technology. The idea of tying time-to-grant with time-to-run on patents is interesting. You get the flash on something that's "obvious" before anyone else, patent it quickly with the patent in effect for a short period of time. Perhaps you make money, most likely no one bothers fightinh it because the patent expires in a year or so. Much software would land here. Alternatively, you spend years refining a process/device, let the PTO work it over for several years, and get a longer duration patent allowing you to get the process/device into production and recoupe your development costs.
  • To: lois.boland@uspto.gov
    Subject: Proposed Patent Law Treaty changes are bad for the public

    This is a response to:
    http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/sol/notices/p atlawtrty.pdf
    [Federal Register: March 9, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 47)] [Notices]
    [Page 12515-12517] From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access
    [wais.access.gpo.gov] [DOCID:fr09mr00-46];
    http://www.wipo.int/scp

    The current patent rules already are bad for the general public, and
    your "Basic Proposal" would make the situation worse. To summarize:

    "Innovate, don't Litigate!"

    The proposal is focussed on helping those who want to claim
    patent monopoly rights:

    The objective of the meetings has been to develop a Basic Proposal,
    consisting of articles and regulations, which will minimize the
    formal requirements associated with patent applications and
    patents. Upon adoption, these articles and rules will simplify the
    formal obligations and reduce associated costs for patent applicants
    and owners of patents in obtaining and preserving their rights in
    inventions in many countries of the world.

    Why do we grant patent monopolies in the first place? The US
    Constitution, in Article I, section 8, gives the congress power:

    "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for
    limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their
    respective Writings and Discoveries;"

    Rights are only to be offered to inventors in order to "promote the
    Progress of Science and useful Arts".

    But the current patent rules, especially as applied to the field of
    computer software, are hindering rather than promoting progress.

    Your proposal to minimize formal requirements and reduce costs for
    patent applications benefits those who claim to have invented things,
    but the net result is an increased set of requirements and costs for
    those actually making progress in science and useful arts. In the
    current marketplace the innovative programmer is driven to invent
    things in order to be "first to market" and they require no patent
    protection as incentive. Instead, they must guard against the fear
    that others with money to spend on patent lawyers will prevent them
    from using obvious ideas or charge them fees in ways that limit the
    possible distribution methods for their work.

    I endorse the proposals at
    http://lpf.ai.mit.edu/
    which I incorporate by reference into this response.

    There is wide support (see editorials in Forbes, Barrons and The
    Economist, among others) for the notion that software patents are
    impeding many aspects of technology today. Many high-tech firms
    support this notion, but are forced to divert precious recources into
    the filing of "defensive patents".

    I'm particularly alarmed at the notion that people from other
    countries would be able to claim a "filing date" in our country
    after submitting a minimal set of material in "any language":

    [A country] must provide a filing date for an application as of the
    date on which its Office has received the following elements:

    (i) An indication that submitted elements are intended to be an
    application;
    (ii) Indications allowing the identity of the applicant to be
    established or allowing the applicant to be contacted; and
    (iii) A description.

    This filing date requirement is fairly minimal and would greatly
    simplify the conditions imposed upon the grant of filing dates to
    patent applications throughout the world. Note that this article
    would mandate the acceptance, for filing date purposes, of patent
    applications in any language, subject to the furnishing of later
    translations. The USPTO has supported this article, with the
    knowledge that our claim requirement, for filing date purposes, in
    section 111(a) of title 35, United States [[Page 12517]] Code, would
    have to be deleted.

    We need to raise, not lower, the cost of patent applications so that
    we can have more competent patent examiners.

    We need to exclude software from the domain of patents. Inventors
    should use copyright and trade secret protections instead.

    Since the rate of progress is faster, the term of patents should be
    lowered substantially.

    We need to make patents public upon initial application so that
    experts can comment on their innovativeness before they are granted.

    Please fight any proposals that would disadvantage the general public
    by stifling rather than encouraging innovation. We must grant patents
    for the benefit of the general population, not to provide lopsided
    benefits to those who want to use the system to prevent others
    from delivering innovations to the public.

    Thank you.

    --Neal

  • No, wrong.
    An election is perhaps the most direct way that the average citizen gets to interact with his government, but that is not the end-all of the political process.

    Perhaps if all special interest groups suddenly decided that they no longer cared after an election what any given person did, or if businesses didn't make large contributions to keeping their favorite politicians employed in exchange for preferential voting treatment the system you advocate could work. But the truth is that no matter how good the person you vote into office, pressure is going to be invoked by other parties on that person to make certain decisions.

    As a citizen you have a right (we'll leave the responsibility discussion out for the moment)to apply pressure for yourself. To abdicate that right is to allow the pursuit of profit to be the only voice our "representatives" hear. This would only increase the injustice already inherint in the system.
  • and you certainly don't have any "right" to involve yourselves in the legal and political processes of our country

    I know I have a right to involve myself in the polital processes of my country. I could even become an MP if I could persuade enough people to vote for me. Although I am actually an anarchist except that I don't want to tear down the fabric of society. Just make people more responsible for their own actions
  • No, I don't call myself an anarchist. It was a response to the person who claimed that if you thought you had the right to involve youselves in politics then you were an anarchist who wanted to tear down society. By that definition my views are extremist anarchist. Although if you notice, a lot of people ARE labelled Communist because they claim they want to share more. (Damn those goldarn Linux commies)
  • This link [ipaustralia.gov.au] points to the Australian patent office on line documents library, which contains a PDF about computer related inventions. The answer is broadly "Yes". Not that this is neccesarily a bad thing.

    It does seem that they have actually looked into the subject a bit and decided on the sorts of things that are considered trivial and what is considered an invention rather than an abstraction.
  • 1. Companies could use patents to stop OSS from working.

    True. But why should we be allowed to take somebody's origional idea and give it away after they spent so long working on it. Nothing wrong with giving ideas away, but nobody should be forced

    2. If something is good, a lot of effort ist wasted to find something to work around a patent.

    If something is good then the inventor deserves to be rewarded for coming up with the idea.

    3. Progress can be halted or stopped for a very long time.

    I agree here. Technology is moving a lot faster now. Patents cause awkward 20 year gaps in advancement if the licensing is too strict

    4. Third world is stopped from closing the gap in working knowledge.

    I'm not sure about this one. I don't quite know how much effect the patents have on the Third World, or whether developing countries ever have strong IP protection laws

    5. If everything belongs to someone, nothing belongs to the public, in spite of the fact that most ideas are not made on isolated islands. We all get our ideas from the society we live in - do we really have the right to prevent the public from using this ideas?

    Sometimes, yes. But a patent needs more than just an idea. Some inventions have clearly had a lot of work put into them.

    6. Patents are expensive. If you really have a good idea, chances are that you can't use them. Patents are for big companies only.

    Its not too expensive for a single succesful person with the intelligence to produce a patent. ($2000 or so). The expensive part is defending it. Large companies can find a nitpicking difference between the two inventions and pay a lot of money to an expensive legal team.

    The patent system needs to be cleaned up, and made more useful to the independent inventors, but it is still useful. If there wasn't this protection then it would be a lot easier for large companies to rip off other people's ideas.
  • From this week's Byte, an article by Jason and Ted Coombs:

    http://www.byte.com/column/BYT20000301S0001

    A relevant excerpt from the article:

    "The {statutory patent} does not afford any legal protection to the patentee, but does convey legal protection to the general public by registering the invention and thereby formally declaring it to be prior art for the purpose of future patent filings. This class of patent is most commonly used to register inventions made by the U.S. Government and it is known as Statutory Invention Registration, or SIR.

    "Anyone can apply to receive SIR patent status for a novel invention, and there is only a small one-time fee for this type of patent compared
    to the larger and periodic fees required to receive and maintain a regular patent. However, statutory patents are only used when the patentee wants to guarantee that no third party will ever be able to claim patent protection for an invention. This makes SIR a very interesting, if currently overlooked, option for protecting open source inventions. (See The Business Of Open Source [Jan 17th, 2000]
    {http://www.byte.com/column/BYT20000111S0001}) When searching at the U.S. Patent Office website, you can find SIR patents designated with the
    prefix of "H". Section 157 of USC Title 35 defines SIR."

    I don't know what they mean by a "reasonable one-time fee", but if anyone's serious about getting the patent system to work for the small types, this should probably be looked at. Check out these guys' full articles and take this on board perhaps?
  • You're right. The little nik-nak I invented because of my unique perspective shouldn't get a patent. It should be stolen by others without credit to its creator and without even a thanks. My moment of glory and high point of my life will just be a crime scene forgotten by all. I'll just be happy that I was just able to contribute something to the uncaring world. One hell of an incentive for all of the future inventors, right? All you little non-US-residents who want to fight the evil patent system just stay put in your little country and wait for the next little oppresive regime to wipe you off the face of the earth! I'll sit here grateful that my ancestors were willing to risk it all for just a small chance that their children might have the freedom to invent something that might make them free enough to live where they want and think what they choose to think. And you're wrong! If everything belonged to someone, then the public would have their own product to sell.
  • Basically what I see is that the original patent holder is being given various time exemptions on the filing process, and also is given a response period, yada, yada, yada.

    The only thing that lept out at me as relating to /. discussions was article 9(2) on page 29. I don't think that adding an extra step of somewhat indeterminate length before revoking silly patents is really a wise idea...sure the patent holder has to have a chance to defend themselves. But if it is a court, guess who has already just stated their case..?

    Cheers,
    Ben
  • In other areas, the cost of a patent is a small fragment of the whole developement/research cost, and thus, most of the innovators are able to patent their innovations. In the computing area, research is fairly cheap - you need a good brain and an ordinary PC for most of it. Thus, the main cost for an invention is the patent itself, thus patents are empowering only the allready powerfull, and thus not beneficial to the public (Neither the innovators nor the consumers).
    --The knowledge that you are an idiot, is what distinguishes you from one.
  • If it is hidden, another person can still reinvent it, while inventions are "in the air" (For example, a lot of mathematical innovations has been done independently at the same time in different countries). But if it is patented, no one can use the algorithm. In addition, you can often infere algorithms or reverse-engineer them if they are used in an actual product.
    --The knowledge that you are an idiot, is what distinguishes you from one.
  • The widespread, low-cost availability of the programmable computer has so dramatically lowered the cost of developing and deploying the products of original art that such innovations no longer present enough of a barrier to entry as to require the protections of patent law, and to the contrary, the burden of intellectual property law with respect to computer software now exceeds the burden of innovation.

    Abolish software patents.


    Non-sequiter.

    The primary purpose of patents is to encourage inventors to disclose their invention. Software authors have often resorted to schemes such as encryption, restrictive license agreements and similar strategies to prevent their competitors from being able to copy the technologies they develop. KEEPING TECHNOLOGY SECRETS IF FUNDAMENTALLY BAD FOR PROGRESS.

    The software patent may need reform, but if it is abolished we will all regret it.

  • There were two items that I forgot to include, which another posters post reminded me of - one the licensing of a patent must be compulsory. Thus one cannot hoard the patent and keep it from circulation just because it reduces the profits gained from another product. The second item- the total combined payment in IP fees cannot exceed 15% of the total product retail cost. This is so multiple IP technologies can be included in a single product, without skyrocketing the price of the product due to IP entanglements...

    LetterRip
    Tom M.
    fstmm@yahoo.com
  • (This was also posted in the HUGEP storie...)

    IT seems appropriate that I put form my proposal at this time, that is similar in spirit.

    Each technological group of patents would have its own maximum expiration time. This expiration time would be based on the dynamicity of the technology- which would be determined by the number of patents issued in the group the previous three years.

    Further, I would change the patent process such that each patent is automatically granted, with the caveat that a five grand bond must be placed with the patent. Anyone can challenge the validity of the patent by putting up five grand. This money would in turn go to five reviewers, chosen at random from a pool of experts in the technology. Each expert would rate the patent on a scale of 1-10 on its innovativeness. 1 being blantantly obvious, 5 somewhat innovative and a 10 extraordinarily innovative. The patent life would then be based on the average ratings of the experts. If the average rating is less than 5 then the patent is immediately invalidated, and the patenter loses their bond. If it scores 5 or greater, the challenger forfiets his challenge money. The time length of the patent would then be based on the average score. The default would be the maximum time length for that category. The rest would be the average score as a percent of the maximum score multiplied by the category.

    Please tell me what you think,

    LetterRip
    fstmm@yahoo.com

  • Ok, so it has been arbitrarily increased accross the board with disregard to individual markets. Which only makes my point stronger.

    The duration of the patent should be tied to the reasonable lifespan in the market. That was the intent of the founding fathers. For a limited time...
  • Forcing companies to license their patents is a great idea, but it has one big flaw - how do you know what a fair price for the license is? If you dictate it governmentally, it could horribly off-mark, resulting either in much higher consumer costs, or a bankrupt company.

    I've been considering the idea of instituting a patent tax. Registering a patent under this idea doesn't prevent anyone from using that technology. However, every product sold that falls under a patent will have an additional "patent tax", the proceeds of which go directly to the patent holder.

    This would allow the market forces to determine the value of the product, as well as the value of the patent.

    Also, the tax percentage could vary for different patents. It could be determined, within reason, by the patent holder. Consider: If Amazon patented 1-click under this system, no one would use it, because using the 1-click would mean their book would cost more. Thus we instantly see that the 1-click ordering is really of little value to the consumer (who votes most honestly and realistically with his pocketbook), and Amazon would probably have chosen not to patent such a thing under a patent tax system.
  • While this certainly is positive in that people, not only corporations, will easily be able to obtain patents, it will mean more patents. With such silly patents flying about in the software industry (Amazon, et cetera) this could be quite bad.

    On another pessimistic note, I was under the impression that most of the inventions these days came from the working class at large corporations who never get to see a nickel from their work.
  • If the patent office is looking to streamline the patent application process, here's an idea for them: a "one-click" submissions form. It could use cookies, and be really convenient...
  • It would be nice if there was some kind of `standard' letter that could be copy/paste/emailed to the patent office. A lot of people stating the same always attracts attention and it will show that there is some consensus in this community.

    As someone who's worked for Congress, I can tell you that a form letter is exactly what you do not want to send. When I was sorting mail to the various staffers, there was a special bin for postcards. Letters would get someone to read your letter and tell me to send you a form response back. Postcards got you a postcard saying "Thanks for sending us that postcard,"; at the end of the day I'd count up the postcards for and against the vote.

    A week or two after I started working there, I started seeing letters that all had the same text: they were instances where someone had taken a lobby group's sample text and copied it verbatim. These letters were not sent on to a human to read; they were sorted as postcards. That's far less influence on the mind of the decisionmaker.

    Even though form letters would allow us to mount a massive campaign, it's my experience that you can get better results with a smaller number of impassioned individuals writing personal messages.

    Alik
  • Patents are evil for lots of reasons.

    I get the impression you've been reading /. too much lately :) Patents aren't evil, they're just a legal idea for protecting innovation. Well, at least they're supposed to be and probably were at one time. It's just they are being forced to apply in new domains which were never conceived of back when they were invented. There were, and are, good reasons for a patent system, it's just the current implementation that's flawed and being abused by companies who care solely about huge profits.

    These are only some of the reasons why we have to fight this evil. It has an impact on our lives.So even if you are a non-US-resident like me, join the fight!

    You make it sound like a civil war. That sort of reaction just makes /. look bad, we need reasoned responses not knee-jerk flag-waving. Patents shouldn't be abolished, but they definitely need to be reformed from their current state. And this forum is a chance to have your ideas given a wider audience. So if you don't have anything constructive to say, then keep your thoughts to /.

  • by Ed Avis ( 5917 ) <ed@membled.com> on Tuesday March 14, 2000 @01:06AM (#1204745) Homepage
    It would be nice if there was some kind of `standard' letter that could be copy/paste/emailed to the patent office.

    Here is a letter that I wrote to the UK patent office about software patents. You should not cut and paste it - for a start, it is far too long - but you might like to mention the more important ideas.

    The letter talks about software patents in general, it doesn't say anything about WIPO, so you might have to add that. Here it is, (but again, don't just cut and paste, write in your own words):

    To: xxxx
    Subject: Software patents
    From: Ed Avis
    Dear Sir,

    I am concerned at moves to allow patents on computer programs and algorithms in Europe. I think that this would be misguided, hamper innovation, and disadvantage British consumers and businesses. The patent system is not appropriate for software.

    First, I don't think that the question of whether a computer program is an 'invention' is relevant. Just because patents are useful for some kinds of invention doesn't mean that we should blindly apply the same policy to software. Speaking as a software developer myself, I would say that a program is more like a literary work, but either way, we should consider a patent system on its merits, and not by just carrying over a system from some other area.

    We should consider whether software patents would promote innovation, whether they would encourage disclosure of new techniques, and whether they would benefit the writers or users of software. In doing this we have an excellent example to consider, the software patent system in the US.

    Software patents in America have been a disaster. Software developers constantly face the threat of lawsuits from companies which hold hundreds, thousands of patents on ideas which any software engineer - or in some cases, even any layman - would consider trivial or obvious. The only way to defend against this is to get your own collection of patents, preferably worded as vaguely as possible so that it will be impossible to write a program without infringing. Then you can countersue if anyone claims you are infringing on their patent, and probably reach a cross-licensing arrangement.

    The people who lose out are the small to medium size software developers, who cannot afford a large enough legal department and a big enough patent portfolio for defence. Some companies (such as Oracle, the leading database company) have openly admitted that the only reason they apply for patents is to defend themselves against spurious lawsuits from other patent holders. Small developers are the ones who lose out, and it is small developers who make most of the breakthrough innovations in software. In any case, the hard work is covered by copyright (see below) and patents are obtained only as a legal weapon. So patents do not help innovation.

    Do patents encourage disclosure? This is not true either. Disclosing the human-readable source code to a program opens up a developer to patent infringement lawsuits, which are less likely if the program's workings are kept secret. The fact that patents once granted are made public is not very significant here, since any important and non-trivial algorithm would need to be made public in any case, in order to become an accepted standard.

    Do patents on software benefit the consumer? No. There is a grave threat to competitiveness in many markets from patented business models, which are quite easy to achieve if you are allowed to get patents on particular software ideas. For example, a patent was recently granted in Norway which, according to its owner, covers all e-commerce in Europe. In America, the bookseller Barnes & Noble was sued by rival Amazon.com over placing a link to 'buy now' on its web pages. If Europe starts granting patents on computer programs, it will be possible to get a monopoly on a particular business model simply by patenting the idea of a software program that implements that model. In the software market, consumers also lose out. Patents make it easy to stamp out competing or compatible products, by adding some trivial 'wrinkle' to data formats used and then patenting it. The software market is naturally very prone to creating monopolies; it doesn't need any extra help from the patent system.

    Developers are expected to check every line of their code against thousands of existing patents. Consider that the USPTO has allowed the same algorithm (LZW compression) to be patented twice, by Unisys and by IBM. If even the patent office cannot check an application against previous patents, what hope is there for the developer checking a 500,000 line program?

    I don't think that software patents in America have benefited anybody except a handful of very large corporations and patent lawyers.

    Some people have advocated introducing software patents in Europe, claiming that it will help small European software firms compete against large American ones. I think I have explained why quite the opposite is true; the best help we can give to software firms is an open and competitive marketplace. Others claim that software patents will help in the fight against piracy, which is a complete non sequitur. Software piracy is a copyright violation and has nothing to do with patents. Neither should we harmonize our laws with America just for the sake of it; it's unfortunate that the US system is so harmful, but at least we are free of it here. (In any case, patents on software happened by accident; Congress didn't pass any law, but rather judges ruled that software was an invention and hence should be patentable. They did not, however, rule that since it was an invention it should not be copyrightable.)

    On a different level, software is unlike physical inventions. Innovation in software development is not a big event but an everyday occurrence; every program a developer writes will contain some new technique or a new way of combining existing techniques. Software development is fundamentally about combining a large number of existing ideas in new ways, and this work is covered by copyright. Copyright works well for software; it covers the hard part of development, which is actually writing the code, testing, and documentating. Patents serve only to hamper other programs which have been developed independently.

    Don't take my word for it that patents are a danger, hear what Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web has to say:

    I appreciate the reasons why the patent system was set up, but there is a really big problem here... The bar for innovation seems too low. You are able to take an existing social practice and write software to do it and get a patent.

    If you wish, I can refer you to dozens of other sources who agree with what I am saying. It is difficult to find anybody in favour of software patents, except for statements from large companies such as IBM.

    Sorry that this is a long letter, but this is a subject of great importance, not just for the software industry, but for the whole world in the information age. In summary:
    • Consider what will promote innovation, rather than trying to define what is an 'invention'.
    • In practice, software patents are used as a legal weapon against competitors, rather than to protect genuine innovations.
    • Patents discourage rather than help innovation and disclosure.
    • Patents are a serious obstacle to competition both in the software market and online.
    • and most importantly, software is already covered by copyright.

    I hope that the Patent Office will argue against granting patents on software in Europe, whether by changing article 52.2 or by any other method.

    Yikes, that was long. But you get the idea. Read more at freepatents.org [freepatents.org] or the archive of this message on the mailing list [aful.org].

  • by himi ( 29186 ) on Tuesday March 14, 2000 @12:57AM (#1204746) Homepage
    The site linked to doesn't seem to have any documents talking about actual patent laws - it's mostly stuff that seems to be about agreeing on the beurocratic powers that national patent offices have, and standardising the minutiae of their proceedures. Important things, in this Globalised World(TM) we live in, but nothing much to do with the stuff we're so interested in/worried about here at /. . . .

    I have a feeling (and IANAP[olitical]L[obbyist], so take this with a grain or two of salt) that the best approach to making changes to the areas of patent law that we're concerned about is simply to lobby our respective governments - trying to get anything done at an international treaty level is largely pointless, because the power brokers at that level are all governments, and individuals don't get a look-in . . . Unfortunately, this kind of thing isn't done IETF style, it's done UN style. So read these documents and comment as much on them as you want, but talk to your local politician/scumbag/bagman if you want something to change.

    Actually, now that I think about it, having a go at something IETF-like for things like patent law might be a reasonable idea - get a bunch of volunteers together to think this thing through, discuss possible solutions, and come up with some draft laws that countries can use as a model . . . I can see that approach coming up with something much more workable and practical than the current approach (which seems to be something along the lines of `buy as many politicians as you can'). Unfortunately, governments would just ignore it . . . But hey, it might be fun to try!

    himi
    Hey, maybe we should patent Open Source Politics . . . ;-)

    --
  • by Hard_Code ( 49548 ) on Tuesday March 14, 2000 @05:52AM (#1204747)
    The fundamental problem with patents, underlying all of these solutions, is /duration/. The above solutions fix /symptoms/. The /real/ problem is that some arbitrary duration of patent was conjured up some 200 or so years ago, and nothing has changed. Patent duration /must/ be inversely proportional to the speed of the industry they are in. In a fast moving industry like the computer industry, a patent is obsolete after a few years, let alone 7 or 17. It makes no sense to stifle all those wasted years worth of potential innovation. All that time that the current patent system allows the patent holder to sit on their patent, a lot of innovation could occur in a fast moving industry. I believe once the patent duration is tied, using common sense, to the market it is in that the symptoms will go away. We won't really need compulsory relicensing, because in a few years their competitors can have it anyway. I agree with points 2 and 3. Not sure about 4 and 5.

    In general the patent office should /not/ be based on a business model at all. The patent office's customers aren't the few companies that pay megabucks for patents, but to the few hundred million citizens. They should take the citizens' interests into hand when they examine patents.
  • by yiegie ( 59764 ) on Tuesday March 14, 2000 @12:08AM (#1204748)
    For some reason, I'm not sure if this will help us very much. Right now I can see the patent office being flooded by flaming, threatening letters. Or letters stating only "That's not the way it should be done", or "Get rid of all patents forever." Yeah, that will convince them...

    It would be nice if there was some kind of `standard' letter that could be copy/paste/emailed to the patent office. A lot of people stating the same always attracts attention and it will show that there is some consensus in this community.

    Do not forget that you are not the only one who can let your voice being heard. The Big Companies(TM) have this opportunity too, and while some of them might be Very Evil(TM), they are often very good at stating clearly (and politely!) what they want.

    So please don't shout at them, don't threaten them, but be constructive.

  • by DevTopics ( 150455 ) on Tuesday March 14, 2000 @12:16AM (#1204749) Homepage
    As a non-US-resident I thought for a long time I could just shake my head at this issue and ignore it otherwise. Man, was I wrong. Through EU-law we're here even in germany infected with this "every thought is intellectual property"-virus, too.

    Patents are evil for lots of reasons. Here are a few of them that spring into mind:

    1. Companies could use patents to stop OSS from working.

    2. If something is good, a lot of effort ist wasted to find something to work around a patent.

    3. Progress can be halted or stopped for a very long time.

    4. Third world is stopped from closing the gap in working knowledge.

    5. If everything belongs to someone, nothing belongs to the public, in spite of the fact that most ideas are not made on isolated islands. We all get our ideas from the society we live in - do we really have the right to prevent the public from using this ideas?

    6. Patents are expensive. If you really have a good idea, chances are that you can't use them. Patents are for big companies only.

    These are only some of the reasons why we have to fight this evil. It has an impact on our lives. So even if you are a non-US-resident like me, join the fight!

  • by Dhericean ( 158757 ) on Tuesday March 14, 2000 @12:42AM (#1204750)
    I haven't had a chance to examine what's on the website (many documents). If this is to try and make it easier to apply for patents throughout the world then there is a lot of work to do in terms of standardising what can and cannot be patented (The US seems to have much broader rules than say Europe/UK).

    If it is however concerned with just generally streamlining the process then considering the problem with all the apparently spurious software patents do we really need the process simplified.

    What we need is the system bolstered with examiners who have resources to identify obvious and non-original concepts in fields such as the internet and computer programming.

    Particularly as the examiners do not have sufficient experience or knowledge in these areas we need some way of making peer review available to them. Potentially there should be a probationary period or provisional publication where a patent can be challenged/questioned not in court but by reference back to the patent office.

    Also the requirement for prior art searches/disclosures should be tightened up potentially with fines and summary dismissals of patents for deliberate non-disclosure. Otherwise the system can encourage and reward such behaviour.

    Patents were developed to allow inventors and those spending money on research to have a chance to recoup those costs and realise a resonable return by granting a limited monopoly on their ideas. While ensuring that those ideas were published and available to others and not hidden/lost as trade secrets etc.

    These days however a lot of the software/internet patents are not on ideas that have taken any great investment to develop. Rather they are for taking standard programming practices, methods, and techniques and applying them to new environments such as the internet. This to my mind makes them obvious to a practitioner in the field. If not does this mean that the first person to write a bubblesort on the latest compiler/hardware can patent it?

    Patents seem to have become in certain areas more a cynical commercial weapon than a way of encouraging and rewarding research and its publication.
  • by Dacta ( 24628 ) on Tuesday March 14, 2000 @12:13AM (#1204751)

    This [thehooktek.com] site lists the web pages of 19 patent agencies.

    In particular, here [ipaustralia.gov.au] is the Australian site (because I'm Australian), and here [european-p...office.org] is the Eurpoean Union patent office (because it covers patents in all member states)

  • by Pope Pius IX ( 152161 ) on Tuesday March 14, 2000 @01:59AM (#1204752)
    I think that there needs to be some kind of general debate on a fix to the patent law that would be acceptable to both sides.

    As I see it, the main problems with the current patent system are twofold:

    A: They are often granted for ideas that do not involve a sufficiently inventive step.

    B: They are often used to stifle innovation by refusing to license them to others in a fair way.

    I am not sure how one would go about dealing with A, but I have been thinking about B, and can see several alternatives that would fix the problem quite easily.

    In order to provoke debate, I propose the following ammentment to patent law:

    1. Licensing of patents to third parties should be compulsary.
    2. This licensing should be done through an easy, standard mechanism, allowing the third party to license several patents at once through the patent office.
    3. The licensing cost should be registered, and not allowed to increase above the rate of inflation.
    4. Licensing should be "per product installation".
    5. Nobody, including the owner of the patent should be allowed to sell their own product for less than the combined value of the patents it uses, thus preventing inflated license costs.
    I have an elaboration of this here [cam.ac.uk].

    This compremise would still allow open source software to use patents. Licenses would only be paid when someone new wanted to install the software, and not when source was passed around.

    I don't think it would be practical, or desirable to abolish software patents all together as that would remove a lot of the motivation for companies to invest in research.

    Any comments?

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