Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

[P]
Nightmare on Patent Street

By Paul Dunne in News
Tue Apr 11, 2000 at 08:51:49 AM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)
Politics

No doubt you've all read more about patents and copyrights and so on than you ever thought you would, but here's the best article I've seen on the subject, and one that approaches it from a rather different angle. It's a JS Kelly piece over at LinuxWorld. I must say I for one was naive enough not even to have considered that patents might be used for what, as Kelly says, is basically extortion.


Sponsors

Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure

Login

Related Links
o JS Kelly piece over at LinuxWorld.
o Also by Paul Dunne


Display: Sort:
Nightmare on Patent Street | 29 comments (29 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
I'm not really interested in link p... (none / 0) (#4)
by pwhysall on Tue Apr 11, 2000 at 02:54:25 AM EST

pwhysall voted -1 on this story.

I'm not really interested in link propagation like this.
--
Peter
K5 Editors
I'm going to wager that the story keeps getting dumped because it is a steaming pile of badly formatted fool-meme.
CheeseBurgerBrown

Re: I'm not really interested in link p... (none / 0) (#9)
by tnt on Tue Apr 11, 2000 at 01:28:42 PM EST

pwhysall, you said...
I'm not really interested in link propagation like this.
What's wrong with link propagation. He brought something interesting (IMO) to our attention.

--
     Charles Iliya Krempeaux, B.Sc.
__________________________________________________
  Kuro5hin user #279

[ Parent ]
Re: I'm not really interested in link p... (none / 0) (#10)
by Nyarlathotep on Tue Apr 11, 2000 at 05:10:11 PM EST

He is protest voting. Clearly, pwhysall feals that anyone who submits a story should do a little more work then just post a link. Protest voting -1 on a good story gets peoples attention and makes them think about it. Normally this will not effect the chance of a story getting posted, but it dose make story submitters consider their submition more carefully, i.e. if you want to see soemthing posted then you will put in a little more effort. Example: I think protest voting has put an end to those "copy the whole article" posts which we used to see, so it can be a good thing.
Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!
[ Parent ]
Re: I'm not really interested in link p... (none / 0) (#11)
by rusty on Tue Apr 11, 2000 at 05:12:57 PM EST

That's a good point. And while I'm not opposed to link propagation, I agree that I'd rather see more than less. This was the kind of story that would have benefitted from a little analysis and commentary by the poster. So, umm, keep that in mind folks. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Re: I'm not really interested in link p... (none / 0) (#18)
by Paul Dunne on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 03:06:28 AM EST

[Reply to the thread as a whole, not just Rusty]

If I'd had anything to add, I would have. But I don't know much about this area, so I felt any uninformed comment by me was superfluous. I wanted to get a discussion going here -- that's what we're all about, isn't it? "Link propagation"? Yeah, sure, I'm on the LinuxWorld payroll, you know! And JS Kelly slips me a fiver now and then. Come on.
http://dunne.home.dhs.org/
[ Parent ]

this is a sad tale... i don't doubt... (none / 0) (#1)
by ramses0 on Tue Apr 11, 2000 at 04:03:30 AM EST

ramses0 voted 1 on this story.

this is a sad tale... i don't doubt that it's true, and it makes me feel bad for simple americans, living their lives, programming their dreams, and getting smushed by squatters.

yes, it is 4 in the morning, no i'm not usually this melodramatic :^)=

--Robert
[ rate all comments , for great justice | sell.com ]

You know this realy makes me feel d... (none / 0) (#2)
by kraant on Tue Apr 11, 2000 at 06:32:13 AM EST

kraant voted 1 on this story.

You know this realy makes me feel depressed :(
--
"kraant, open source guru" -- tumeric
Never In Our Names...

A great read! I found a good bit o... (none / 0) (#5)
by jrennie on Tue Apr 11, 2000 at 07:29:15 AM EST

jrennie voted 1 on this story.

A great read! I found a good bit of it to be old news, but it is a well put together story. One new bit of information (IMHO) is the idea of litigation insurance. I guess that makes a court case the latest natural disaster :-)

One of the best and worst aspects of the US Patent system is the fact that nobody knows what a patent really means. The only way to find it is to go to court. That's quite a price to pay just to find out whether you are right or wrong, but, at the very least, it discourages some large number of law suits that would have otherwise happened if we had a 'fair' system.

Jason Rennie
jrennie@ai.mit.edu

Re: A great read! I found a good bit o... (none / 0) (#24)
by jsk on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 04:09:58 AM EST

I would say that the current system definitely encourages lawsuits, actually.

One interesting thing that I didn't manage to work in to the article was an online story I'd found, which speculated that Eli Whitney didn't actually invent the cotton gin. It seems that the reason he's credited with the invention is that he is the one who patented it, because he was a recent college graduate & had been (IIRC) studying law. And then, apparently, he spent the rest of his life litigating to collect on that patent. Meanwhile, some economists argue he'd have made much more money by simply speculating in cotton-bearing land than by trying to collect on the patent.

There are a lot of implications in that story which I'm too tired to sum up intelligently right now, but I'm sure they're there somewhere.

cheers,
JS Kelly

[ Parent ]

You'd never heard of using patents ... (4.00 / 1) (#3)
by eann on Tue Apr 11, 2000 at 07:57:47 AM EST

eann voted 1 on this story.

You'd never heard of using patents for extortion? That's what Unisys has been doing. And what's-his-name that patented the "windowing" y2k fix. It's built into priceline's business model. And it was (and presumably still is) the main perceived threat with Celera patenting significant portions of the human genome. That extortion ploy is a big part of why patents have been in the news so much lately.

I met an intellectual property lawyer who suggested patenting a business method for securing the rights to an invention for a fixed length of time by means of a comprehensive database, then suing everyone else who had a patent on anything for infringing on that business process. :)

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. —MLK

$email =~ s/0/o/; # The K5 cabal is out to get you.


Its very very very old... (none / 0) (#12)
by addison on Tue Apr 11, 2000 at 05:16:03 PM EST

Heck.. I forget how far back it goes - but one of the problems Amiga has was they were behind on their "payments" to the guy who patented using XOFF to make the cursor blink.

Everybody else had just been paying for many years, rather than fight the lawsuit.

Addison

[ Parent ]

Re: You'd never heard of using patents ... (none / 0) (#17)
by Paul Dunne on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 03:03:03 AM EST

Whether there should be patents on software algorithms, and whether the kind of behaviour talked about in the article is acceptable, are two different subjects. I happen to think that the algorithm used in GIFs should not be "protected" by a patent; but the predatory behaviour of companies who use the *threat* of patent litigation to acquire start-ups and small companies with good ideas is something different, and to my mind more serious, that Unisys making a fuss about people using "their algorithm" without a license. The article makes clear that there is no basis for the legal proceedings in the first place; these guys are just using it as one more weapon in the accumulation of capital. That, pace Marx, is not the function of a legal system. So, clearly, a legal system that allows this to happen is broken. To take a contrasting example, Amazon is clearly attempting to use the patent system to protect its business methods. Whether this is right or wrong is another question. I suppose, by the way, that these considerations are what prompted me to put this in the "Politics" section. This is a legal --> political issue more than it is about copyrights per se.
http://dunne.home.dhs.org/
[ Parent ]
Interesting.... (none / 0) (#6)
by dj_ph1 on Tue Apr 11, 2000 at 08:23:15 AM EST

dj_ph1 voted 1 on this story.

Interesting.

Re: Nightmare on Patent Street (none / 0) (#7)
by analog on Tue Apr 11, 2000 at 10:08:52 AM EST

I for one was naive enough not even to have considered that patents might be used for what, as Kelly says, is basically extortion.

Maybe it's different in England (I certainly hope so!) but here in the States that's a patent's primary utility. So you have companies like Cirrus Logic, whose latest attempt at staying relevant is to quit making/designing any product, build the largest patent portfolio possible, and start suing. It must make sense to somebody, because a hell of a lot of companies are doing it.

I remember a while back I got all excited because Canondale announced that they were going to manufacture a motocross motorcycle (an old passion of mine). Finally, an American motocross bike! So I bopped right over to their website to read all about it. What did I find? A press release saying they had identified some areas of the engine they thought they could obtain patents on, and that they intended to do so and pursue enforcement of their patents vigorously. Silly me, I thought I might read about what type of engine that might be, or what type of suspension they intended to use, or even a promise to build a bike capable of winning races...

Re: Nightmare on Patent Street (none / 0) (#8)
by fluffy grue on Tue Apr 11, 2000 at 11:49:57 AM EST

It's sad to hear that Cirrus has sunk to that low. They used to make great low-end OEM-type graphics chips. Their chips on VLB and early PCI cards were great, with decent performance and a very nice pricetag, and even in the ISA days they had fairly good performance. They were also one of the early pushers of 16- and 24-bit color and linear addressing, and were, IMO, quite ahead of their time. (The GD5428 was out when S3 was still giving "HiColor" - that lousy implementation of 15-bit color - a very bad name, and actually performed VERY nicely compared to other graphics chips of the time.)

I guess ATI and S3 basically killed their primary market, though (OEM integration - towards the end of them having useful products they made a lot of notebook-oriented chips, for example)... S3 beat them to the punch on cheap low-end 3D-capable chips, ATI beat them to the punch on cheap middle-end 3D-capable chips, and they simply couldn't compete at the high end with the likes of ATI and nVidia.

Incidentally, my 486 server box still has its original VLB GD5429 card in it (with two whole megs of video memory!) which works quite nicely for the rare times that I need a monitor hooked up to it. It also has a much better RAMDAC than the ViRGE I had in my workstation for a while.

Okay, I should stop rambling, like I did when I heard Hercules died. :/ I just get attached to these older video chip manufacturers who everyone has forgotten about when everyone had one of their chips in their system not too long ago.
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Re: Nightmare on Patent Street (none / 0) (#19)
by Paul Dunne on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 03:09:09 AM EST

I wouldn't know about England. But the USA is the centre of the world right now, so it's US patent law that's important. I'm Irish, live in Germany, but it's US copyright and patent law that affects me most. I suspect this is true of most if not all people involved in any way in computers, especially those in free software.
http://dunne.home.dhs.org/
[ Parent ]
Re: Nightmare on Patent Street (none / 0) (#26)
by analog on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 12:02:00 PM EST

I'm Irish, live in Germany

Ack! I assumed from your use of language (u's after o's, s instead of z, plural verbs for companies, that sort of thing) that you were English. My wife grew up in England so I guess that I tend to think anyone who doesn't speak American english is from there. Sorry for miscasting you, and thanks for pointing out (yet another) prejudice I didn't even know I had. Ahh, you know what they say about assume ('cept I think it's just me in this case... ;).

[ Parent ]

Re: Nightmare on Patent Street (none / 0) (#27)
by Paul Dunne on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 01:16:07 PM EST

No offence taken, honestly. I was wondering why you'd mentioned "England" in your post though: I'd forgotten my spelling would give me away -- most foreigners who use English use Webster's spellings nowadays, don't they? The English spellings are an indication that you're British, Irish, Australian or a New Zealander, or perhaps Canadian.
http://dunne.home.dhs.org/
[ Parent ]
I'm a little puzzled (none / 0) (#13)
by rusty on Tue Apr 11, 2000 at 05:18:41 PM EST

Did they find another company who had a patent on their technology? Or had someone actually threatened them? Or what? It seemed, from the article, that all the paranoia was merely caused by the idea that *maybe* someone *could* sue them. But it was unclear to me whether they had any concrete evidence that that was likely.

____
Not the real rusty
Re: I'm a little puzzled (none / 0) (#20)
by jsk on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 03:42:36 AM EST

Hi Rusty,

OK, so I probably exaggerated the paranoia, a little, you know, for dramatic effect. My friend is actually not a broken man (yet).

But I think that their newfound paranoia is pretty warranted. We found so many stories about people being put out of business with patent suits -- people you've never heard of... because they were put out of business. My friend & his partners really did consider just forgetting the whole thing, because they figured, why do all the work & then allow someone to potentially waltz in and take it all away from you?

For me, our researching the patent mess made me realize just how big a threat software patents really are. Of course I've read patents stories before, and I remember the Unisys controversy -- I even remember the /first/ Unisys controversy.. And I believed them. But somehow, this was the first time it really, really hit home for me.

-JS Kelly

[ Parent ]

Re: I'm a little puzzled (none / 0) (#23)
by rusty on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 03:56:09 AM EST

Man, I just get a little warm fuzzy feeling when we post a link and the author shows up to chat. :-) I loved the article by the way-- I (and probably a lot of others) hadn't really thought about the predatory use of potential patents like this before.

You mention in the article that you were researching software patents for an article you're writing. Let us know when it's available, would you? And if you ever get an urge to write something else, we like essays. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Re: I'm a little puzzled (none / 0) (#25)
by jsk on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 04:17:14 AM EST

Well! I'm very pleased to be here to chat -- thanks for having me =)

The other story I'd been working on was an interview with Richard Stallman on patents -- it actually made it up on the LinuxWorld site before this one did, but for some reason, every time I changed that line from "an article I had been working on," the copy desk changed it back to the present continuous tense (?).

But don't worry, I'll be writing again. Just try to stop me! mwahahahhaha.

-jsk

[ Parent ]

Re: Nightmare on Patent Street (none / 0) (#14)
by FlinkDelDinky on Tue Apr 11, 2000 at 09:55:24 PM EST

I have a question. Lets say A inc. developes a unique product and gets a patent.

A inc. is succesful (or not as the case may be). So B ltd. does original research and develops a similar product that infringes on A inc. patent.

However, B ltd. never saw A inc.'s patent. Their may be infringement but the research and development was original.

Is that still patent infringment?

We need to attract a patent lawyer to kuro5hin. Otherwise were just giving ourselves a mental handjob (which is kind of fun).



Re: Nightmare on Patent Street (none / 0) (#15)
by analog on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 12:29:16 AM EST

Is that still patent infringment?

Yes.

If A inc. were maintaining their product's inner workings as a trade secret, then you would be free and clear. As long as you had no 'inside knowledge' of how their product worked, you could duplicate it exactly and be perfectly legal (note that there is heavy lobbying to change this happening right now).

However, the patent is basically a deal between the inventor and the government; make the workings public, and the gov't won't let anybody make a product like yours without your permission. Once the patent is granted, it is basically assumed that you have had access to A inc.'s information, since that's the whole point of the thing to begin with (well, at least it's supposed to be).

IANAL, YMMV, will not prevent baldness, etc...

[ Parent ]

Re: Nightmare on Patent Street (none / 0) (#16)
by FlinkDelDinky on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 01:18:33 AM EST

Okay, thanks. That clears things up pretty good. The goings on regarding trade secrets scares me though.



[ Parent ]

Re: Nightmare on Patent Street (none / 0) (#22)
by jsk on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 03:48:48 AM EST

The goings on regarding trade secrets scares me though.

Do you mean, the goings-on in this story, or in general?

-JS Kelly

[ Parent ]

Re: Nightmare on Patent Street (none / 0) (#28)
by FlinkDelDinky on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 05:10:12 PM EST

I meant that companies are lobbying to make reverse enginering trade secrets illegal. It seems to me that if you want trade secrets protected then you really want a patent.

I think patents are neccessary but I'd like to see the system reformed. I'm not exactly sure how to do that though.

I don't like companies buying up patents, or just creating them, then suing everybody else - especially when there's original research by the other businesses. But the problem I've got is that there are probably engineering only companies that do provide value but only produce patents which other companies lease.

How would you define a law that could see the difference between an engineering company that wants to protect itself from 'bad' customers and a company that uses patents solely for extorsion?



[ Parent ]

Re: Nightmare on Patent Street (none / 0) (#29)
by jsk on Fri Apr 14, 2000 at 11:57:10 PM EST

I don't think that reverse-engineering trade secrets is illegal -- yet. Stealing trade secrets is illegal, and using reverse-engineering "to circumvent copy controls" will apparently be illegal under the DMCA in some months' time -- but reverse-engineering is still OK for now, as far as I know (unless you're trying to watch movies that is ;)

How would you define a law that could see the difference between an engineering company that wants to protect itself from 'bad' customers and a company that uses patents solely for extorsion?

It's as hard to do that as it is to define which patents are "software patents" for the purpose of invalidating only those. Rules have to be applied fairly, and I think that the whole patent situation has gotten so out of control recently that that may be impossible.

Which is not to say that I'm against patents altogether -- if they were granted according to the kinds of criteria Thomas Jefferson used, we'd never be in the mess we're in now, and I might be a big patent advocate (from what I've read, Jefferson himself went from being a patent skeptic to being a patent advocate over time).

I guess I wouldn't even mind the current situation (and I know my friend & his company wouldn't mind defending themselves) if the price of defending oneself was not so high -- in lost business and in legal fees. Maybe it would be enough to take patent suits out of the courtroom & into mandatory government-funded arbitration, only, at least until such a time as the situation's normalized. Or something.

?? I don't know. What do you think?

-js kelly

[ Parent ]

Re: Nightmare on Patent Street (none / 0) (#30)
by FlinkDelDinky on Sat Apr 15, 2000 at 02:02:56 AM EST

I believe patent's in concept or neccessary and even good. But, just like everything else, execution is everything.

I'm cautious of free government services in regards to arbitration. I think corruption is inevitable. I just don't know about patents so I'm not able to fornulate reasonable positions.

[ Parent ]

Nightmare on Patent Street | 29 comments (29 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
Display: Sort:

kuro5hin.org

[XML]
All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
My heart's the long stairs.

Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!