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[P]
The Mersenne problem... of Patents?

By User 26962 in Op-Ed
Wed Apr 24, 2002 at 06:00:22 PM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)
Freedom

Mersenne prime numbers are not the only legacy that this French monk has left us with. During his lifetime in the 17th century, he has worked hard to create a community of scientists spanning Europe. He particularly defended the idea of sharing one's work for the benefit of mankind.

Forward 300 years to our present day: Most of the scientific discoveries are benefiting only the few people that are discovering them, and barriers are being erected to protect this "Intellectual Property". Are patents then a hindrance or a boost to our common intellect?


Mersenne or a 17th century "Majordomo"

Mersenne acted as mass-mailing program. He kept everybody up to date with the new discoveries of everybody else by corresponding with major minds of his time. To be able to do this he encouraged his correspondents to divulge their latest discoveries. Previous to that most of the scientist were reluctant to expose their achievements, to be able to keep their patrons endowments flowing.

Mersenne counteracted that trend by forcing the concept that discoveries have to be disclosed, because scientist have a pivotal role in promoting our species. It then becomes a duty for the scientist to share as much as possible of his inventions.

Human herd or human being?

Man is not a solitary type of animal but a societal one. (This was a quick way to answer a question ;-). Rousseau's idea of the human being as a separate entity is a nice and romantic concept, but it is very far from the reality. The idea of sharing your hard-earned discoveries could seem counter-intuitive in the individualistic societies of the 20th century, but we have to understand that social fabric is what keeps the human species so successful.

Hindering the natural flow of information can cause individuals or single corporation to increase their success or their wealth, but the total impact on society is minimised. Requiring payment to disclose a discovery could be compared to to a lioness keeping the kill for herself and letting all the male lions die of starvation. While this could strike a chord with some feminists, it goes against our duty which is, as Mersenne put it, to encourage mankind in its progress.

Cigarettes and alcohol and patents will stunt your growth

Patent law apparently created a workaround of this principle. Inventions under these laws are protected during a limited period of time, so as to encourage the person or the association that made this invention. The argument was that as long as we keep our scientist happy in the short run by protecting their hard work from being copied, they will come back and invent some more. In the long run, these inventions would benefit the whole mankind since they would fall back into the public domain.

There are however two problems with this type of laws:

  • Patents protect investments not growth.Today's most notable discoveries are not the act of isolated people, but of group of scientist working in conjunction with large corporations. This leads to the fact that science has become a tradable currency and patents are here not protecting the recognition that is due to a scientist, but the investment of companies. Scientist may be interested in increasing their wealth, but their primary interest is to associate their name to a specific discovery and grasp their piece of immortality by being hailed by their peers. Companies are interested in their shareholders.
  • The general benefit to society in the short-term is not taken into account.The most expensive scientific experiments (and by some standards the most useless ones) are funded by public money, and have usually a very long term horizon. The ISS or the European particle accelerator are examples of scientific endeavours that won't benefit mankind in the short term. On the other hand, while private endeavours can also be useless, they are most of the time directed towards society's benefit in the short-term to maximise profits. Patents protect these discoveries in the short-term and prevent the human species as a whole from benefiting from it. A prime example would be the controversy between AIDS drug manufacturers and third world countries.

Mersenne the commie

However patent law did hit one right note. Discoveries require something in return. The only problem is that something should have been a single "thank you". This would come as a shock to certain people, but it is perfectly ok to do a good act towards mankind and not expect something disproportionate in return.

This is a communist idea, and pressuring inventors and scientist to expose their findings goes against the western standard of individual liberties. But even a communist idea has its good side, and society as a whole does benefit if ideas are shared. A stopgap measure would be to limit further the extent in time of patents. But the principle of the patent is still wrong, and a better solution would be the realisation of the fact that what is produced by the intellect cannot is not akin to a property. Ideas are like a bird's song: They belong to everybody and nobody. (The same can be said about songs and copyright, even Britney Spears' songs. But that is a whole different subject). What we should hail is the person or corporation who helped give birth to this idea. But as any proud parent would tell you, giving birth and owning are two different concepts.

Mersenne can be thanked for the many discoveries that he made, and that is all that the he wanted. He may have invented scientific communism before its time, but his greatest work was the discovery that benefiting society is a loftier purpose than benefiting yourself.

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Poll
What should be the maximum limit of patents?
o 1 years 6%
o 5 years 36%
o 10 years 25%
o 20 years 13%
o 50 years 0%
o infinite 2%
o Patents shouldn't exist 14%

Votes: 105
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o French monk
o major minds
o Patent law
o private endeavours can also be useless
o AIDS drug manufacturers and third world countries
o do a good act towards mankind
o Also by User 26962


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The Mersenne problem... of Patents? | 71 comments (47 topical, 24 editorial, 0 hidden)
Right. (4.10 / 10) (#8)
by araym on Wed Apr 24, 2002 at 03:00:43 PM EST

This would come as a shock to certain people, but it is perfectly ok to do a good act towards mankind and not expect something disproportionate in return.

Yes, scientists shouldn't become wealthy by inventing or discovering something that helps mankind. That money could be better spent on paying movie stars and athletes the millions they receive every year. Who are these scientists that think that inventing a cure for cancer or discovering a unified theory should place them in the ranks of entertainers and professional sports players?

-=-
SSM

It's not the scientists (4.83 / 6) (#20)
by aphrael on Wed Apr 24, 2002 at 03:44:25 PM EST

The scientists very rarely get the patents. Example: if I develop a wonderful new algorithm for manipulating text in a text editor, my employer gets the patent, not me.

[ Parent ]
patent length. (3.60 / 5) (#9)
by delmoi on Wed Apr 24, 2002 at 03:03:39 PM EST

Should depend on the feild.
--
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
Not a bad idea, except... (4.00 / 3) (#35)
by Trepalium on Wed Apr 24, 2002 at 09:17:49 PM EST

There is some problem with the fact there can be some overlap between fields. Would a prosthetic limb be electronics or medicine? Would a chip that uses microcode instructions extensively be hardware or software? There are many boundaries where the hard lines between fields are blurred, and it was just this fact that gave the patent office in the US an excuse to start accepting software patents.

[ Parent ]
Patents are good because.. (3.75 / 4) (#13)
by steveftoth on Wed Apr 24, 2002 at 03:09:42 PM EST

They encourage people who are both greedy and smart to try and create new things. With them, only the smart people who were also benevolent would spend their lives doing good for people. If you look at history, only the rich did scientific development before patents (as if you were poor and someone stole your idea, there was no recourse). And people were not as eager to share their progress with people because most were afraid that they would take all the credit. Many scientists were only intrested in stroking their own ego and not working.

The problem with the patent system is that it allows for the locking of ideas that are trivial and obvious (LZW, one click). Also it allows people who's only goal is greed, to stop those who might be able to help.

Re: trivial and obvious ... (2.00 / 1) (#41)
by ipVJL on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 09:53:27 AM EST

The problem with the patent system is that it allows for the locking of ideas that are trivial and obvious
This is oversimplified. After an idea is released, anybody in a related field thinks 'I could have thought of that' ... the patent examiners can't be subjective in their interpretation of non-obviousness. The only thing they have to use to judge obviousness is the existence of prior art. If an idea is so obvious ... it really should have been mentioned somewhere before. If they can't find prior art, they are left to assume that the idea is not as obvious as you might think.

[ Parent ]
Re: Prior art (4.00 / 1) (#44)
by dufke on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 10:38:32 AM EST

If they can't find prior art, they are left to assume that the idea is not as obvious as you might think.

The problem I see is that people can patent designs which would be obvious to any average-skill engineer given the same task. This problem is rampant in the semiconductor industry. Companies are forced to aquire large suits of patents covering relatively simple design concepts, to be able to defend themselves from patent 'predators' (Rambus comes to mind...).
__
I am a Lurker. If you are reading this, I surfaced momentarily.
[ Parent ]

re: protecting yourself from patent 'predators' (5.00 / 1) (#45)
by ipVJL on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 11:24:11 AM EST

Companies are forced to aquire large suits of patents covering relatively simple design concepts, to be able to defend themselves from patent 'predators'

If your only interest is in protecting yourself from competitor patents, you need not acquire a patent yourself. You could release a technical disclosure on the invention - thereby releasing it to the public, and creating prior art that will prevent future patents.

Remember, patents don't give you the right to use an invention, they only give you the right to exclude others from doing so. So if your purpose is to ensure you aren't blocked by another patent, all you need to do is prevent that patent, not necessarily to get one of your own. Creating a prior art trail is far more cost effective than patenting for this instance.



[ Parent ]
Missing the point (none / 0) (#57)
by flimflam on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 06:03:47 PM EST

Remember, patents don't give you the right to use an invention, they only give you the right to exclude others from doing so. So if your purpose is to ensure you aren't blocked by another patent, all you need to do is prevent that patent, not necessarily to get one of your own. Creating a prior art trail is far more cost effective than patenting for this instance.
I think you misunderstood what he meant. Patents are used defensively not in the sense that I patent what I'm doing to stop you from suing me for that activity, but so that when you threaten to sue me for something else I can threaten to sue you back until we sign a cross-licensing deal and nobody gets sued (unless they have no patent portfolio at all to bargain with -- the little guy still gets screwed, I mean sued.).


-- I am always optimistic, but frankly there is no hope. --Hosni Mubarek
[ Parent ]
LZW and patent (3.00 / 1) (#54)
by astatine on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 05:08:13 PM EST

I don't believe that LZW is nearly as obvious as 'one click', even to a computer scientist! LZW's adaptive code generation, inefficient as it is, still struck me as remarkably clever: the previous output symbol's string, plus the next input symbol (the first input symbol of the next output symbol's string), is the next string added to the table... no backreference control sequences!

One-click, on the other hand, is a user interface gimmick that triggers a business process-- and IIRC neither user interfaces nor business processes are IP-protectable.



Society, they say, exists to safeguard the rights of the individual. If this is so, the primary right of a human being is evidently to live unrealistically.Celia Green
[ Parent ]
We all live in Fantasy Land (3.85 / 7) (#21)
by Woundweavr on Wed Apr 24, 2002 at 03:54:12 PM EST

Man is not a solitary animal. But each man is an individual. Man does not and should not subvert the individual self for some hypothetical and nonexistant common societal end. That is my opinion and the view point of Western Society. Some followers of eastern philosophy might disagree, but those would claim inventions do not further the aim of the society. Claiming that the statement is not true is baseless in real life.

By protecting investment patents promote growth. It provides an incentive for an individual to create something that will benefit all. Few people are willing to devote their life's work for purely altruistic motives, without a thought for their own benefit. Patents assure the inventor(s) that there will be a reward for the invention if it benefits society.

Furthermore, you haven't demonstrated that the Mersenne technique is in any way superior, either in his era, any era or now. Patents existed in Mersenne's time and earlier. Patents require a general explanation of the invention in its application, and sometimes the implementation. The only thing they forbid is commercial exploitation of the product.

Patents also existed in the days before massive R&D. Do you mean to say that patents harmed the innovation of people like Edison, Tesla, Bell, Franklin, Whitney, Daimler, and the Wright Brothers? What about the money their patents garnered them that allowed them to contribute to society further? What about modern investors who care little for science or altruism but fund R&D out of self interest? Would you deny science all these funds?

Altruism is all well and good in theory. But its unrealistic to expect decades of work to be rewarded only with a 'thank you.' Pretending that only allowing invention to occur through the altruistic nature of inventors won't hugely hinder research is ludicrous. People sometimes work for society, but primarily they work for themselves and those who are close to them.

Speak for Yourself (3.66 / 3) (#32)
by frankwork on Wed Apr 24, 2002 at 05:56:49 PM EST

Man is not a solitary animal. But each man is an individual. Man does not and should not subvert the individual self for some hypothetical and nonexistant common societal end. That is my opinion and the view point of Western Society.

With all due respect, speak for yourself. You seem to be taking a general human tendency (one with which most belief structures, Western or otherwise, are at best uncomfortable) and elevating it to a tenet of Western society.

Sure, ultimately everything everyone does is evolution's best attempt at spreading that person's genes, but in a civilized society, altruism (perceived or otherwise) is rewarded.

Many people, given the choice between extreme wealth and hero status would choose the latter. Who is admired more, Bill Gates or Martin Luther King?



[ Parent ]
Reality check (3.66 / 3) (#33)
by QuickFox on Wed Apr 24, 2002 at 06:31:40 PM EST

Who is admired more, Bill Gates or Martin Luther King?

How many people struggle to get a better income? How many struggle to become famous for their altruism?

Give a man a fish and he eats for one day. Teach him how to fish, and though he'll eat for a lifetime, he'll call you a miser for not giving him your fish.



[ Parent ]
"Admired = Emulated" was not the claim. (3.00 / 2) (#38)
by Kaki Nix Sain on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 03:57:31 AM EST



[ Parent ]
The claim (3.00 / 2) (#47)
by QuickFox on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 11:51:15 AM EST

The claim was that altruism is sufficient motivation: "in a civilized society, altruism (perceived or otherwise) is rewarded." "Many people, given the choice between extreme wealth and hero status would choose the latter."

My claim is that it doesn't work out that way. If you check reality, there are more people pursuing a higher income than people pursuing altruist ideals.


Give a man a fish and he eats for one day. Teach him how to fish, and though he'll eat for a lifetime, he'll call you a miser for not giving him your fis
[ Parent ]

Emulated is what counts (2.50 / 2) (#48)
by Woundweavr on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 11:51:29 AM EST

Emulated is what counts on this topic however. People might admire MLK, but that doesn't meant they are going to devote their lives to scientific pursuits for purely altruistic ends. Rather, they will work for themselves primarily, with some thought towards the species as a whole.

[ Parent ]
Ummm... (2.00 / 1) (#39)
by Kaki Nix Sain on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 04:03:05 AM EST

Man does not and should not subvert the individual self for some hypothetical and nonexistant common societal end.
What about a common societal end that is proved to exist? Should humans subvert their individual selves for one of those?



[ Parent ]

Prove it then (1.50 / 2) (#49)
by Woundweavr on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 11:55:45 AM EST

Alright. Prove it.

One can not prove that inventing something, or discovering a new way of explaining the universe or whatever will help further the end of society. Because there is no end of society! Society has values, yes. Society might even have goals. But to pretend that on the onset of your work you can see that what you are doing will benefit mankind, is false and arrogant.

Even if you could see that, how many would take a downtrodden and impoverished life with no reward but a thank you so that the world can have a better toaster oven?

[ Parent ]

I think I'm a bit confused. (none / 0) (#62)
by Kaki Nix Sain on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 10:10:18 PM EST

What is it that I'm being asked to prove?

Are you asking me to prove that there are societal ends? Or are you asking me to prove that some particular thing, that which invention helps along, is a societal end?

I never made any claims about the latter. As for the former... Consider the question "Do you like to be dragged from bed at night, beaten till near death, and left to bleed in the street?" Unless you are quite unusual, your answer is "no". I feel the same. So does most everyone in our society. Thus there are mechanisms in place, police forces and such, that work toward the outsome of not having that happen to anyone. Since "end" in our context means "an outcome worked toward", it is society's individuals that choose the wanted outcome, and society that does the work toward the outcome, it seems more than proper to call this a societal end.

Having given an example from the desired class, I have proven that the class has members.



[ Parent ]

An important distinction (3.40 / 5) (#23)
by davidduncanscott on Wed Apr 24, 2002 at 04:28:53 PM EST

should be made, I think, between "science" and "engineering". I'd bet that most, if not virtually all, patents are for the latter.

The light bulb, to pick a canonical example, isn't a scientific discovery. It's a work of engineering. Incandescence was a discovery, made by I-don't-know-whom, but certainly not Edison (stop, don't bother, I know there were other light bulbs from other people.) Science marched on, with or without Edison (but later at night with his work.)

It was James Watt (none / 0) (#71)
by MickLinux on Sat May 11, 2002 at 07:08:48 PM EST

It was James Watt who invented the lightbulb.  Edison has in his notebook
on one page an article about James Watt using a carbon filament.  On the next
page, he writes "It Works!"  [Scientific Am.]  

In standard "patent" format, he then used his greater assets to fight James Watt into poverty for the patent rights to James Watt's invention.  Eventually Watt, impoverished by the legal battles, agreed that Edison would have the worldwide patent, and Watt would have the patent for England only.  

I call this standard patent format, because that is how patents are used normally -- they deprive the inventors of their rights, and benefit deep-pocket companies only.  

I posted another post on the main section, pointing out that patents are neither (a) common law (b) natural law (c) consistent with capitalism (d) free market.  

However, I don't suppose it matters, because we don't rule ourselves anyways.  It's a loop of "He who has the gold makes the rules", and "He who makes the rule gets the gold."  

I make a call to grace, for the alternative is more broken than you can imagine.
[ Parent ]

Lots of problems (3.50 / 4) (#24)
by Lord of the Wasteland on Wed Apr 24, 2002 at 04:43:22 PM EST

Most of the scientific discoveries are benefiting only the few people that are discovering them

This is completely absurd. No one but drug companies are benefiting from new medicines? No one but auto manufacturers are benefiting from more efficent cars? One can make the argument that benefits to society would be greater without a patent system, but to argue that currently only a few benefit from invention is silly.

But even a communist idea has its good side, and society as a whole does benefit if ideas are shared

Unfortunately, the historical record of innovation in communist countries works against your point rather than for it.

Uhhm, I dunno (none / 0) (#42)
by KaBewM on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 10:05:08 AM EST

> No one but drug companies are benefiting from new medicines? Because when the cure for polio was found, only the people who worked for drug companies got the vaccines > No one but auto manufacturers are benefiting from more efficent cars? I guess I must like spending a crapload of $$$ on gas.

[ Parent ]
several major misconceptions (4.16 / 6) (#26)
by demi on Wed Apr 24, 2002 at 05:12:50 PM EST

Forward 300 years to our present day: Most of the scientific discoveries are benefiting only the few people that are discovering them, and barriers are being erected to protect this "Intellectual Property".

No matter what your opinions of IP are, this statement is absolutely ludicrous. Just looking at the Polymerase Chain Reaction, Recombinant DNA technology, solid-state CMOS, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, homogeneous phase catalysis, and so on, patent issues didn't prevent any of these discoveries from completely changing the world we all live in (all were covered by broad patents at their inception).

Patents protect these discoveries in the short-term and prevent the human species as a whole from benefiting from it.

The human species can't benefit from these discoveries, because they actually have to pay for them? Is this your thesis? Unless the discovery involves using existing infrastructure in a new way that requires no special modifications, there are always capital, material, and labor investments needed, and those inputs don't just materialize from the aether.

The entire purpose of the US patent system is to first issue a temporary monopoly on commercial development of a particular idea or innovation, but also to publish a detailed embodiment of the idea so that everyone else can learn from it and possibly improve on it if possible. In this day and age of rapid progress in high technology, 20 years may seem like an eternity to wait for a patent to expire, but that's sometimes how long it may take for some hugely expensive development projects (like clinical drug development for example) to recoup their expenses. Nonetheless, if licensing the patent proves too expensive, it may be more cost effective to invent and patent your own embodiment, which is why industrial R&D was so much more robust in the latter half of the 20th century than the first (witness the explosion of US patent applications after WWII).

The point of this is that patents are published (with a description of the embodiment sufficient to allow a person 'skilled in the art' to reproduce it - that's a requirement), which is in parallel with the aims of published scientific research. Anyone can read the patents and learn from them and possibly improve on them if there is a way to do it.

Also, the first peer-organized, international publications of scientific research began in 1645 under the monarch Charles II, in the form of the Royal Society of London in the Proceedings. Also see here [royalsoc.ac.uk].



You just argued against software patents (5.00 / 1) (#43)
by pin0cchio on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 10:36:46 AM EST

Unless the discovery involves using existing infrastructure in a new way that requires no special modifications, there are always capital, material, and labor investments needed

Not for software. A discovery of a new algorithm "involves using existing infrastructure" (a generic desktop computer connected to the Internet) "in a new way that requires no special modifications."


lj65
[ Parent ]
software has no development costs? (3.00 / 2) (#46)
by demi on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 11:38:32 AM EST

Do you mean to say that such programs are written for free by volunteers, and tested, distributed, and supported without any cost? So why doesn't Microsoft can all of its employees right now, since they are wasting all of that money?

The type of case that you describe, like Fraunhofer owning patents on mp3 encoding, still has development costs that may not be obvious (some number of man years devoted to mathematically solving, coding, debugging, and distributing the software), even though their licensing scheme may seem to be draconian. What? You don't like that? Then go invent and distribute your own improvement (as the inventors of Ogg have done). The blueprints to start with are right here (hope that huge URL worked).



[ Parent ]

ogg vorbis is lucky (2.50 / 2) (#50)
by robertb on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 03:33:00 PM EST

Real Networks just came out with a new version of their media player. It can supposedly deliver surround sound at 56Kbps. Undoubtedly, they will gain a patent for this. Given that this particular technology will be "locked up" for 20 years or so, what good will it do anyone to have a audio player which allows one to operated at 56Kbps in the year 2022?

The basic problem is that patents last too long. If the inventor can't make a return on investment on their software patent within, say, 3 years, then they get what they deserve.

ogg vorbis is lucky that it can exist at all, given the breadth of software patents granted. Hopefully, by 2022 ogg vorbis will actually be useful. :-)

[ Parent ]
you don't seem to understand (3.50 / 2) (#51)
by demi on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 03:57:20 PM EST

that it's incumbent upon a patent holder with commercial interests, if exclusive rights are held, to earn money from royalties or marketed products. They will either deliver their technology at prices that consumers will bite at, or be forced to license it if they want to make any money.

You can't just patent something and lay in wait like a tiger, pouncing with a lawsuit whenever someone steps on your tail. Generally such cases are thrown out of court if the patent holder has not shown due dilligence in making potential licensors aware of their liabilities (taking Rambus as a recent notable example).

If the inventor can't make a return on investment on their software patent within, say, 3 years, then they get what they deserve.

Did you just conjure that 3 year timeframe from thin air, or do you have any justification for it? Should patent protection be determined despotically, on a case-by-case basis?

So if Real patents a way of delivering high quality sound over voice-data frequencies, there are probably other ways of doing that without infringing on their technology. Real can try to patent certain business models but as of yet those patents have not been successfully enforced. The only way in which it's "locked up" is if people choose only to use Real's technology.

Progress has not yet halted, my friend. There is hope.



[ Parent ]

Rambus (3.00 / 1) (#59)
by dennis on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 06:18:14 PM EST

You can't really generalize from the Rambus case - they got in trouble because they signed an agreement up front saying they had no patents on the technology in question, then revealed the patent after everyone agreed on the standard.

Patents aren't like trademarks - you don't have to make any special effort to keep it. An example is the BT hyperlink patent, which they recently "discovered." The fact that it was buried in a file cabinet for the last fifteen years is not a factor in the case. (But it does look BT will lose on prior art and relevance.)

[ Parent ]

maintenance (3.00 / 2) (#60)
by demi on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 06:39:30 PM EST

The Rambus case is indeed more complicated due to their participation in JEDEC, but their 'unique business strategy' (that's quoted directly from their website) was not successful, and that kind of patent abuse isn't common or well-accepted in the courts generally.

As for upkeep, there are maintenance fees (although they are trivially small compared to the value of the patent in some cases), and expenses related to protecting IP that are becoming more significant as licensing process technology assumes a more important role in global industrial integration. If you're talking about a small high-tech startup (or a small software company), patent portfolios make up almost all of the intangiable assets of the company, and the collateral against which salaries and expenses are paid.

I tend to agree that the nature of software patenting (and the patenting of business models) seems to introduce many constrictions into the process of technological innovation, but a system of legal precedent has not yet arisen to determine exactly how far-reaching their power will be.



[ Parent ]

Patents and the USPTO (5.00 / 1) (#64)
by Powerlord on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 09:21:33 AM EST

So if Real patents a way of delivering high quality sound over voice-data frequencies, there are probably other ways of doing that without infringing on their technology. Real can try to patent certain business models but as of yet those patents have not been successfully enforced. The only way in which it's "locked up" is if people choose only to use Real's technology.

I take it you haven't checked some of the patents granted on software in recent years. It's quite possible for Real to get a patent worded vaguely enough that grants them all rights to "high quality sound over voice-data frequencies" from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Example: They granted Amazon a patent for a single click e-commerce model.

[ Parent ]

no hope for free software (3.00 / 1) (#66)
by robertb on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 01:26:23 PM EST

> Progress has not yet halted, my friend. There is hope.

It has for free software. For those with no incentive to profit, that particular algorithm is "locked up" for them. An argument could be made that by implementing a free version of something takes away from the profit to be made, but, given history of Linux and MS-Windows, it's doubtful that such an argument would pan out.

The thrust of the main article was that most people do not put their patents into the public domain (or any other generous copying provision). So, progress will be slow, if not haltingly so, in the free software/open source world due to monopolies, such as patents, granted to (mostly) weathly individuals and corporations.

[ Parent ]

Programmers don't read patents (4.50 / 2) (#53)
by dennis on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 05:02:26 PM EST

The point of this is that patents are published (with a description of the embodiment sufficient to allow a person 'skilled in the art' to reproduce it - that's a requirement)

I challenge you to find any skilled computer programmer who reads software patents to learn new technologies. Those things aren't written in programmer language, they're written in weird patent-lawyer language, and often by the time you've deciphered them you find out it's something trivial. If we want new ideas we look at the peer-reviewed literature.

if licensing the patent proves too expensive, it may be more cost effective to invent and patent your own embodiment

Except that many patents are written so broadly that you can't. If you want to satisfy the same goal, you infringe the patent.

[ Parent ]

broad patent rights (2.50 / 2) (#55)
by demi on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 05:19:29 PM EST

are a great strategy when you are pitching a start-up company, but in practice it is much easier to defend a narrowly defined patent in court. For a patent to be (partially or wholly) invalidated it may only require a demonstration of 'prior art' against one or more of the claims, which can be a mercilessly vague threshold. Most very ambitious, territory-grabbing patents do not hold up well against infringement suits, historically, although who knows what the situation will be in the near future.

I challenge you to find any skilled computer programmer who reads software patents to learn new technologies.

Well, then they are lacking in some basic research skills, I'd have to say. But you are right in that patents are not the place to look for the latest information, considering that they have been languishing in the examiner's office for a couple of years. They're a lot more useful in the product planning stage than in process engineering, at least that's the case in high-technology fields. You need to know where your work stands with respect to your competition's.



[ Parent ]

Research (4.00 / 1) (#58)
by dennis on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 06:13:20 PM EST

Well, then they are lacking in some basic research skills

A fundamental research skill is to know which sources have worthwhile information. The point here is that software patents do not. They are written in obscure language, and are frequently trivial.

What I'm trying to say here is that a key purpose, as you mentioned, of patents is to make innovations public so other people can build on them. While I can't speak for other fields, patents in software rarely accomplish this goal.

And while it's true that broad patents are often overturned, it's also true that the process of overturning them tends to be very expensive. Even though overturned, they impose an unnecessary cost on innovation.

[ Parent ]

Imagination (3.00 / 1) (#28)
by Wing Envy on Wed Apr 24, 2002 at 05:18:03 PM EST

If nothing else, at the very least patents force us to exercise our imagination, thoughts, ideas, discoveries to the highest postulate. Would we have come so far in technology in the last hundred years if this wasn't the case? It's certainly a nice ideal to entertain, but I'm wary that the fear of exploitation would hinder us in the long run.

Sans patents, if discoveries and inventions could be developed by anyone, what profession would be the most worthwhile, economically speaking? It seems that discoveries would falter for the pure sake of greed.


You don't get to steal all the deficiency. I want some to.
-mrgoat

I Hate You Thieves (2.83 / 6) (#36)
by thecabinet on Wed Apr 24, 2002 at 09:40:17 PM EST

Most of the scientific discoveries are benefiting only the few people that are discovering them, and barriers are being erected to protect this "Intellectual Property". Are patents then a hindrance or a boost to our common intellect?

If patents benefit only the few people that are discovering them, then why does the patent system disturb you so much? After all, you gain nothing from these inventions, right? Why then, do you want them when you don't benefit from them?

I'll paraphrase your thoughts for you:
I am too lazy or unintelligent to ever create something the world will want, but I know that I might be able to rile up enough similarly inept and unable people to have the law changed to [what I think] will be my favor.

Corporate America is the thief, not us... (5.00 / 1) (#52)
by r00t on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 04:18:41 PM EST

Of course I'll follow the lead of Bill Gates/Larry Ellison/etc... you invent something and I'll take ownership of it and collect all the royalties, and if you keep up the good work I'll give you a raise.

-It's not so much what you have to learn if you accept weird theories, it's what you have to unlearn. - Isaac Asimov
[ Parent ]

Boohoo, Corporate America (3.00 / 1) (#63)
by thecabinet on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 06:40:03 AM EST

This [thieving Corporate America] is simply not the case. The sad fact is, the vast majority of people are not gifted with the intelligence, vision, and luck necessary to create a truely revolutionary product, be it a better mousetrap or a better word processor.

There is a larger, but still relatively small, population of people who are able to implement someone else's idea when provided with a few resources. Their contributions are not stolen, they are paid for by their employer.

If you think their work is stolen, consider what would happen to them if left on their own. Without direction and a steady income source, even those who can create ideas may not have the resources necessary to feed themselves for the years it would take an individual to implement some large project.

Those people who do originally invent something are not forced to hand it over to their employers. In some cases they may be stopped by the law from developing it on their own, due to clauses in their employment agreement, but that is not theft. If you came upon your idea as a result of your employment, then your employer is entitled to a share of it.

[ Parent ]

Re:Boohoo, Corporate America (4.00 / 1) (#67)
by r00t on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 02:35:37 PM EST

..and as corporate america "learns" more they will inevitably control more, since every idea will HAVE to be handed over to them. Where does it stop?

This of course means they control what we are and are not allowed to do ... and the only things we will be allowed to do are what is marektable and will drive a profit... and what drives a profit is easy to use, dumb down shit.

I derive pleasure from hacking around on computers and playing with "IP" as opposed to watching TV, listening to music or any of these applications of "IP". Afterall, that is what linux is all about, for people that don't like the crap corporate america tries to sell us. We don't want the toys to play with, we want the IP to play with. Corporate america won't give it, so the community created its own.

-It's not so much what you have to learn if you accept weird theories, it's what you have to unlearn. - Isaac Asimov
[ Parent ]

Patents should belong to the individual... (4.00 / 2) (#40)
by r00t on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 05:03:03 AM EST

In western society (Capitalist Science), an individual rarely benefits from their patent because it becomes the property of the corporation/university/etc... in which he belongs.

In Easter society (Commie Science), an individual rarely benefits from their patent because it becomes the property of everyone.

So either the public gets it and benefits from it or the employer gets it and benefits from it, while the scientist who did all the work may get a small raise/bonus or something else of little signifigance.

Bill Gates is a prime example of capitalist science, MS has hundreds of patents of which *probably* none where invented by Bill himself, yet he benefits greatly while his R&D team does not, they just keep feeding him the information.

So it seems that in either commie or capitalist science, the scientist is not benefitting, if s/he was then the patent would be registered under the scientists name as the sole owner and inventor of the patent... and as corporations grow and aquire more patents, they affectively begin to control everything because they have access to information others do not, which of course, has the potential for abuse and no doubt will be abused.

I think whoever created something worthy of patenting should own it as an individual and the work should be made publicy available. The patent should only guarantee that the individual is the only one who may capitalize on it for a short period of time.

-It's not so much what you have to learn if you accept weird theories, it's what you have to unlearn. - Isaac Asimov

Well that's all very well (3.50 / 2) (#56)
by SIGFPE on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 05:50:22 PM EST

So I own my own patent. And then a corporation says: "we'll pay you this much a week if you turn your ideas over to us as you invent them" and I think "that sounds good because I can't market them myself" and it ends up in the hands of the corporation anyway.

Of course you could make it illegal for me to transfer ownership to a corporation in which case I'm unhappy that you've taken away my right to do what I want with my idea.
SIGFPE
[ Parent ]

fair enough... (4.00 / 1) (#61)
by r00t on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 09:39:15 PM EST

Then you could licence your idea out to a corporation similar to how Microsoft liscences their IP (aka Windows/Office etc) to the public... if you so choose you could give them sole use of it for a given period of time or state they can use it, but you are free to create deals with others to use it as well. In this way corporate america can still build their product but the power remains with the individual that created it, not the business man or politian that doesn't understand it.

-It's not so much what you have to learn if you accept weird theories, it's what you have to unlearn. - Isaac Asimov
[ Parent ]

They do... (5.00 / 1) (#65)
by sully on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 10:36:55 AM EST

Patents do belong to the individual who files them, assuming she does not voluntarily agree to sign those rights over to her employer in exchange for a steady paycheck (in which case the paycheck is her benefit reaped from the invention). If an inventor wants to keep the patent herself, she'll have to find some other way of funding her work. Some people have. It's usually in the better interest of the inventor to go the first route, though.


-------------
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of my prefrontal cortex.
[ Parent ]
For those of you attacking Communism (5.00 / 1) (#68)
by FatHed on Mon Apr 29, 2002 at 07:01:56 AM EST

Make sure you have read the Communist Manifesto, it is less than 20 bucks at Amazon, and I'm sure it's available for free online somewhere.

Communism is not only for bad governments, the best examples of communism working come from before the Manifesto was even written, or Marx's birth for that matter.

Once you are in the cycle of capitalism, it become a transparent need to be accepted by society, and you get stuck in it. Now, take that problem, multiply it by the number of people on the planet. Not an easy thing to fix. It gets worse when you look at capitalism and how each country, including Communist(which still practice capitalism, since every country on the planet does, "Made in China") views capitalism and intellectual property.

Also, everyone should read "The People's History of the United States: 1492 to the Present", by Howard Zinn. Shameless plug, but it is a great book.

Intelligence is a matter of opinion.
Hmm, Scratch that. (none / 0) (#69)
by FatHed on Mon Apr 29, 2002 at 07:20:03 AM EST

I should really not post after 4 am anymore,
"Communism is not only for bad governments"
I didn't mean to write that, and I can't remember what I meant to write.

Intelligence is a matter of opinion.
[ Parent ]
Patents are not captialism, natural or common law (none / 0) (#70)
by MickLinux on Sat May 11, 2002 at 02:45:44 PM EST

I'd like to add a few points here:  

(1) Patents [and copyrights] are not common law.  According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, they both started late in history, as a way for kings (1) to funnel profits to friends of the throne and (2) ensure proper censorship.  They are not historical in the sense that common law is.

(2) Patents are not natural law.  Natural law does include a natural definition of ownership:  you own that which you can defend and control.  One of the prime problems of both patents and copyrights is that it is next to impossible to actually defend and control an *idea*.  Once you let it out, anyone can implement it as they see fit.  So in order to have actual patents that are upheld, you end up requiring a police state.  

*Alternatively, you could choose not to uphold patents and copyrights completely -- to let the scofflaws get away with it.  But now we conflcit with natural law in a different way:  when you benefit the lawbreakers and bind the lawabiding, then you destroy respect for law in general.  Thus, patents and copyrights are against natural law, too.

(3) Patents have nothing to do with capitalism.    Patents are used by large companies to enable them to steal from smaller companies, while preventing the smaller companies from competing.  This is done through many means, including that point that (A) every patent is breakable, (B) Patents can only be enforced through lawsuit, but the appeals process makes it beneficial for the big-money entity to keep the lawsuit in appeal until the smaller entity breaks (C)  Patents are a way that companies and universities can steal the ideas of their employees, and have it upheld in court, before the employee has even had the idea.  

But if you undermine small companies in favor of big companies, then you undermine the very basis of capitalism, which encouragest money to be spread around through many industries.  Indeed, you have corparchy (corporate monarchy).

Everything having to do with patents thus violates not only the spirit of free enterprise, laissez faire, liberty, and true capitalism, as well as undermining basic law and order.

I make a call to grace, for the alternative is more broken than you can imagine.

The Mersenne problem... of Patents? | 71 comments (47 topical, 24 editorial, 0 hidden)
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