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When will we fire everyone in the US Patent Office?

JasconiusJasconius sword criminalmad onlineRegistered User regular
http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/07/podcasting-patented-after-2003-application-approved-by-uspto.ars

Just the latest in the never ending slew of absolutely stupid actions by the Patent Office, which appears to be staffed exclusively by late-middle-aged librarians who've never heard of "the facebooks".

As with all previous ridiculous tech patents such as the one related to MMO's, we can all just point and laugh since such a thing will never hold up in any court.

This continuously raises the question of the role of our patent system in the tech sector, especially in relation to software... it seems that the entire notion of software patents are diametrically opposed to anti-trust law, since these patents always tend to be extremely vague and could easily embody massive sub-genres of major industries.

I think (and I could be wrong) that we already have a legal precedent in America along the lines of "you can't patent literal lines code", why haven't we extended that to "you can't patent massive overarching concepts in software"?

Jasconius on

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    saggiosaggio Registered User regular
    edited July 2009
    You may want to consider to moving this to D&D.

    saggio on
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    CyvrosCyvros Registered User regular
    edited July 2009
    What

    The

    FUCK

    They'll grant anything, won't they? Like James Dyson's patent about how making everything in the kitchen cuboid would save space.

    Cyvros on
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    JasconiusJasconius sword criminal mad onlineRegistered User regular
    edited July 2009
    I could understand patents on actual underlying technology. Invented a sweet new network protocol? Awesome, patent it. Some sort of new circuit design? Go for it.

    I fail to see any tangible difference between a patent like this one and what would result in someone patenting "electronic adding machines" or "thin metal blades that can cut food".

    Jasconius on
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    MorvidusMorvidus Registered User regular
    edited July 2009
    I'm going to patent downloading. Guess what, you downloaded this message. PAY ME!

    Also, wouldn't forums be considered "episodic content" since they change every day as well?

    I blame republicans.

    Morvidus on
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    DjeetDjeet Registered User regular
    edited July 2009
    So the original claim was filed in 2003. If the process of approving the patent (a multiple-year period in which there's a dialogue between the patent office and the filer to adjust the claims such that the USPTO finds them acceptable) were much speedier, such that the patent could have been approved before podcasting became viable and/or popular in any way, would that be OK?

    Cause to do that most likely you wouldn't want to fire all the USPTO employees, but rather have them hire a shitton more people who have deep experience in various technical fields and IP law. I'm not even sure that would help individual patents move through the approval process faster, or if it would just allow them to process more of them.

    Or is the very idea of software patents what's considered outrageous here?

    Djeet on
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    kpeezykpeezy Registered User regular
    edited July 2009
    This is a patent continuance filed in 2008. The original patent was filed in 2003.

    kpeezy on
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    subediisubedii Registered User regular
    edited July 2009
    Jasconius wrote: »

    This continuously raises the question of the role of our patent system in the tech sector, especially in relation to software... it seems that the entire notion of software patents are diametrically opposed to anti-trust law, since these patents always tend to be extremely vague and could easily embody massive sub-genres of major industries.

    This pretty much sums up my view. Software patents have never been about actual implementations, just vague concepts and ideas on how things can be implemented, which really does seem to be at odds with the way the patent system is supposed to work. You should not be able to patent an "idea", but those are the things that constantly get granted.

    I think IP law in general is in need of massive, MASSIVE reforms. Concepts of ownership of IP have been really bent out of shape because we've been trying to fit laws that were originally designed around physical media, items and ownership ideas onto things that don't have a physical existence of any sort and aren't actually limited on a physical level (at least not to the same extent). The concept of IP is supposed to be about ultimately serving the consumers and society through providing incentives for the creation of creative works (scientific or artisitic). The definition has been skewed over the years to place this balance completely out of whack and instead in favour of the IP holders, more and more at the expense of everyone else.

    I'll also agree with Saggio that this thread might do better in D&D.

    subedii on
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    DjeetDjeet Registered User regular
    edited July 2009
    Most of the documents referred in the main filing were filed in 2003 or earlier. The only 2 that weren't are "Virtual video on demand using multiple encrypted video segments" and "Intelligent electronic appliance system and method" (DVR or settop device) so the meat of the patent (and the stuff having to do with "podcasting") all seems legitimately 2003 or previous.

    Just because it's a continuance doesn't mean that it's patent-trolling. Even Ars gives Navar the benefit of the doubt here "As for the patent application, it says that it was filed in 2008—but it serves as a continuance to a 2003 patent. Such procedural moves can keep patent applications alive for years, though this can lead to obvious problems as applicants try to game the system by changing a patent's language over time to better describe whatever is currently hot in the marketplace. The USPTO has made rules changes to prevent applicants from "moving the goalposts" this way, and there's no evidence that Navar's drawn-out application process was done in bad faith."


    It takes years to get one approved (maybe fewer if you're a big company that has done it a lot and has a wing of lawyers to vet the paperwork). Usually the initial filing has too-broad of claims and the USPTO asks you to narrow them, or the claims infringe on an already granted patent and your claims need to be modified to accomodate them. Edit: Excepting obvious trash like patenting "is" or perpetual motion machines.


    How do you distinguish between a patent troll, and someone who's innovative trying to use the IP system to protect his/her investments of time, money, effort, etc.?

    Djeet on
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    HenroidHenroid Mexican kicked from Immigration Thread Centrism is Racism :3Registered User regular
    edited July 2009
    I should file a patent on embedding video and audio on webpages. Y'know, to cash in on this kind of bullshit.

    I can't believe they would hand out a patent on an activity or basic function of the net.

    Henroid on
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    elliotw2elliotw2 Registered User regular
    edited July 2009
    Excuse me guys, I'm going to go file a patent on putting text into a file to display over a network of some kind.

    Really, the patent office will register almost anything you give them, and they don't care about common sense or anything with it.

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    UncleSporkyUncleSporky Registered User regular
    edited July 2009
    elliotw2 wrote: »
    Excuse me guys, I'm going to go file a patent on putting text into a file to display over a network of some kind.

    Really, the patent office will register almost anything you give them, and they don't care about common sense or anything with it.

    Look I'm not necessarily in favor of the patent, but is this really necessary? You don't know the whole story behind the patent, how long it was in process of being filed prior to 2003, or how many patents of similarly ridiculous nature are turned away every day (like the ones most people are saying to be funny). Why is it unlikely that this is just one that slipped through the cracks?

    How many patents does this office have to deal with on a regular basis that include "methods for electrical impulses to travel through wires and form data?"

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    DjeetDjeet Registered User regular
    edited July 2009
    elliotw2 wrote: »
    Really, the patent office will register almost anything you give them, and they don't care about common sense or anything with it.

    This is pretty much completely untrue in my experience with USPTO. Allmost all filings get kicked back to the filer. Haven't seen a straight rejection personally, but I assume that's because it's supposed to be a constructive experience, and if you don't file your amendment or re-filed application or whatever by a certain deadline the application essentially expires.

    Edit: On a sidenote, I find the idea that patents are issued for the direct benefit of anyone other then the patent-holder to be kind of naive.

    Djeet on
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    JasconiusJasconius sword criminal mad onlineRegistered User regular
    edited July 2009
    elliotw2 wrote: »
    Excuse me guys, I'm going to go file a patent on putting text into a file to display over a network of some kind.

    Really, the patent office will register almost anything you give them, and they don't care about common sense or anything with it.

    Why is it unlikely that this is just one that slipped through the cracks?

    Because they tend to be detailed technical documents that must be read before passed? I think the point here is similar to how having congressmen voting on science issues is a bad idea because they simply are not educated enough to make decisions on such things.

    I supposed "slipped through the cracks" is a relative thing, but it's not like this is the conveyor belt scene on I Love Lucy. These things are supposedly read in detail by human beings. I envision a scenario where someone reads a document such as the one about podcasting, and, having not personally ever heard of such an invention, thinks it's completely legitimate and offers a patent on something that would be essentially possible to enforce, because expatriating internet services is easy.

    Jasconius on
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    ÆthelredÆthelred Registered User regular
    edited July 2009
    There were podcasts before 2003. Proving prior usage shouldn't be hard for anyone who needs to challenge this patent.

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    UncleSporkyUncleSporky Registered User regular
    edited July 2009
    Jasconius wrote: »
    Because they tend to be detailed technical documents that must be read before passed? I think the point here is similar to how having congressmen voting on science issues is a bad idea because they simply are not educated enough to make decisions on such things.

    I supposed "slipped through the cracks" is a relative thing, but it's not like this is the conveyor belt scene on I Love Lucy. These things are supposedly read in detail by human beings. I envision a scenario where someone reads a document such as the one about podcasting, and, having not personally ever heard of such an invention, thinks it's completely legitimate and offers a patent on something that would be essentially possible to enforce, because expatriating internet services is easy.

    No, what I mean is, there was an assumption that the patent office is full of idiots that let anything through. I see no reason to assume this based on one patent, and especially with the above posts.

    I am saying that it seems more reasonable to assume that many highly technical patents get filed constantly that are rejected for intelligent reasons, and this one slipped past for whatever reason. That is not cause to condemn the entirety of our patent office.

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    DjeetDjeet Registered User regular
    edited July 2009
    There were podcasts before 2003. Proving prior usage shouldn't be hard for anyone who needs to challenge this patent.

    If that's the case then no one really has to worry, since if you can claim prior art, the patent holders claims aren't really worth anything.

    I don't see what the big deal is unless the patent-holder actually uses their claim to run someone out of business or otherwise stifle innovation somehow (read: is a troll).

    I think the patents system actually helps the smaller guys the most. A mega-company playing in a large space is going to file for a large number of patents out of course as soon as they can get the R&D guys to describe what it is they're doing. Whereas a small software company trying to develop something new and possibly cool, well patents are probably the only way to protect themselves as they shop out the concept to an entity that might be able to bring it to market.


    All the feedback I've been given from the USPTO (indirectly as it's filtered through our patent attorney, cause I'm not going to parse it) has been pretty intelligent and pretty pointed towards clarifying what the claims are. It could be we've been lucky, but I can hardly call them as a whole, a bunch of idiots who'll approve anything, which seems to be a common perspective amongst those who've never had to deal with them.


    This is all independent of whether patents on software are a good thing in and of themselves. Personally I think pure software should be protected under copyright, although outside of individual developers and OSS communities I could see that having a pretty cooling effect on a lot of software development.

    Djeet on
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    SiliconStewSiliconStew Registered User regular
    edited July 2009
    Patents are worthless today.

    Patent examiners are paid on the number of patents they approve so there is no incentive to reject anything. That's why everything gets sent back for reclarification or continuances filed for years. Even if the patent is bullshit, they're happy to just let the courts handle it later.

    Patents can hardly be used to recreate the thing in question. The language used is so convoluted and broad so as to confuse everyone and cover as many applications as possible that the actual detail on how the thing works is lost. In fact, since the patent office got rid of the requirement for an actual working implementation of the patent subject, it doesn't matter if it is even possible to create what the patent describes.

    Patents are written by lawyers, for lawyers and are never used by anyone designing new things. Part of the intention of the patent system was to serve as a reference for others in need of solutions to problems in there own products. This was supposed to reduce the duplication of effort that can happen. Ideally, if you had a problem, you could do a patent search, find a solution, and then license that idea from whoever created it. But people hate spending money on fees, so they would either remake their own version, or steal the idea and hope noone noticed. Now in an infringement case, if you had prior knowledge of the patent and still violated it, the damages are tripled. Therefore anyone working on creating things are specifically barred from doing patent searches in case they ever get sued. So if the only people looking at patents are the lawyers, what's the fucking point.

    There doesn't seem to be any sort of estoppel penalties for letting others infringe your patent, so people are quite content to let infringement continue for years before filing suit for past damages. When your entire business can consist of buying patents and then suing others, something is wrong with the system.

    Software patents in particular are terrible. There can be many implementations (actual code) of the same algorithm with many variations in usefulness (performance, efficiency) but the patents never describe the implementation (the actual code) because it's better for the lawyers if it can be applied as broadly as possible. So again, you can't actually recreate the patent from the documentation. They are also the only thing that get protected by both patents and copyright. They need to choose one.

    SiliconStew on
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    FremFrem Registered User regular
    edited August 2009
    Podcasting was only named in 2004. There may have been a few podcasts in 2003, but they didn't really take off until later. Does anyone know what/when the first one was?

    Dave Winer was talking about something similar in 2001.
    Software patents in particular are terrible. There can be many implementations (actual code) of the same algorithm with many variations in usefulness (performance, efficiency) but the patents never describe the implementation (the actual code) because it's better for the lawyers if it can be applied as broadly as possible. So again, you can't actually recreate the patent from the documentation. They are also the only thing that get protected by both patents and copyright. They need to choose one.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_patent#Comparison_to_copyrights
    Wikipedia wrote:
    Copyrights prevent nonfunctional items from being copied. To show copyright infringement, you must show the infringing item was copied from the original. The copyrighted artistic expression must either have no substantial practical utility (e.g. a statue) or be separable from the useful substrate (e.g. picture on a coffee mug).

    Design patents, on the other hand, cover the ornamental aspects of functional items from being infringed. One does not have to show that the infringing item was copied from the original. Thus a design that was arrived at independently can still infringe a design patent.

    Many objects can be covered by both copyrights and design patents. The Statue of Liberty is one such example.

    Frem on
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    EvanderEvander Disappointed Father Registered User regular
    edited August 2009
    Djeet wrote: »
    Edit: On a sidenote, I find the idea that patents are issued for the direct benefit of anyone other then the patent-holder to be kind of naive.

    Really?

    Because the purpose of patents is to encourage innovation, as innovation, on the whole, is a benefit to society at large.

    Without patents, there is less incentive to innovate, as your competition is free to simply steal your innovations. It is the existence of patents that makes R&D costs worthwhile, as without patents it would be more financially sound to just sit back and steal innovations produced by other competitors.

    Evander on
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    DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited August 2009
    Evander wrote: »
    Djeet wrote: »
    Edit: On a sidenote, I find the idea that patents are issued for the direct benefit of anyone other then the patent-holder to be kind of naive.

    Really?

    Because the purpose of patents is to encourage innovation, as innovation, on the whole, is a benefit to society at large.

    Without patents, there is less incentive to innovate, as your competition is free to simply steal your innovations. It is the existence of patents that makes R&D costs worthwhile, as without patents it would be more financially sound to just sit back and steal innovations produced by other competitors.

    This is the theory, anyway. In practice, in the software industry, major players have massive patent portfolios cross-licenced with each other in a sort of M.A.D.-style setup, where if one tries to sue another, dozens of patent suits go in both directions. Then, the major players use these patent portfolios to sue startups once they look like they're getting some momentum, either to get them out of the way or to soften them up for a buyout, oftentimes regardless of the merit of the actual claims.

    The system has some problems in practice.

    Daedalus on
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    Grizzly_AddamsGrizzly_Addams Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited August 2009
    In reading this thread I came up with dozens of good analogies and jokes, but the tone of this thread is getting dark!

    But on the subject, I believe this particular patent to be too vague (newsflash!) and to claim that your company single handedly pioneered the idea of delivering episodic content to an intended or requested-by userbase is absurd. Television has been doing this for... decades? The idea is just moved to digital distribution methods. Does this mean cable, phone, and dish companies are going to have to license from Volomedia if they are providing episodic OnDemand services?! It might if you read that "patent" in any number of ways.

    While the subject has been bouncing back and forth between whether or not this should be a legitimate patent, and how much the patent office sucks, I sure hope noone agrees with the former.

    Grizzly_Addams on
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    AzioAzio Registered User regular
    edited August 2009
    Evander wrote: »
    Really?

    Because the purpose of patents is to encourage innovation, as innovation, on the whole, is a benefit to society at large.

    Without patents, there is less incentive to innovate, as your competition is free to simply steal your innovations. It is the existence of patents that makes R&D costs worthwhile, as without patents it would be more financially sound to just sit back and steal innovations produced by other competitors.
    If you think that patent and copyright law, in its current form, is even remotely an incentive to creativity and innovation then you are a giant tool. There is no incentive to be creative when you can rake in millions by controlling the distribution of the work of long-dead artists, or by endlessly renewing the copyright on a decades-old work. Or by patenting scroll bars.

    Intelligent, creative people are going to make things that benefit society whether or not we have laws to protect the failed business models of amoral corporations.

    Azio on
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