10.11.12

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The Press Turned Against Patents

Posted in America, Europe, Google, Patents at 1:35 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Printers

Summary: Examples from the press of anger directed at patents and a face-saving attempt from the USPTO to avert criticism

Web sites across the world challenge the idea that ideas can be ‘stolen’ as more and more people feel personally affected. “As the Apple vs. Samsung dispute wages on,” writes TuxRadar, “with both sides arguing about rounded corners and rectangles; for this week’s podcast, we want to know what can Linux really take from Apple?”

Apple wants billions in so-called ‘damages’ and unrest against patent law grows as even the New York Times calls for change, especially “When Patents Become Weapons”. There is an article titled “Smartphone wars: Patents are the new weapons” in Times of India and it is increasingly important when Microsoft partners like Infosys arm themselves. “How patents slow down the pace of technological innovation” is another noteworthy article from the Asian press.

“The premise that monopolies are beneficial for innovation is utterly flawed…”The legal press plays along with the broken patent system which is ignoring the actual source of the problem (patents are inherently problematic, not just the review process). Articles say that the USPTO is trying to patch up a broken system with help from Google. This latter article says that “Stack Exchange and Google are teaming up to make it easy for geeks to shoot down overbroad and ridiculous patents,” but this is not an effective approach as it helps further legitimise all those patents which cannot be shot down.

The USPTO has inherently philosophical problems. The premise that monopolies are beneficial for innovation is utterly flawed, so asking the public to participate is just adding insult to injury. This is not the first time that Google helps patent offices whilst also applying for more software patents. As one writer put it, “I don’t mean to come down on Google. Their patent policies are much better than those of most tech companies. But I bet most Google engineers — along with the overwhelming majority of software engineers in general — would agree with the following statement in a heartbeat: most software patents are total bullshit.”

People are getting broad patents on abstract ideas and Google does not do much about it except participate in this whole mess. Google is schizophrenic about it because lawyers join the engineers there. Google did this in the EPO too. This is where crucial debates carries on with software patents at stake. We will cover that in the next post.

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2 Comments

  1. mcinsand said,

    October 11, 2012 at 2:14 pm

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    Despite being simply evil, Apple might be doing some good here by highlighting just how incomptetent the USPTO has become, so that companies like Apple can gain patents on others’ ideas and then terrorize the industry. I can’t find it now, but there was an article last week detailing and documenting Apple’s carpet-bombing approach to handset patents, which was to file on everything without bothering to consider prior art or whether the ‘inventors’ consider the idea in question novel. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be dealing with this rounded corners or slide-to-unlock garbage. We’ve had patent trolls before, but Apple is thankfully a name that Joe Public recognizes, unlike Nathan Myhrvold or Acacia. We saw earlier this year with SOPA that, when the public starts paying attention, we actually have a chance at making a difference.

    Apple has always been shameless about stealing others’ ideas, even as their late cult leader proclaimed it. What is really wrong is how they have historically and currently take from others to claim it as their own. In the 1990’s, they sued Microsoft for using the concept of a windowed environment, which Apple stole from Xerox. Now, we’re seeing them continue to take from others, and the cultmembers continue to proclaim that Apple ‘invented’ what others have developed before.

    The other issue is that Apple has gotten away with anticompetitive practices for a good while and, sadly, much of the FOSS community has implicitly endorsed it. MS was the 800 pound gorilla and, and too many took the attitude of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ no matter how wrong Apple’s business practices have been. The time to apply anticompetitive scrutiny is not after a company has established a huge market presence, but before. Principles that matter when companies are huge also matter when they are more minor.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Before I left on a honeymoon I had said that Apple’s case against Samsung would result in increased awareness of how messed up the patent system is. Almost every article critical of software patents now cites the case.

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