Bonum Certa Men Certa

Trivial Questions and Trivial Software Patents

The book Patent Failure has just been recommended by Groklaw and its synopsis indicates that it revolves around the issue of property. How does one define it? Can mathematics be a property? An algorithm? Folklore? Can a company sue someone for singing? Over at Glyn Moody's blog, the following eye-opening bit about imaginary property gets a mention.

If you came across a trash can filled with lawfully made compact discs and DVDs that the copyright owner had authorized to be put in that trash can and then thrown away because it didn’t want to pay the postage to have them returned, do you think you could be criminally prosecuted for selling those copies, and would you think that the copyright owners would be entitled to restitution under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act? If you answered no to these questions, you would be wrong according to the Eighth Circuit.


It is rather sad, but it is true, in accordance with man-made laws. How about this newly-granted Networks In Motion patent?

The patent, titled “Point of Interest Spatial Rating Search Method and System”, basically describes a situation where a user could pull up third-party reviews, low-price ratings or subcategories based on a local store or landmark, such as a shop or restaurant.


How did we end up this way? Here is a good article from the Huffington Post. [via Digital Majority]

The highwater mark was the notorious 1998 State Street decision, which Rich authored and which summarily eliminated the longstanding exclusion of patents for business methods. (1) Suddenly, patents were no longer limited to technology but available for any form of human activity.

By tying the PTO's budget to the fees it collected, Congress would inspire a new PTO mission, "to help customers get patents."


If the goal is to encourage and welcome more and more patents, then it is hardly surprising that:

  1. The number of patents stands at many millions, which makes it impossible for an inventor to keep track of them (and thus develop peacefully).
  2. There is too much duplication and extremely generic things get patented under the guise of (artificially-introduced) complexity.
  3. Patents get approved where they should be rejected. We previously pointed out that there are greater financial incentives for a reviewer to approve a patent application.


In today's news, it is once again indicated that Alcatel-Lucent will continue to suffer and there is a very negative forecast. Last week we explained how struggling companies resort to using their supposedly-defensive patents when they desperately crave some cash. Remember Alcatel-Lucent's lawsuit against Microsoft, which resulted in a $1.5 billion question.

It is not just struggling companies that attack. Those who struggle can be knocked completely off their feet (or market) when the wrath of patents looms. Case of point from the news:

Patent court affirms Kodak win over Ampex



[...]

Financially struggling Ampex, which replaced its CEO last February, was founded in 1944 and was once considered a Silicon Valley innovator. It is credited with inventing the commercial video recorder in 1956 and first U.S. tape recorder in 1948.


The share price of Ampex took a considerable tumble. Yet another long-time innovator falls victim to aggression.

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