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The Patent System is Broken.. and How NOT to Fix It

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I'LL be doing an interview with the CEO of OIN following this umbrella's announcement of an initiative called "Linux Defenders". Groklaw has the details.

The Open Invention Network, the Software Freedom Law Center, and the Linux Foundation have teamed up to create another tool to defend Linux from patents. It will be hosted by the NYU Peer to Patent folks, where Mark Webbink is now. It is called Linux Defenders, and that would be you, in that they are asking folks to provide prior art to block anyone else from patenting it. Over time, this could be very significant as a protective wall. Essentially, as I understand it, it works like this: Since it costs a prohibitive amount of money to file for patents, the workaround is defensive publication. That results in prior art which can then block patents on that prior art. Brilliant, my dear Watson. No kidding.


In an article that relates to this previous one from Monday, some more details are made available. (subscription is required though) and Slashdot has this summary:

An anonymous reader lets us know about a new initiative designed to help shield the open source software community from threats posed by patent trolls. The initiative, called Linux Defenders (the website is slated to go live tomorrow, Dec. 9), is sponsored by a consortium of technology companies including IBM.


This initiative still fails to properly address the issue of patent trolls, the solution to which is only a serious reform or elimination of software patents. Over at TechDirt, Mike explains part of the issue at hand:

[M]any patent holders bring lawsuits on technologies that are pretty far from what's in the claims -- usually hoping that the accused will settle rather than take the issue to court.


This is why even poor patents are difficult to defeat. Having them reexamined is expensive (c.f. Firestar for details [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]).

As to OIN's approach, this old interview with Jerry Rosenthal (previous CEO of OIN) highlighted a flaw:

Glyn Moody said: "Typically, patent trolls don't have any products, so they are unlikely to be infringing on any of your patents. Isn't that a problem for the OIN approach?"

The reply from OIN was sincere: "Very clearly there's not much we can do with regard to patent trolls."

We will hopefully have some more reassuring answers from the current CEO. One person suggested that we ask:

"You said in an interview to LinuxJournal that "there is clearly not much we can do with regard to patent trolls". You are also supporting high quality patents. Does OIN's defensive approach work with a patent troll suing Linux with a portfolio of multiple high quality patents?"

We are not alone in our skepticism of patent pools and 'umbrellas' of portfolios. They fail to tackle some of the worst villains out there, some of whom can operate on behalf of companies like Microsoft. Here is what Radu wrote in his latest rant about this subject:

RE: A no-fly zone to protect Linux from patent trolls, where the OIN CEO says: €«We’re not anti-patent by any stretch of the imagination. More patents is fine with me, as long as they’re high quality. Quality is the drum we beat.€» This is 100% bullshit. If it's about “quality software patents”, then the OIN is favoring software patents! (But I knew that Linux is suicidal.) OTOH, I personally believe that not only software patents should be voided, but all kind of patents. We're having too many patents — idiotic and obvious or not —, so that any inventor should probably pay too much just to check if his work can be considered as original or if he has to pay royalties to someone else! This is severely discouraging innovation IMNSHO. Heck, even the straw dispenser at McDonalds has a patent number on its top cover! In the 21st century, one would expect that ideas that could come to a 3-y.o. kid are not covered by patents, but they are.


Intellectual Monopolies in General



The rant above extends dissatisfaction beyond just software; this is not something new and many even consider this point of view rather conventional. One of our readers points to this new article which challenges or at least questions the effects of excessive restriction.

There are plenty of good ideas that we read about every day that will substantially increase the quality of our lives. Imagine for a moment that we find out we can easily harness Solar Energy for our energy requirements. In order to make it technologically feasible, considerable research needs to go into it. This research needs money. I can imagine Oil Companies being very interested in this research. Not in order to further it, but to throttle it. Nothing could be simpler for them, than to talk to one person, buy his or her patent for their latest invention, and let it collect dust on the shelves.

[...]

Another example is how major corporations like the RIAA are trying to throttle p2p. The RIAA would be exceedingly happy if the entire Bittorrent technology was scrapped, along with all the good that comes of it. But why go so far? The RIAA claims that even ripping CD’s to your harddisk is illegal. They would be happy if that technology was scrapped as well.


Here is another discussion about this subject in light of the deep recession.

Can the business practices of the 1930s yield useful lessons for executives setting priorities in today’s uncertain and evolving environment? For investments to promote innovation, the answer may be yes. Executives are often told to maintain investment during downturns. It’s easy to question this countercyclical advice, however, in times like the Depression or the present, when the volatility of financial markets (an indicator of uncertainty) reaches historic highs. Is the typical behavior of executives—act cautiously and delay investment projects until confidence returns—the wiser course?

Many companies hesitated to innovate during the 1930s. Consider, for example, patent applications as a proxy for resources devoted to innovation.


As the existing crisis was created mostly due to imaginary property, the last thing the economy needs is more of it.

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