Patent and Copyright Laws, Abuses
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Patent law, supposed to spur innovation, is instead unfortunately often full of barriers to innovation: trolls targeting phone app developers , standards making it harder rather than easier to invalidate bad patents , and toothless patent reform legislation , for example. But the law does do some things right, like removing liability for an innocent third party who unknowingly performs one step of a patented process. Yet some patent owners are trying to convince the Federal Circuit to change this law and create a new category of potential patent defendants: third-party users, consumers, and developers, i.e., a group that is likely to lack both requisite knowledge of the patent laws and resources to make a robust defense.
PDF version available here. I. The Problem Every year numerous illegitimate patent applications make their way through the United States patent examination process without adequate review . The problem is particularly acute in the software and Internet fields where the history of prior inventions (often called "prior art") is widely distributed and poorly documented. As a result, we have seen patents asserted on such simple technologies as:
Applying for a patent is expensive. Fees can exceed $25,000, and most applications require at least a couple years of effort. We might expect that anyone considering applying for a patent would be fairly certain of the merits of their case for one.
A ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is being seen as a victory against "patent trolls," companies that acquire intellectual property for the sole purpose of extracting licensing fees or settlements, despite having no intention of using the protected technology or idea themselves. In the case of Eon-Net LP v.
We have discussed at great lengths the problems of the US setting up a specialized appeals court that handles patent cases, known as CAFC or the court of appeals for the federal circuit. That court has tended to lean increasingly "pro-patent" over the years, presiding over the greatest judicial-driven expansion of the patent system and what it covers. For a few years, the Supreme Court had started smacking down the massive overreach of CAFC, but in the past two years, it's started to back down and let CAFC do its thing again. If there was a "poster child" for the ridiculous excesses of the patent system, it was NTP, the results of a company that completely flopped in the marketplace (because it couldn't execute) that then successfully used the patent system to pressure RIM -- a company who successfully executed where NTP failed -- to hand over an astounding $612.5 million , even as the USPTO had made it clear that it found NTP's patents unlikely to be valid .
I have worked in the tech sector for over two decades. Microsoft and Apple have always been at each other’s throats, so when they get into bed together you have to start wondering what's going on. Here is what’s happening:
My friend Sawyer was as disappointed in the outcome of Bilski as he was in the ending to LOST. In fact, he asked if I’d change his pseudonym to Joseph Adama of Caprica but I vetoed this over extreme nerdiness. Nonetheless Sawyer let loose on Bilski and helps clarify both his perspective on why the Supreme Court took such a milquetoast approach as well as what one of the unintended consequences of their action – or lack thereof – will be.
Not so many years ago, even as I was filled with fear and loathing of the hideous misconduct of the US Patent & Trademark Office, I retained some respect for the notion of patents. I even wrote what I think is an unusually easy-to-read introduction to Patent Theory . But no more. The whole thing is too broken to be fixed. Maybe it worked once, but it doesn’t any more.
I have a number of friends who are patent attorneys. Some have strong negative feelings about software patents that mirror mine while others keep me entertained by arguing both sides of the situation with themselves while I sit around and listen. One of my friends – let’s call him Sawyer – has very strong negative opinions as he’s spent most of his time recently defending his clients against software patent suits including an increasing number from patent trolls (non-practicing entities). He spends a lot of time in East Marshall, Texas and has figured out where all the best restaurants are. While East Marshall isn’t quite as nice as an invisible, mysterious island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it clearly has a number of similar characteristics. Sawyer has decided that he can’t write publicly about his thoughts and experiences so I’ve agreed to channel his experience into my own parallel universe.
1. A method comprising: obtaining layout data; the layout data indicating positions in a layout space for parts of a node-link structure; the layout space being a space with negative curvature; the node-link structure including nodes and links, each link relating at least two of the nodes; the layout data indicating positions in the layout space for a set of the nodes; the set of nodes forming a branch that includes two or more levels of nodes including a top level and at least one lower level, the top level including a top level node and the lower levels including lower level nodes, each node at each lower level having a parent node at a next higher level to which the node is related through one link; for each of a set of two or more parent nodes, the layout data indicating: a parent position in the layout space for the parent node; and
AMERICA is still in denial, but among economists and wonks I think the hard truth is settling in: we're not as rich as we thought we were and our prospects for future high growth rates aren't looking so great. America's last best hope for breaking free from what Tyler Cowen has called "the great stagnation" is the discovery of new "disruptive" technologies that would transform the possibilities of economic production in the way the fossil-fuel-powered engine did. As it stands, growth, such as it is, depends largely on many thousands of small innovations increasing efficiency incrementally along many thousands of margins. Innovation and invention is the key to continuing gains in prosperity. Zero-sum "win the future" rhetoric notwithstanding, it doesn't much matter whether the advances in new technology occur in China, India or America.
Update, July 26: This story from Planet Money's Alex Blumberg and NPR's Laura Sydell aired this weekend on This American Life . (Check out TAL's "Ways to Listen" page to find how you can hear the story.) A shorter version of the piece is also airing today on All Things Considered . Here's the story. Nathan Myhrvold is a genius and a polymath. He made hundreds of millions of dollars as Microsoft's chief technology officer, he's discovered dinosaur fossils , and he recently co-authored a six-volume cookbook that "reveals science-inspired techniques for preparing food."
Even though I was never a big Google Reader user, its death has got me thinking about online services quite a bit lately -- and really reminded me that we've done the cloud wrong . Rather than build true cloud computing, we've built a bunch of lockboxes. The cloud was supposed to free us, not lock us in "Cloud computing" went by a variety of other terms in the past before this marketing term stuck, but the key part of it was that it was supposed to free us of worrying about the location of our data.