Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Patents (General)

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

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Ridiculous patent applications

I first saw this story when it appeared on Matt Yglesias Moneybox blog on May 22. It has since been taken down, but you can Google the subject ("Oklahoma State University tries to patent a steak") and see that similar stories have been picked up by a lot of echoes.

Originally Matt Yglesias was joining the rest of us who cite ridiculous examples of patents and copyrights. In this one, he found that Oklahoma State University had applied for a patent on a cut of steak, or more exactly, how it is butchered.

It is not clear whether the patent will be denied, but one can no longer be sure. As Matt asks, how would this not be like other business or software patents? Such stretches have not proved beyond the capacity of the Patent and Trademark office to overcome its renowned reluctance to seek fees and constituent support.

But the thought also occurred to me that the University is enjoying so much publicity that it should continue its application or appeal any adverse finding just for the public attention.

"Is this Patent full of crap?"

Larry Seltzer writes a provocative piece in Byte entitled "Is this Patent full of crap?" (link here)

The ideas are those of patent lawyer Andrew Schulman, but the story is full of insight on a patent lawyer's thinking and offers real clues into why the patent system is such a mess--complexity compounded, full of precedents that ordinary humans will find puzzling at best.

This encourages innovation?

Recommended reading.

Patents violate the consitution in discouraging innovation

Alex Tabarrok who blogs at Marginal Revolution has suddenly turned his attention to patents and their pernicious extension (or perhaps I have only just become aware of his interest) link here. He has written an e-book and cites a number of favorable reviews. He argues that patents have not only failed to encourage innovation but have instead slowed it down based on data over a period of years and citing the legal costs of patent suits decreasing the returns from innovation.

He returns to patents in a later blog where he comes down hard on one example: the extension of protection for the development of a new medical procedure link here. His example of choice has been much in the IP news recently as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the granting of a patent on a method of determining how much of a medicine long since out of the reach of its original patent should be adjusted, depending on the patient's tests. He then does a riff on the general expansion of patent protection to such new fields as software.

Worth reading and thinking about.

Google puts all US patents and many applications online

Google has by now put 8 million US patents and 3 million patent applications on line link here. In addition to describing what it is doing, it sets out its objective in doing so thusly:

"As part of Google's mission to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful, we're constantly working to expand the diversity of content we make available to our users. With Google Patents, you can now search the full text of the U.S. patent corpus and find patents that interest you."

Google has had its own issues with patents. Like much of the rest of the software industry, it avoided filing for them for some years, but competitive patenting has taken over the industry in the drive to gain a monopolistic advantage or prevent others from doing so by establishing a patent pool to force cross licensing. By making it easier to challenge applications and even granted patents, putting them on line should make bad patents rarer. The problem of identifying and proving prior art remains.

The Economist on piracy and patents

This week The Economist has three stories and an editorial on intellectual-property link here here, here and here . The editorial is unusual in the strength of its critique and its suggestions for remedies.

"First, patents in fields where innovation moves fast and is relatively cheap like computing should have shorter terms than those in areas where it is slower and more expensive like pharmaceuticals. The divergent interests of patent-holders in different industries have held up reform, but there is no reason why they should not be treated differently: such distinctions are made in other areas of intellectual-property law. Second, the bar for obtaining a patent, particularly for software or business methods, should be much higher (as it is in other countries), and the process of re-evaluating bad patents should be more open and efficient. Finally, there should be greater disclosure requirements of the ownership of patent portfolios, and patent cases should be heard by specialised courts (as happens in other areas of law), rather than non-expert juries in advantageous jurisdictions in Texas. That would make life harder for trolls. These fixes would help America's patent system encourage innovation rather than litigation."

The three articles cover piracy which varies widely among countries, patent warfare among big companies, and Google's bid for Motorola Mobility. Bottom line: patents legally required to encourage innovation don't now.

Pearstein joins the chorus of patent critics

Steve Pearlstein writes about "High tech" patented battle maneuvers link here.

He begins strongly with this: "... out in Silicon Valley, patents have become the competitive weapon of choice, used by high-tech giants to bludgeon rivals and crush upstarts."

He then says that "The best reporting I have found on the subject was by National Public Radio" link here which focused among other places, on an old adversary to readers of this blog, Intellectual Ventures and the whole business of patent trolls, suing about patent violations in East Texas.

He observes "What may have started out as a clever way to "turbocharge technological progress," seems to have morphed into something closer to a Jersey City protection racket. When Intellectual Ventures came knocking on the door of tech companies offering to license its patents, companies began to get the sense that it was an offer they couldn't refuse.

Pearlstein then turns to the proposed legislation now in Congress and commends it for making it easier to challenge a patent before issuance while adding "missing from the bill... is any attempt to narrow the range of what can be patented in the areas of software and business methods".

He closes by suggesting that big companies with lots of patents aren't interested in fixing that, so nothing will come from Congress or from the Supreme Court which "has done so much to slam the courtroom door on consumers and workers [and] left it wide open for corporate interests running a legal protection racket. If there ever was an abuse of the judicial process, this is surely it."

Pearlstein's voice on these issues is a welcome addition to the growing coverage and number of articulate critics of patents.




Bad news from the smartphone front

The New York Times has been doing better on patents and copyrights recently, exemplified today with a story entitled A Bull Market in Tech Patents link here .

The article includes this drawing of a smart phone and the number of patents - 250,000 according to Google--that affect each of the subsystems:

That is quite an invitation to lawsuits and lawyers looking for fat fees.

But the Gee-Whiz aspect of these numbers is overshadowed by the costs in innovation in an industry hypnotized by who has the latest gizmo. As the article goes on to note, "This patent gold rush has a darker side. It is diverting money for innovation from industries crucial to the economic future of the United States, analysts say. Patents were created as an incentive for innovation, giving inventors a temporary right to commercialize their ideas, without others copying them. While the recent blockbuster patent deals may make sense for the companies, analysts say, they are fed largely by legal considerations asserting patent claims or defending against claims rather than economic ones."

That leaves us with an industry dominated a handful of giants and a mob of minnows on which the giants feed. The consumer pays for all this in high prices and a lack of real competition or innovation.

Isn't the world of monopoly grand!

Mark Cuban Comes Out Swinging Against Our Current Patent Laws

Outspoken entrepreneur Mark Cuban calls for the end of all software and process patents, referring to most patent lawsuits involving tech companies as B.S.

Read his views at the links below:



Cuban is the kind of guy with enough money and business clout that he could get an audience with most people in our corrupt Congress if he really wanted to press this issue.

Here's hoping that he does.

What if the web had been patented

Tim Berners-Lee came up twenty years ago with HTML, and thus the web was born. None of the technology or the standards have been patented, and see where it has brought us. Of course, the Internet could have had the same impact if HTML, HTTP and WWW had been patented, but that is highly unlikely.

For some ideas of how a patented web would have looked like, see this discussion on techdirt. This blog would certainly not have existed, and I can vouch my career would have been very different.

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