defending the right to innovate
Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.
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It is commonly thought that patents are good because people reveal secrets rather than keeping them. But they keep secrets about intermediate results so that they can be first to patent. Via Pedro Dal Bo a remarkable video about what happens when pharmaceutical discoveries aren't kept secret. It's a bit ironic that people think that for pharmaceuticals patents are the only answer.
This is what Apple "invented" the idea of sliding a latch to open something. But because they were doing it on a computer they got to patent it. Probably it cost some effort to work out the code to create the image and so forth - although if it cost them millions their programmers are incompetent - even tens of thousands seems high for that particular coding job. But here is the point: Nobody gets to copy their code with or without patents. The thing they actually paid for is protected.
The New York Times on patents. Original reporting and a strong bias in favor of patents - after all Apple says they spent millions of dollars developing slide to unlock and they'd never have bothered if they couldn't patent it!
Some very thoughtful - dare I say innovative? - remarks about patents from Cecil D. Quillen, Jr., former General Counsel, Senior Vice President and member of the Board of Directors of Eastman Kodak.
Fifteen minutes of fame. I think the Apple-Samsung craziness is starting to wake people up to what patents really are about.
On August 31st the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple is suing Google, claiming that Android infringes on iOS (iPhone) patents. One of Apple's patents is apparently for the feature of clicking on a phone number in a web page, to make the phone automatically dial that number. That patent should be invalidated immediately, for several reasons:
1. The Palm Treo 650 had clickable phone numbers in emails. When you implement the same idea in a web browser, does that really deserve a patent? No. It's obvious, and we all know that patents have to be "nonobvious" to be valid.
2. If you aren't convinced that this is an obvious idea, take a look at this online web forum of Palm Treo users from 2005. Everyone is saying "This is so obvious! Why doesn't Palm implement this?" And apparently, you could download an app that would make phone numbers clickable in most of your Treo apps.
I found the language of Apple's patent online,* and I can't believe Apple was granted a patent for such a broad claim that was obvious and was pre-existing in prior art. Read this, and then try to tell me our patent system is not broken:
Claim 1: A computer-based system for detecting structures in data and performing actions on detected structures, comprising: an input device for receiving data; an output device for presenting the data; a memory storing information including program routines including an analyzer server for detecting structures in the data, and for linking actions to the detected structures; a user interface enabling the selection of a detected structure and a linked action; and an action processor for performing the selected action linked to the selected structure; and a processing unit coupled to the input device, the output device, and the memory for controlling the execution of the program routines.As I pointed out recently on my own blog, Palm Treo did it first. I admit I'm not an expert in this; perhaps Apple purchased Palm's patent? Is there some legal basis for arguing that Palm's clickable email phone numbers are somehow different from the above language?
In other news on August 31, 2012, a Japanese court ruled against Apple in its lawsuit against Samsung. This fight was over a completely different patent than the seven at issue before the California jury: Apple had a patent on a technique for synchronizing music and video data with servers.
I remain convinced that Apple will eventually lose all of these fights, on the grounds that many of these patents are invalid due either to obviousness, or because the ideas already existed in devices that predated the iPhone.
An editorial in the St. Louis Post Dispatch...as you will see they consulted with the real experts. The best quote:
Apple ... sued Microsoft, accusing it of stealing software to create Windows. Microsoft's Bill Gates' retort to Apple's Steve Jobs has become a classic: "Steve, just because you broke into Xerox's house before I did and took the TV doesn't mean I can't go in later and take the stereo."
My view of Apple-Samsung summarized pretty well in the Financial Times. Just bear in mind that companies that build great products generally find that more profitable to compete in the market rather than in court.
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