Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 8th Oct 2012 09:24 UTC
Legal The failing US patent system is getting ever more mainstream - The New York Times is running a long and details piece on the failings of the system, especially in relation to the technology industry most of us hold so dearly. Most of the stuff in there isn't new to us - but there's two things in the article I want to highlight.
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stimut
Member since:
2012-10-08

I'm going to guess you aren't a software engineer.

Software innovation generally comes down to one thing: algorithms. The thing is, when you release a product, the algorithms are hidden. It's not like an engine, or a drug, where it can (fairly easily) be broken into its component parts to see how it's made.

Think of Google. When it came out, it was successful because of the algorithm development they did. It isn't protected by patents though. It's protected because only Google employees know the exact parameters (despite the overall idea of the algorithm being common knowledge).

What people call software patents have always been either trivial and obvious (such as forwarding packets in a router), or really design patents. That is, the outcome of the program and the way it works and interacts with the user. Think of the example of using a mapping program on a smartphone. Apple has patented the idea of searching for a contact within the mapping program so that the contact's address is shown. That's design and interaction. It's not an innovative algorithm that someone can develop a competing algorithm for. Now, no other company is allowed to search for users in their mapping program. At all. Ever. Or at least until the patent expires in a few decades.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that genuine software innovation is already protected by the fact that it is secret, and all the other "software patents" that exist today, should probably fall into a different area (like design patents) and the idea of software patents be thrown out.

Reply Parent Score: 6

silix Member since:
2006-03-01

I'm going to guess you aren't a software engineer.

bad guess then, because i'm actually a sw engineer
just, one who doesnt believe in security by obscurity but OTOH believes that sw development methods (see later) and the possbility to protect IP are orthogonal matters...

Software innovation generally comes down to one thing: algorithms. The thing is, when you release a product, the algorithms are hidden.

the thing is, not always, not forever:
there's reverse engineering;
there are code leaks;
and there's open source
let's say i develop a product using a (more or less) public source tree to suit a business model that i may chosen (based on expertise and customisation rather than initial license fees) and to involve and allow other parties to cooperate
this doesnt mean i alienate any rights to patent the techniques that i use for the internals of the product, or that anyone who happens to have a look at the code and learn about them, is ok with reusing them in his own product...

Think of Google. When it came out, it was successful because of the algorithm development they did. It isn't protected by patents though. It's protected because only Google employees know the exact parameters (despite the overall idea of the algorithm being common knowledge).

google's ip has been protected by obscurity, shall we assume it's the only possible way for anyone else?

What people call software patents have always been either trivial and obvious (such as forwarding packets in a router)

there's no such thing as obvious stuff, otherwise it would have existed since the dawn of time - but actually it hasnt, and took some guy (who most likely didnt think he was doing something obvious at the time) to materialize
but, there exist millions of sw patents, and though many are about stuff that by today's standard we dismiss as trivial or appear as a mere application of an everyday "something" to the IT field, most of them trivial are not

or really design patents. That is, the outcome of the program and the way it works and interacts with the user.

design patents are mostly about the aesthetics of a product, technical solutions (inventions), which also are fit for protection, fall under a different category...
more or less like about cars... the bodywork shape is one thing, the way the chassis is made is another(or you think hydroforming, or more recently, aluminum/steel welding processes are not patented with all the research that has gone into them?)

It's not an innovative algorithm that someone can develop a competing algorithm for.

as frivolous or useful as it may be (like all *inventions* in any product field) it's a sw *invention* that noone else had before (then it's not obvious) anyway, and deserves protection as such...

Now, no other company is allowed to search for users in their mapping program. At all. Ever.

unless the patent is negotiated for licensing and royalties are paid, usually... why does nobody ever take this option into consideration?

Or at least until the patent expires in a few decades.

so if the several-decades protection time window is (rightly) too long for the sw field, the patent system shall be abolished altogether instead of thinking about a shorter patent lifetime?

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that genuine software innovation is already protected by the fact that it is secret

except when it's not..

and all the other "software patents" that exist today, should probably fall into a different area (like design patents) and the idea of software patents be thrown out.

but since the interaction model accounts for only a part of a program's development effort, you'd be leaving behind those working on the rest...

Edited 2012-10-08 17:04 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

Thom_Holwerda Member since:
2005-06-29

Your code is protected by copyright. What's good enough for an author is good enough for you.

Reply Parent Score: 3

JAlexoid Member since:
2009-05-19

the thing is, not always, not forever

So you want the monopoly forever now?

there's no such thing as obvious stuff, otherwise it would have existed since the dawn of time - but actually it hasnt, and took some guy (who most likely didnt think he was doing something obvious at the time) to materialize

Total BS! Obvious does not mean that everyone just knows. Obvious had a very specific definition - a person skilled in the art could replicate the invention without prior knowledge of said invention. And "tada!" most of the stuff that is covered by software patents is like that.(And pretty much is a response to most of the rest of your comment)

Reply Parent Score: 4

l3v1 Member since:
2005-07-06

but, there exist millions of sw patents, and though many are about stuff that by today's standard we dismiss as trivial or appear as a mere application of an everyday "something" to the IT field, most of them trivial are not


There seems to be noone out there who would take into consideration that the computer and software field and industry evolved and changed multiple times more and much much faster than any other field out there, and people still seem to think the same patent laws that seem to somewhat work in other fields can be used in the same form for the computing and software industry. Which is crazy a** stupid. Yet, it seems to remain the practice, and no wonder we can see a lot of flaws and drawbacks in doing so. Anyone who still advocates the applicability of the current US patent system for such purpose is very close to an ignorant bum in my eyes.

Just my 0.02 of course, as always.

Reply Parent Score: 3