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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Personal experience
by ingraham on Tue 9th Oct 2012 03:59 UTC
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My company designed, built, and sold a machine, in the field of automated material handling. Our competitor had machines in the same plant where our machine ended up. They looked at our machine and felt that it infringed one of their patents. They were quite wrong; they completely misunderstood how our machine worked. Their patent was over two side-by-side belts moving at different speeds so that product conveyed on the belt would rotate to compensate for the angle the entire machine was rotated at. They saw that our machine had two belts and jumped to conclusions. In fact, our belts could not be driven at different speeds; they were both on the same drive shaft with no clutches or gears or any other way to separate them. Their lawyers sent us a letter. Our lawyer sent a letter back that said, "No, you misunderstood how our machine works." End of story.

You know what it cost to have our lawyer write that letter? Ten thousand US dollars. And we have a lawyer who is relatively inexpensive for his quality and level of expertise.

By the way, should it really be patentable to have two side-by-side belts run at different speeds to cause rotation? Isn't that essentially how tank treads work, even though that's upside down from a conveyor application?

Reply Score: 3

RE: Personal experience
by Alfman on Tue 9th Oct 2012 04:36 in reply to "Personal experience"
Alfman Member since:

I had aspirations to write & sell my own DVD editing & authoring software back around 2000. I had purchased several entry level commercial video packages, but there was an obvious gap in features. I saw it as an opportunity to write my own software and market it. I started prototyping and playing with my own ideas, which was fun, but at some point I'd need to license numerous multimedia patents in order to be compatible with the files & media at the time. I don't remember the specifics, but authoring licenses were typically a magnitude more expensive than playback licenses. I specifically wanted to support surround sound, but I was horrified when I discovered that dolby's DVD surround sound patents alone would cost several times more than I wanted to ask for my video authoring software. Apparently most commercial licensees could pay a couple million for a flat license, but this was obviously out of my range.

I learned that the reason entry level software packages were lacking features had nothing to do with the difficulty of incorporating them, but that the patent licensing fees made it impossible to incorporate them at those price points.

I also learned since then that researching patents (trying to do things the "right way") could lead to triple damages if you are sued in court and found to infringe, so I've never looked up patents since to see whether something I've written infringes or not. Luckily patents are poorly enforced, and most software shops fly under the radar; we're just not worth suing over until we're worth a few million anyways.

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE[2]: Personal experience
by zima on Mon 15th Oct 2012 23:22 in reply to "RE: Personal experience"
zima Member since:

~Linux, OSS video editing packages - which pretty much ignore all those MPEG licensing issues - are still severely lacking... (not only when it comes to features)

...perhaps "aspirations" or "prototyping and playing with my own ideas, which was fun" doesn't quite cut it here, perhaps this category of software is among the harder to do - for that matter, most of commercial video tools (coming from small and big players) are also meh. Good there is quite nice, and very modestly priced, Sony Vegas Movie Studio.

Reply Parent Score: 2