Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 19th Jun 2014 23:59 UTC
Legal

The US Supreme Court has made it ever so slightly harder to patent software.

The patent claimed a method of hedging against counter-party risk, which is a fancy word for the risk that you make a deal with someone and later he doesn't uphold his end of the bargain. The Supreme Court unanimously held that you can't patent an abstract concept like this merely by stating that the hedging should be done on a computer. This kind of abstract patent is depressingly common in the software industry, and the CLS ruling will cause lower courts to take a harder look at them.

It's a small victory, but hey, I take whatever I can. Sadly, the SCOTUS also states that "many computer-implemented claims" are still eligible for patent protection, without actually explaining which claims. So, while appending "on a computer" to an obvious abstract concept does not make it patentable, the actual concept of patenting software is still very much allowed.

Even if the SCOTUS had completely abolished software patents, however, we still would have to deal with them for more than a decade - existing software patents would not magically vanish, and would still require lengthy and expensive court cases to be invalidated. Something bullies like Microsoft and Apple can afford easily, while many others cannot.

Sorry for not putting a smile on your face, but reality is reality. Sadly.

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Well ...
by WorknMan on Fri 20th Jun 2014 04:29 UTC
WorknMan
Member since:
2005-11-13

I'm not sure that software patents should be done away with ENTIRELY, but just the overly broad ones. In other words, if you can sit down and accidentally violate somebody else's patent, it's probably too broad.

But if somebody, for example, comes up with a compression algorithm that allows streaming of 4k video on a 3mbps connection, I do think they should be able to patent that. Not necessarily the idea, but the specific implementation. In other words, if I spend hundreds of hours, and thousands of dollars to develop such a thing, and then you come along, reverse engineer the protocol, and give it away for free, that ain't right. I wanna get paid, dammit ;)

I know there are some people who feel like it is their god given right to have the fruits of somebody else's hard labor for nothing, but I'm not one of those people. On the other hand, when you've got companies that patent the concept of '1 click checkout', something is definitely wrong.

Edited 2014-06-20 04:30 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE: Well ...
by Fergy on Fri 20th Jun 2014 07:08 in reply to "Well ..."
Fergy Member since:
2006-04-10

But if somebody, for example, comes up with a compression algorithm that allows streaming of 4k video on a 3mbps connection, I do think they should be able to patent that. Not necessarily the idea, but the specific implementation.

So if somebody would use code that looks 99% like his code you would say that he has stolen it from the first guy? Copyright.

In other words, if I spend hundreds of hours, and thousands of dollars to develop such a thing, and then you come along, reverse engineer the protocol, and give it away for free, that ain't right. I wanna get paid, dammit ;)

How can you see the difference between reverse engineering and just coming up with the same idea? I always thought that reverse engineering is legal because of this problem. And how did the new guy write the same 'program' as you did but _you_ want to get paid _and_ you want to get paid for his work?

Edited 2014-06-20 07:10 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 5

RE[2]: Well ...
by WorknMan on Fri 20th Jun 2014 08:35 in reply to "RE: Well ..."
WorknMan Member since:
2005-11-13

How can you see the difference between reverse engineering and just coming up with the same idea?


You mean, how can I tell whether the product you came out with 6 months later that works the exact same way as mine is either reverse engineered or just a different implementation of the same idea? I guess sometimes you can't tell. Other times, it would be quite obvious.

It's like proprietary devs who use open source code in violation of the license; sometimes they get caught red-handed doing so, which I'm guessing happens because of some quirk in the way the software works:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigma_Designs#Xvid_controversy

Obviously, some cases will be harder to prove than others. For example, if it is a particular file format that's patented, and you release a piece of software that can open and save to that exact format, then I think we have a pretty open and shut case.

Edited 2014-06-20 08:39 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE: Well ...
by CaptainN- on Fri 20th Jun 2014 15:08 in reply to "Well ..."
CaptainN- Member since:
2005-07-07

Software is written, so copyright applies. People who write software should be called software writers, instead of engineers - that alone would clear up a lot of this mess. The dynamics of writing software are much more like writing a book than building a bridge.

Also, patents in general suck, even for physical things. It was always just a gambit - an trick meant to promote the power of corporate owners (economic royalists), and dressed up in some inventor protection propaganda. Patents were never meant to protect individual inventor's rights, and they never have.

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE[2]: Well ...
by Alfman on Fri 20th Jun 2014 16:31 in reply to "RE: Well ..."
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

CaptainN-,

There may be some industries where patents work. Though I'm not in the pharmaceutical business (and therefor I could be way off), I understand conceptually how lab costs are prohibitively expensive and without patents the risk is high that knockoffs come along and sell an identical product leaving the inventors with no way to recoup their investment. I don't know to what extent this applies to other various industries, but with software it's outrageous that companies spend thousands and millions of dollars for patent protection against what amounts to a week's worth of work, if even that. It's absolutely ludicrous.

The patent system would be far less harmful if patent holders were only entitled to enough compensation to recoup reasonable development costs and that's it. But, honestly, most software patent holders never cared about recouping their development expenses, their intention was always to use the patent system as a legal weapon to sue competitors over in court.

Today's patent system is a huge burden on the software industry. While some people feel that the patent system can be fixed for the software industry, I don't think they were ever necessary to begin with and I'm curious if anyone can point to an instance where it's done more good than harm? For all the overhead that it necessarily imposes, what have really gotten out of it?

Edited 2014-06-20 16:46 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 4

RE: Well ...
by shmerl on Fri 20th Jun 2014 18:50 in reply to "Well ..."
shmerl Member since:
2010-06-08

I'm not sure that software patents should be done away with ENTIRELY

Why not? There is not a single case when they served any useful purpose for technology (except when used as defense against other software patents, but that in turn is only possible because they exist in the first place and are easily abused). They are like nuclear weapons. I.e. the world would be better without them altogether.

Edited 2014-06-20 18:51 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE: Well ...
by shmerl on Fri 20th Jun 2014 18:53 in reply to "Well ..."
shmerl Member since:
2010-06-08

Not necessarily the idea, but the specific implementation. In other words, if I spend hundreds of hours, and thousands of dollars to develop such a thing, and then you come along, reverse engineer the protocol, and give it away for free, that ain't right. I wanna get paid, dammit

No you shouldn't get paid, if someone develops the same thing independently without relying on your research. Current patent system doesn't allow though. In practice, patents in software are not needed for R&D. Practice proves this left and right.

Edited 2014-06-20 18:54 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2