What if Tim Berners-Lee Had patented HTML?
October 9, 2011 11:58 AM   Subscribe

Francis Gurry, the Director of the UN's WIPO, claims the web would have been better if Tim Berners-Lee had patented HTML and licensed it. He does so on camera and in front of shocked members of the Internet Society and CERN. Ironically, exactly this thought experiment came up for the web's 20th birthday on this August 6th.

For a more rigorous perspective, three Boston University School of Law faculty have shown that lawsuits by non-practicing entities, aka patent trolls, have cost technology companies half a trillion dollars of lost wealth over the past two decades, with little benefit to small inventors, instead reducing the incentive to innovate.

There is also concern that patent trolls will broaden their scope to biotechnology and medical advancements following a recent federal appeals court ruling in favor of Classen Immunotherapies exceedingly broad patent on "linking infant vaccination with later immune disorders", as well as Myriad Genetics recent appellate court victory on a patent covering critical patent on a "breast cancer risk gene".

Meanwhile, the patent war continues apace, now growing personal, and a patent troll named Innovatio’s has started going after wifi users. But hey, the tax lawyers are fine since the America Invents Act has made tax loopholes non-patentable. At least, Australia has found some arguments to reject software patents.
posted by jeffburdges (80 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
One only has to look at the patent system at work, in
1) the smartphone & tablet patent war
2) h.264 patents
3) lodsys patent troll
4) the patent threats against webM from MPEG.LA

to see how software patents drastically retard innovation and progress. If those particular examples don't do it for you, then the unisys/lzw patents, windows media codecs and MP3 licensing are older but still good examples of what a clusterfuck software patents are.

But then, UN head of Intellectual Property says fake property is good, and there should be more of it, which shouldn't a huge surprise.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:15 PM on October 9, 2011 [14 favorites]


There are two behaviors that I think it's useful to separate in the discussion
1) patents which shouldn't exist, because they're too vague or too broad
2) legitimate invention, which the owner then sits on hoping that someone else will go through the work of making a business based on without realizing it's patented.

Everyone agrees that 1) shouldn't happen, but does in real life. It's unfortunate that most discussion of 2) involves 1), I think because most people think that the probability of 2) working for non-obvious narrowly-defined inventions with clearly-worded filings is low. The paper points out that traditionally NPEs marketed their inventions for just this reason; the bet that someone else has the same non-obvious idea and monetizes it within the patent clock is pretty bad.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:17 PM on October 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


To add to ArkhanJG's list... Kickstarter is now being sued by some jackass.

To me, the irony is that patents supposedly are for "promoting innovation" (at least in the original US system), and so, what Kickstarter does is pretty much in line with the very concept of what patents were for: enabling innovators to innovate.

But now you have some jagoff using the patent system to stifle the innovation and the thousand blooming innovators that arise from this model because he thinks he was the originator of a specific kind of crowd funding. That is to say, in the name of patents this jerkoff is doing everything possible to go against the original purpose of the patent system.

If he succeeds, how many new ideas are lost because they can no longer get the funding to move ahead? How many independent innovators will have a much harder time making what they dream?

Fuck method patents. Fuck everything about them.
posted by symbioid at 12:25 PM on October 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


There are other new changes to the patent system like the change to "first to file" being the way the patent is awarded.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:25 PM on October 9, 2011


Heh. Given that history is littered with proprietry attempts to do what HTML did that failed I find his argument questionable. I guess being able to screw every last penny out of it if it took off is secondary to the fact that if you did it like that it would never have taken off if you did it that way.
posted by Artw at 12:27 PM on October 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


C'mon folks... was Gopher really all that bad?
posted by PenDevil at 12:27 PM on October 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Umm, #2 shouldn't exist either. We'd all agree that the Fraunhofer Institute generally serves the public interest, but their mp3 patents clearly retarded technological innovation.

There should probably be some notion of national public interest patents under which all patents subsidized by government grants must be filed. Ideally, such patents should be free for anyone inside the funding nation to use, but any foreign company must obtain a license for them, i.e. no hardware mp3 decoders made outside Germany.

We should of course eliminate all software patents period. And all software copyrights should require an gratis offer of the full usable source code.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:34 PM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


The only proper response to a serious statement like that is pitchforks and torches.
posted by Aquaman at 12:34 PM on October 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Maybe Gurry was just a really huge fan of eWorld.

I love it when people enjoy the fruits of something like, say, the Web, but then propose insanely misinformed, disproven-on-arrival counterfactuals. It's like when 20-year-old Rand fans exclaim triumphantly that we should privatize all the police and all the fire departments and get rid of all government regulations. Yeah, let's see how long you'd last in that dystopia, buddy.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:37 PM on October 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


jeff, I don't understand the second half of your solution. It seems clear to me that software patents should be abolished and that copyright is the correct way to protect original software - but why should companies be offering their copyrighted source code? And to whom would they offer it?
posted by kavasa at 12:37 PM on October 9, 2011


Here's what would have happened: some keen fans would have created an open-source version of the web and it would be seen how Linux is seen today. Nerds would use it, it would be very similar to the web today - relying on open source browsers.

IE would have their own version of a browser that works on their ASP.net tech.
posted by joelf at 12:39 PM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


If only someone had patented the net, we might have turned it into a wonderful, edifying institution like commercial television or FM radio.
- William DeForest Patriarch IV
posted by Twang at 12:39 PM on October 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


C'mon folks... was Gopher really all that bad?

It was great for the time, but licensing fees killed it, especially in comparison to what the Web could do.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:40 PM on October 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


If all the work was paid for by the government and done by government employees, sure. But if you get a few thousand dollars in grant money, you probably shouldn't have to give away 10 years work that was funded via a dozen different sources.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:41 PM on October 9, 2011


IE would have their own version of a browser that works on their ASP.net tech.

Er, ASP.net is something that exists to deliver HTML pages in response to GET and POST responses from browsers.

Mircorsoft probably would be pushing some advanced virtual reality internet version of Microsoft Bob.

Also most peopels expwience of the internet would be heavily shaped by Compuserve, AOL and MSN.
posted by Artw at 12:50 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just went to the web page for Classen Immunotherapies. It's a crime against HTMLanity!

If you look at their two patents pages, they don't claim to have linked anything. They claim to have panted a method for finding links. They're not real specific, but it sounds an awful lot like a cohort study to me. Here's some more thoughtful discussion than I am likely to generate.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:58 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


All trolls should read stories from history. Whilst the first two billy goats may have been scared into acquiescing, assuredly, the story did not end well for the troll.
"Who's that tramping over my bridge?" roared the troll.

"It's I! The big Billy Goat Gruff ," said the billy goat, who had an ugly hoarse voice of his own.

"Now I 'm coming to gobble you up," roared the troll.

Well, come along! I've got two spears,
And I'll poke your eyeballs out at your ears;
I've got besides two curling-stones,
And I'll crush you to bits, body and bones.

That was what the big billy goat said. And then he flew at the troll, and poked his eyes out with his horns, and crushed him to bits, body and bones, and tossed him out into the cascade, and after that he went up to the hillside. There the billy goats got so fat they were scarcely able to walk home again.
Someone may want to tell Nathan.

Granted, perhaps we ought not be suprised that the head of the World Intellectual Property Organisation thinks everything should be patented. In fact, it would be quite concerning if the view was otherwise.

In the end, patent troll firms represent one of the places capital flows in search of return in a market such as this -- where there is lower risk in chasing things that have already succeeded over funding anything new. But to quote antiquity a second time,
"Beware of Bein' the Roller
When There's Nothin' Left to Roll."
posted by nickrussell at 1:00 PM on October 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


He's like the anti-Doctorow. "Everything should be [not] free, always!"
posted by Artw at 1:04 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's always surprising to me when my students respond to the fact that Tim Berners-Lee created the web (on a NeXT machine from Steve Jobs, no less!) and then gave it away for free with "well, that was foolish". It always feels like the triumph of ideology over common sense. Here you are using this wonderful, vibrant information space that has revolutionised the world (and continues to do so) and yet somehow you think Tim Berners-Lee was a fool for having not patented it? Is it really about thet game of "who has most"? Do you really think that the web would be anywhere near as rich and deep if it was pay-for-play?

There are people who want to come up with innovations at least in part so that they can be the richest kid on the block and have the most toys. And that's fine: a reasonable patent and copyright system should be in place to protect their investments (I'd suggest 12 ~ 20 years, with the condition that the thing must actually be brought to market within a certain period of time... and you could not patent algorithms, methods, or natural biological expressions).

There are many more people who simply want to make stuff, who are happy to give it away. It's those people who should be promoted most.

Instead, what's happened is that corporations have forced the extension of legal protections to safeguard eggs that should have been rolled out of the nest decades ago. No-one who worked on "Steamboat Wille" remains alive, yet Mickey Mouse does, protected by copyright. And Disney is the perfect example of what too-strong intellectual property protections create: a bloated juggernaut sustained only by acquisitions, any spirit of vigour leeched out of it after the death of its founder, content to pump out princess movies and sue elementary schools for student-painted murals of Tigger.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 1:08 PM on October 9, 2011 [36 favorites]


I honestly feel like congress ought to get involved in the Microsoft/Apple/Google patent bullshit. It's just ridiculous.
posted by empath at 1:21 PM on October 9, 2011


                   __
                  /  \
                 /|oo \
                (_|  /_)
                 _`@/_ \    _
                |     | \   \\
                | (*) |  \   )) 
   ______       |__U__| /  \//
  / FIDO \       _//|| _\   /
 (________)     (_/(_|(____/

WELCOME TO THE PATENTED INTERNET

posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:23 PM on October 9, 2011 [24 favorites]


I honestly feel like congress ought to get involved

I don't want this congress involved in adjucating my traffic ticket. Kick out all the anti-government teabaggers in the House, get the Senate rules back to where a simple majority can get shit done, and then maybe.
posted by localroger at 1:24 PM on October 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


This This American Life/Planet Money piece, "When Patents Attack" is so freaking amazing and chilling and interesting, I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you don't feel like listening to the 1 hr podcast, you can read a shorter NPR piece here. But I do recommend listening to the podcast simply to hear engineer Steven Brunner say this in a German (?) accent:

I can't tell you for the hell of it what they're actually supposed to do. The company said we have to do a patent on this. ... Personally, when I look at them, I'm not proud at all. It's just like mungo mumbo jumbo that nobody understands and makes no sense from an engineering standpoint whatsoever.

posted by selfmedicating at 1:26 PM on October 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also most peopels expwience of the internet would be heavily shaped by Compuserve, AOL and MSN.

Without the open Web, most people would still be using AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve, or whatever. Or, perhaps, they wouldn't be; without the massively-interoperable Internet ethos, I'd guess those services would all still be sub-critical walled gardens, isolated except perhaps for email.

The only proper response to a serious statement like that is pitchforks and torches laughing the guy off the stage.
posted by hattifattener at 1:26 PM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is no doubt to me that if html had been patented we would just have a different solution instead. I first started actively using the internet a bit over twenty years ago myself, and for me the biggest points of interface were chat, gopher, ftp, usenet and MUDs. I also was installing Linux on my 386 computer. All of these things were flourishing precisely because they were free and public domain resources.

By '92 I know there were tools coming online that allowed information sharing between MUDs allowing for a pretty diverse information eco-system. There were also some systems in place to allow locally hosted images to be called up in your shell from the browser host. All that was missing at that point was a better system for information storage.

In a lot of ways I think the web sidetracked that social network sort of phenomenon for over a decade as it became possible to easily host and share information without needing to connect it with the individual. Social networking seems to me a return (on a more populist and refined level) to the on computer relationships I was building 20 years ago.

I'd say that the biggest development of html and the web was not technical, but rather its relative simplicity and the decision to set it free. To suggest in retrospect that it would have been as impactful, and more profitable if it had been kept in a bubble is to forget everything that happened to the various versions of *nix that were spawned in the same era.
posted by meinvt at 1:27 PM on October 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


Really, anyone who thinks an invention/idea/artwork/whatever is the fruit of their mind alone and they should be rewarded for that forever and ever should be locked up as the sociopath they are.

It is like trying to patent the last note in the last movement of Mozart's last symphony. Yeah, it's a great note, but it wouldn't mean a fucking thing without everything that came before it.

Nothing in the human world exists without the support of the society, culture and history that came before it and continues to surround it.

Inventors and artists deserve something for their innovations and creations, but absolutely not when that reward or the method of its delivery becomes an obstruction to the good of the society and culture that nurtured that innovation.

Don't shit in the nest, yo.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:29 PM on October 9, 2011 [22 favorites]


C'mon folks... was Gopher really all that bad?
It was great for the time, but licensing fees killed it, especially in comparison to what the Web could do.


There's a bit of hypocrisy here too. Gopher was created as someone's side project, outside the official support from any department. Once it became a hit though, everyone wanted a piece of it. Campus computing services and the Computer Science department collaborated on conferences and looked quickly to commercialize it. That lasted through the first year of Mozilla.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:29 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree that #2 shouldn't happen either. But what you do about #1 and #2 are different. #1 is a "mere" technical fix, but getting at #2 without hurting the negotiating position of legitimate innovators is hard. The key to the patent system was supposed to be filing-as-disclosure, but that's pretty tricky given the volume which exists now.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 1:30 PM on October 9, 2011


Linus Torvalds used to get this question, roughly "Don't you feel envious that these companies are making billions of dollars with modified versions of something you created without having to pay you a dime?" IIRC he generally managed to answer without appearing too flabbergasted that the questioner didn't get it: there were already lots of preexisting Unix versions, many better than the initial releases of Linux; the only reason Linux took off was because it was possible to modify it and use it and redistribute it without having to figure out where all the dimes had to go.

This is still an interesting post, though. "Over-his-head reporter asks a stupid question" is one thing; "Over-his-head planet-running bureaucrat makes a stupid claim" quite another.
posted by roystgnr at 1:31 PM on October 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


Wait, wait. ArtistShare is suing Kickstarter over a patent that is essentially a re-statement of the Street Performer Protocol? Is a prior art search no longer part of the patent process?
posted by hades at 1:33 PM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is also concern that patent trolls will broaden their scope to biotechnology and medical advancements

Because "business as usual" for the likes of Monsanto and Pfizer don't cause enough harm already?
posted by pla at 1:35 PM on October 9, 2011


Serious question: how much of "what's wrong with America," whether its the Occupy Wall Street crowd talking about bankers, or nerds talking about software patents and copyrights, is that wealth is self-sustaining and -propagating and prevents the non-wealthy from ascending?
posted by modernserf at 1:37 PM on October 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Because "business as usual" for the likes of Monsanto and Pfizer don't cause enough harm already?

Yes.

Patent trolls stop all progress, good and bad.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 1:39 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


what made the old internet neat was the proximity to the last gasp of the techno-hippies of 70's hiding out in academia and the relative bandwidth symmetry between consumers and producers, since everyone was on or near the military-academic backbone.

An internet based on a privatized backbone where most of the users are just consumers was always going to be a shitfest, regardless of how you marked up text.

Maybe once it's all cartelized by big MediaTelecomSiliconValley, the tidepools and backwaters, cut off from the morlocks and spammers by a lack of clicks, will be interesting again.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:44 PM on October 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Serious question: how much of "what's wrong with America," whether its the Occupy Wall Street crowd talking about bankers, or nerds talking about software patents and copyrights, is that wealth is self-sustaining and -propagating and prevents the non-wealthy from ascending?

A lot. The accumulation of wealth has increasingly little to do with a real meritocracy.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:47 PM on October 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


I think Mr. Gurry is just angling for his post-WIPO career. His term is up in 2014.
posted by rhizome at 1:52 PM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Imho, any software buyer should have source code access, kavasa. Software actually should not be copyrightable because software is useful, exactly the same reason that clothing designs aren't copyrightable. Instead, software should exchange the added value of the source code for additional legal protection beyond what other utilitarian items receive.

Books intrinsically grant full source code access, although print copies should really include the ebook for free. Paintings intrinsically grant full source code access. Films arguably grant that access as well, although many special effects techniques are debatable. Guitar tabs should really be published along with the music. I cannot however justify that legally using the utilitarian lines I argued for software.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:02 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The accumulation of wealth has increasingly little to do with a real meritocracy.

It's more like kleptocracy.

Remember, don't steal. The Fortune 500 doesn't like the competition.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:09 PM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


@ennui.bz

i am kind of wondering what you mean by 'morlock' here because a couple interpretations of that might be uhhh

also: has anyone considered patent trolling in a form of protest, e.g. amplifying and repeating the most grievous abuses of the system in order to make the problem non-ignorable
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:13 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I honestly feel like congress ought to get involved in the Microsoft/Apple/Google patent bullshit.

Reddit is doing okay.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:20 PM on October 9, 2011


Because "business as usual" for the likes of Monsanto and Pfizer don't cause enough harm already?

For a long while there we were heavily encouraged to get as many process and analytical publications out the door as possible because it's a cheap way to gain freedom to operate and because we felt that we were very good at what we did so that, if other companies were forced to use better methods (because the agencies knew about them and they were in the public domain) they couldn't sneak some half-assed crap past the FDA while we took the time to do it right. Yes, this is a way of interfering with the competition but it's interfering with the competition by driving up the overall quality of drugs in the marketplace and, IMHO, it's capitalism when it's working.

If this still bothers you, Robert Garnick* has a western blot he'd like to show you. (If you need human growth hormone, I recommend the stuff from Pfizer or Genentech because anaphylaxis and anti-self antibodies kind of suck.)

They started making more noise about patents later (more as a bargaining tool than anything else) but that was about time they decided to start curing cancer one layoff at at time, so there was increasingly less time to do anything investigative. By round seven or eight (my turn) it felt less like loosing your job and more like escaping over the mountains into neutral Switzerland with Julie Andrews.

*It was a while ago that I saw this and I can't find it on line, so it might have been just a silver stained gel or someone else, but basically a gel was loaded with the Genentech and Pfizer products and a bunch of other hGH's from various other sources. The Genentech and Pfizer lanes were pretty much one huge band weighing about what hGH should way. The others looked like that with about 20 smaller bands (E. coli proteins or product degredants).

Immunoassay for host cell proteins is my narrow little niche.

posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:45 PM on October 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


The phone/tablet patent war is involving a lot more than Apple's design patents against Samsung, Blazecock.

Lemme see; there's Microsoft rattling the patent sabre against android OEMs, a number of whom have paid up. Nokia won their patent suit against Apple recently. VIA, HTC and Motorola are all involved in patent suits against Apple; Apple of course having sued HTC and Motorola also, as well as the what, 11 country patent battle between Apple and Samsung?

Of course, these were all linked above in the post, but I guess a knee-jerk Samsung bash was more important.

(since I'm no doubt about to be accused of being an Hater, this was posted from OSX)
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:55 PM on October 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


also: has anyone considered patent trolling in a form of protest, e.g. amplifying and repeating the most grievous abuses of the system in order to make the problem non-ignorable
Afaik, there are not that many patent trolls operating in the financial sector. Yet, there are enormous opportunities for patent trolling because that sector keeps it's secrets too close to patent for themselves. Feel free to contact me if you're interested in patent trolling the financial sector, especially as a protest against software patents.

An even better target might be the legal sector itself, but I know nothing about it personally, except that tax loopholes are no longer patentable.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:23 PM on October 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


So a particular SGML grammar is patentable?

I dare say that Apple would not have seen the success they have without the Internet. The rise of the smartphone, even pre-Apple, was fairly strongly linked to the availability of data plans. Even the iPod would have been hobbled were it not for internet-based distribution of media. Maybe the iMac and its successors would have had more luck, but those aren't the products that have catapulted Apple to the top of the market cap heap.

Of course, in the real world, that seems like a pretty stupid and simple observation, but the sad thing is that we'd still be stuck in that PC-as-island-centric view that hung on until the very late 90s. Yeah, I'd be using IRC and gopher or whatever along with a smattering of FTP sites, but most people? Probably not.

I also have my doubts that the IP-ization of the networking world would have gotten nearly as far as it has. While HTTP and HTML are completely unnecessary to the vast majority of applications, they were what propelled the Internet and thus TCP/IP into ubiquity.
posted by wierdo at 3:25 PM on October 9, 2011


localroger: "I honestly feel like congress ought to get involved

I don't want this congress involved in adjucating my traffic ticket. Kick out all the anti-government teabaggers in the House, get the Senate rules back to where a simple majority can get shit done, and then maybe.
"

The way the dems are bought by hollywood and the MAFIAA I wouldn't be particularly keen on having it done even w/the teabaggers kicked out, either.
posted by symbioid at 3:29 PM on October 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, that Classen Immunotherapies website is glorious... Written in Microsoft Frontpage 3.0 - the WYSIWYG editor of 1998.
posted by twine42 at 3:32 PM on October 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Granted, perhaps we ought not be suprised that the head of the World Intellectual Property Organisation thinks everything should be patented. In fact, it would be quite concerning if the view was otherwise.

It is quite concerning that anyone can have such evil as his view.
posted by JHarris at 3:51 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


patent trolls, have cost technology companies half a trillion dollars of lost wealth over the past two decades, with little benefit to small inventors

A few billionaires are "oppressing" the white collar underclass who command 6-figure salaries? I'm sorry, but it is hard for me to get outraged about their inability to become multimillionaires. I also don't think the message of Occupy Wall Street is "We demand to be exploited by more talented and brilliant individuals."
posted by AlsoMike at 3:58 PM on October 9, 2011


The way that patent trolling works is that the most valuable patent is the least innovative and most obvious. You want your patented idea to be so trivial and obvious that your competitors are guaranteed to come up with the same idea. Then you nuke them.

A system that rewards the least innovative and most obvious ideas is a broken system.
posted by JackFlash at 4:13 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are lawyers literally destroying technology start-ups while lining themselves up for the big settlements actually represented by that half trillion dollars, AlsoMike. All those dead start-ups represent an enormous opportunity cost to society.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:14 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


i am kind of wondering what you mean by 'morlock' here because a couple interpretations of that might be uhhh

in the end, it won't be a zombievampireninja apocalypse but a youtube-commenter one... and you will eat or be eaten. when the tragedy of the commons turns into a horror movie.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:15 PM on October 9, 2011


What burns me up about all this is seeing so many people decide to go to law school because if nothing else, they can go work for/against patent trolls.

The waste of human potential is enormous.
posted by ocschwar at 4:23 PM on October 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wish we could have saved usenet from the AOL and Greencard Lawyers.
posted by humanfont at 4:35 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem with using patent trolling as a form of protest of patent trolling is that patent trolls don't actually do anything so there is zero chance of them violating your IP. Unless of course you patent patenting something semi-obvious and then suing everything that moves.

Putting ideas into the public domain makes it harder to patent some half baked idea and make it stick, but I can point out biotech patents for things that were pretty obviously prior art that real live corporations didn't bother to fight. Apparently, it would cost so much fighting the patent (in terms of time) that it would be more profitable to develop a work-around.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:46 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hereby patent a method whereby one patents a method in order to obtain financial reward for suing an individual for using a patent that I created without doing anything to earn it. Now, try and troll, troll.
posted by symbioid at 5:12 PM on October 9, 2011


I have some innovations that would in some ways improve the lives of many people reading this, and I have the means to bestow these innovations on humanity, and the patent system is the reason you won't get these things.

I'm not going to work my ass off under a system which guarantees that my reward for pulling off a miracle is greed-motivated baseless lawsuits - lawsuits without end. I have my own life to live too.

Secondly, I couldn't play this mandatory lawsuit game even if I wanted to - I don't have a defensive patent portfolio, I could barely afford to patent my own stuff and I sure as hell couldn't afford to defend those patents in court, or defend myself from trolls.

The patent system is a Damacles sword hanging over genuine innovation, the difference being that this sword WILL fall the moment you are crowned king - if not before - and that's the end of you. Back to working for the big companies, ossifying technology instead of moving it forward.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:31 PM on October 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Here's how patents work in practice.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:49 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


..patent trolls, have cost technology companies half a trillion dollars of lost wealth over the past two decades..

Oh hell, here we go again. I'm going through the paper and these charges are totally unsubstantiated. He makes unwarranted assumptions about "abnormal returns" on money some company should have made. It uses extremely sketchy formulas about how the stock market works, and assesses that "lost wealth" as damages to a company's stock price.

So let me explain this one more time. Let's assume that Apple wins its patent lawsuit against Samsung and their iPad competitor is blocked from sale forever. Perhaps Samsung expected to make a billion dollars. But they didn't. And that does not represent a loss of a billion dollars. It merely represents a billion dollar opportunity they did not capitalize on. Those potential sales went somewhere else, maybe Apple made that billion. Net loss zero. So maybe Samsung's stock goes down and its market cap is reduced by a billion. That is NOT a billion dollars of "lost wealth."
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:51 PM on October 9, 2011


Artw: "most peopels expwience of the internet would be heavily shaped by Compuserve, AOL and MSN."

And yet ironically, today we're increasingly moving towards neo-AOLs, AKA Facebook et al, as centralised multiservice environments. It's remarkable to me how. after the 10-15 years worth of high-grade disruptions caused by HTTP and HTML jiggling the economics of scaling and bit delivery (both in the core and at the edges), the global internetworking system is recalibrating into several dominant shards. Of course, given the ease of outbound linking, there are some slight differences in appearance and capabilities between the AOL client experience of the late-1990s and the FB web experience of today, but in terms of user behaviour, engagement time, within-service paths vs without-service paths... not so much. AOL never managed to hook itself into several hundred thousands of external micro-services/websites, gaining the ability to monitor and gateway their user logins, activities, etc. With all the cross-site-scripting that FB/Google/others convince people to deploy, this is no longer the case. The large closed systems of the 80s and 90s turned out to be porous and fragile - all it took was a simple little hypertext markup client and server to tear them apart. The new massively scaled, massively linked social systems of today? It's difficult to see any potential technological innovation within the limits of TCP/IP that could disrupt them.
posted by meehawl at 10:46 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


AOL never wanted to hook itself into several hundred thousand external micro-services. They figured Email and Usenet was enough Internet. They wanted to deliver everything else to you through their own mediated interface so they could control the ads, which aren't worth as much in competition with other ads.

AOL was more like a cable company with interactive TV than an ISP and always was.
posted by wierdo at 10:53 PM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd agree that half trillion dollars figure involves fishy accounting, charlie don't surf. Yet, it's more honest than any damage claim ever invented by the MafIAA, or the various patent lawyer lobbyist groups that give us shit like ACTA. We've noted several times upthread that small companies, engineers, and consumers are the real losers when patent trolls come calling, but politicians don't give a shit about those groups because their campaign financing come from larger companies, so instead this stock price modeling approach provides an argument to which their masters might listen.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:02 PM on October 9, 2011


Umm, there wasn't anyone planning on suing the patent trolls, Kid Charlemagne. We were discussing broadening the victims of patent trolling to include people the politicians might listen to, like lawyers or investment houses. I donno if that's wise, but hey.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:06 PM on October 9, 2011


I'd agree that half trillion dollars figure involves fishy accounting, charlie don't surf...

CellTech (now UCB CellTech) was a start-up in 1980 - one of their drugs (on which I worked in a licensing deal that Pfizer decided to punt on - DO NOT GET ME STARTED) is expected to worth about 2.26 billion to the company that now owns it. So to squelch $500 trillion in value, you have to crush 10 or so companies a year with that degree of promise.

And it isn't like those companies are going to take their income in gold and gems and then sit on it in a big cave somewhere - they're going to spend a lot of it hiring other tech companies to do stuff for them. If anything, I think half a trillion might bea a conservative estimate.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:30 AM on October 10, 2011


Man, what is the deal with these software patents? It's almost like the computing revolution unleashed an unfathomable and perhaps even threatening amount of decentralized power that could be harnessed by mere individuals and small businesses to create innovative solutions to real problems by committing ideas into source code and leveraging the ever deepening pool of accomplishments of their predecessors at a rate of progress never before seen. It was like this wide open new frontier availed itself to us all and the potential for just any putz to capitalize on it through sheer determination was staggering!

...and a bunch of predatory punks with huge piles of money and posses of lawyers found their innovative free market niche within this fertile landscape to make their honest living...a niche that certainly only exists because it's necessary to *promote* innovation through software patents by way of protecting honest-to-goodness great ideas (and quite admirably, the little guy enjoys equal protection of his ideas as long as he has access to money and attorneys to help obtain and protect patents).

But curiously, it seems that in the long run these gosh-darned patents may be stifling innovation, creating a labyrinthine and hostile landscape and raising the barrier to and complexity of entry considerably...with this *certainly* unintended consequence of neutering an entire career field for thousands of potential entrepreneurs who might otherwise wish to start their own business and make a go out of being their own boss. What is a beacon of individual self-determination and prosperity to do? Shucks, this seems to happen almost every time one way or another there is opportunity for "the little guy" to create something useful with their blood, sweat, and tears. Every time, it's like there's this looming self-fulfilling prophesy where it's inevitably more efficient to leave the heavy lifting up to the big players with their barrels of ink and all and sure enough, making an honest living in this new frontier becomes exceedingly complicated and it really does make more sense to join the ranks of the non-self-employed, especially what with the cost of health care these days...

My favorite part of the boingboing link was the comments. Poor blurgh rattled off a clever and apparently-too-subtle comment and was quickly "educated" by a ravenous bunch of BOFH-like white knights rushing to rescue him (as "wrong on the internet" Google-alert-API'd-klaxons screamed from their mother's basements) from his ignorance of the existence of AOL, MSN, eWorld, and closed-source web servers. There was a certain meta aspect to the experience of reading those illuminating comments in the context of the creation of the internet we all know and ... use a lot.
posted by aydeejones at 12:45 AM on October 10, 2011


Man, me-10-years-ago would mock me mercilessly for suggesting that the internet as we know it is simply the world wide web, as created just a little awhile back after BBS's had their run. I personally skipped Mosaic due to having a crap computer at its zenith and went from lynx (and Z-Modem downloads of the occasional innocent JPEG from "the web!") to Netscape.

And don't get me started on those AOLers that "had internet" at home.

I've got the internet at home! "Having the internet" rather than "having internet access" was the "the internets" of the late 90s/early 2000s.
posted by aydeejones at 12:54 AM on October 10, 2011


CellTech (now UCB CellTech) was a start-up in 1980 - one of their drugs (on which I worked in a licensing deal that Pfizer decided to punt on - DO NOT GET ME STARTED) is expected to worth about 2.26 billion to the company that now owns it. So to squelch $500 trillion in value, you have to crush 10 or so companies a year with that degree of promise.

Your anecdote isn't very clear about who licensed what, to whom. It appears that you're saying UCB expects to make $2.26B from issuing licenses for CellTech's patented intellectual properties. This would seem to be a strong argument for patents. What are you trying to say?
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:12 AM on October 10, 2011


Last late night rambling comment that no one will read since this thread is from 1991 IIRC: malware developers probably don't have to worry too much about patents. How liberating that must be!

That alone might make it quite an enjoyable field for the freelance developer with a truly entrepreneurial spirit, so long as he/she is devoid of any sort of conscience, a condition which coincidentally is a really good catalyst for the rapid realization of success and if one wants to model the patterns that result in success-at-all-costs for large corporations, discarding the conscience is step one. Too bad so many corporations seem to succeed by collectively abandoning such a deeply human attribute, despite their innate personhood.
posted by aydeejones at 1:19 AM on October 10, 2011


So let me explain this one more time. Let's assume that Apple wins its patent lawsuit against Samsung and their iPad competitor is blocked from sale forever. Perhaps Samsung expected to make a billion dollars. But they didn't. And that does not represent a loss of a billion dollars. It merely represents a billion dollar opportunity they did not capitalize on.

To me, this kind of example misses the point. A worse cost to the economy is not whether we might or might not get to choose between identical products A or B, it's that different and disruptive product C never gets off the ground, or arrives ten year later once the major players are finally unable to stop it any longer, and that's ten years of lowered and lost worker productivity because it takes an hour to do something instead of ten minutes.

A second loss to the economy is the opportunity costs. A dollar spent on spuriously suing a productive person or company for commercial gain is:
one dollar removed from your own productive output,
one dollar spent on reducing someone else's productivity,
one dollar of missed productivity fro the legal man who takes the case instead of one beneficial to society.

One misspent dollar removes three dollars from the economy.

A society spending it's wealth in mechanisms to hinder each other may make perfect sense at the micro level where each part is trying to get ahead of the other parts, but in the big picture, it's like a person spending their wealth on bullets with which to shoot their own limbs, all the while thinking the cost of this action is low because bullets are cheap.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:25 AM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


To me, this kind of example misses the point. A worse cost to the economy is not whether we might or might not get to choose between identical products A or B, it's that different and disruptive product C never gets off the ground, or arrives ten year later once the major players are finally unable to stop it any longer, and that's ten years of lowered and lost worker productivity because it takes an hour to do something instead of ten minutes.

I don't see this happening. In my example, the iPad is the disruptive technology and Samsung (presumably) is infringing on Apple's patented technology.

Let's put it another way. Let's say some company develops and patents a drug to cure a common form of cancer. Another company copies it and wants to sell it cheaper, and grab their market. Does that infringer have the right to sell the drug they didn't create, even if it could be argued that it's a public benefit to make the drug cheaper? If the originator prevails, it makes more money. If the bootlegger prevails, it means the public spends less money on the drug. You also mention opportunity cost, the original company spent years and major capital developing this drug, time and money they could have spent developing something else.

It still seems to me that your arguments support the patent holders , and don't support any "loss of wealth" other than losses from pirated IP.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:16 AM on October 10, 2011


wierdo: "AOL never wanted to hook itself into several hundred thousand external micro-services. They figured Email and Usenet was enough Internet."

At that time there weren't several hundred thousand micro-services available, and so the large portal services of the day didn't need to co-opt them. I don't know if you were around then, but in the early 90s, after you'd accounted for SMTP email and Usenet, there wasn't that much else going on. But it's not really in the technical details that the convergent evolutionary similarities exist - it's in the aggregate user behaviours within the walled gardens, and those domain's responses to "external", disruptive threats.
posted by meehawl at 7:54 PM on October 10, 2011


Australian court blocks sales of Samsung's Galaxy Tab
posted by jeffburdges at 7:53 AM on October 13, 2011


Samsung seeks ban on Apple iPhone 4S sales in France and Italy
posted by jeffburdges at 8:05 AM on October 13, 2011


Acacia Sues Amazon Over Kindle Fire
Red Hat Prevails Against Patent Troll Acacia
posted by jeffburdges at 8:06 AM on October 13, 2011


There is a really concise argument against our current patent system in the Mark Shuttleworth excerpt linked upthread.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:14 AM on October 13, 2011


Tech-patent lawsuits discourage innovation

"By the end of the 1990s, the cost of patent litigation for public companies in most industries exceeded the profits earned from their patents by around 4 to 1"
posted by jeffburdges at 8:18 AM on October 13, 2011


Vast majority of software patents lose in court
I.e. the patents usually suck, everyone loses except the lawyers.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:21 AM on October 13, 2011


Microsoft tried to buy Netscape. What if they had? (via Brendan Eich and shashdot)
posted by jeffburdges at 7:29 PM on October 28, 2011


Well, everybody at Netscape would have been better off, since their company utterly sucked.
posted by Artw at 8:29 PM on October 28, 2011


I've posted these elsewhere already but they seem relevant here too :

The Patent War: Is it killing innovation?

La Quadrature du Net has released some videos on ACTA and the action being taken against it in Europe.

Off topic, I'm still amused by how the E-PARASITES Act seems tailor made to bring the worst aspects of American patent law into American copyright law.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:10 PM on November 1, 2011


meehawl wrote: At that time there weren't several hundred thousand micro-services available, and so the large portal services of the day didn't need to co-opt them. I don't know if you were around then, but in the early 90s, after you'd accounted for SMTP email and Usenet, there wasn't that much else going on.

AOL hardly existed in the early 90s. It was 95-98 that they were really a big thing, by which time the WWW was taking off. It took them years to decide to let their users have it. I was around then, so I remember. And there were thousands and thousands of micro-services, even before the web was a "thing." Access to things like SAAbre and other formerly-difficult-to-access proprietary services was a big part of CompuServ and Prodigy's strategy. AOL dabbled in that market some. It let them run more ads. The whole point was to mediate your experience and monetize it.
posted by wierdo at 2:09 PM on November 2, 2011


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