"patent reform" entries

Patents, they’re not what they used to be

Software patents, in particular, have become little more than the re-enshrinement of the rentier in law.

When I was about 16, I went to visit my grandfather in Denver, where he’d decided to retire. He moved there after spending 30 years in Midland, Michigan working for Dow Chemical. I guess he went west for the dry air. I don’t know if it was good for his lungs, but it sure didn’t go well with wool carpet. I shocked myself every time I touched something. Sometimes the spark would arc three inches from my finger tip to a door knob. There would be a visible flash and pop, and then a reflexive jump. It was a bit terrifying after a while. My grandfather, being an engineer, had figured a simple solution to that problem: he just touched every door knob with his key to ground himself before he opened it. It worked fine, but I didn’t remember to do it. Not once. But that’s not the point of this post.

One evening, we got to talking about his work at Dow and he showed me his patents. He was proud to show them to me, and I was proud of him. The fact that he had all those patents struck me as a testament to his ingenuity. He was smart, and the U.S. Government was acknowledging it in a most formal way.

Most of his patents were about some chemical process or another, but one of them caught my imagination as particularly cool. He realized that the heat coming off of the leading edge of a high-speed aircraft could be used to pre-catalyze jet fuel. I loved airplanes (back then, I still wanted to fly jets), it seemed smart, and I think I just liked the cartoony nature of the drawing in the patent.

Endothermic Fuel System

He worked for Dow, so naturally all of his work was assigned to the company. And really, that seemed fine to him, and to me. After all, to him that patent was probably less about the temporary grant of government-sponsored monopoly and more about the USPTO’s recognition of his intellect put to paper. It would have been nice for him if Dow had sold his invention to Boeing for lots of money, but it was sort of orthogonal to the intrinsic incentive framework he was working from.

As odd as this mindset seems to me now, it was a mindset I adopted explicitly at the time, and held onto implicitly for a long time after. That evening must have been important to me because I resolved then to patent some of my ideas some day. Years later in my career, when I was working for a small consulting firm, I started making patent applications with my colleagues. Read more…

Four short links: 16 January 2012

Four short links: 16 January 2012

Computational Science, Bad Patents, Fasterscript, and Secure Social Software

  1. Computational Science Stack Exchange — q+a site for data-intensive computation-heavy science. (via Gael Varoquaux)
  2. An Open Letter to our Customers, Past and Future (Luma Labs) — a reminder that poor patent examination hurts innovative startups working in physical goods, just as much as with digital goods.
  3. Javascript Performance (Steve Souders) — JavaScript is typically the #1 place to look for making a website faster. Numbers and examples to show this, plus an interesting look at execution order of asynchronously loaded pages: Preserving execution order of async scripts makes the page slower. If the first async script takes a long time to download, all the other async scripts are blocked from executing, even if they download sooner.
  4. Retroshare (Sourceforge) — GPL and LGPLed cross-platform, private and secure decentralised communication platform. It lets you to securely chat and share files with your friends and family, using a web-of-trust to authenticate peers and OpenSSL to encrypt all communication. RetroShare provides filesharing, chat, messages, forums and channels. I haven’t tried it, but it’s an interesting premise.

Developer Week in Review: A big moment for Kinect?

Microsoft wants to Kinect with Windows users, more junk patents, and free programming lessons are everywhere.

Microsoft thinks the Kinect has a bright future with the PC. Elsewhere, we have a new contender for worst software patent ever, and the mayor of New York City wants to get his geek on.

Four short links: 12 December 2011

Four short links: 12 December 2011

Copyright, Copyright, Patents, and Copyright

  1. No Copyright Intended (Andy Baio) — Thoughtful piece on how copyright ignorance may lead to copyright reform. Everyone over age 12 when YouTube launched in 2005 is now able to vote. What happens when—and this is inevitable—a generation completely comfortable with remix culture becomes a majority of the electorate, instead of the fringe youth? What happens when they start getting elected to office? (Maybe “I downloaded but didn’t share” will be the new “I smoked, but didn’t inhale.”)
  2. How to Fix Copyright — new book, written by Google’s Senior Copyright Counsel, which lays out the confused current copyright laws and the ways in which they aren’t working. As Cory’s review says, Patry offers two important (but rare) commodities: facts, and solutions. The solutions are simple: stop making copyright laws until you know whether the ones you have are working; and require strong evidence for further changes.
  3. Oblivious Supreme Court Poised to Legalize Medical PatentsPrometheus claims much more than its specific testing process. It claims a physician administering thiopurine to a patient can infringe its patent merely by being aware of the scientific correlation disclosed in the patent—even if the doctor doesn’t act on the patent’s recommendations. (via Ed Yong)
  4. You Have Downloaded — site which collects information from trackers and lets you see what was downloaded from a particular IP address. One ISP in NZ wrote: I plugged in the IPs for the last 6 infringement notices I received as an ISP. It turned up: a) all of the downloads that these IPs had been pinged for; b) as many downloads again that they had not been pinged for.
Four short links: 15 November 2011

Four short links: 15 November 2011

Internet Asthma Care, C Fulltext, Citizen Science, and Mozilla

  1. Cost-Effectiveness of Internet-Based Self-Management Compared with Usual Care in Asthma (PLoSone) — Internet-based self-management of asthma can be as effective as current asthma care and costs are similar.
  2. Apache Lucy full-text search engine library written in C and targeted at dynamic languages. It is a “loose C” port of Apache Luceneā„¢, a search engine library for Java.
  3. The Near Future of Citizen Science (Fiona Romeo) — near future of science is all about honing the division of labour between professionals, amateurs and bots. See Bryce’s bionic software riff. (via Matt Jones)
  4. Microsoft’s Patent Claims Against Android (Groklaw) — behold, citizen, the formidable might of Microsoft’s patents and how they justify a royalty from every Android device equal to that which you would owe if you built a Windows Mobile device: These Microsoft patents can be divided into several basic categories: (1) the ‘372 and ‘780 patents relate to web browsers; (2) the ‘551 and ‘233 patents relate to electronic document annotation and highlighting; (3) the ‘522 patent relates to resources provided by operating systems; (4) the ‘517 and ‘352 patents deal with compatibility with file names once employed by old, unused, and outmoded operating systems; (5) the ‘536 and ‘853 patents relate to simulating mouse inputs using non-mouse devices; and (6) the ‘913 patent relates to storing input/output access factors in a shared data structure. A shabby display of patent menacing.

Developer Week in Review: Windows 8 Developer Preview goes public

Win8 for free, Google throws a Dart, and Congress whiffs on patent reform.

Microsoft changes tack on a Windows 8 alpha, Google is darting away from JavaScript, and the great Patent Reform of 2011 reforms little.

Developer Week in Review: iPhone 5 is still on hold

Waiting for iPhone 5, patent madness continues, and the geeks will soon descend on New York.

We've been waiting for months, but the iPhone 5 is still getting ready. Elsewhere, Google lends HTC some ammo for the patent wars, and the Makers will soon gather in New York.

Intellectual property gone mad

Sweeping patent changes aren't likely, but small solutions may curb patent trolls.

Patent trolling could undermine app ecosystems, but who can mount a legitimate challenge? Here's four potential solutions.

Developer Week in Review: Buying a lawsuit with an in-app purchase

In-app purchasing called into question, Mono moves on, and you've got new perl.

This week Apple's iOS developer community got a patent wake up call, the recently discarded Mono project found a new home, and a favorite scripting language got a new version.