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Patents Science

Patents Chilling Effect on Science 383

Posted by samzenpus
from the learn-to-share dept.
cheesedog writes "The American Association for the Advancement of Science recently conducted a survey on the effect of patenting on the sciences. The results are frightening: 1/5th or more of all research projects in the United States are being chilled by patent holders. The sheer amount of research being canceled because of licensing issues is astounding, but at the same time many of these researchers hold their own patents and therefore contribute to the problem."
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Patents Chilling Effect on Science

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  • Times are a changin' (Score:5, Interesting)

    by max born (739948) on Wednesday November 09, 2005 @10:59PM (#13994893)
    If Newton or Leibniz had invented calculus today they would have incorporated it into a computer program and filed a patent under a method for finding rates of change.
  • Recent idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MarkEst1973 (769601) on Wednesday November 09, 2005 @11:02PM (#13994914)
    This suddenly hits home for me. I've been thinking for a while about a new software-based product/service and I'm in the steps of developing a business plan in order to raise money.

    As I step through possible scenarios in my head, patents come up. I believe I would be offering a genuinely new product, and that makes me think I can patent it and gain the entire market. Suddenly, patents don't seem so bad.

    On the other hand, I understand that a patent would mean there's no competition in any given space, that innovation to reduce the price of said product/service (a net win for consumers everywhere) would never happen.

    But wouldn't a company earning large profits from the patents expand, grow, create jobs, pay more taxes, and get the wheels of the economy going? Now that I'm in a position to possibly use a patent, they become easy to rationalize.

    When they were only a theoretical exercise for me, patents seemed like they would have adverse affects on innovation.

    I suppose the real danger is my unknowing infringement of another's patent and the hilarity that would ensue.

  • Lawyers are to blame (Score:2, Interesting)

    by grumpygrodyguy (603716) on Wednesday November 09, 2005 @11:03PM (#13994920)
    Lawyers are destroying this country, heck they practically own it. 90% of congress are lawyers, 9/10 medical suits are frivolous and the 'industry' of medical law is about playing the averages. In my home state of Georgia(USA) medical practioners have their own insurance union, they lose 1 Billion dollars a year defending against frivolous lawsuits. Only 1 in 10 of those suits actually stick...it's practically extortion.

    Likewise, recent changes to IP are one of the worst things to happen to science and industry. Used correctly IP has its place in prompting innovation, but lawyers are turning IP into something strictly to leverage lawsuits with. That doesn't benefit customers, scientific organizations or industry leaders...but it does syphon mountains of cash to the IP lawyers.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 09, 2005 @11:04PM (#13994933)
    I'm a graduate student working on a high profile computer engineering project. My advisor (let's call him Prof X) runs the group, and also has a small side company based on his research.

    I recently experienced just this effect. I needed some realistic multi-threading code to use to test a visualizer I have been working on (actually, it's not a visualizer per se, but the intermediate analysis steps you need to go through before you use the visualizer). I found out that the code I wanted to use is actually owned (patented) by Prof X's company, and that I would not be allowed to see or use it unless I signed an NDA.

    (Posted anonymously for reasons that should hopefully be obvious)
  • by mcrbids (148650) on Wednesday November 09, 2005 @11:16PM (#13994990) Journal
    I recommend you read this recent interview of Bob Young, one of the founders of RedHat [newsforge.com] and now heavily involved in lulu.com book publishing [lulu.com].

    Specifically, this quote:
    ...I'm a big fan of both copyrights and patents, the problem was that our legislators didn't recognize the fundamental rule, which is: too much of a good thing no longer is. And so we're seeing things like the DMCA, like the idea that you could patent ideas, not just inventions, like the idea of taking copyright from 20 years to a hundred years with very little public debate on the topic and you sort of realize that it's a little bit like vitamin D -- you know, too little vitamin D and you get a variety of health problems. Too much vitamin D will actually kill you...
    Don't most government-endowed monopolies have chilling unintended consequences on the markets they're supposed to protect?

    No. Especially in cases where an overly large capital investment is needed to develop a technology, a temporary monopoly on the resulting deliverable is often needed to encourage or enable the investors in said technology to build it in the first place.

    Copyright gives incredible power to the top publishers (with a lock on book stores), the recording industry, and the movie distributors.

    Actually, it gives such power to me too, an independent software engineer. I can (and do) use copyrights to help me ensure that my time gets reasonably and profitably compensated. If this were not so, I would not develop nearly as much software, and that would be bad for all involved.

    Government's monopoly on violence prevents the average person from defending their property, and use of the monopoly outside of our borders causes anger towards our citizens.

    In the US, anyone can perform a citizen's arrest as a peace officer. In almost all jurisdictions, citizens have the right to lethal self-defense. (guns, etc.) I'm not sure if you're promoting the idea that US Citizens should be able to wage ware oversees without being part of the military? Your logic gets pretty weak, here.

    Government's monopoly on prescription drugs causes the costs to skyrocket (death sentence for the poor) and useful drugs to be delayed for years.

    Government monopolies on prescription drugs keep unsafe, sham products from flooding the marketplace. Take a look at your email inbox if want to see lots of examples of these: names like "Vi4gra" and "p3n15 3nl4rgemint".

    Temporary monopolies granted by patents allow drug companies to invest huge sums of money (to the tune of 315 million dollars per drug) to research, develop and test (for safety) the numerous and highly beneficial pharmaceuticals available today. By keeping the patent term reasonable, "generic" drugs are available after the drug companies have reaped their profits to then make them affordable to the impoverished.

    Government's monopoly on patent licensing is no different. The playing field is far from level. Drug companies would initially have to charge more to sell their meds, or sell through doctors groups (where generics might be contractually offlimits for those doctors). Patents don't protect bootlegs anyway, which get more pervasive as the web gets larger.

    What are you saying here? I can't make heads or tails of it...

    For our society to grow, we need to accept that monopolies are always bad, and only government can create them. There are no natural monopolies. The 4 or 5 times there might have been in the past I'd argue weren't meant to last, but they're gone anyway.

    For our society to grow, we need to understand when monopolies are appropriate and when they are simply stupid. Like most GPL software, it's best when it's used for infrastructure (eg: highways, basic telecommunications, etc) and at its worst when used for end-use products. (eg: spatulas, carpets, televisions, etc)
  • Double Edged Sword (Score:5, Interesting)

    by queenb**ch (446380) on Wednesday November 09, 2005 @11:18PM (#13994998) Homepage Journal
    Part of the problem is that patents have been expanded far beyond their original intention. They were originally set up to expire in 17 years with the option for one renewal. That means that knowledge would be locked down for a maximum of 34 years. At that point it was supposed to pass in to the public domain.

    It was changed because large companies had the habit of offering a pittance for licensing someone's patent. If it wasn't accepted, they would simply wait until the patent expired and then use the technology for free. Many people don't realize that the relatively modern addition of variable speed windshield wipers were invented in the early part of the previous century. I forget the exact year.
    Now, however, that the patent has expired this is a standard feature on most automobiles.

    This is simply the pendulum swinging back the other direction. Invention and innovation will be stifled to the point that the companies will start going out of business, strangled on their own patents. They'll be unable to bring new products to market because everything will infringe on someone else's patent. Companies are already buying other companies in order to obtain "the intellectual propery". If its to the point that you buy the whole company just to get their patents, things are desperate indeed.

    2 cents,

    Queen B
  • on that same note... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by drewxhawaii (922388) on Wednesday November 09, 2005 @11:21PM (#13995010) Homepage
    ... a patent was recently issued for "an anti-gravity device"

    http://news.com.com/2061-11204_3-5942862.html [com.com]

    apparently you can get a patent on something you haven't developed
  • by Teckla (630646) on Wednesday November 09, 2005 @11:25PM (#13995022)

    Lawyers are destroying this country, heck they practically own it. 90% of congress are lawyers, 9/10 medical suits are frivolous and the 'industry' of medical law is about playing the averages. In my home state of Georgia(USA) medical practioners have their own insurance union, they lose 1 Billion dollars a year defending against frivolous lawsuits. Only 1 in 10 of those suits actually stick...it's practically extortion.

    I'd like to see some references to your statistics. They seem too...convenient. 90% this, 9 out of 10 that, $1 billion here, 1 out of 10 there.

    Likewise, recent changes to IP are one of the worst things to happen to science and industry. Used correctly IP has its place in prompting innovation, but lawyers are turning IP into something strictly to leverage lawsuits with. That doesn't benefit customers, scientific organizations or industry leaders...but it does syphon mountains of cash to the IP lawyers.

    I know it's popular to hate lawyers, so what I'm about to say will probably burn my karma to cinders. But, the simple truth is, it's not the fault of lawyers. They're working within the system, getting paid by clients to do what they do. You want less patent lawsuits? Reform the patent system. Don't burn lawyers at the stake.

    Your hate is misplaced.

  • Yawn! Not new... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AB3A (192265) on Wednesday November 09, 2005 @11:36PM (#13995070) Homepage Journal
    It seems to me that this has happened before. Around the turn of the last century, Lee DeForrest patented a whole bunch of undeveloped ideas and nonsense concerning electron tubes on the theory that something might stick. He really didn't know what he had when he developed the very first triode. But that didn't stop him from trying to patent every conceivable circuit he could imagine.

    Unfortunately, Armstrong did know what the tube was good for and actually developed some very innovative circuits that lead to the Regenerative receiver. However, DeForrest's lawyers sued him because they thought they had a patent on the circuit before Armstrong did. The court couldn't sort out the details because they didn't understand the technology all that well either. They awarded damages to DeForrest, whose lawyers were well fed...

    Today, you can look at DeForrest's patents and decide for yourself whether he really had a clue as to what a regenerative receiver was. Most technically literate people agree that his patent was merely a fishing expedition.

    So here we are today: The AAAS has just realized that there might be a problem with patents. Golly! They're about 100 years too late IMNSHO. This festering heap of a stupid idea called patents began to be a problem when it became apparent that no one person could know all there was to know about science as people could claim in Ben Franklin's day. Today, it's harder and harder to find people who know all there is worth knowing about even a small branch of physics.

    This concept of patent reform is so overdue that the best thing we can do about it is to junk the whole edifice and start over. It's that bad. We've known it since the last century. Why is it still here?
  • by Reality Master 201 (578873) on Wednesday November 09, 2005 @11:43PM (#13995109) Journal
    The Constitution sez:

    Congress shall have power . . . To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.

    So the question is, if patents are now starting to impede the progress of science and technology (and I'm willing to bet plenty of people on slashdot could think of instances in which this is the case), there is a good case to be made that as it stands now, the law governing patents is no longer constitutional.

    Just a thought. Feel free to flame.

  • by AvitarX (172628) <me@brandywinehund[ ].org ['red' in gap]> on Wednesday November 09, 2005 @11:48PM (#13995134) Journal
    Don't they only last 17 years with no renewal now?

    I am a little confused as to the rest of your statement with that a the premise that length is shortening.

    Part of the problem is that discoveries are being patented (algorythems), and patents exist for vague concepts that don't have any real implementation (I think Dr Phil has one for a computer program that does not exist), and things that are covered by other protections (software), and the recent boom in technology (17 years seems longer).

    The last one is most likly cyclic (the turn of last century saw automobile to flight in less then a generation), the others are real problems.

    The scientists seem to be running into the problem of things that don't have a useful implementation, they can't build on the rudimentery concept because it is patented, so we need to wait 17 years for the next step to be developed, and then maybe again for something useful. This happened in the aeronoughtics (ugh that is spelt bad) industry in the US and allowed Europe a big advantage as the patents were more or less ignored.

    One possible solution is to require institutions receiving public funds to open all research to everybody, but that has the risk of further commercializing universities, as larger public ones already get nearly as much from private grants as public funding. Another is to give pure research not for profit institutions amnesty from patent law and sort out the royalties on the back side. Patents could be built on almost light copyright, where the writer andartist both have a claim to a song, but more complexity is probably not the answer either.
  • Re:Yep... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @12:04AM (#13995198) Homepage
    Patents don't disallow you from doing research after all, but "only" commercializing it; having it made into product or processes.

    They do in the US. There is an exemption for research purposes, but it's too small to be all that useful AFAIK.
  • by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @12:12AM (#13995251) Homepage
    Actually, I understand that it's not really that lucrative unless you're also a lawyer. Then it's very good work indeed.

    However, I don't see how this is a valid criticism of the PTO.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 10, 2005 @01:06AM (#13995517)
    The wealthy/landed elites constantly dream up ways to make money of the backs of the innovative and hard working. In this sense, Microsoft and the RIAA Cartels pretty much symbolize the "American spirit"... from a corporation standpoint.

    I will never understand this type of sentiment. Corporations fund scientists. They pay for their services. It's not like the corporations are hiding in the bushes waiting for you to leave your lab so they can steal the secrets and sell them. If there was no profit in it, those scientists wouldn't have a job... they'd be teachers or in a field they didn't like doing nothing. Scientists are able to do science and support themselves doing science -because- there is proft in science. If there wasn't profit in science, the field would have as much backing as the arts do (which is to say, very little).
  • by lightknight (213164) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @01:13AM (#13995547) Homepage
    All too true. MS is so large, they could easily rip off your idea with very little you could do to get back at them. I'm curious how many people have been ripped off (patent wise) by MS...and how many people have tried and failed getting damages from them. I do not know too many people who have enough constitution or money to stand up against the kind of legal power MS can procure.

    I ask because I am in the tenuous position of trying to decide whether MS is infringing on one of my patent applications. If they aren't, no problems. But if they are, I'd like to talk to, or rather study, the successful legal prosecution of another's patent. Windows Vista would be the target...:)
  • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Thursday November 10, 2005 @01:18AM (#13995565)
    Patents exist to make more research possible. Therefore, in order to determine whether they do that, one must compare the number of research projects inhibited by patents to the number of research projects made possible by them. Just saying "1/5" are prevented by them is not enough information, especially if the other 4/5 wouldn't have been possible with-ought patents. Then there's the issue of which research is important. . .
  • by burnin1965 (535071) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @03:35AM (#13995997) Homepage
    "This happened in the aeronoughtics (ugh that is spelt bad) industry in the US"

    I'm glad you brought that up. I think most people today, and until recently myself included, believe that the problems with the patent system in the United States is something of a new phenomena. This couldn't be further from the truth.

    I think there were good intents when the system was first thought up, at least I hope there were, but looking back through history the system has been detrimental to the advancement of the United States as an economic force around the world. And I have two cases as proof.

    As you had stated, the United States greatly lagged behind Europe when Aeronautics were in their infancy and in large part this was due to patents. Anyone who doubts this only has to study the history of the NACA and they will discover that this government organization was instrumental in setting up the MAA in 1917 because of "a virtual deadlock in aircraft construction because of patent infringement suits". The efforts of the United States government also included spending tax dollars to purchase patents so as to institute cross licensing that was necessary to spur the aeronautics industry.

    http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/Timeline /1915-19.html [nasa.gov]

    So this case makes it appear that the patent system actually does the opposite of what most people are taught its purpose is. But is this the only case? No. Going back even further you will find one George Selden, a New York patent attorney who filed a patent for the road engine, a.k.a. automobile, in 1879. After the patent was granted in 1895 he didn't setup a business making cars based on his new patent, he instead setup an extortion shop which charged each of the car manufacturers a licensing fee to use his patented technology. This guy never built a single car to sell, he just filed a patent and then started charging those who actually did build cars. I suspect this guy never even invented anything automotive but rather just took notice of what others were doing and realized there would be an industry. Henry Ford refused to pay the extortion fee and had to fight this guy in court for 7 years! Selden's company was forced to build a car to prove the patent was valid but they could not build a working car so the patent was thrown out.

    http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aacarsse ldona.htm [about.com]

    So it appears to me that the patent system may have never worked as advertised from the beginning. Instead of having a system which spurs on industry we have a system which enables bickering among patent holders thus holding back progress and phonies who leech off industries and could never actually produce a real product if their life depended on it.

    I don't have any replacement solutions to offer myself, I'm just ranting, but I'm not so sure that we wouldn't be better off with no patent system at all.

    burnin
  • Re:Shear (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 10, 2005 @05:14AM (#13996239)
    When the number of people working in a field exceeds 1 million, all patents
    in that field should become void, on the theory that, with that many "researchers",
    patents are not necessary to stimulate innovation. This should kill software patents.
    The definition of people "working in" a field should, however, be sufficiently narrow
    to prevent pharmacists and GPs from being lumped in with surgeons who invent medical
    devices, or with pharma researchers who invent drugs (or, for that matter, to prevent
    people who write spreadsheets from being considered "software developers").

    Patents should only be granted for working inventions, not ideas. You should
    have to demonstrate a working prototype within a time limit or your patent is voided.

    Patents should be required to have a specific and non-trivial use. That would
    kill the "patent shotgun" approach, "I invented something, don't know what it's
    good for but what the hell, patent just in case".

    Patents should be fairly specific (yes I know that's vague) - broad patents
    on concepts or on every possible application of an idea should be impossible.
    This rule may be redundant with "no patents on ideas" though.

    Given the speed of today's economy, patents should have a lifetime of 5 to 12 years,
    with lifetime proportional to the investment required to create the invention. Possibly
    20 for pharma, aero, and similar industries with long lead times.

    Patents should be free for research use, except for
    equipment generally used for research (predominant anticipated market
    is in a research field). If you invent a 3D neutrino microscope and
    patent it, great. If you invent some consumer product and somebody wants to
    use a similar item in research, they get to.

    Licensing of patents for a reasonable fee should be compulsory, for
    competitors in unrelated markets, or if you don't put out a product within
    some time limit, like a couple years (this may be difficult to sort out with
    long lead-time inventions like pharma though).

    Copyright should last 10 years, and should be the only way of protecting software
    (and there should be no way of protecting algorithms, design patterns, or
    "business methods"). Yes this would apply to GPL as well... too bad. Anyway
    what's someone gonna do with 10 year old Linux?! I may be willing to relent
    on algorithms if they're sufficiently innovative and useful, but this assumes
    the PTO could distinguish novelty and usefulness, and we already know they can't,
    so forget it, no algorithm patents.

    Copyright for software should require that the source code be submitted to
    the library of congress in a form which can be built (including makefiles, etc).
    The full source becomes public domain at the expiration of the copyright
    (but only the snapshot taken 10 years ago, not the current baseline).
    This is not as useful as it sounds, since typically the build environment is
    obsolete and unreproducable within 3-5 years, but still, it may offer some protection
    from orphanware. It'll be really hard for the LOC to test for buildability
    though, since they'd need to acquire or borrow the build environment (machine,
    compiler, etc). The source code rule should apply to anything that gets copyrighted
    or patented - verilog code and/or BOM+schematics for hardware designs, DNA sequence for
    engineered bacteria, design and manufacturing specs for products, etc.
    This will require a massive CM system and database at the LOC - so spend a
    few $billion on it, it's worth it.

    To sue someone for patent infringment, a company or individual should be required
    to have a an income at least as much as what they're suing for, derived from
    something other than lawsuits. The point is to outlaw IP suits from businesses
    or individuals whose whole income is derived from suing people. Or more succinctly,
    "if you aren't doing something useful, please die". An alternative is
    to just limit the rate at which people/orga
  • by RKBA (622932) * on Thursday November 10, 2005 @05:36AM (#13996286)
    "...when your capitalist economy begins devouring itself, ... to sustain the gluttonous beast you've created."

    Don't knock it unless you've tried it. The "gluttonous beast" of capitalism you refer to is responsible for earning me most of my retirement savings. Anyone, even you or me, can invest in these money hungry "gluttonous beast" corporations who try to make us (the shareholders) richer. If I had received just one-forth of the return on the Social Security money the government has extorted from me and my employers over the years as I've received from investments in private corporations, I'd be a rich man now.

  • by Steeltoe (98226) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @05:45AM (#13996305) Homepage
    Well posted! This is one part of it, but I think there are more dreams out there which people believe in, wether they are true or not, and do everything in their power to make it true. I'll just add one major dream that the currents trends in society is being ruled by:

    The Economist Dream

    The Economics Dream is very simple: It is the capitalist belief that if you just make every exchange in society a transaction, we will automatically make the right decisions due to market forces somehow making those perfect decisions for us. Whatever will be the cheapest solution, when everything is marketized, will be the Best Solution.

    Remember the stories about the supposed Information Age, when Information would be sold and bartered with, just like the stock market? This is one such idea based on The Economist Dream. Make everything a transaction, and whatever you need can be bought and whatever you have can be sold.

    It didn't quite turn out that way however. What information is being bought and sold between corporations is information about us, our private information. Remember those privacy statements where corporations claim they will only share your information with their affiliates? I guess that means information about you will be sold to Checkpoint, or some other company, that then resells this information further to the highest bidder, or lose the information to some hacker..

    The Economist Dream is all about making everything a transaction, as if money-flow will solve every conceivable issue in this world. As we have seen, money is also generating problems for us, because these corporations are beginning to have a life on its own! "We have to do it because our stockholders will sue us." "They have to do it because they have to maximize capital." Etc. Etc. The excuses begins to pour in. Corporations should not be ammoral entities to an extent where they can control the people who "runs" them!

    Decisions are being made based on money every day, and if it doesn't get out of hand, this is a good balance. Nobody should do nothing and be rewarded for it, certainly. But if we let it take control of our planet, it will go very wrong.

    Especially information is not suited to The Economist Dream. Information is intangible and can be copied almost without cost. Indeed, when information is shared it enriched everyone and leads to innovations the original author never thought about! If it is withheld it enriches only the few who hold it, if it ever does any good. The biggest potential for information is when it is freely shared, instead of going through a toll-booth.

    However, those who believe in The Economist Dream believe EVERYTHING should be made a transaction. They fail to realize that a transaction also constitute a friction, a lowest barrier that must be overcome, while the natural state of information is frictionless. Software will naturally become commodized, because over time the market forces will force the value of software down to the natural cost of information. Open Source and Free Software (GPL) is only a catalyst for this process.

    Just like many dreams, The Economist Dream is a partial solution, but it shouldn't be applied to areas where reality dictates otherwise. We shouldn't challenge reality, the natural way of living, because building a card-deck house will crumble to the slightest wind.

    The Economist Dream also has fundamental problems in the very decision-making. It makes our mind go to our thoughts and intellect, more than go to our hearts. Good decisions are made from a mix of heart and intellect, but when decisions are made only from the intellect, it can quickly turn "cold" and cynical. When we lose our innocence in making decisions, conflict arises. However, when we make decisions from the heart also, we will not try to trick others or otherwise make "cold-hearted" decisions. We will want what is best for everyone, and thus any mistakes we do, can be forgiven, because they were just that: mistakes, and not intention.

    The Ec
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 10, 2005 @06:25AM (#13996391)
    There are no stats on how many of the 55% actually had there patents challenged.

    Were they doing to get rich? Or do they think the system is flawed - I'd be tempted to patent my own work so I can continue working on it - if someone manages to swoop in and get a patent on it, then you're screwed. Prior art seems a lot weaker than it's meant to be these days.

    So some proportion of those 55% probably think patents are great, but some other proportion are patenting to avoid apparent flaws in the system.

    Need more data.
  • The article claims patents affect research. Is there legal evidence that this can happen in the UK/US at all? I only know according to German law, you can use methods disclosed in patents for research purposes, it's only a monopoly on the _commercial_ exploitation.

    I'd suspect UK/US law to be similar regarding research use.

  • by tacocat (527354) <tallison1 AT twmi DOT rr DOT com> on Thursday November 10, 2005 @07:25AM (#13996517)

    Territorial Claims for Intellectual Property

    In the virtual world of Intellectual Property, patents are the equivelant to the Great Wall, Berlin Wall, or the newly created Isreali Wall.

    When an idea is generated into a product by any company, they establish there product be being "first to market". This is an extremely important part of product development. First to Market is more important than the quality of the product. You can ship pretty marginal product just so long as you can get the name out there and get it recognized. But you can't wait to get it perfect.

    This is the first step in establishing a company in the market. In parallel with this effort you submit the core patents around your product consistent with the original intention of the USPTO to give your "better mousetrap" a fighting chance to establish itself safely in the market.

    Once established as an entity in the market, you begin to establish a protectionary zone of defense against any potential competitors by laying out a pattern of patent landmines to make it difficult for others to approach the intellectual space that your product covers. If you make an MP3 player, you want to generate any form of patent you can concering all aspects of your product to muddy the waters against the competition. So you would patent aspects of digitizing sound, file compression, file transfer methods, storage, playback, and user interface. You also copyright the hell out of everything as another form of protection (IMHO more legitimate).

    Once you have an IP buffer zone established, you can back off on the product development efforts and rely on lawyers to keep you on top. I think the business logic is something like this: I have to pay for lawyers anyways on a flat fee retainer, so I'll fire the engineers and put the lawyers to work. But I'm probably being really synical here.

    The company I work at has been making an effort to generate as many Patents as possible every year. But out of almost 1,000 patents filed over 5 years, only 2 are scheduled for real consideration into future products. The rest are all part of a protectionary zone to prevent us from dealing with any real competition.

    Ironically, if we had any real competition today, we would be complete overwhelmed within a year. The technology we use is easily 5 years old and as such, grossly overpriced. If it weren't for out protection zone, we would have disappeared a long time ago for sake of our own inability to react to the market forces without the quagmire or patents to slow down the enemy.

  • by tacocat (527354) <tallison1 AT twmi DOT rr DOT com> on Thursday November 10, 2005 @07:27AM (#13996520)

    Unfortunately the use of US patents doesn't necessarily apply to other nations. Meaning that we are ripe for falling well behind the technological lead on the planet simply because we are unwilling to share.

  • Re:Dissenting view (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 10, 2005 @08:19AM (#13996642)
    I suspect you've never done any research. You're missing the point - knowledge doesn't come in fits and starts and linearly separable chunks. Most research is about taking an existing technique and improving some aspect of it. When patents are filed that cover the whole solution space, rather than just one implementation it prevents researchers doing any kind of improvement. Therefore you have a problem with patents.
  • by KarmaMB84 (743001) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @09:29AM (#13996866)
    Like suing under the new patent because the only change to the formula was trivial and had no real function? "Lawyer (to Judge): It's quite obvious that the defendant copied the formula and simply left out the 'marker' that was placed in the formula to detect theft!"
  • by mpe (36238) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @09:59AM (#13997038)
    How does "I'm a big fan of both copyrights and patents" get interpreted as 'against' patents? All he says is that patents and copyrights are like Vitamin D - essential in the right quantities, deadly if you take too much.

    One way in which the analogy holds is that having "too much" can be more destructive than "too little". Also summed up by the phrase "too much of a good thing is bad for you".

    The major issue here is that the only reason patents and copyrights are ment to exist in the US is to further science and "the useful arts". If they are actually hindering rather than helping with this then the laws involved are badly broken.
  • by Woldry (928749) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @10:22AM (#13997187) Journal
    Given that:
    - in Country Y, I would likely have died as a child without asthma treatments;
    - in Country Y, I would not have access to the technology I enjoy and make my living using;
    - in Country Y, my sexual orientation would most likely result in my being ostracized;
    - in Country Y, my choices will be severely restrained as far as entertainment, the arts, education, travel, medical care, living circumstances, recreation, attire, and many other aspects of life;
    - in Country Y, my civil rights (including my right to patent my inventions and copyright my intellectual property) would probably not be guaranteed by Constitution or protected by law;

    ... I think I'll stick quite happily with Country X, thank you.

"The chain which can be yanked is not the eternal chain." -- G. Fitch

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