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Medicine Open Source Robotics News

Open Source Robotic Surgeon 42

Posted by Soulskill
from the with-many-eyes-all-bugs-are-still-potentially-lethal dept.
GlobalEcho writes "Researchers have created a second version of the Raven robotic surgeon, with open-source control code. 'UW researchers also created software to work with the Robot Operating System, a popular open-source robotics code, so labs can easily connect the Raven to other devices and share ideas.' Unfortunately for them, according to The Economist, 'there is [a] legal problem. Intuitive Surgical, the company behind the da Vinci [robot], holds patents that could make launching a commercial competitor tricky — at least in the immediate future."
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Open Source Robotic Surgeon

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  • ... I was at the robotics lab of Polytechnical University, Milano. They already then battled with the same problem: patents lurking, and companies behind them. Patents are in the way of becoming an ever bigger obstacle to innovation. Which is sad.
    • by mykos (1627575) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @03:38AM (#39272259)
      They were created to encourage invention for the good of the public. Now they lean heavily toward the good of corporations instead, benefiting the public far less.

      The internet is here. We can share our ideas with the human race faster than ever before, and any one of six billion people can collaborate with any other of the six billion, unlike when patents were invented and you maximum collaborators might be in the dozens.
      • by Calibax (151875) * on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @04:42AM (#39272535)

        Sometimes patents are not useful, but sometimes they are.

        Intuitive Surgical have spent many millions developing surgical robotics and even more millions getting the products certified and convincing doctors (some of the most conservative people around) that they can be used safely. It's reasonable that they receive substantial rewards for their work for some limited time period. It's far, far less expensive to develop the second example of a brand new concept. It's reasonable to assume that absent some legal impairment Intuitive products would be quickly copied and their prices undercut.

        Truly novel products are EXACTLY why patents are are still needed. This is especially true for medical devices that can directly benefit humanity. Just because we have a substantial number of unfortunate software patents doesn't mean that the concept, when properly applied, isn't valid. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

        • by javilon (99157) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @05:05AM (#39272637) Homepage

          What you are describing is the process of commercialising a product, and also the process of regulation capture. Most of the money invested here hasn't gone to research and development, but has been used to create barriers to competition. So instead of having three or four companies competing for a market we end up with only one. We have created a monopoly and therefore slowing progress in an area that could benefit all of us.

          Many many researches with new ideas about how to improve on robotic surgery are not pursuing them because they know it is almost impossible to bring them to market unless you sell them to Intuitive Surgical for peanuts.

          So many missed opportunities.

          • What you are describing is the process of commercialising a product, and also the process of regulation capture. Most of the money invested here hasn't gone to research and development, but has been used to create barriers to competition. So instead of having three or four companies competing for a market we end up with only one. We have created a monopoly and therefore slowing progress in an area that could benefit all of us.

            Undoubtedly Intuitive Surgical did invest some money into developing their da Vinci surgical robot, but their machines are big and cumbersome

            The point being, the patents that they have are hindering the progress of others developing lighter, more mobile, more agile versions of surgical robots

            It's akin to a company that holds the patents are making heavy armoured tanks and because of those patents, nobody can manufacture and legally sell fuel saving cars

            It's totally ridiculous !

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Many many researches with new ideas about how to improve on robotic surgery are not pursuing them because they know it is almost impossible to bring them to market unless you sell them to Intuitive Surgical for peanuts.

            Citations please.

            If you develop a new idea that extends a previously patented idea, just patent it. If it's any good, Intuitive Surgical or someone else will buy it. If the idea doesn't depend on someone's patent then run with it.

            There seems to be this idea around these days that all ideas should be free for anyone to use. If you don't have the prospect of capitalizing on your investment, why do it? Why develop something knowing that others will be free to sell a copy without that investment? Just wait

        • Truly novel products don't need patents to be thought up, just people. And we have more highly educated people in the world today than at any time in the past. If one guy doesn't invent it, someone else will. As long as nobody stops them.

          Your own example shows that the real problem is that marketing costs a lot of money up front, especially when attempting to create a new market, and the company understandably would like to recoup that cost through monopoly pricing. If that's the problem, then the economi

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Without patents RSA would have Bern a trade secret. while one can reverse engineer circuit chips to fabricate identical chips, to actually understand the physics underlying the design of an IC is far more difficult if all you have is some sample chips and IC reverse engineering equipment.

            Patents only forbid cometing implementations not the publication of competing designs. That's why Fremont, California's SourceForge is permitted to provide collaboration tools for the development of the source code that c

            • Without patents RSA would have Bern a trade secret.

              So what? There are many competing encryption methods, and there are plenty of competent researchers.

              The idea of RSA itself had been discovered before in the UK by Clifford Cocks, so let's not argue that public key cryptography would never have happened without Rivest, Shamir and Adleman. Incidentally, if patents didn't exist and the RSA company hadn't been formed, you betcha that the idea of RSA would still have been published, since the authors were

            • by sjames (1099)

              Since a paper was published months prior to the patent filing, it would NOT have been a trade secret.

          • Truly novel products don't need patents to be thought up, just people.

            Not quite sure what that's even supposed to mean. Perhaps you mean that those serendipitous lightbulb moments would still occur. That's true. But it's also trivial.

            See, the development of most products requires large amounts of equipment, expertise and coordinated effort. All that stuff costs. To paraphrase WSC: patents [when correctly applied] are the worst way of repaying that investment, apart from all the other ones.

            You seem to

            • Perhaps you mean that those serendipitous lightbulb moments would still occur. That's true. But it's also trivial.

              Not trivial at all. The heart of the matter, since the justification of patents is that these ideas are so precious that anyone who has them must be afforded a monopoly to exploit them, otherwise society would lose out.

              Perhaps you could start by explaining why anyone would waste time & money on R&D if a freeloading competitor who isn't hampered by said costs can crib their

  • A first post ... but i dont have time. I am scheduled for surgery after next apt-get upgrade.
  • a nurse? thats the only open source stuff i am missing in my basement all these days!
  • by dido (9125)

    Seems like a poor choice for a name for such a system. My first thought on hearing that was this:

    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon that is dreaming,
    And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
    And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

    Shall be lifted--nevermore!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @06:16AM (#39272925)

    This is not the troll you think it is. I would never have made a career of coding had I not read the gnu manifesto in 1988, then spent a solid month blowing off my job and damn near getting fired so I could read the emacs source code.

    Without patents we would have trade secrets. many vitally important processes and inventions would go to their inventors graves. consider that we have ancient archaelogical artifacts that in some ways are superior to modern products but that we cannot reverse engineer.

    Had the recipe for coca cola ever been patented you could make it in your kitchen. only a very few are trusted with the complete recipe, with the chemistry of natural flavorings being so complex no one has ever managed to reverse engineer it.

    Patents do not impede innovation they drive it. where would we be had not mp3 been patented? apple would not have invented QuickTime comprssed auipdio and Xiph would not have created ogg vorbis, both of which are better than mp3, because mp3 while not the best would have bend regarded as good enough.

    Now I'm not saying that the oaten system is not abused or not in need in reform. what I am saying is that patents must only be granted when they really are novel and unobvious. patents are granted all the time despite prior art being readily at hand, and they are granted when any schoolchild could have thought the invention up with but a few moments thought.

    My understanding is that the patent office is paid when patents are granted. every capitalist knows that's the wrong kind of incentive.

    Instead one should pay to apply, with substantial, interest bearing bond required for any grant of a patent to be enforceable. when the term expires ones bond is refunded with interest. if so much as one claim is quashed then the bond is forfeited and used for some productive purpose other than just operating the patent office, such as funding an online corpus of prior art.

    I'll write this up at more length sometime soon at http://www.softwareproblem.net/social/

    • I don't think there's actually too many people who are opposed to the principle behind patents. Most people can probably agree that if someone invents something useful that helps people out, they deserve to have the opportunity to be compensated for it if they so desire. I'd say most people take issue with the many serious abuses of the system, and silly laws around it. This isn't just restricted to patents, but is a broader issue with the current state of intellectual property laws in general. Looks at

    • Without patents we would have trade secrets. many vitally important processes and inventions would go to their inventors graves.

      Perhaps. Except that if you're expecting to make use of it for more than 25 years you'll keep it as a trade secret.

      consider that we have ancient archaelogical artifacts that in some ways are superior to modern products but that we cannot reverse engineer.

      Like what?

      Had the recipe for coca cola ever been patented you could make it in your kitchen. only a very few are trusted with th

    • This is not the troll you think it is.

      This statement was wrong.

    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

      Honestly, the length of time for patents might be just as bad as copyright.

      20 years might have been fine for, say, the 1800s... not so much nowadays. Maybe 3-5 years would be better.

      Is there a reason 20 years was picked?

    • by Ocrad (773915)

      Without patents we would have trade secrets.

      Then outlaw trade secrets by requiring that the schematic diagram, source code, recipe, etc, of anything sold to the public must be made public.

    • by Rhacman (1528815)

      Patents do not impede innovation they drive it. where would we be had not mp3 been patented? apple would not have invented QuickTime comprssed auipdio and Xiph would not have created ogg vorbis, both of which are better than mp3, because mp3 while not the best would have bend regarded as good enough.

      Thank goodness the average person doesn't consider MP3 as good enough and maintains most of their audio collections in Ogg Vorbis format.

      In all seriousness, "where would we be" exactly? These examples aren't convincing me that you or anyone else has any clue what developments would or wouldn't have been made had these technologies been patented or not. To imply that patents are required to spur innovation discounts the contribution of the plethora of freely available standards, specifications, and algor

    • by sjames (1099)

      Had the recipe for coca cola ever been patented you could make it in your kitchen. only a very few are trusted with the complete recipe, with the chemistry of natural flavorings being so complex no one has ever managed to reverse engineer it.

      And yet, in spite of the patent system, we can't. Are you arguing for compulsory patents?

      Patents do not impede innovation they drive it. where would we be had not mp3 been patented? apple would not have invented QuickTime comprssed auipdio and Xiph would not have created ogg vorbis, both of which are better than mp3, because mp3 while not the best would have bend regarded as good enough.

      I guess their efforts would have gone into improving upon mp3 rather than bending over backwards to avoid obvious but patented techniques.

  • Hey, all, I know that you'd love to see an open-source robotics device that's every bit as fantastic as the DaVinci, but let's have some perspective here. Intuitive Surgical is not a patent troll. They didn't patent "robots doing stuff in a hospital" or something just as insanely broad. They aren't a company that just sits there patenting things, and waiting for the right time to file lawsuits. They're a real company that genuinely innovated; the DaVinci has revolutionized many surgical procedures, and

  • From the article: UW researchers also created software to work with the Robot Operating System, a popular open-source robotics code, so labs can easily connect the Raven to other devices and share ideas. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of open source and I use it all the time. But this isn't desktop software, server software, or mobile device software. This isn't mission-critical software, where a bug can mean only millions of lost dollars. This is life-critical software--when it fails, someone dies.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      It's a gimmick. Software that controls medical devices has to be locked down and validated. So maybe it's open source in that you can read the source, and you could possibly even install your own modifications on a device if you could buy or build one, but you couldn't do surgery with it except, maybe, under very carefully controlled (and ethics board approved) research conditions.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think you are conflating "OSS licensing" with "community development". The validation of embedded code that you describe has nothing to do with its licensing. If I had, say, a pacemaker, it wouldn't bother me in the slightest if the manufacturer released its code under the GPL. I can't see why they would do so, but it wouldn't have any effect on whether the code itself meets the stringent requirements.

      Also (being a surgeon who uses robotics), it's misleading to state the situation as being "when it fail

To err is human -- to blame it on a computer is even more so.

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