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Proposed US Patent Reform Favors Microsoft, Says Robert Cringely

 5:28 am on Aug 19, 2005 (gmt 0)

Robert Cringely of PBS and keynote speaker for the upcoming Webmaster World Pubcon X in Las Vegas [pubcon.com] tackles recently proposed patent reform in the US. His take is that this bill is particularly tilted toward Microsoft and other giant corporations, and puts the screws to the little guy.

The primary principles of patent reform are switching the U.S. system from "first to invent" to "first to file" by replacing legal challenges to patents with a more administrative challenge process, and by practically eliminating injunctions through which a patent holder forces an infringer to stop using his intellectual property....

Absent-minded inventors lose in this system, which also encourages patenting anything and everything just in case. We can see this in recent Microsoft patents, for example, like 20050108349 -- "Business inquiries and operations using messaging service" -- which seems to cover looking up a number in the telephone directory. Does this qualify as "innovation? ...isn't a patent supposed to be "non-obvious," which would make looking up numbers in the phone book unpatentable?"




 5:45 am on Aug 19, 2005 (gmt 0)

obviously. They (large corps) are the ones bribing the lawmakers with free trips, private plane rides, free diners etc.


 6:05 am on Aug 19, 2005 (gmt 0)

If the US keep going on like this most innovative stuff will come from europe and (more likely) china and india.

At least there won't be a shortage in lawyers ;)


 6:15 am on Aug 19, 2005 (gmt 0)

It's so screwy. Laws used to be there to help protect the little guy. Those days are long gone.


 11:57 am on Aug 19, 2005 (gmt 0)

"Laws used to be there to help protect the little guy"

Really? I thought it was to protect the little guy who can afford vast sums on lawyers. Most people can't afford to stay the course to the end and corps know that.


 5:37 pm on Aug 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

Unfortunately, it is simply the larger corps like MS protecting their market positions by working to rewrite the rules in their favor (in this case having the patent office switch from "first to invent" to "first to file")...MS has a whole division dedicated to the patent process (much like IBM..though they recently opened up a bunch of their patents to the marketplace)

If you can't "out innovate" the competition...you can certainly "legally position yourself to profit at every turn and twist of the marketplace or suppress real innovation with legal tactics" ....


 6:33 pm on Aug 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

Well, this bill is not yet law - and as Cringely mentions in the beginning of his article:

...someone in the press noticed the unusual hearing and decided to attend, essentially scotching the intended markup of the bill a week later and passage just as an unwary Congress was heading home.

I do sometimes dispair that the US press has completely degraded into infotainment, bread & circuses mode -- but here's a clear case where the press's watchdog role was still an important factor.

Even a mega-corp like Microsoft, and even with a strong lobbying presence, cannot just write a blank check ... not right now anyway. But they will try (and so might any of us if we were in the same position, right?)


 8:06 pm on Aug 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

This stuff works both ways. When smaller "patent mill" companies go after the big guys there can be very very big bills to pay.

Most webmasters are familiar with Acacia, SCO, and other bogus patent companies. These are the guys doing most of the harassing and they are far from being big mega-corps.


 12:00 am on Aug 21, 2005 (gmt 0)

Yeah.. these patents are only an attempt to fight off open source, it's not an attempt to hurt the little guy.

As said, patents make the little guy very dangerous. If anything, these big companies want to defang patents.


 3:20 am on Aug 21, 2005 (gmt 0)

I think this somehow applies.

Not really sure, but it is interesting...

"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"

- Constitution of the United States, Article 3, Section 8


 6:55 am on Aug 21, 2005 (gmt 0)

(quote above is from "Article I" not "Article 3"... typo)... sorry.

Article. I., Section. 8., (Clause 8)

Pretty interesting that the framers chose to include this in the first article of the constitution, and delegated it's oversight to Congress...


 9:01 pm on Aug 23, 2005 (gmt 0)

To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors...

Yes that is interesting, and patents can achieve this if

a) The person filing the patent is an author or an inventor
- I don't think MS authored or invented the idea of looking up business listings
- The 'filed first' idea violates this ... i.e. it's to help authors and inventors, not lawyers and large companies

b) If the times really were reasonably limited ... many patents exist for far too long IMO.

c) If the patent really stands to 'promote the progress of science' by rewarding innovators... This is ironic since all of the scientists I know use a lot of open source software for their research ;)

In a way I think the software patent thing has become kind of a cold war... patent it before the other guy ... even if you don't really want to, beware how you enforce your patents for fear of reataliation, and of course watch out or THEY'LL SEE THE BIG BOARD!


 1:44 am on Aug 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

Article. I., Section. 8., (Clause 8)

When I first glanced that I thought it was a scorecard of the constitution vs reality.

As in success or failure scorecard of:

Spirit of Constitution


Actual Law bypassing Spirit of Constitution


 7:06 am on Aug 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

Spirit of Constitution: 0

It's kinda like today's "half gallon" of ice cream, (which is actually 1.75 quarts).

Laws are subject to interpretation. Once a law [or the spirit of a law] is interpreted in a way that weakens (or stregthens) the law, the threshold gets lowered (or raised), and that becomes the baseline for subsequent interpretations.

... can't write more now, gotta run to the store and pick up a half gallon of ice cream :)

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