back to article Google: Kill all the patent trolls

Google's head of patents believes the U.S. patent system is "in crisis". Discussing patent reform at the annual Stanford Summit in Northern California, associate general counsel Michelle Lee told conference attendees that the American system is "out-of-balance [and] needs to be remedied". "The Patent Office is overburdened," …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As much as I hate to

    I gotta side with Google on this one. The system is broken and has begun to have a negative impact on innovation. Google's problem is with the patent system and if you read closely you'll see that IBM and Apple's problem is with the legal system. Both of these companies make mega bucks through the patent system and get slammed by the legal system. It's a pretty lame argument from IBM and Apple.

  2. Aubry Thonon

    A quick fix?

    How about this for a quick fix to avoid Trolls: anyone granted a patent must either actively use it in one of their products or licence it out to someone who actively uses it in a product.

    Any patent not in either of these conditions, or if said products have not sold significant units in a quarter (to stop trolls from "creating" vapourware) is immediately revoked.

    In other words, use the patent for a product that sells or loose the patent.

  3. Eddy Ito

    Kill the small inventor


    That just strips patent rights away from those who can't afford to produce the invention they patent. Why license it when waiting for the little fish to lose their IP allows one to in and take it for free? It is kind of like saying, sure you built a novel race car but since you can't afford or don't know how to race it, I should have the right to use it as I wish. How long does the car have to sit idle before it is stolen by government for "public" use? Sounds oddly like so-so-ism to me.

  4. Mike

    The Small Inventor

    If there really were many successful small inventors, the status-quo folks wouldn't have to keep trotting out the intermittent-wiper guy.

    How is "stripping patent rights away from those who can't afford to produce the invention" worse, or even very different, from the current system that strips all rights from those who cannot afford millions in legal fees to withstand the onslaught of corporate lawyers who are past-masters in running out the money clock.

    The best a small inventor can hope for is to be buggered only by the biggest guy in the yard, who will then keep the others away.

    The whole _point_ of the patent system is to use the force of law (i.e. people with handcuffs and guns) to prevent people using the fruits of their own creativity if someone else has a better lawyer. Remember, independent invention (despite being one of the key bits of evidence of obviousness) is no defense.

  5. Adam

    Kill the small inventor? What a joke...

    Patent laws in America are so FUBAR its not funny, the thing i hate most is the software patents.

    Its an absolute joke....SEGA sued Fox Interactive who made the Simpsons Road Rage for having an ARROW that pointed in the direction of a location and for having pedestrians that jump out of the way when you drive towards them, all because of a patent it filed when it made Crazy Taxi.

    How can anyone small compete with big companys who have ENTIRE DEPARTMENTS dedicated to getting patents.

    As for your "little fish" analogy...idea's are of no value without execution. You might have a super cool idea for a rocket powered car that can fly, under the current American Patent system you would be given that patent, even though chances are you don't have a hope in hell of ever building a prototype if you don't have a budget in the millions.

  6. Aubry Thonon

    Re: Kill the small inventor


    Fair enough, and I actually hit myself about 5 minutes after posting for not thinking of it... so how about this: change the line to "anyone *buying* a patent...".

  7. Alan Donaly

    How about..

    Making third hand patents unenforceable in other

    words not trasferable past one purchase it would

    make it less likely that a patent troll could get large

    numbers of actionable patents take some of the

    profit out of it and still allow at least one sale it would

    also cut down on corporate patent hoarding for those

    that didn't originate in house they would be worthless

    unless used.

  8. E


    ...stop issuing patents for most things that are now granted.

    The video game arrow and the people jumping are fine examples: a lot of patents are granted for things which are either not inventions (jumping people) or are prior art (arrows).

    More seriously, take something like, say, the giant magneto-resistive effect used in hard disk drives. This was patented but it was not an invention. Rather, it was a... discovery!

    You can treat a discovery as a trade secret. It should not qualify for a patent because, qua prior existence, it is not the product of a human mind. It (say, GMR again) was there before someone discovered it. As such is can be discovered independently many times - and this is what patents do not account for.

    Someone said that the use of patents are harming innovation. This may be the case, but consider also that basic scientific knowledge is being patented: DNA sequences, some large prime numbers (well, it was attempted), quantum machanical effects, the list goes on. This stifles scientific research, and we are if nothing else a civilization based on the fruits of scientific research.

    Imagine Isaac Newton trying to patent gravity or the inverse square relationship found in gravity & EM fields. Or whoever discovered the inverse power law (it's non-square) that describe the weak nuclear force. A ridiculous idea. Patenting basic research today results is as ridiculous. One might argue that there is money spent on that research: Newton spent money too, and trade secrets allow exploitation without stifling other smart people or groups.

    The current regime poses a possible threat to the basis of our system, mainly because we allow patenting of things that simply should not qualify for patent.

    My $0.02.

  9. heystoopid


    Sadly , there is a cure for patent trolls , but it requires the creation of a central world wide patent registrar with radical powers and authority to enforce the rules fairly across all countries boundaries outside the local court system , and a radical application of new ideas to remove the old one country ad hoc rules that apply today , where in one country software and basic human genome building blocks of life can be patented , and yet in another the answer is bollocks to the same idea!

    Unfortunately for all , since no one countries politicians will even surrender one iota of his/or her countries deemed basic sovereign rights(including those from past international treaties signed off by previous ruling governments to themselves) even at gun point(explains the inherent imminent failure and implosion of the current United Nations , due to conflicts of perceived interests , like it's predecessor the unfortunate "League of Nations") , this will never happen in this fractured world we live in(whilst the self same politicians are very willing to abuse the freedoms and rights of all local persons under their absolute control or poor citizens who just happen to reside in the newly acquired resource rich foreign sovereign territories or countries)

    Also , far too many vampires with vested rights want to keep the current messy system status quo , because to them where else can they make a such a decent living from the unproductive leeching off all the workers in the current landscape , unless confusion reigns supreme!

    As the late infamous notorious Oz Bandito and Bushranger Ned Kelly in the nineteenth century was once reputed to have said "Such is Life" !

  10. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    Very, very broken

    Yes, the patent system was there to protect the clever guy, the small guy, the inventor. It is not possible to a small inventor to effectively patent anything these days, because apart from the patent cost, they need to afford the lawyers in order to do anything about patent violations or to check the tens of thousands of uttely vague, whimsical patents already issued in case one of them might overlap somehow.

    However when large corporates (or just patent trolls) who twist and abuse the patent system just to make money out of it are making a total and utter farce of it.

    The BS patents like the SEGA one are just an example of how utterly stupid and broken this system is. The ONLY people who benefit from such idiocy are lawyers (who helped to break it in the first place) and patent trolls / large corporates acting as patent trolls.

    Other signs of corruption within the US patent scheme are the rules on prior art... if there's no prior art inthe US then a US patent troll can patent it and then sue foreign exporters of products to the US who, despite happily having a business for, say, the last 20 years, suddenly find themselves the wrong end of US patent corruption and lawyers (Basmati rice is probably one of the highets profile cases that springs to mind).

    As for stifling innovation - of course it does - nobody dares to try to do anything "new" because some patent troll will have patented every whim, idea or finger-in-the-air prediction they make with no consideration to actually making or doing anything with it. The software patents are just the tip of the iceberg.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you haven't made it, you haven't invented it

    "That just strips patent rights away from those who can't afford to produce the invention they patent."

    [And apparently nobody wants to license it either!]

    If you haven't made it, you haven't invented it. I've seen loads of ideas that could never work, but it didn't matter because it was never implemented. It was just a patent.

    The patent is to reward you for the risk of inventing, all those costs you spent developing your idea into a working product, that as soon as you put it on the market, your competitors will copy for free. IT IS NOT A REWARD FOR WRITING DOWN THE IDEA. It is to redress the problem that it's easier to copy an invention than to be the first to develop it.

    So what risk have you taken by writing down an untested idea on paper?

  12. Nano nano


    Any "obvious quick fix" ... will be flawed for one reason or another.

    But don't forget that the much-abused "biggies" have to play the game in order to not get done over by their competitors.

    What is needed is a patents "Billy Goat Gruff" to deal with the trolls !!

  13. Michael

    simple solution

    Get rid of software patents, first to submit the patent application gets it, and only allow inventions which are actually innovative to be patented. Decrease the length of time patents are valid for, only allow money to be awarded for the value an innovation brings to another's product rather than the product as a whole. Put in place incentives for both sides to license patents, that is largely the point of the patent system, it is supposed to recognise that once you invent something others will copy you and so you should get some financial renumeration.

    Just because you have a patent and someone else uses it in a system with 200+ patents, you should never be entitled to the excessive amounts of money that people are getting through the courts

  14. Jeremy Anderson

    Use it or lose it. Good, but only in theory


    I'd like to thank you for putting forth a bold idea.

    Unfortunately, I don't think it works in that big jungle known as the marketplace.

    Before my current job, I worked in a company that was in the medical industry. They had some good ideas, and in my mind, were doing all the right things.

    Unfortunately, in the course of five years, they had only sold two copies of their software. This was not for lack of trying or talent. It was a combination of the business cycle (the product was ready to sell in late 2001, a very bad year), and the market they were playing in (medicine -- don't get me started. lots of profanities will follow)

    A reasonable outside observer would look at this company and conclude they were a patent troll. The company had a skeleton staff, was being sustained on Other People's Money and made only enough sales to look like they were playing the game.

    Inside, there were 7 people who were sweating bullets every day trying to sell software. Unfortunately, we had larger, better armed, and better funded opponents and were playing in a hostile and very conservative market.

    I got depressed and moved on, but it was the market that discouraged me, not the company.

    While I think NTP (RIM's nemesis) and MercExchange probably really are in business just to create lawsuits, I am skeptical that there is a clear-cut legal test that could weed out legitimate (if quixotic) businesspeople from the trolls.

  15. JP

    Industrial espionage

    If you can't patent it until you've built it, isn't it possible for someone to get hold of your idea before you've finished, thrown money at it and get it finished before you do, and scr3w you out of the patent? And probably come back and sue you for infringing on its patent too!

    At the end of the day, the concept of patents is an honour-bound system, in a world with very little honour.

  16. Stephen

    Google moaning?

    Google are the worst for starting half arsed projects which they never finished just so they can claim a patent on it and show that they're actively using the technology. Pretty much trolls who do the bare minimum to make it look legit.

  17. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    I agree : patents not used should be discarded

    And I'll take it a step further : companies should not own patents, only individuals should. Companies could hire individuals to innovate and file patents in return for a (limited) right to use the patent, but companies would not own the patents, only the right to use them.

    Thereby, a company would still have the incentive of doing research, hiring the quality people to do it, and benefit from it by being able to produce the goods and profit from the idea, but they could no longer attack any patent (not having one), and no patent not in use could be used to attack one in use.

    It can still work, we just have to put companies back to their rightful place : an engine that promotes economic stability and activity for all the population, and not an excuse for the few to pile on the riches.

  18. Phill

    Cross licensing should equal Invalid Patent

    There used to be a time where a patent was granted to someone so they could make a sell a product without having their idea cloned and ripped off by a bigger company. The idea was you'd sell your product and no one else could steal the customers or your novell invension.

    Today we see the opposite. We Microsoft and Novell agree not to sue each other for patent infringment. Why wouldn't they want to sue each other? I mean after all this is their novel and non-trivial patents! And why can't either of these companies simply obey the law and not rip off someone's patents?

    Simple, coz their both patent trolls who are using patents as a means to anyone joining the market. Used to stop anyone from implementing a .NET compiler. Used to stop anyone from using the word "IsNot" without a space in the middle. whoops.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The problem is the US system, not patents generally

    Patents are intended to protect original inventions, not ideas, discoveries of natural law, and so on.

    The basic problem is that the US Patent Office has been granting patents for things that would not be granted a patent in another country.

    There are various ways small inventors can protect themselves. Patents are not expensive to register. The point of them is to licence them to a large company that can exploit them. If a large company simply rips off the patent, a fee-for-win lawyer can take on the case.

  20. Claus P. Nielsen

    Even if you can make it, you may not be able to produce it

    I fully agree that impossible inventions like infinity engines and regressive file compression schemes (look - now I can make ANY file just 1 bit long!) should never have been granted patents.

    But stating that you need to be actively making a product based on an invention or that somebody should be licencing it in order for you to keep your patent will not solve this.

    In a lot of fields, production costs are prohibitive for a small inventor. Large corporations could choose never to license patents from small patent holders and thereby make the patents invalid by default.

    Getting rid of ridiculous patents, patents of ideas without clear instructions on how to implement, and patents covered by prior art is a much more worthwile approach.

  21. Dave

    So much for the small guy

    The original concept of the patent helped the small inventor because he didn't otherwise have the power to stop a large company with more money from ripping him off. Sadly, the US system has gone wrong and the ones with the deepest pockets tend to win, merely by threatening litigation. Reform is definitely due, including improving the quality of the patents. I've seen patents for the bleedin' obvious and wondered how someone managed to get them.

  22. Karl Lattimer

    For all the novel ideas...

    The actual problem with US patent law is that patents are granted before they are deemed to be innovative, it is then up to a previous inventor to contest a patent with prior art.

    In the UK the patent office will perform a reasonably exhaustive search to identify any clash with prior innovations before granting a patent.

    Essentially slowing the patent process down by getting the patent clerks to actually do their job properly rather than relying on the legal system and corporations with lots of $$$ to do it for them.

  23. A J Stiles

    more ideas to beat down the patent trolls

    Patents are not there to reward you for inventing things. They are there to reward you for SHARING your inventions. This is what everyone seems to have forgotten.

    My solutions?

    1. No prototype, no patent. A description without a working prototype is no more than a work of science fiction, and should be treated accordingly

    2. Patents should not be permanently transferrable, only mortgageable. It's reasonable to use a lucrative patent as collateral for a loan, to be invested in working that patent. It's quite another thing to build up a patent "war chest" to intimidate people.

    3. Independent discovery of an unworked but patented invention by a third party should automatically annul the original patent (and render the invention obvious, and so unpatentable). This discourages sitting on patents without working them.

    4. Patent examiners need to be paid for rejecting applications on grounds of obviety, prior art, being beyond the scope of patentability or that it would better serve the public interest for the invention not to be patented.

    5. Compulsory and equitable licencing: you must licence a patent to anyone who so requests, and you must licence it on the same terms to everybody.

    6. Courts to be given the power to annul any patent if it is misused.

    7. No patents on pure mathematics (which includes software), pure scientific phenomena (which includes DNA sequences), living organisms or methods of doing business; nor on anything which is required by the Law of the Land. Any existing patent must be annulled if the invention to which it refers ever becomes a legal requirement.

    8. No patent to be granted on the sole means to any end (which would be equivalent in effect to a patent on the end). A patent application should be required to include mention of an alternative, unpatented method of achieving the same effect.

    9. Lawyers must not be paid until after a verdict has been delivered and all appeals exhausted. This prevents a richer, losing party from using stalling tactics to run a poorer, winning party out of money and hence win by default. Such stalling tactics possibly should even be considered contempt of court.

  24. Guy Herbert

    It is almost entirely a US problem

    "Sadly , there is a cure for patent trolls , but it requires the creation of a central world wide patent registrar..."

    Rot. Patent trolls are a relative rarity outside the US. Both the patent system and the legal system contribute. The patent system is FUBAR precisely because the Patent Office takes the attitude displayed by IBM and Apple: examination doesn't matter because the courts can sort it out - completely ignoring that the grant of a patent *creates* a privilege that didn't previously exist, and that the idea of a court under rule of law is to settle real conflicts of law or interest, not sort out the administration of factitious privileges. The US costs and damages rules compounds the problem, because it means aggressive litigants are disproportionately rewarded if they win and inadequately penalised if they lose.

  25. John Stag

    Use it or lose it

    "That just strips patent rights away from those who can't afford to produce the invention they patent."

    If the patent is worth any money then they CAN afford to produce it. Period. It's just a case of getting off your backside and finding investment.

    "Why license it when waiting for the little fish to lose their IP allows one to in and take it for free?"

    Because somebody else might license it first...?

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe this is to simplistic but.....

    We seem to be stuck between working examples and theories.

    How about a compromise?

    Istead of having to fund and build said rocket powered flying car. You created DETAILED diagrams. Not just a sketch of a car with wings and a rocket. But with detailed specs, weights, dimensions, suggested materials etc.

    For software patents, not only "an arrow to show direction and people jumping out of the way". But the EXCAT way this works.

    However if parts infringe on prior art, then the patent should be slimed down or thrown out.

    So flying car would be slimmed down or thrown out, as other devices have wings and rockets. Cars have wheels and can drive. However, I'd say it would never be patentable as a complete object as planes can "easily" driven along the road and then take off.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not very likely

    "In a lot of fields, production costs are prohibitive for a small inventor. Large corporations could choose never to license patents from small patent holders and thereby make the patents invalid by default."

    No, because that would require a conspiracy of implausible proportions.

    You invent a thing that makes jet liners 20% more efficient. But you can't afford to make or modify a jet liner. So you're saying that Boeing and Airbus and Lockheed would all cooperate when any one of them could simply license the patent and get an advantage over the rest? What about Airbus, would they cooperate too? and Russian Aircraft Corp (the makers of MiGs), and Gulfstream and Dassault and every other aircraft maker in the world?

    Not only that, every private investor would also have to be in on the conspiracy, to block you making it.

    Now compare that with the more likely situation. You don't want to make it because you or investors, are not prepared to risk the capital to make it. The market has spoken, your idea doesn't work or isn't good enough to be investable.

    More than that, if you make the thing, the patent's purpose becomes obvious, it's no longer a wordy description trying to describe the thing, you can see the actual thing itself.

    But for a troll this is a bad thing, the patent needs to be kept as vague as possible to cover as many different products from as many other companies as possible.

  28. julian


    Google is a really great company and has made the internet an easier place to navigate. Their valuation and wealth creation are directly related to this and their brand and market size keep small competitors well out.

    However I do wish they'd stop whining so often. I almost expect to hear next that to accomodate all their new employees they need a bigger campus but they don't have the land: so property rights must be unfair so they can just grab all the space around them

    I wonder how they feel about other IP such as trademarks: I'd like to create a seach company and call it google; it's not fair that someone else has registered it.,

  29. Claus P. Nielsen

    Technology for free

    It is not the universal goal of all enterprises to compete. The goal is to make a living and sometimes that is easier when you don't compete. Cartels have existed since the dawn of time, so I don't think a conspiracy needs to be of implausible proportions if the result is that all the companys taking part in it get new technologies for free!

    For something like semiconductors, there are a lot of patentable ideas involved in going from one pitch to the next smaller pitch. Even if a potential new inventor has enough patents to start this production, finding investors to fund a production plant will take time and the very fact that an existing big player could go in and start a production in the meanwhile (possibly by using the same ideas in the expectation that the patents will be invalidated later) could make any potential investor pull out.

    To run with the 20% inprovement in jet liners idea mentioned above, let us suppose that this 20% improvement is only possible when you use a technology patented by another company?

    If this company is already producing jet liners based on this technology, then they effectively have a lockdown on all further patents on derived technologies since their original patent can be used to prevent others from marketing products with their patents.

    This is posible as it is today.

    But if the "don't have a product, don't have a patent" idea win through, the situation would be that the original patent owner would be able to pick up the technology for free since the new supporting patent would be invalidated by the inventor not having a product on the market.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    UK Patent law

    In the UK you cannot sit on patents as in America. You have to produce whatever it is that you have patented (within a sensible timeframe), or licence it at reasonable terms to a company who wishes to produce it.

    What is the point of sitting on a patent you can't afford to exploit if you are an inventor? Much better to licence it to a company that can produce it and let them pay you for it. This prevents companies building up patent banks and not exploiting them.

  31. conan


    A few people have suggested that if you haven't made it, then you shouldn't be given a patent for it. I think this is unfair - many people are awarded patents for techniques they have developed. My dad is a biological researcher and owns a few patents for techniques he came up with; his research has subsequently taken him to other fields, and he no longer uses those techniques. Should he lose the patents he was awarded for 20 years of research just because he no longer needs it? If so, does that allow somebody else to patent it?

    This raises another more general issue about patents - a lot of patents are awarded to researchers, who are in the business of research - not manufacturing or retail. By forcing people to create implementations or to continue using techniques is essentially saying that if you want to make money as a researcher for a great idea, you have to stop being a researcher. This would be a setback for innovation, as the best researchers would stop researching in order to capitalise on their great ideas.

  32. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    Re: more ideas to beat down the patent trolls @ A J Stiles

    Looks to me like you've come up with quite a comprehensive set of suggestions. A small adjustment to make it better match the "in sensible time frame" that is in the UK and it'd be pretty comprehensive

    It's a shame that they won't be taken up, because the government is run / financed / bribed by the large corporations and a patent review as you're describing is not in their collective interests in maintaining the status quo.

  33. Rachel

    "If you haven't made it, you haven't invented it"

    Sit and think about this a moment. For most inventions, they have made it. Maybe on a small scale, maybe in a less than cosmetically profound stage.

    Now, I would aggree that theories shouldn't be patented, if you just think it could work, even if you have the calculations to back it up, it really shouldn't be patented unless you have tested it, but many of your inventions are past that stage, they have discovered it and tested it. They may have even sold a couple on small scale, but depending on where they live, what resources or sponsors they have available, they may not be able to market it large scale.

    This is what it gets down to. These legit people may just even need time to try and find that corporate sponsor or whatnot in order to get their product in the market place. If they do not have a patent, someone else may find out about it and snag it. Hell, it might even be one of the companies they attempted to negotiate with for sponsorship.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I can see it now....

    All the homer-simpson lookalikes, sitting around on their couches drinking yet another 6 pack, and waiting to hear on the news about some "booming" technology that used his patented coding lines....

    Eh, why do all the hard work when you can just SUE for your profits! Come one, come all to the greatest country in the world! (tm) I beleive I hold the royalties on that phrase....

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Patents should be like this

    Things that are easily copied should not be "patented". They should be considered obvious. Only stuffs that are really hard to reverse-engineer, and there is great demand from the public for such a cool secret technology to be "disclosed", that really deserves a "protection" in return for the disclosure.

  36. Morely Dotes

    I have applied for a patent on the word "the"

    @ Jeremy Anderson: "Inside, there were 7 people who were sweating bullets every day trying to sell software. Unfortunately, we had larger, better armed, and better funded opponents and were playing in a hostile and very conservative market."

    If it was *software* that was patented, then the company deserved to lose in the marketplace.

    Software is already protected by copyright and by the DMCA (in fact, far *too* protected by the DMCA). Allowing a software algorithm - which is, if it's used for business, a business process - to be patented is simply proof that the Patent Office has no understanding of what software actually is.

  37. steve wren


    What is a patent troll?

    According to some a patent troll is a firm who licenses patents they do not themselves commercialize. Yet many of the large firms who are most critical of the practice do it themselves. Out licensing is now an important profit center of most every firm. Often, as a result they end up licensing out patents covering technologies they themselves do not use as they are not consistent with their corporate plan. Rather hypocritical isnt it?

    Still, there is nothing illegal or unethical about a small entity only licensing or selling their inventions. In fact, the traditional approach for many if not most independent inventors is to solely license or sell the rights to their invention. This is because most inventors, while they may be quite creative and even have genius in their field, are not always so adept at business, such as marketing or manufacturing, or simply lack the money. Inventors frequently find they are better off leaving the business end of it to someone else. Then again, some just love inventing and don't want to be bothered with the business end of it so that their time is fully focused on invention, not on business. Edison himself, one of the world's most prolific inventors, most often sold or licensed his patents to others that they might commercialize his inventions. No one derided him as a "patent troll". Many times when he attempted to manufacture and/or market his products himself he struggled with profitability. Therefore, the argument by large multinationals and other parties that there is something wrong with inventors solely selling or licensing their inventions is mere dissembling or only signals a lack of understanding in invention and inventors. So they should stop this childish name calling.

    Sadly, some legislators and other parties have been duped by these slick firms and their well greased lawyers, lobbyists (some disguised as trade or public interest groups), and stealth PR firms. Don't be surprised to find the Washington lobbyist scandal spreading into the patent deform proceedings.

    All this talk of "patent trolls" is then but a red herring fabricated by a handful of large tech firms as a diversion away from the real issue...that they have no valid defense against charges they are using other parties' technologies without permission. The objective of these large firms is not to fix the patent system, but to destroy it or pervert it so only they may obtain and defend patents; to make it a sport of kings. Patents are a threat against their market dominance. They would rather use their size alone to secure their market position. Patents of others, especially small entities, jeopardize that. For example, the proposed change to eliminate the use of injunctions would only further encourage blatant infringement. Any large company would merely force you to make them take a license. They would have little to lose. Everything would be litigated to death -if a small entity can come up with the cash to pursue. That's what these large multinationals are betting against.

    When corporate America agrees to not use our inventions without consent, American inventors and small entities will agree to stop suing them.


    Stephen Wren


    StL, MO


  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Weasel words

    "Speaking alongside Lee, Apple's chief patent counsel, Chip Lutton, wouldn't go quite so far as his Google counterpart. He said the US patent system was "not broken" and that it was "not in crisis," calling it "the best in the world". But he acknowledged that there was a "huge bubble" of patent assertions that needs to be scaled back. "The question with this bubble market, as with any bubble market, is 'Can we solve it without a crisis arising?'" he said."

    This is are weasel words if I ever heard them. By comparing the patent creation system to a bubble market, there is the implicit implication that the system will eventually correct itself (and thus doesn't need to be changed). The problem is that patents are not created in a marketplace; they are created in a monolithic regulatory framework. Patent rights are asserted in a marketplace (which may currently be experiencing a bubble), but the goods in the marketplace are created by a system that has no negative feedback mechanisms. Worse yet, the IP marketplace has created a positive feedback mechanism.

    The IP marketplace bubble may burst eventually, but that market correction won't fix the underlying problem: the patent system is creating too many rights.

    Anyone using terms like "bubble" to describe the patent system is attempting a misdirection. There is an obvious inference to be made about Apple (or at least Chip Lutton)...

  39. Dillon Pyron

    Protecting IP

    I'm an IP holder (patent and copyright). A patent costs a ton of money to get. When I got mine, the application fee was $10,000. The average small inventor doesn't have that kind of money. So you have to go to one of these patent houses, where you license the patent to them for the patent costs plus some sort of fee. Some of them require you to sign over the patent rights (ie, they are the actual patent holder). In my wife's case, her employer has absolute rights, while she is merely listed as the inventor.

    There are two problems in the US. The first is "first to invent". I don't have to file for the patent. I just have to document when I invented it. Then when someone else comes along, I can file and prevent them from profiting from the fruits of their independent research.

    The second, which is Google's real problem, is software patents. I point to patents for linked lists and bubble sorts. Plenty of prior art (Knuth, for example). There are a couple of organizations that are fighting these, but it's a long, steep slope.

    Patents are supposed to be for ideas that are novel and non obvious. But the patent office is so overwhelmed that they can't do much more than look at a few of the references for prior art. And can't determine the novelty and obviousness of the invention.

    Sometime in the 70s, the PTO dropped the requirement for a working prototype. For all but a perpetual motion machine.

    I paid for my patent. Manufactured it and sold it for about 9 months. I was then approached by another company which offered me a significant amount of money for a license. More than I could make selling it on my own (it costs them less than half to make it and they sell it for the same price). Should my rights be taken away from me?

    My story was sold to Ben Bova's magazine, but I retained all rights to it. This resulted in a lower payout (about 30% less). But I sold it to an anthology about a year later and made the difference and more. But I've never published it on my own. Should those rights be taken away from me?

    I've trademarked my business name, logo and several of the service names I offer (some are actually service marked, but the process is identical).

    Patent trolls suck. I agree, unless they are actively making the product, or have licensed it to someone who is, they should lose the rights to it. Vtech here in Austin made tons of money licensing "its" patents. After suing. But now those patents are running out and they have little future revenue stream.

    When HP sues Acer (or is it the other way around? I forget), that's probably a legitimate suit. It's when a company that a) didn't exist six months ago or 2) only makes their money suing; that I feel twists the system.

  40. Keith T

    Loose US Patent Laws Hurt Small Inventors More Than Tightening System Would

    The whole issue is the US granting patents to people who either:

    (a) Merely conjecture that something could be created by someone else, or

    (b) Go the legal process of patenting something trivial and obvious (that often others are already doing).

    It is an abuse of the US legal system and an obstruction to real inventors everywhere.

    The current situation in the US hurts small inventors, because

    a) Small inventors lack the resources to research the multitude of filings by patent trolls.

    b) Many small inventor's inventions already staked out by patent trolls, who have merely conjectured that the device could be invented.

    Fraser makes a good point, and the UK has a proportionately very high number of inventors, so this rule has not stopped small inventors.

    "In the UK you cannot sit on patents as in America. You have to produce whatever it is that you have patented (within a sensible timeframe), or licence it at reasonable terms to a company who wishes to produce it."

    There should be a time limit (2 to 5 year range) to create the device, and actively start marketing the the device of the idea (usually you have someone else market it).

    It is a red-herring to bring up add-ons for large passenger jets and small inventors, because what you have is a patent troll by definition.

    If a small inventor comes up with an idea that he has not and cannot produce or prove -- by definition that makes him a small patent troll. Yes, we can be part of the problem too. We need to focus on inventing things we are competent to create, as opposed to things we conjecture others could create.

  41. James Hartley

    Restrict Patent Ownership

    There should be a limit on the number of patents owned by a single entity:

    Real Human Person - 10 patents

    Corporation - 1 patent per employee, maximum 1000

    Any entity at the limit and wishing to obtain another patent must either SELL (not license) a patent, or file an Abandonment to Public Domain of a patent.

    Patent trolls are typically 3 lawyers and a secretary, having to pay 1000 employees would kill their business.

    Since a very large portion of corporate patents are used defensively, to prevent someone else from getting a patent, filing and then abandoning would work as well.

    The numbers given are a first guess, but probably pretty good.

  42. James

    Agree with A J Stiles

    Your list seems appropriate and attainable.

    The backlog of patent applications will definitely have an impact on the quality and the expediency of the prior art review process. And I also agree with some posters that any patent (like a trademark) should either be local (national) or worldwide with an appropriate scope of review (and application cost) for each. If you choose the less-expensive, faster process associated with the smaller market (national), then you should not be allowed to attempt to enforce the patent in the larger market (worldwide).

  43. This post has been deleted by its author

  44. Rob

    Corporations are not people

    I personally feel that corporations should not be treated as entities in their own right, they are groups of people and should be held accountable as such, regarding patents, misdemeanors, everything.

    It might make people act a bit more responsibly in the end.

  45. Andy Bright

    re: Kill the small inventor

    I'm sorry but I completely disagree. Anyone that has no idea whatsoever how to create the item they are patenting should not be allowed to financially benefit from those that do. All patents do is allow idiots with little or no knowledge earn money off the backs of real inventors.

    Someone who actually knows how to produce something, has the working plans or a prototype in their possession can copyright that product. And their intellectual property is fully protected.

    I don't care if a million producers of infomercial tat go out of business. I don't care if we never see another salad slicer or orange-coloured cleaning liquid available for "only $9.99 and if you call in the next 10 minutes we'll double your order".

    Losing these people would be merely another positive benefit to trashing the patent system.

    Dipshits that think "magic pill that can cure cancer" are not inventors. Writing down, "curing cancer using a small oblong shaped container filled with tiny particles" should never entitle someone to file a lawsuit against the company that really does produce a cure for cancer.

    99% of patents are exactly along those lines. Pricks write a 3yr old's description of something yet to be truly invented - then sit back and wait for their pay day, and it's criminal to let them get away with it.

  46. Aubry Thonon


    "I'd like to thank you for putting forth a bold idea"

    Ouch. I feel like I've just landed in an episode of "Yes, Minister". ^_^

    Humphrey Appleby: "A bold decision, Minister."

  47. Chris Coles

    The Inventor

    The Inventor

    I am an inventor. Not an artist, sculptor, writer, singer or composer. My thoughts confined to paper are not something I can sell by the thousand to an admiring audience. The thrills of discovery are ethereal and ephemeral and not something to hang on a wall, or listen to of a quiet night at home with some friends. My thoughts are; however, the bedrock of a free society that thrives upon the countless goods and services stemming from those dust swirls of momentary idealistic creativity called inventions.

    We look into the future, not the past. Have no need for the instant gratification of a wet canvas. We rely on many others for the sublimation of the initial idea into reality. Try imagining creating… anything and not being able to talk to anyone about it. Have an idea that you know in your heart is good and reliable and worthwhile and that you must bounce off another thinker and risk having that idea stolen, without a single thought. Not even a thank you. New, fresh, inventive thought; is extremely fragile.

    Copyright does not protect us; is not designed to. The slightest slip between the thought forming in our heads and the office of the government patent office and the idea is gone, lost, forever not your own. Now, realise that, every idea we get costs money. To file for; to pay the attorney to delineate; to travel for sometimes decades with all the costs of a small business yet never finding anyone that will pay that extra mile to see the idea into production. Never any income, regarded by any banker as a nuisance at best and a malingerer most of the time. Remember, it can be years before we are granted the patent itself. Up to that moment, we have nothing but an idea that “might” be worthwhile developing.

    When we at last arrive at the grant of that paper contract called a patent and when all our troubles should be behind us; instead, we now inhabit another even more demanding and dangerous world. Government makes us a part of the industrial might of a nation by granting that patent. And follow that grant by ensuring that we become their slave to a process that demands a regularly increasing payment of maintenance fees, (remember we have no income without exploitation), over its twenty year lifetime.

    In that case, surely, government should have a mind to see that these initial seeds of the nation’s future prosperity are protected from the frosts of monopoly and overbearing competition. Instead, we find that government is, on the one hand, completely indifferent to our reality or, on the other, only prepared to sustain us, on a whim, to the smallest extent unless we break our vow, (implicit in the grant of that patent to sustain competition); by walking through the door of an existing competitor.

    And just to add insult to injury, they toss their heads in complete indifference to the fact that there is no fully free, free enterprise based, financial marketplace; wherein we should be able to capitalise our new ideas, competitively, against the incumbent industry.

    Instead encouraging the short term capitalisation regime of the venture capitalist that only serves to reinforce monopoly through the refusal to entertain investment in the small local business that has an aiming point of long term independence; The utter stupidity that we cannot be permitted to be both free and successful.

    The final indignity is to discover the governments’ complicity in keeping the monopoly supplier of yesterday in place rather than accept that thinking has moved on and there is a new game in town. How dare I suggest that I have a better idea? Who is this idiot that thinks beyond their station? We are a Department of Government, how dare they state we are in the wrong?

    They are talking about an inventor; arguably, the strongest competitor in a competitive society.

    It is a travesty that we are both trammelled by government rules for our own actions and at one and the same time distained by that same institution. No one seems to have given any thought to the long term implications of a refusal on the part of government to protect that inventor. We need protecting, have no other financial means of sustaining a normal family life, raising children, building homes, all the things you take for granted.

    Imagine please, take a moment to think about this; you will be expected, yes, expected; to work for decades without any income from your efforts. And no, I am not talking about the hardship everyone goes through to gain an education. That phase lasts until our early twenties. No, I am talking about the rest of your working lives.

    No one will sustain you. No banker will lend you money for your efforts to secure that piece of paper called a patent. Look back along your career and think what your life would have been like with no income from your primary work? Dig a trench for the foundations of your new home and a lender sees immediately the onward worth of your efforts. Not so the inventor. Worse still, everyone imagines we will immediately become a millionaire. Surely, there are many examples of such success? The truth is that by far the majority of inventions never see the light of day; are never prototyped, capitalised, or exploited; a veritable wasteland of lost effort, lost lives.

    It is an interesting dichotomy that a nation will perceive an inventor sits at the pinnacle of their industrial society, supposedly values their efforts, yet does not recognise any duty to support them. Try imagining being, let us say for example a Supreme Court Judge, performing all the duties, reading all the papers, transcribing all the thoughts related to that occupation while at the same time, on top of your duties; working for 12 hours a day for a pittance and coming home exhausted to your “proper” work. Have you ever regularly worked a 24 hour day? I have had to do just that, at least once a week, every week for years at a time.

    Look around you and think how much your life would change without that income you have received every month without fail since you first qualified. Imagine all those years of work without any financial reward for your efforts. Scorned for being poor by every bank manager you have ever met. No money for golf or flying, often not even for a simple home of your own. Constantly scrounging help from friends to keep going forward with your ideas. Importantly, the individual inventor cannot go bankrupt to alleviate their finances as any other entrepreneur can and start again. They would lose the rights to their intellectual property the moment they do that. So that option is totally closed off from them. They are thus often forced into the direst financial circumstances with no way out other than to abandon their chosen profession.

    That is the life of the individual inventor today.

    We must stop believing in the idea of investment for the few promoting success only at the top of society and government subsistence handouts for the rest.

    Only a fully competitive free enterprise based society can succeed; and to achieve that success, everyone must take responsibility and play their part to encourage; those individuals that step forward to try and to succeed, as best they can, within their own communities.

    Human competition is the most natural influence and must be encouraged at every level. That is surely the governments’ greatest responsibility?

    Chris Coles.

  48. Tim Butterworth

    eBay pricing system

    A few years back I complained to eBay because I was trying to buy RAM on the basis of how cheap it was. The problem was that lots of sellers were hiding their costs in their postage prices. This, I said, made it impossible to know an item's true cost without clicking on the list entry and opening up the full discription. An item priced at £10 could actually cost £20 because of the over-priced delivery charge - browing through 50 items was a real pain in the a**e.

    A few months later eBay started listing both item cost AND delivery cost in their item listings. Problem solved!

    Now, as far as I am concerned this was a no-brainer. An obvious solution to an obvious problem. However, it seems that what I should have done is start my own auction site with this system of payment display, which I could then have patented and licenced to eBay. I wouldn't have deserved any money for this idea, because someone else would have come up with it a few weeks later anyway (its not like I invented the telephone!). In fact, hundreds, or even thousands of other people had probably also spotted this and some of them would have emailed eBay as well.

    Patents should only be provided for technological innovation as this rewards innovation AND investment. Allowing patents for random 'ideas' that require no effort to come up with or implement simply slows down the growth of a business sector without rewarding the genuinely creative people out there. All it does is help create monopolies, which most of us can agree are usually bad for everyone except shareholders of one particular company.

    At the moment, the US patent system benefits 'vested interests' over the natural development of the free market. In fact, it is not a million miles away from Communist Russia, where innovation was restricted and controlled through a deliberately anti-competitive set of government determined rules.

  49. Glen Turner

    Patent system broken for innovators too

    Astronomy and computing researchers at CSIRO invented a multipath radio reception technology where multipath signals actually improved reception rather than degraded it. They built it, they used it in their own astronomy receivers, and they patented it in 1992.

    Now CSIRO are involved in multi-year litigation against huge multinational firms to force manufacturers using 802.11a, 802.11g and 802.11n to take a license. This is despite the 802.11 committee making it clear that a patent license would be required by manufacturers, by approaching CSIRO during the development of the standards for a statement that the patent would be license on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.

    Of course computer manufacturers faced with a $5 license fee would much rather litigate than pay. Unfortunately for them, the Australian government decided to fund the litigation rather than see a successful strategy against research commercialisation gain hold. A "small" private sector innovator would not have been bankrolled.

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