back to article Bored with patent trolls? Small fry - prepare for the Design Trolls

Changes to UK patent and design law affecting thousands of British businesses have been criticised by industry and Labour's front bench business team. The Intellectual Property Bill contains changes to design and patent law proposed in the so-called Google Review, better known as "The Independent Review of IP and Growth” by …


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  1. poohbear

    Are round corners on a rectangle Trivial or Substantial?

    1. cyborg

      Depends how big the rectangle is.

    2. MrXavia

      Hopefully trivial...

      But it could be part of a design.

      Since Apple lost its battle with rounded rectangles in the EU, I think we can safely assume any similar stupid design patents will be rejected... At least in UK courts..

      1. Pat Att

        You could apply and receive design registration on the pen you are currently holding!

        With UK design law there is no examination of the design - it merely goes through "on the nod", at least as far as any novelty aspects are concerned. So, that mouse on your desk? Just draw a few pics of it, send it in with your £60 fee, and back will come a Registered Design. Then, you can take it to your local PC World and get the manager arrested for selling "your" design.

        Ok, there is some hyperbole in the above, but not as much as you would think - the above could happen, especially with less common objects. These law changes (bringing in criminal liability for infringing a design) are farcical.

        Currently (despite what Andrew Orlowski mistakenly says in the article) there is no criminal sanction for infringement of a registered design. Otherwise you can bet that Apple would have tried to get Mr Samsung UK banged up good and proper.

    3. Number6

      It depends on how much you can afford to pay your lawyer.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "And worst of all, someone, somewhere might be unfairly accused of being a copycat,"

    The whole point of patents is to allow you to sue anyone regardless of whether they copied you or not, so if that's a worry just scrap patents. Which should have happened a long time ago (about 1450, I reckon).

    "Quite what happens if academic researchers come up with a clever design they want to commercialise isn't clear. Maybe he thinks they shouldn't?"

    Well, maybe he does think that. I know I do; such research should be public domain and used to improve the living conditions of the public. Imagine how much better the world would be if the drugs research done in universities was freely available.

    1. DanDanDan

      haha, good one

      "Imagine how much better the world would be if the drugs research done in universities was freely available."

      Well I have a few friends in university research departments and I'm pretty sure they'd just leave the country if their work instantly became public domain. You don't expect all carpenters to donate their furniture to the public. What's the difference?

      1. Stuart Castle Silver badge

        Re: haha, good one

        That, in my experience, is the freetard mentality. They expect everyone to provide things to them for free but still expect to be paid or rewarded themselves..

        Note: I don't consider Open Source to be part of the freetard mentality. In my experience, most Open Source people don't mind if you make some money from their project as long as you contribute any changes you make to the code back to the project.

        Back to the subject at hand. You are right, if our Uni researchers find their work being released into the Public Domain, they may well bugger off to other countries where they are rewarded. After all, we have probably asked them to pay £9,000 a year for their education, and a medical researcher can (I believe) spend up to 8 years in University). Why should they spend £72,000 and get nothing in return?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Uni researchers do not get patent money

          Typically, everything that they work on belongs to the University, not them.

          I.e. the PageRank patent Google was based on belongs to Standford University, not to Larry Page.

        2. BoyModernist

          Re: haha, good one

          Why should they spend £72,000 and get nothing in return?

          In return they get a world-class education and qualification.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: haha, good one

          "Why should they spend £72,000 and get nothing in return?"

          Who says they should get nothing in return? The NHS is a vast buyer of drugs and they could afford to cut out the drugs companies and still pay the researchers well to do the research, and generic chemical companies to do the mass production. With the results publicly owned and not subject to massive markups to cover the drugs companies' marketing (which is most of their costs) we would be quids in as a nation.

          The current system is just a scam to drain cash from taxpayers to the super-rich and the ridiculous patent system is supported by lobbyists on that basis.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Imagine how much better the world would be if the drugs research done in universities was freely available."

      There would be no research, there would be no money for it...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It'd be terrible

      Because they wouldn't get corporate funding for it. So your research rates would drop and people wouldn't get the head start in talking to these companies that they do currently.

      Government-funded research should be internationally protected to the eyeballs but a license freely given to any individual UK taxpayer for the use of those results. Or sold to UK-registered, productive companies to recoup the costs of research etc.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: It'd be terrible

        Because they wouldn't get corporate funding for it? The companies would have to do their own research and not get government subsidies in the form of university facilities and students. Seriously - if companies want what are essentially high level apprenticeships they should pay for them and not expect people who actually pay taxes to train their staff for them. Yes these people get a head start in the company that funds them but frequently their expertise is not saleable elsewhere due to IP restrictions so they get them cheap too!

        I've seen too many talented people swallowed by the system to think it does the students any good in the long run.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > Well, maybe he does think that. I know I do; such research should be public domain and used to improve the living conditions of the public. Imagine how much better the world would be if the drugs research done in universities was freely available.

      I would agree to a point, but I think the main distinction should be that if the research is publicly funded, then the result of that research should be public property. That kind of situation is not entirely unreasonable if the research is being done as a means to gain a qualification. If you are funding the research yourself either by your own cash, a grant from the educational establishment (not obtained indirectly by public funding of course) or by a loan that you intend to pay back, then I believe the research should be entirely your own property.

      I also believe that the University should not be able to claim title to that work either. If you are paying for your course of work, then you are paying for the use of the University's facilities. The University should butt out. If the University wishes to invest in that work financially, fair enough: offer a discount or offer a grant to cover the work and then profit.

  3. Mondo the Magnificent

    Wait a minute...

    ..we came up with that "small but perfectly small bill" years ago

    We'll see them in court for the infringement of something that looks like something we already came up with, even though it's not quite the same.,,,

  4. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    The threat of implementing the European Unified Patent Court is terrifying enough by itself

    At the moment, if you are being trolled, you can hope that someone in the court does not have a vested interest. The idea of the European Unified Patent Court is that every official involved is a patent professional dedicated to diverting all R&D budgets to squabbling lawyers.

  5. tony2heads


    Good luck in trying to enforce any of that 'designer' stuff in the rest of the world. I suggest that what will happen is that overseas factories will copy it perhaps minor tweaks.

    I think that the whole IP law needs a major overhaul and agreements on international levels; at the moment corporations go jurisdiction shopping

  6. Don Jefe

    Competitive Advantage and Operational Efficiencies? My MBA Didn't Cover Those!

    The patent system in most parts of the world is (was anyway) perfectly suited to its purpose of fostering innovation and increasing the overall size of civilizations knowledge base. Then a bunch of numpties with less business acumen than the average alpine lichen came and screwed it up. The last thing that's needed is another formal system to pillage and plunder.

    Good ideas, or tweaks and improvements on the ideas of others, that aren't patentable have always been subject to normal business rules. Meaning that it's on you to identify and exploit operational efficiencies that allow you to make (thing) cheaper, better or cheaper and better than other people making the same thing.

    The bulk of innovation actually comes to market via small incremental improvements over medium to long term periods. Patents were supposed to reward exceptionally good ideas, which by default are very rare. The stack-on effect of that was that if a single person or entity had lots of patents they were making enormous R&D investments that actually set the stage for the next generation of products. That was fine too, you could, and still can make enormous amounts of money through R&D, but people don't want to/can't do that anymore. And that's the problem.

    When you go to school for 'business' you're actually learning spreadsheet manipulation, not business. You can't learn business formally because formality implies structure and organization. Unless you're a library, structure and organization aren't often found in business. Those things might appear to be part of business from the outside, but ask anyone who has worked in any business more complicated than prostitution. They'll tell you how chaotic everything is behind those walls.

    My point is that people with 'business' educations have become the 'hot' staff and people who actually know business, but learned on the fly are being pushed out. Those 'educated' business people can't cope with risk or face opposition because those things are analog and unstable. You're always running full speed ahead with very little information about what's ahead and they just can't do it.

    Because they can't handle the risks of business, they're attempting to change business so that it's stable and 'risk free'. That's fine and dandy if your business is selling shampoo or toothpaste (consumables) but absolutely horrible for growth or innovation. When everything is 'protected' by some legal mechanism there is no incentive to innovate or increase efficiencies, you're immune to outside pressure. Without exception, if you don't have those things your business has a sell-by date that can't be changed.

    A never ending search for innovation and efficiencies also benefits scads of other, unrelated industries. For example, many years ago we had a job that required an enormous quantity of certain titanium alloys. No single source had the quantities I needed so we ended up sourcing it from several different countries. To prevent a spike in market prices I purchased it all simultaneously. Ultimately we got far more than we needed and ended up playing (researching) with the material. We discovered several new ways to manipulate the material that were much easier and cheaper than existing methods. A few patents came out of that, but the bulk of the money was made sending our engineers into the facilities of other manufacturers and setting them up to use the processes.

    Our first customer makes golf clubs, another makes high end bathroom fittings, another makes eyeglasses and there are a bunch of others as well. But all of them make consumer products. We lowers the casting costs by over 200%. If you've bought anything containing titanium in the last six years or so I'm likely directly responsible for making it more affordable (you're welcome).

    But if people start locking down 'design', my golf club client would have had no reason to invest in reducing product costs, because they would own the market. Nobody else would be making similar golf clubs. You can replace titanium and golf clubs with your own variables, and it'll still be valid, in any industry.

    First mover advantage has always had its own rewards but you eliminate most of that with 'design' protections. You remove huge swaths of the competitive market and just strangle innovation in its crib. If you can't handle competition and want a sure thing, go into banking. Otherwise toss that MBA in the can and get to work running your business. Not preventing others from having their own businesses.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Competitive Advantage and Operational Efficiencies? My MBA Didn't Cover Those!

      That's it exactly.

      It's a similar phenomenon responsible for the rot in innovative product companies like Apple.

      You get an individual like Steve Jobs who inspires and drives focused product development that is different from the mainstream. They might not be the most technical (and the original iPhone was certainly a number of steps back technically from its peers at the time) but producing a product like the iPhone that was limited technologically but stylish was a risky venture.

      Now the bean counters are running the show and we have slow, incremental, low risk movement that inspires no-one and for a company like Apple, that is a slow type of death.

    2. Someone Else Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Competitive Advantage and Operational Efficiencies? My MBA Didn't Cover Those!

      Well said. Wish I had sever upvotes available for it.

    3. dssf

      Re: Competitive Advantage and Operational Efficiencies? My MBA Didn't Cover Those!

      Very well put.

      I worry about things I've designed, which I have publicly released. My thoughts for protection my ideas include licensing rather than selling, poison pills rather than carelessly-accepted money.

      An alternative to banking, for those who have time, would be to endlessly (not to infinity, really) permutate a design, and present them as sibblings in stages of evolution. It would increase the size of the filed document, but might show that the designer DID indeed consider alternatives, and is quasi-permitting some exposure in exchange for increased protection on the main Claim. However, this quasi-exposure of lineage of parts or designs should not grant broad, blanket coverage. OTOH, some will opt out of showing lineage -- after all, who wants to "enable" a previously non-existent, peripheral competitor who might end up proving far more nimble than can be coped with? Well, invite sub-licensing at really cheap entry cost, but not to one party, but to many, so risidual income can be steady or flatter but constant, not subject to the whims of a potential single-point-of-failure domineering licensee.

      This is just going to fuel the fire that there should not be either "First to Invent" or "First to File", but rather "Merit Protection Based on Market Response", but blended with FTI/FTF to some extent.

      The current patent systems are horrid, abominable, and only protect idea scalpers, patent trolls, patent hoarders, and the like. If small, independent, low-income inventors/designers/creators cannot even afford reduced filing costs, and cannot have built-in counsel provided cheaply to ensure they are not steamrolled, then the two dominant patent methods will generally screw small players and not "reward" but "empower" larger, more more shrewd, cunning , and ruthless players.

      Talk about stifling innovation and curtailing public benefit.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: Competitive Advantage and Operational Efficiencies? My MBA Didn't Cover Those!


        I kind of agree with you. I say that because there are many factors involved in IP protection and valuation and they tend to get amalgamated into bullet points that are far, far broad. It's a classic legislators dilemma where fixing the 'broken' bits often ends up screwing the people who aren't actually causing the problems or abusing the system.

        Outside of IT, specifically the software side of IT, the patent system is a good thing. It allows you to recover your investment and be rewarded for not only your invention, but your willingness to take large risks and develop your invention. Good inventions are funny because once they've been invented they're nearly always one of those things that are incredibly obvious to everyone. But that's in hindsight.

        From my earlier example, without the potential for those rewards, it would simply have been bad business, grossly irresponsibly bad really, for me to spend many millions of dollars in undirected, what happens if (x) research and using millions in excess inventory to boot. If it wasn't all mine to begin with, I would have been sacked about 1.7 seconds after even suggesting anything other than selling the inventory on to someone else. Stockpiling inventory is an amateur business mistake. You just don't do that.

        Anyway, the patent system works perfectly well when applied to something like that but the reason why isn't always apparent to people. The reason is that what I've done is an improvement on an existing process, I haven't crowned myself Lord and Master over all things titanium, or even all things related to casting titanium. Others are still free to use titanium and cast it how they like, but if they want the 200% reductions that's going to cost them. I believe that's fine (obviously :), but software and a few others, but we'll pick on software, do attempt to establish complete dominion over (whatever) and that just isn't right. That takes away the business incentive to take risks and be clever. It's bad for business and it's bad for the development of civilization as a whole. Nobody should be able to completely lock down entire anythings.

        That all leads to this, if patents were granted in their traditional manner, the way they were designed to work, then I'm completely opposed to making the application for, and the defense of, patents easier or cheaper. Patents are designed to reflect the ingenuity, investment and risk taken by the patent holder in inventing something that makes a fundamental difference across large sections of an industry and that is ultimately added to civilizations knowledge to be applied elsewhere. Important shit, right?

        If patents are going to be (as designed) about important things then you want safeguards on the process. You don't want the Bizzaro-World Don Jefe sitting in his basement patenting important things for pennies per application between writing chapters in his manifesto on enlightened dictatorship. Believe me, every industry has a few Bizzaro world lunatics and you can't enable those sorts. They're harmless unless you throw millions of dollars at them.

        The safeguards are already in place too. The software IP crowd create the impression that patents ae for deep pockets, but that's just sofware. It always costs tons of money to abuse something without completely destroying it. If we stuck with 'important' things for patenting there's a vast pool of resources that will help you get and enforce your patents. Sure, it'll cost money, nobody is going to do that for free. But the cost is a percentage of how much money the patent brings in. Nothing out of your pocket. See, when applied correctly, patents actually mean something and it's generally straightforward. It's the sort of thing where big time lawyers swoop in and protect you because it's easy to do and very profitable. Infringement cases are settlements reasonable, and it doesn't hobble entire industries. You don't even have to go looking for those lawyers. Start with any village lawyer and I guarantee if you've got something solid you'll have to beat the mega lawyers off with a flamethrower wiring 48hrs.

        But when you apply patents to things that are so trivial it takes many years and millions of dollars to even get everyone in agreement of what's actually been patented something is bad wrong. Of course settlements are going to be huge in those cases, you just used 25 million man hours of counsel at $1500hr+.

        Look at that recent silly case with Google infringing on some silly, insanely broad thing. The aggrieved is asking for $125m in damages. That's just stupid. That company couldn't have made that much money if they licensed their patent out for the next 100 years. It's all silly from the get go and the worst part is that it's beginning to have a negative impact on the entire IP sector. Everybody wants insane settlements for trivial matters and of course the lawyers want that too. These days it might take 72 hours for that big name firm to find you.

        As an example of the spillover effects, look at the tragedy in the making that is Graphene. What could be a very useful and valuable material if it hadn't been born with a congenital malformation of its foresight gland. The material has already become a running joke in the engineering circles where I spend my time. Some enterprising fellow from Spain (I believe) rewrote Romeo and Juliet and replaced the main characters with Graphene, that UK thing of a Graphene IP licensing 'lab' and a manufacturing conglomerate and gave out copies on disc at an industry conference last fall. It's hilarious.

        Point is, graphene has shot right past viability as a commercial material and has transformed into a license, not a material. See, engineering materials never, ever, ever, never mature in labs. That happens at places like mine where I'm constantly on the hunt for the operational efficiencies and competitive edge I mentioned earlier. Labs never experience the necessity required to maximize a materials use. They generally suck at commercialism anyway.

        This'll wrap this all up for those who are bored. Constantly looking for those advantages means that I've got eye wateringly large capex going out every year for ever more advanced machines and tooling. I'll spend $6m on a machine small enough to stick in a bed of a pickup truck and not think twice about it as I wait 18 months for it to arrive. But I'll be damned if I'm going to spend one red penny to deal with licensing a material and that's the same as any of my peers around the globe. It is our job to take a material and really explore its limits. We're not paying rooms full of 'rock star' engineers piles of money because they bring a lively and jovial atmosphere to the workplace.

        At any rate, the things you mentioned about empowering the small and clever parties to protect their ideas already exist and have done so for well over a century. But this tendency to trivialize patents is beginning to threaten those resources. It's great for a tiny portion of the market, but even that is capped as they're steadily taking away incentives to invest and innovate. The safeguards that both enable practical and effective IP and prevent garbage from mucking up the pool are quickly being eroded and if left to continue unabated those safeguards will be destroyed completely.

        A separate IP system for software maybe? A prohibition on patents that stop people from reaching the same end via different routes? A clause in patent applications promising not to be a massive dick on pain of losing the patent for abusing it? Capping infringement settlements? Cage matches and formal dueling to settle disputes? There are lots of possibilities, but nothing will be effective if we don't put a stop to trivializing the process. It is wholly unfair to everyone for a minority to completely derail an important and effective system.

  7. Alan Denman

    Most of it is fucked

    Pardon the language but simple software solution that have been actioned by most software engineers are now getting patented.

    Even worse is the fact that new media calls it an 'invention'.

    NO, it is just an extremely corrupted patent system.

    You software engineers are going to be patented into oblivion !

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