It's like the mafia, you have to pay them for protection.
That jealous old Edison would have destroyed our dear Nikola Tesla were it not for US Patent System and the economic incentive that would motivate men like Westinghouse to (effectively) underwrite his creative efforts.
I fully agree that in certain domains the system is really broken: It is frankly deeply obscene that a corporation can "patent" naturally occurring phenomena e.g genes; and it is getting quite rare to see a "Software" patent that is not brain-dead obvious.
What is broken in the USPTO is the fact that our government can not (or will not) effectively staff the USPTO so that no-longer-overloaded examiners do not routinely award patents and throw the buck at the court system.
Naturally, this delegates a technical matter to a sub-system (courts and your fellow American in the jury box) that is completely unqualified to sit in judgment regarding the "merit" of the patent.
If USPTO stops issuing bogus patents and hope for just resolution in the court system, then silly patents for entirely obvious matter -- streaming content over the network, doh! -- would never even make it past the filing stage.
I wonder what is the angle behind the Economist playing dumb, but there is far more to this subject than simply "robber barons".
I remember being told that you could patent a thing, but not an algorithm. But it seems that most software patents are just algorithms. What would be the effect of prohibiting software patents?
Great idea, mk. I bet there are various feeds that can be mushed to get that info. Excellent idea.
> What would be the effect of prohibiting software patents?
I don't know. What would have been the effect of prohibiting electromagnetic patents?
An algorithm is a logical mechanism. A software embodying an algorithm is virtual machine. imo, there is nothing inherently wrong with patenting algorithms. Take Skip-Lists. Invented in 1990 (!) though after the fact it seems self-evident.
So Dr. Pugh is a generous soul who is sharing his insights. Good for him and God bless him. But if he was a entrepreneur competing against other businesses and had stumbled upon his discovery in course of addressing a business requirements, why on earth should he be denied the right to exercise his natural right to his own ideas? Because it is 'insubstantial'? (That is pretty close to materialist superstition in my book.)
We here in Hubski are attempting a "thoughtful web". Thoughts matter. Ideas matter. A society that respects and promotes creative and constructive thinking will be a successful society, imo.
This is new on his bio (or I missed it before): http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?u=%2Fnetahtml%2Fsr...
* google. What a bunch of hypocrites.
So that is a software patent that is clearly non-obvious and whatever Bill Pugh came up with, apparently was beyond the reach of S. Berin (a "practitioner in the field" who is listed under prior arts in section .sctn.1.2.3 of the above patent application) whom we all know had huge commercial interest in getting "detecting near duplicate files in large collections" right, but alas he couldn't thunk it ....
Perhaps there should be a difference between a patent under control of the inventor, and the patent under control of a purchaser. For example, if I patent something, maybe I get 20 years protection. However, if I sell the rights, perhaps the buyer only gets a maximum of 10 years, or less if more than 10 years have passed since the patent was issued. Perhaps if it is sold again, the patent goes to 5 years.
It seems to me that protecting inventors is good. But the market for patents should benefit the inventor most, and subsequent purchasers less.
I do hear you; but that's a bit of gray area for me. Being the little guy myself, sounds sweat. But: did you read the Westinghouse bio blurb? Anyway, this is only addressing trolls, and beyond that it smells a bit like addressing structural issues in society via a tangent.
(also: I have no problem at all with Google patenting page-rank, for example.)
I think a fine goal is to minimize frivolous litigation. And one key requirement there is that bogus patents are minimized. Us geeks on the internets are actually in a position to provide both (a) a positive service to society and (b) address the bogus-patent-mill aka USPTO's apparent difficulty in establishing prior art and recognizing the patently obvious.
We need something along the line of a wiki + hn.forum (tech-know quality of members) + APIs. The API is for USPTO and their examiners :)
One issue is confidentiality. If someone can crack the problem of (a) maintaing the confidential subject matter and (b) providing a tool for a USPTO examiner to quickly scan the collective knowledge base, then concerned Geeks can step in and make sure USPTO stops issuing stupid patents.
(Low tech options: taking the Einstein way and instead of interning at GoldmanSachs, the bright young thing takes a tour of duty at dear USGov and does some robust patent examining ..  or tie it to Federal student loan packages.)