Can we just have an end to software patents?
Smartphone market wraith BlackBerry has launched a legal offensive accusing Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram of patent infringement. In a chunky 117-page filing [PDF] to the Los Angeles US District court, the Canadian software house says that the three social media giants are all basing their messaging tools on technology …
Can we just have an end to software patents?
That's easy to say when your livelihood isn't dependent on you monetising your software innovation.
A lot of big companies will always try it on. Apple got caught trying to patent software that some independent iOS developer had submitted for review prior to release on the iTunes store. The patent application even had a diagram of the user interface that was an exact copy of the UI in the guy's app. This story was covered by The Register some years ago.
Patents are there to, in theory, allow the small guys to protect their livelihood against the big guys just ripping them off and out-marketing them. Without a working patent system there is no more innovation, there are just more ways in which big corporates rip off customers. Whether or not software patents should be part of a working patent system I don't know. What I do know is that a lot of patent systems around the world are pretty damned broken.
A good example of a big company making things worse is Google, with their Travel offering. Worldmate, in the guise of BlackBerry Travel, had the concept of a decent manage-your-travel application pretty much perfect. Calendar/email integration, flight times data, group travel, hotel / hire car booking, the lot. It was really, properly good.
They've withdrawn because Google are now trying (and not really succeeding) in doing the same sort of thing as part of Android. Worldmate have seen the way the wind is blowing and decided to bail out rather than fight. Google can give prominence to their product, everyone else will struggle to get a look-in. If that isn't an abuse of a monopoly position, I don't know what is.
So we're now left with a solution from Google that is worse than the one we've had over the past 10, 15 years ago on BlackBerry. We're worse off, simply because a big Corporate is pushing a false message of innovation to its users and has got enough clout to make that stick.
I unfortunately have not had tried Worldmate; though I would add another brutish corporation as an example. None other than Microsoft, buying up all these little corporations that had briliantly executed Things That Work Exceedingly Well With a Stylus, so that when the tablet-convertible-notebook form factor had arrived, the light pen or stylus to make office suites take a back seat never really took off, thanks to MS' bungling a perfectly good idea with their embrace and extinguish -- never mind extending it.
"None other than Microsoft, buying up all these little corporations that had briliantly executed Things That Work Exceedingly Well With a Stylus"
I'm not one to defend MS, but in fairness, buying up a corporation for millions is a bit different to copying their designs and claiming them as your own.
The guys innovating are making money from their innovations. It's a good reason for a startup to exist if they create something innovative that will earn them millions.
The problem then becomes which Globo-Corp with a near or actual monopoly position buys the small guy? When will these large corporations be broken up, again. Some have reached a point wherein they are hampering innovation, and have been for decades in some instances, not extending or encouraging innovation.
"...monetising your software innovation."
How about the Patent Office accept all the applications related to software "innovations" for a week, and then offer patent protection to just one per week. Whichever is the 'Most Innovative Software Innovation' for the week. The rest of the applications for the week are dumped into the public domain, or a dumpster. I doubt that there's actually more than about 50 *actually* patent-worthy software innovations per year. The rest are trivial rubbish.
The bar has been set WAY too low. Negative value to society. Requires urgent corrective action.
That's easy to say when your livelihood isn't dependent on you monetising your software innovation.
...Patents are there to, in theory, allow the small guys to protect their livelihood against the big guys just ripping them off and out-marketing them.
The thing is in the global world, it is pretty clear that patents no longer protect the small guys.
In plenty of cases, it is used against the small guys, even when they were the ones who created the the product first. Part of the problem is to get patent to have effect, you need a lot of money for the patent and the lawyers, which small guys don't have from the start. The second problem is it is easier for someone or a large company to quickly rip off your software innovation, patent or not. Even worse, it is easier for them to quickly sue your software innovation the second you have some profit.
So rather than keeping software patent at all (f*ck patent troll), it might as well be better to delete software patent as a whole.
"it might as well be better to delete software patent as a whole."
Not really as it can take a developer as long to design something in software as someone designing something actually physical i.e a round cornered mobile phone.The problem appears to be the way the system is implemented and corrupted by some to their own gain and not of that of the original developer.
There was a patent war over hyperlinks only last year, yes its an patenable innovation but it seriously got scewed out of proportion much the same as we seem to be seeing here.
"it can take a developer as long to design something in software as someone designing something actually physical i.e a round cornered mobile phone"
Which is exactly why most of the world doesn't have any such thing as "design patents" either, contenting themselves with things like registered designs. Patents are generally reserved for actual inventions, not software and round corners.
The problem isn't with software patents, the problem is the entire US patent system that pretty much just takes the money and rubber stamps everything.
I haven't read the patents in this case, they might very well be innovative and valid, but that just isn't the case for so many such patents. On at least a couple of occasions I've seen software patents for things I had done 20 years earlier, and they weren't necessarily innovative nor the first such implementation when I did it.
> On at least a couple of occasions I've seen software patents for things I had done 20 years earlier, and they weren't necessarily innovative nor the first such implementation when I did it.
It does happen that things are independently invented. The question here is then if what you did was published or not. Only if it was published could it be validly cited against their patent or application. Good commenting in the programmes would also assist in finding relevant prior art.
the entire US patent system that pretty much just takes the money and rubber stamps everything
That's simply false. In recent years the approval rate has hovered around 50%. I posted the statistics in response to another article, but they're trivial to find if you know how to use a handy research tool called "the world wide web".
50% may still be too high, but it's certainly a far cry from "everything". And considering that the USPTO is a profit center for the federal government, and thus under pressure to please its customers (applicants), I think they're showing significant restraint.
"Can we just have an end to software patents?"
I'd be happy to end patents on TRIVIAL and OVERLY-BROAD software patents, like THOSE appear to be.
But, on occasion, a patent MAY be deserved, such as specific software patents related to a specific device, with the provision that the patents are NECESSARY for the device. I think a Blackberry works just fine without "those things", as do Android and iPhone.
A valid software patent MIGHT include a method for error correction or data compression that's specific to a particular device, like a hardware decoder or demodulator that has microcode. But if someone were to implement the same algorithm in SOFTWARE, for a generic system, it shouldn't be covered by the patent. however, if someone else made another hardware decoder or demodulator, the patent MIGHT apply. And, THAT would be fair.
An alternative might be to reduce the time period for any "generic device" software patent to something considerably shorter than 20 years. Or, just deny them outright.
Yeah, just like that. I too have a different phone for each conversation I have. Not per person, that wouldn't be fine grained enough. No, I buy a new phone everytime I want to start a conversation with someone so I can get this fantastic "conversation silence" feature from a power button.
"So a bit like turning the device off? Are they going to sue for power buttons as well?"
I think HP and Apple have patents over the use of buttons, with respect to selecting from a menu and "hold time" having a different function... but they're specific to their own devices. HP's patents have to do with printers that have LCD displays, for example. Apple's patents are for things like the iPod. if you did a different type of device, you could [in theory] circumvent THEIR patents, and even get your own patents granted.
but any patent is SUPPOSED to be specific to a device or narrow class of devices. So if you're not making an iPod clone, or a printer with an LCD-based menu system, you should be fine. With THOSE patents, anyway.
Software patents MUST, at the very least, be specific to a device, and not "generic computing devices". Didn't anyone learn anything from Micro-shaft vs Apple back in the 90's ? Oh wait, they did... and they're forming PATENT TROLL portfolios now! [wrong lesson]
>So a bit like turning the device off? Are they going to sue for power buttons as well?
The scope of a patent is defined by the claims, which are not necessarily identical to the abstract. Did you read the claims? Each of the independent claims are rather long so it seems you can safely keep your power buttons.
It is notable how almost every OTT messaging app out there apes (in one way or other) BlackBerry Messager. Which undeniably existed before WhatsApp, Snapchat, Facebook Messager, iMessage, Skype, FaceTime, you name it.
And given that BBM was in place a long time ago, was wildly popular and still is in existence (and quite big still), this suit is not in the category of a non-trading entity suing trading entities.
As it happens I and my family use BBM, on iOS, BB10, Android. It works very nicely. WhatsApp's video call quality is crap. Skype is now hideously unreliable. Facebook Messager - eek. BBM just works, always has done, probably always will.
The Merit of Software Patents
That's an entirely different discussion. If we have to have them, this at least is a better example of them than a lot of the software patent infringement suits that have been raised in the past.
Paul Grewal's statement is bollocks PR fluff. There are no innovative features whatsoever in Facebook Messager. BBM did them all yonks ago, and was at its height (and oh so popular with the kids) back in the days before Facebook existed. In fact all those users who used it back then are now 30-something year olds who are exactly the sort of person Facebook would like to attract, but from what I hear is totally failing to appeal to.
The only thing that Facebook innovate in is seedier ways to extract revenue from their atrocious social network platform.
"It is notable how almost every OTT messaging app out there apes (in one way or other) BlackBerry Messager. Which undeniably existed before WhatsApp, Snapchat, Facebook Messager, iMessage, Skype, FaceTime, you name it."
I'm pretty sure ICQ was on the scene long before any of the messenger clients you mention! I can't remember what was before ICQ though, but everything since then including BBM was simply an evolution!
""It is notable how almost every OTT messaging app out there apes (in one way or other) BlackBerry Messager."
I think AOL's messenger, MSN's messenger, and ICQ preceded even blackberry...
thread and sub-thread blocking have been implemented in some news readers for, like, EVAR.
(thunderbird has 'ignore thread' and 'ignore sub-thread' in its menu, for example)
To say they were cloned from Blackberry might be a bit much. Perhaps they (including Blackberry) simply grew out of a large set of features implemented by MANY "old school UNIX" applications back in the day, maybe even as early as the old '$TALK' system on the California State University CDC Cyber timesharing computer. From the 70's.
I'm pretty sure ICQ was on the scene long before any of the messenger clients you mention
Yes, since it was released in 1996.
SMS dates from the 1980s, and it's no so wildly different from the OTT messaging applications.
There were many decentralized network-messaging applications long before BBM, of course. MIT's Zephyr (part of Project Athena), 1986, is one early example. BSD talk(1) got network capability in 1983. I don't know when VMS introduced its phone command, but that was network-capable as well. If memory serves, VM/CMS provided an instant-messaging service over IBM's HONE network (which was larger than the Internet in its heyday).
I'm sure BBM innovated in various ways, but it was by no means entirely novel.
I'm conflicted here.
I first tried Blackberry with a z10 on BB10 and grew to love it. It was thoughtful and well engineered. The whole package just worked for the user.
I hate Facebook. I tried it for a few months when it launched then spent another few months getting my account deleted (it wasn't easy then).
But, all these companies are not successful at the expense of Blackberry (you could argue that Google would deserve their ire but for Android not for Hangouts). I don't think the world becomes a more just place no matter who wins.
I'd love to see nearly every social media company put out of business. I think they are responsible for a large number of today's social problems. However in this situation a lot of the patents do seem something along the lines of the bleeding obvious. Consider a notification that an event has occurred / a message has arrived. Isn't this just an electronic version of a postman ringing the door bell to let you know you have a letter (title of a 1934 novel) or popping up a flag on a mail box (like they do the films)? Creating an electronic version of a physical action shouldn't be patentable (the actual code maybe but not the end result).
The US issues software patents willy nilly, letting anyone get one and then expecting any conflicts to be resolved in court. That doesn't make the concept of software patents idioitic, it makes the American implementation of software patents idiotic.
Don't throw the baby out with the bath water.
@Jemma - you're saying FB is conservative or alt-right? I'm not sure I own language that could describe how ludicrous that idea is. Or that shitposting by a few with a tiny relative budget of a few mil swung a billion dollar election.
Oh, you're just calling all voters, or most of them, morons. Perhaps more believable, but not a great way to make friends or influence people. Works about as well as calling them deplorables. They might not agree, and it might even motivate them further.
A test myself and a Canadian friend did was to create new, fake accounts (using mac-scrambled raspberry pies to avoid the more subtle trackers) and test for the echo chamber effect. There is extremely strong evidence for that - if an account looks at alt-right content - everything else disappears and it's bombarded with more of the same. Ditto progressive content. If both in the same account, then all but politics takes a back seat - say if the account was interested in the Reg, tech, or fashion - all gone.
This is both facebook and youtube (and included directed adverts, but we had to block those to avoid overloading the pies). And it became obvious that everyone is selling to everyone else by doing this test.
So the "Russian meddling" appears to be the result not of any Russians - it's the advertising characterization algos, deep learning - creating those echo chambers - and you can prove this at home pretty easily, don't take my word for it.
We did it to ourselves over greed in marketing.
Now let the down votes roll, as I just called everyone idiots who didn't even realize you were being silo-ed into echo chambers as long as they fit your confirmation bias - a well known cognitive issue of we lousy humans.
When I grew up we could agree to disagree and even be civil about it. Think about why that's changed...
Do you not watch tv. Facebook executives flat out *admitted* and were proud of the fact they helped elect Donnie Dickwit, if it's still on BBC iplayer a documentary called "Trump voters: 1 year on" - which showcased a whole bunch of quite frankly meatspace Cuylers and closet racists. The model girl was the highlight - about as self obsessed as a spinning top and not all that bright.
Course I doubt the arsebook executives are quite so proud now.. FBI investigations tend to dent the ego.
Have you ever read David Brin's book Earth?
In it he is this prediction of what the internet would become like (written in 1990)
<blockquote>Holospere: The problem usually wasn't getting access to information, it was to stave off being drowned in it. People bought personalised filter programs to skim a few droplets from that sea and keep the rest out. For some, subjective reality became the selected entertainments and special interest zines passed through by those tailored shells...
...Here, a man watches nothing but detective films... Next door, a woman reads and hears only opinions that match her own, because other points of view are culled by her loyal guardian software.</blockquote>
It is remarkably close to what those algorithms are now doing.
>I don't know that I've ever seen the word "plurality" used anywhere other than in a patent. And it seems to come up in almost every one that I read, is it mandatory?
No, it is not mandatory, you can also write at least two. Using a number of is a beginner's mistake since zero is also a number.
No, it is not mandatory, you can also write at least two.
Or "two or more", etc.
There's long been a "plain English" movement among US lawyers. (See also e.g. Kevin Underhill's relentless mockery of the habit of putting "(henceforth FOO)" after every proper name, and writing numbers in both numerals and words.) Alas, its proponents are swimming against the tide.
Any patent application containing the phrase "at least 2 (two)" should be immediately rejected, of course.
I don't know that I've ever seen the word "plurality" used anywhere other than in a patent.
It's used in political science, for example, to distinguish among other kinds of voting results (simple majority, etc). Also in grammar, religious studies, etc. But obviously it's a term of art and not often found in casual conversation, except in jest.1
If the Google Ngram Viewer is to be believed, its popularity held relatively steady over the late modern period, then started climbing in the mid-1980s. It's now up about 30% from its long-term average, and the first page or two of results from that period don't appear to be patent-related.
1"Why did the chicken cross the road? To join the first chicken and achieve a plurality." Thank you, you've been a great crowd.
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