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November 29 2013

Four short links: 29 November 2013

  1. Huaqiang Bei Map for Makers — excellent resource for visitors to an iconic huge electronics market in Shenzhen. (via Bunnie Huang)
  2. A 16th Century Dutchman Can Tell us Everything We Need to Know about GMO PatentsThere’s nothing wrong with this division of labor, except that it means that fewer people are tinkering. We’ve centralized the responsibility for agricultural innovation among a few engineers, even fewer investors, and just a handful of corporations. (and check out the historical story—it’s GREAT)
  3. Polymath Projects — massively multiplayer mathematical proving ground. Let the “how many mathematicians does it take” jokes commence. (via Slashdot)
  4. Stats on Dying TV — like a Mary Meeker preso, accumulation of evidence that TV screens and cable subscriptions are dying and mobile-consumed media are taking its place.

October 03 2013

July 23 2013

Steve Jobs didn't build that :

Steve Jobs didn’t build that:
Our #patent law doesn’t promote #innovation, it stifles it by buying into the myth of the “hero inventor”.

“The history of significant innovation [..] is one of incremental improvements generally made by a number of different inventors at roughly the same time. Our patent system, by contrast, is designed for a world in which one inventor of extraordinary skill does something no one else could have done”

August 28 2012

Seeking prior art where it most often is found in software

Patent ambushes are on the rise again, and cases such as Apple/Samsung shows that prior art really has to swing the decision–obviousness or novelty is not a strong enough defense. Obviousness and novelty are subjective decisions made by a patent examiner, judge, or jury.

In this context, a recent conversation I had with Keith Bergelt, Chief Executive Officer of the Open Invention Network takes on significance. OIN was formed many years ago to protect the vendors, developers, and users of Linux and related open source software against patent infringement. They do this the way companies prepare a defense: accumulating a portfolio of patents of their own.

According to Bergelt, OIN has spent millions of dollars to purchase patents that uniquely enable Linux and open source and have helped free software vendors and developers understand and prepare to defend against lawsuits. All OIN patents are available under a free license to those who agree to forbear suit on Linux grounds and to cross license their own patents that read on OIN’s Linux System Definition. OIN has nearly 500 licensees and is adding a new one every three days, as everyone from individual developers to large multinationals are coming to recognize its role and the value of an OIN license.

The immediate trigger for our call was an announcement by OIN that they are expanding their Linux System Definition to include key mobile Linux software packages such as Dalvik, which expands the scope of the cross licenses under the OIN license. In this way OIN is increasing the freedom of action under which a company can operate under Linux.

OIN’s expansion of its Linux System Definition affects not only Android, which seems to be in Apple’s sights, but any other mobile distribution based on Linux, such as MeeGo and Tizen. They have been interested in this area for some time, but realize that mobile is skyrocketing in importance.

Meanwhile, they are talking to their supporters about new ways of deep mining for prior art in source code. Patent examiners, as well as developers filing patents in good faith, look mostly at existing patents to find prior art. But in software, most innovation is not patented. It might not even appear in the hundreds of journals and conference proceedings that come out in the computer science field each year. It is abstraction that emerges from code, when analyzed.

A GitHub staffer told me it currently hosts approximately 25 TB of data and adds over 65 GB of new data per day. A lot of that stuff is probably hum-drum, but I bet a fraction of it contains techniques that someone else will try to gain a monopoly over someday through patents.

Naturally, inferring innovative processes from source code is a daunting exercise in machine learning. It’s probably harder than most natural language processing, which tries to infer limited meanings or relationships from words. But OIN feels we have to try. Otherwise more and more patents may impinge (which is different from infringe) on free software.

April 30 2012

Four short links: 30 April 2012

  1. Chanko (Github) -- trivial A/B testing from within Rails.
  2. OpenMeetings -- Apache project for audio/video conferencing, screen sharing, whiteboard, calendar, and other groupware features.
  3. Low Innovation Internet (Wired) -- I disagree, I think this is a Louis CK Nobody's Happy moment. We renormalize after change and become blind to the amazing things we're surrounded by. Hundreds of thousands (millions?) of people work from home, collaborate to develop software that has saved the world billions of dollars in licensing fees, provide services, write and share books, make voice and video calls, create movies, fund creative projects, buy and sell used goods, and you're unhappy because there aren't "huge changes"? Have you spoken to someone in the publishing, music, TV, film, newspaper, retail, telephone, or indeed any industry that exists outside your cave, you obtuse contrarian pillock? There's no room on my Internet for weenie whiners.
  4. Context-Free Patent Art -- endlessly amusing. (via David Kaneda)

November 23 2011

June 03 2011

Should the patent office open its internal guidelines to the public?

Anyone following policy issues around technological innovation has noticed the power and scope of patents expanding over time. For instance, most people are aware of the Supreme Court's decision to allow the patenting of genes. Computer experts are more concerned about the decisions to patent software. Many forces contribute to the expanding reach of the patent system over time, and to understand them better I recommend a thoughtful, readable summary by law professor Melissa F. Wasserman.

Wasserman argues that the patent office, the appeals court that reviews its decisions, and even Congress have incentives to keep expanding patents. Her anecdotes strike home and her reasoning is lucid, although of course we lack experimental methods for testing her hypotheses. (That is, we can't prove that patent examiners or courts were biased by looking at statistics.) I think you'll find her article quite readable, with most of fussy legal language relegated to the footnotes. (I heard about the article thanks to an email from Harvard Law School's Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy Biotechnology and Bioethics.)

As a simple example of the bias toward extending patents, consider that nobody ever appeals a patent examiner's decision to grant a patent, but aggrieved applicants often appeal decisions to deny a patent. And defending the decision to deny a patent costs the patent office a lot of money, which it can't make up from fees. Because the appeals court hears of dubious decisions only when a patent it denied, it has no opportunity to say, "Woah there, stop expanding the patent system."

But it gets even worse. Wasserman offers several subtle reasons why having a denial reversed hurts the patent office, whereas it hardly ever suffers if a patent is successfully challenged years later.

One of the most interesting observations in the paper--which Wasserman makes briefly in passing, on page 14--is that the administrators of the patent office provide guidance to examiners in a number of internal memos that are never exposed to the public. Here is a cause for open government advocates: show us the memos that contain criteria for approving or denying patents!

Wasserman is not unsympathetic to the patent office. On the contrary, she takes raises the question above the usual cries of "poor, overworked examiners" or "corporate-friendly, biased judges" and finds systemic reasons for today's patent bloat. These range from making it easier to challenge a patent right at the start to overhauling the funding of the patent office so it gets the support it needs both for approving and denying patents.

March 02 2011

Software patents, prior art, and revelations of the Peer to Patent review

A href="">report
from the Peer to Patent initiative shows
that the project is having salutary effects on the patent system.
Besides the greater openness that Peer to Patent promotes in
evaluating individual patent applications, it is creating a new
transparency and understanding of the functioning of the patent system
as a whole. I'll give some background to help readers understand the
significance of Manny Schecter's newsletter item, which concerns prior
art that exists outside of patents. I'll add my own comments about
software patents.

Let's remind ourselves of the basic rule of patenting: no one should
get a patent for something that was done before by someone else. Even
if you never knew that some guy on the other side of the world thought
of adding a new screw to add to a boiler, you can't get a patent on
the idea of adding a screw in that place for that purpose. The other
guy's work is called prior art, and such prior art can be
found in all kinds of places: marketing brochures, academic journals,
or actual objects that operate currently or operated any time in the
past. For software (which is of particular interest to most readers
of this blog), prior art could well be source code.

Now for the big lapse at the U.S. Patent Office: they rarely look for
prior art out in the real world. They mostly check previously granted
U.S. patents--a pretty narrow view of technology. And that has
seriously harmed software patenting.

Software was considered a form of thinking rather than as a process or
machine up until the early 1980s, and therefore unpatentable. Patents
started to be granted on software in the United States in the early
1980s and took off in a big way in the 1990s. (A useful href="">history has
been put up by Bitlaw. This sudden turn meant that patent
examiners were suddenly asked to evaluate applications in a field
where there were no patents previously. So of course they couldn't
find prior art. It would have been quixotic in any case to expect
examiners--allowed less than 20 hours per patent--to learn a new field
of software and go out among the millions of lines of code to search
for examples of what they were being asked to grant patents for.

In many parts of the world, software is still considered unsuitable
for patenting, but it's worth noting that the European Union has been
handing out patents on software without acknowledging them as such,
because a hard-fought battle among free software advocates has kept
software officially unpatentable.

In the U.S., patents have been handed out right and left for two
decades now, so the prior art does exist within patents on software.
But that even makes things worse. First, the bad patents handed out
over the initial decades continues to weigh down software with
lawsuits that lack merit. Second, the precedent of so many unmerited
patents gives examiners the impression that it's OK to grant patents
on the same kinds of overly broad and obvious topics now.

Now to Schecter's article. He says the patent office has long
acknowledged that they look mostly to patents for prior art, but they
won't admit that this is a problem. One has to prove to them that
there is important prior art out in the field, and that this prior art
can actually lead to the denial of applications.

And Peer to Patent has accomplished that. From Schecter:

Approximately 20% of patent applications in the pilot were rejected in
view of prior art references submitted through Peer To Patent, and
over half of the references applied by examiners as grounds for those
rejections were non-patent prior art.

The discussion over the patent process, which has progressed so
painfully slowly over many years, now takes a decisive step forward.
Prior art in the field should be taken into account during the process
of examining patents. The next question is how.

Peer to Patent and related efforts such as href="">Article One Partners
offer a powerful step toward a solution. Much of the tinkering
proposed in current debates, such as the number of patent examiners,
the damages awarded for infringement, and so forth (a bill was
debated in the Senate today, I've heard), will accomplish much less to
cut down the backlog of 700,000 applications and improve outcomes than
we could achieve through serious involvement of public input.

I am not a zealot on the subject of software patents. I've read a lot
of patent applications and court rulings about patents (see, for
instance, my href="">
analysis of the Bilski decision) and explored the case for
software patents sympathetically in href="">another
article. But I have to come down on the side of position that
software and business processes, like other areas of pure human
thought, have no place in the patent system.

Maybe Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman deserved their famous href="">patent (now
expired) on public-key cryptography--that was a huge leap of thought
making a historic change in how computers are used in the world. But
the modern patents I've seen are nothing like the RSA algorithm. They
represent cheap patches on tired old practices. Proponents of software
patents may win their battle in the halls of power, but they have lost
their argument on the grounds of the patents to which their policy has
led. Sorry, there's just too much crap out there.

July 21 2010

May 02 2010

Das wird hart: Monsanto will Schnitzel patentieren

Berlin/Wien (28.4.10): Jetzt dürfte der US-Agrarriese Monsanto den Bogen überspannt haben: Er will Schnitzel, Schinken und alles, was vom Schwein stammt, unter seinem Patenrecht sehen.

Und das Argument ist haarsträubend: Wenn das Schwein ein gentechnisch verändertes Futter aus dem Haus Monsanto gefressen hat, meint der Konzern auch ein Anrecht auf das Schwein und seinen Produkten zu haben. Es droht so eine Kostenlawine für den Konsumenten, wenn das durchgeht.

Letztes Jahr reichte der Agrarmulti bei der Weltpatentbehörde in Genf ein Patent auf Schinken und Schnitzel (WO 2009097403) ein und will damit Landwirte und Verbraucher zur Kasse bitten. Nachdem die Patentierung einer ganzen Schweinerasse kürzlich gescheitert ist, probiert Monsanto es nun auf anderem Wege. Der Konzern führt an, dass die Verfütterung der hauseigenen Gen-Soja zu einer erhöhten Konzentration von ungesättigten Fettsäuren im Schwein führt. Daher seien die entsprechenden Fleisch- und Wurst-Produkte eine exklusive Erfindung des Konzerns.

Im März 2010 reichte Monsanto eine ähnliche Patentanmeldung (WO 201027788) auf Fische aus Aquakulturen nach: Der Konzern reklamiert alle Fischprodukte für sich, die mit Gen-Futterpflanzen von Monsanto hergestellt wurden.

Greenpeace und rund 300 Umwelt- und Landwirtschaftsorganisationen fordern heute in einem internationalen Appell ein Verbot der Patentierung von Pflanzen, Tieren und Lebensmitteln. Der Recherche von Greenpeace und weiteren Organisationen zufolge hat sich auch die Zahl der Patentanmeldungen auf normale Pflanzen und Saatgut zwischen 2007 und 2009 verdoppelt.

Verbraucher, Landwirte, Züchter und Lebensmittelhersteller sind von diesen Patenten gleichermaßen betroffen. Erfahrungen aus den USA zeigen beispielsweise, dass sie zu Marktmonopolen, zu steigenden Preisen und Abhängigkeiten sowie zu einer reduzierten Auswahlmöglichkeit führen. US-Staatsanwälte prüfen derzeit, ob Monsanto gegen Kartellrecht verstößt. Dem Unternehmen wird vorgeworfen, durch Missbrauch einer marktbeherrschenden Stellung die Preise für Saatgut und Spritzmittel nach oben getrieben zu haben.

Landwirtschaftsministerin Ilse Aigner hat sich erst letzte Woche erneut dafür ausgesprochen, dass Patente auf Nutztiere und -pflanzen verboten werden", sagt Then. "Sie muss nun in Brüssel die Neuverhandlung der EU-Patentgesetze einfordern. Der Ausverkauf von Lebensgrundlagen muss endlich eingedämmt werden.

Das wird hart: Monsanto will Schnitzel patentieren: GLOCALIST Medien - Medien für Wirtschaftsethik, Nachhaltigkeit & soziale Verantwortung: Eine andere Information ist möglich
Reposted fromkellerabteil kellerabteil

January 26 2010

Four short links: 26 January 2010

  1. If Kids Are Awake, They're Probably Online (NYTimes) -- kids aged 8-18 spend, on average, 10 hours/day using smart phone, computer, television, or some other electronic device. (via Hamish MacEwan)
  2. Brazil's WIPO Proposal on Patent Limitations and Exceptions -- well-argued proposal for balanced IP law.

    16.Our experience also illustrates how difficult it is to effectively make use of compulsory licenses. Our pharmaceutical industry took almost two years to develop and produce the licensed patent, because, unfortunately the patent, as granted in Brazil and in other countries, was not sufficiently revealed to allow its production as promptly as desired.

    17.We reserve the right to come back to the discussion of this problem in other documents concerning to what extent the disclosure of patents is preserving (or not) the essentials of the patent system. The question we now pose ourselves is: considering the checks and balances of the patent system, what is the value of a patent if a third party cannot use it when it falls into the public domain or, exceptionally, when its compulsory licensing is deemed necessary?

  3. OpenStreetMaps the Default in Haiti -- rescue workers are loading OSM street maps onto GPS units to get street-level detail maps of Haiti. The team members are thrilled to have this resource you have created. I wish you could see their faces ‘light up’ when I take their GPS unit and tell them that I’m going to give them street level detail maps. (via Simon Willison)
  4. We-to-Me Participation (Nina Simon) -- useful mental framework for thinking about social software and online experiences, both from the point of view of a cultural institution and for any online activity. Stage one provides people with access to the content that they seek. Stage two provides an opportunity for inquiry and for visitors to take action and ask questions. Stage three lets people see where their interests and actions fit in the wider community of visitors to the institution. Stage four helps visitors connect with particular people—staff members and other visitors—who share their content and activity interests. Stage five makes the entire institution feel like a social place, full of potentially interesting, challenging, enriching encounters with other people.

January 12 2010

Four short links: 12 January 2010

  1. Tldr -- an application for navigating through large-scale online discussions. The application visualizes structures and patterns within ongoing conversations to let the user browse to content of most interest. In addition to visual overviews, it also incorporates features such as thread summarization, non-linear navigation, multi-dimensional filtering, and various other features that improve the experience of participating in large-discussions.
  2. City Senses -- Chris Heathcote points out that Pachube can be used as a sensor for the world, not just for energy. His pilot projects are good, and I'd like to see more. The biggest change I'm predicting for the next 10 years is the rise of sensor networks: smart stuff, aware environments, and loquacious locations.
  3. Aggressive Patent Trolls -- 1/3 of Union Square Ventures startups are threatened by patent trolls. (via Hacker News)
  4. Anopticon -- Italian project to document the location of CCTV cameras, many of which were set up illegally. The site is in Italian, but there's some information on this article in The Register. Information is power, and this is a clever way for citizens to regain power in the privacy war. (via Nick Clark)

January 06 2010

December 24 2009

Peer to Patent Australia recruits volunteer prior art searchers


Peer to Patent
project has already earned its place in history. It was explicitly
cited as inspiration for the open government initiative in the Obama
administration, which recently released a comprehensive directive
(available as a
covering federal agencies. The founder of the project, law professor
Beth Noveck, began implementation of the directive as Deputy CTO in
the US government. But I've been wondering, along with many other
people, where Peer to Patent itself is going.

It's encouraging to hear that a new pilot has started in Australia and
has gathered a small community of volunteer patent art seekers. You
can check out the

official site

and its

Wikipedia page
Because Australia is much smaller in population than the US and sees
much less patent activity, the scope of the pilot is smaller but seems
to be chugging along nicely.

The pilot started on December 9 and plans to run for six months,
offering 40 patents for review in the areas of software and business
methods (the same ones as the US Peer to Patent project). Among
participating patent applicants are IBM, General Electric,
Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo!, CSIRO, and Aristocrat. Right now, 15 patents
are posted, each has at least one volunteer reviewer, and one boasts
two suggestions for potential prior art.

Professor Brian Fitzgerald of the Queensland University of Technology,
the Project Leader of Peer to Patent Australia, says, "Peer to Patent
allows people from anywhere to plug into the patent examination
process and to add what value they can. And from what we have seen in
the US, it works: examiners are relying on the Peer to Patent prior
art notifications. Our aim is to help build an international platform
for the project as well as embed its benefits within the Australian
patent system. We ask you to join the Australian project and help
contribute to the development of Peer to Patent on a worldwide basis."

While the U.S. pilot is undergoing evaluation, Peer to Patent's
executive directory Mark Webbink says, "Signs are good for a potential
restart of the program some time in 2010. Dave Kappos, the Under
Secretary of Commerce and Director of the USPTO, has long been a
supporter of Peer to Patent, and the prior art contributions appear to
be proving useful. The worldwide economy produced some drag on program
expansion when the UK Intellectual Property Office delayed its
anticipated pilot. However, the Japan Patent Office, which previously
ran its own peer review pilot, now appears interested in expanding its
program. IP Australia and Queensland University of Technology are to
be commended for moving on the pilot so quickly." Brian Fitzgerald
says that China and other Asian countries are watching Japan and
Australia with interest.

I have followed Peer to Patent since fairly early drafts of the
proposal, have written about it frequently, and believe it is both
viable and necessary. The recent ruling against Microsoft Office shows
that patents in software, at least, are way out of control. Prior art
cannot in itself solve a broken system, but a robust examination
process can at least make applicants think twice about trying to exert
ownership over routine concepts such as separating a document's markup
from its content. (That's the purpose of markup in the first place.)
Incidentally, Australia has its own version of the famous

Bilski patent case
Grant v Commissioner of Patents.

In fact, the progress Peer to Patent has made in many countries proves
my faith in it. Just think about the inertia of government agencies
and the impenetrability of both the individual patent application and
the patent process as a whole. Who would imagine, putting all those
barriers together, that Peer to Patent could have accomplished so much

We're not on Internet time here, but on policy time. Peer to Patent is
still a baby, and with enough care and feeding it can thrive and grow

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