The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'patents'
Patent absurdity of the day: US patent application 11/161,345, by a Christopher Anthony Roller, who attempted to patent his "Godly powers", to prevent other parties, such as the magician David Copperfield, from using them for less than godly purposes. The patent application (available via the USPTO's PAIR portal; search for application 11161345) also includes miscellaneous correspondence from Roller, where he rails against the Mafia-like collusion by the patent office with powerful vested interests (including professional magicians) that could be the only explanation for his application having been rejected, and produces details of his lawsuit against Copperfield, including copies of his claims to be God and Jesus Christ, to have killed all his enemies, and to be married to Celine Dion and running for President with Bill Gates as running mate.
A list of 10 bizarre inventions patented in the name of fighting terrorism, from nondescript trucks with machine guns to bomb-proof anti-suicide-bomber nets (which looked like repurposed Nixon-era hippie-containment apparatus) to trap doors on airliners and remotely triggerable tranquilliser syringes in airline seats for incapacitating suspicious individuals:
Make all passengers wear armbands that monitors their body for signs of falsehood and evil (ooh, say heart pulsation and blood pressure - hey, it's in the patent application, mmkay?). And did I mention there's a syringe filled with a strong tranquilizer connected to the thing? One "anomalous emotional condition," then off to dreamland they go!And, if all else fails, there's even a patent for mobile crematoria for disposing of all the bodies.
Paul Graham (of "Hackers and Painters" fame) looks at the issue of software patents. His view is that software patents are not inherently more evil than any other kind of patent; in the computerised world we live in, "software patent" is rapidly becoming the default kind, like "electric guitar" or "digital camera"; as such, opposition to software patents would effectively involve opposition to all patents but certain faintly archaic categories. Having said that, there are issues that need to be addressed:
Applying for a patent is a negotiation. You generally apply for a broader patent than you think you'll be granted, and the examiners reply by throwing out some of your claims and granting others. So I don't really blame Amazon for applying for the one-click patent. The big mistake was the patent office's, for not insisting on something narrower, with real technical content. By granting such an over-broad patent, the USPTO in effect slept with Amazon on the first date. Was Amazon supposed to say no?
Where Amazon went over to the dark side was not in applying for the patent, but in enforcing it. A lot of companies (Microsoft, for example) have been granted large numbers of preposterously over-broad patents, but they keep them mainly for defensive purposes. Like nuclear weapons, the main role of big companies' patent portfolios is to threaten anyone who attacks them with a counter-suit. Amazon's suit against Barnes & Noble was thus the equivalent of a nuclear first strike.And on the question of "are (software) patents evil":
Google clearly doesn't feel that merely holding patents is evil. They've applied for a lot of them. Are they hypocrites? Are patents evil? There are really two variants of that question, and people answering it often aren't clear in their own minds which they're answering. There's a narrow variant: is it bad, given the current legal system, to apply for patents? and also a broader one: it is bad that the current legal system allows patents?
These are separate questions. For example, in preindustrial societies like medieval Europe, when someone attacked you, you didn't call the police. There were no police. When attacked, you were supposed to fight back, and there were conventions about how to do it. Was this wrong? That's two questions: was it wrong to take justice into your own hands, and was it wrong that you had to? We tend to say yes to the second, but no to the first.
Patents, like police, are involved in many abuses. But in both cases the default is something worse. The choice is not "patents or freedom?" any more than it is "police or freedom?" The actual questions are respectively "patents or secrecy?" and "police or gangs?"
The latest innovation from the US intellectual-property industry, following software patents and business model patents, is plot patents, i.e., the possibility of patenting a storyline and suing those thieves, parasites and second-handers who infringe on it, ushering in a new golden age of Randian/Galambosian creativity and wealth, and/or a new dark age where freedom of expression belongs solely to those with deep pockets or powerful backers:
The value of a performance is protected by copyright; the value of an invention is not. An artistic innovator is given but two choices absent patent protection: to sacrificially innovate for the unearned benefit of thieves, or to not innovate. Both options are morally and practically repulsive.The firm in question is confident that storyline patents will stand up in court, and has started filing and publishing them; for a fee, you can patent your latest story. Mind you, the US Patent Office hasn't actually decided on whether such patents are valid, but until and unless it shoots them down, the holders of the applications are entitled to litigate against those infringing their patents.
(via bOING bOING)
The EU Parliament has thrown out a proposed software patent directive, by 648 to 14 (w00t!). The European Commission has said that it would not draw up or submit any new versions of the proposal. Which means that it is stone cold dead, for now at least; though as Cory Doctorow points out, there is too much monopoly rent waiting to be extracted for the pro-patent lobby to not try again.
(via bOING bOING)
IBM have turned over 500 software patents to the open-source community. IBM will continue to hold the patents, though have pledged not to assert them against software distributed under an OSI-approved open-source licence. (It's legally binding, too, so there's no possibility of a change of guard at IBM reneging on it.) They have, however, reserved the right to assert them against anyone suing open-source projects for patent infringement; i.e., those who don't get with the programme may find themselves out on a limb.
"The 500 patents include U.S. Patent number 5,185,861, registered in 1993, which covers technology that helps microprocessors use their memory caches efficiently; and U.S. patent number 5,617,568, registered in 1997, for allowing non-Windows based systems to act as file servers for Windows-based clients, according to IBM Asia Pacific spokeswoman June Namioka. Other examples include patents related to handwriting recognition, she said."
"There's little argument that over the past dozen years, the world has come to view things differently: free software is one aspect of this; globalization of trade is another; both have been profoundly influenced by access to the Internet and the Web, and the easy access to information they provide. Knowledge is, indeed, power. As the models change, people who are stuck in the older mode, like Gates . . . look increasingly like Pope Urban VIII and rms looks more like Galileo: despite 'common knowledge' the world was moving. IBM's freeing-up of patents is another step toward proliferating knowledge."Which is a good start; perhaps a neo-Galambosian world where all concepts are privatised and monetised isn't inevitable after all. Mind you, we're not out of the woods yet. The existence of software patents (in the US and Australia, at least; the EU has so far managed to escape this fate) still creates a minefield which threatens to take down anyone without an extensive patent portfolio of their own, cross-licensing agreements and a hefty legal department, and threatens to establish an oligopoly on software development and invention. Though, hopefully, the establishment of a "patent commons" of valuable patents, free to use for open-source projects but defensively assertable against those threatening such development, may act as a deterrent.
Patent of the day: Automatic Detection of Pornographic Images:
If the pixel color is determined to be "skin" 46, the image is sent to a first shape detection process indicated for example as "face detection" of block 48 wherein steps similar to blocks 26 and 28 of FIG. 1 are performed. If the image is detected as a "face" 50, the image is classified as "portrait" and a manual check/inspection is done only infrequently (block 52). If the image is not a "face" 54, the image is analyzed to determine if it is a body part (block 56) i.e., other than a face. If it is not a body part (58), the image is classified as a "landscape", and this type is only inspected occasionally (block 60) i.e. only a small percentage of these images are inspected manually. If the image is a body part (62), a pose detection is done to determine if there is an erotic position (block 64). If it is determined that the pose is not erotic (66), this image is classified as a "swim suit picture" and the result of the detection may be a "parental guidance" notice attached (block 68).
(via bOING bOING)
A few pieces of good news: Microsoft's claimed patents on the FAT filesystem have been shot down, thanks to a challenge from the Public Patent Foundation.. As such, that ugly, inefficient throwback to the days of CP/M and 100Kb floppies that, nonetheless, has become the universal standard for storing files on everything from digital camera memory cards to MP3 players is free for anyone to use without having to pay a cent. With any luck, it's not the last overbroad software patent to go down in flames. Meanwhile, in Europe (where US multinationals are doing their all to push software-patent legislation through Parliament), Munich is pressing ahead with dumping Windows for Linux, despite claims that Linux violates loads of software patents and is a massive legal liability. Finally, in the US, part of the Patriot Act has been struck down as unconstitutional.
Some (potentially) good news on the software-patent front; after the forces of darkness pushed a draconian software patent proposal through the European Parliament, the Dutch government appears to be listening to the mass geek protests against this, and is considering ordering its minister to withdraw his vote, something that has never happened before in EU history. If this does go through, it would force the EU Parliament to reconsider the software patent directive (which was basically rushed through with intensive lobbying by software corporations). Chances are those same lobbyists will have their daggers out for it, so it remains to be seen who prevails.
(There doesn't seem to be any such luck in Australia; the Dems have signed on for the US-Australian FTA (which, among other things, brings in the same software-patent regime that has worked so well in the US), and Labor seem to be running scared from being considered too "anti-American" to win the Silent Majority Of Suburban Battlers' vote (the Bush administration's insinuation that any Australia too hung up on its sovereignty may end up being thrown to the al-Qaeda wolves probably didn't help in this respect) that they'll be treading very carefully over anything that could be considered anti-American, and raising a stink about some obscure copyright issues that Norm and Sheryl of Nunawading couldn't give a toss about is probably too much risk for too little reward.)
In the US, it seems you can patent anything, including the secrets of successful relationships. And given that Australia has just committed itself to implementing a US-style patent system, and Europe is adopting US-style software patents, this sort of thing looks likely to be the case for all of McWorld soon. And then it will be legally impossible for anyone to do anything without the backing of a multinational corporation with a patent portfolio and cross-licensing agreements with other patentholders. (via Techdirt)
To protest biotechnology patent laws, which often give multinational corporations absolute rights over basic foodstuffs (even if they had been grown for centuries), a development charity is planning to patent salted potato chips. By patenting a new pre-salted chip, ActionAid are hoping to own the rights to the concept of salted potato chips, which in theory could be used to levy license fees from chip shops under threat of patent infringement lawsuit.
Software patents are bad, mmmkay? An article on how restrictive licensing killed MPEG-4; pity, as technically it was quite a doovy scheme; still, that's greed for you. Fortunately, the W3C has ruled out endorsing royalty-bound technologies, a scheme it had been mulling earlier. (via bOING bOING, EFF)
And if you thought the XOR cursor drawing patent was absurd, here is a list of absurd actual US patents. They include things like 3-dimensional pie charts and the use of training manuals. Some of which are almost up there with the Russian bottle patent.
The Beast of Redmond: Microsoft buys SGI's graphics patents; penguinheads concerned they may be used to crush OpenGL, or cripple 3D graphics capabilities on non-Windows platforms. Meanwhile, if you use Windows Media Player to download content from sites, the sites can keep track of you, using a convenient global ID number. Apparently this is not a bug but a feature. (via Slashdot)
Slashdot is running a stupid patent contest. All you need to do to enter is come up with something blindingly obvious, the dafter the better, and write it up in the form of a patent application.
Cruel patent of the day: US4150505: Bird trap and cat feeder:
A bird trap and cat feeder for catching birds and feeding the birds to a cat. The trap designed to catch birds the size of a sparrow while releasing smaller song birds, wrens, swallows, or the like. The feeder providing means for continuously supplying a cat or neighborhood cats with sparrows to eat.
Earlier Wacky Patent of the Month: U.S. Patent 3,216,423
"APPARATUS FOR FACILITATING THE BIRTH OF A CHILD BY CENTRIFUGAL FORCE"