Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Patents are the 18th century equivalent of open source

Author:Ken Meltsner
Posted:10/22/1999; 11:59:52 AM
Topic:Jeff Bezos' Patent
Msg #:12267 (In response to 12261)
Prev/Next:12266 / 12268

There are two big facts that most people forget about patents. It's not surprising, since software types don't come from an engineering discipline that uses patents to protect intellectual property, but it would be a good idea for that to be changed in the standard 4-year CS curriculum as soon as possible.


1) Patents are the 18th century equivalent of open source: in exchange for a limited time protection of the process, an inventor discloses all the details of his or her invention. The goal was to make sure that new industrial methods wouldn't be shrouded by secrecy and possibly lost, and to assure that others could build upon the work performed earlier.

2) If you have a problem with a patent, you can challenge it, in theory. Now, in practice, that tends to cost too much for any individual or small company, but it does mean that bad decisions by the US PTO can be reversed. Also, in practice, it's relatively rare for a patent holder to make much money from patent infringement suits. There are notable exceptions, of course, but most patent holders never see a dime from their work.

I'd love for the US PTO to figure out what was truly novel in computer applications, for the 17/20 year term to be reduced in many situations, etc. There are a number of worthwhile fixes to the patent system. The underlying idea, IMHO, is sound, and well within the philosophical tradition that's led to Open Source and Free Software.

[Addendum: I looked up Bezos at the USPTO web site and read the patent in question, as well as two others assigned to Amazon. I'm, well, underwhelmed by their novelty -- Bezos has a patent on the concept of sending a partial credit card number over the Internet and then filling in the missing digits via telephone. With any luck, Barnes and Noble will fight this one, and help make the world safe for single-click sales.] Ken Meltsner

There are responses to this message:

This page was archived on 6/13/2001; 4:53:09 PM.

© Copyright 1998-2001 UserLand Software, Inc.