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

Re: Something positive people can do

Author:Gary Robinson
Posted:2/28/2000; 9:38:31 AM
Topic:scriptingNews outline for 2/27/00
Msg #:15313 (In response to 15304)
Prev/Next:15312 / 15314


Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with patents. Patent law exists for reasons, and has served society well in our country and many other countries for a very long time.

I don't see any intrinsic reason why the area of technology known as the Internet should be treated differently from other areas.

As I see it, the problem is that some silly patents have been granted -- patents that should never have been granted due to their obviousness. My own patent lawyer tells me that for a long time, the PTO did not hire people experienced with software as patent examiners. So they were incapable of realistically judging the obviousness of some patents.

IMHO, both of the new Amazon patents, at least in their broadest implications, are so obvious they shouldn't have been granted.

My feeling is that patent law is not broken. If a patent is as obvious as everyone in this discussion seems to feel that the Amazon patents are, then it can and should be overturned in court on grounds of obviousness. Meanwhile the PTO is now hiring people as examiners who are much more sophisticated about software (and who have, for instance, been involved in examining my own patents). Hopefully, things will normalize over time, and patents that are ridiculously obvious won't be granted for Web ideas, just as they aren't usually granted in other industries. In the meantime, Amazon's patents can be challenged in court based on their obviousness when prior art is considered.

A big problem is that small companies may not be able to afford to defend themselves against a suit by Amazon. Of course, this problem exists in any technology area, not just the Web. Overall, Congress has judged that the advantages of patents outweigh disadvantages such as that one.

One idea that comes into my mind is for people and companies who care about this to create a fund to use when a small company is attacked by the likes of Amazon over an obvious patent, sort of like defense pacts between countries. If anybody who is in on the agreement gets attacked, then everyone would help fund the defense and in particular, the countersuet to have the offending patent overturned.

I think something like that would be far more effective than boycotts. With copy protection, individuals had to constantly hassle with copy protection and were very motivated to buy competitive products which didn't have copy protection. Personal convenience caused people reject companies with copy protection, and that is why copy protection is not common any more. But, face it, personal convenience motivates consumers to buy from Amazon rather than B&N due to the one-click patent.

So the copy protection situation is not at all analogous, and is in no way a precedent, and I think that boycotts are likely to be ineffective. I submit the hypothesis that it would be far more effective to form coalitions to come up with funding that will cause silly patents to be thrown out in the courts.


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