Friday, June 09, 2006

Ridiculous Patent: Simple Network Protocol

Note: this was originally to be posted 2 days ago, but has been pretty much offline since Wednesday. The Lesson in all this: if you are going to start a blog, just shell out the $5/mo that it costs to get a shared hosting account with a provider of your choice and use WordPress.

Net2Phone, a Voice-Over-IP (VOIP) company that was largely unsuccessful in the marketplace has now turned to the tried-and-true strategy of suing its successful competitors with its overly-broad and extremely obvious patents. It's first victim is Skype.

As Tim Lee over at TechLiberation says,
Where to begin? This describes an absolutely pedestrian networking protocol. There's nothing remotely novel or non-obvious about two computers communicating directly with each other without using a server. I don't even understand what the "invention" is supposed to be. If you asked a random CS major how to implement a peer-to-peer network application, he'd probably come up with a description like this in about 10 minutes.

Some people seem to think that these kinds of bad software patents are anomalies--that there are good ones as well, and that we ought not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Yet I've seen news accounts of more than a dozen examples of bogus patent suits in recent months, but I have yet to see an example of a legitimate software patent. There's an awful lot of bath water here, and I'm having trouble seeing the baby.
He's right. If there is a baby in there, it long ago sunk beneath the murky surface, out of sight and out of breath. Drowned, if you will, by a sea of junk patents handed out willy-nilly by the patent office, who were pursued relentlessly by patent lawyers, patent trolls, and failed companies like Net2Phone and NTP.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Reforming Software Patents

Some interesting notes from Joe Barr via Philip Brooks, quoting Dan Ravicher (whew!):
Dan Ravicher of the Public Patent Foundation talked about what's wrong with our patent system, and how difficult it will be to ever change it. It seems that at one time, the PTO had their heads screwed on right and rejected purely software patent applications as being "not suitable material" for patents.

Two key things got the PTO off-track and us into this mess. First came the formation of a special court to hear patent cases, created by an act of Congress in 1982. The judges of the new court were not chosen from the ranks of existing judges, but from aides to the Congresscritters who created it, thus guaranteeing that it would always rule on the side of those who had lobbied for its creation and who always want more and stronger patent law.

The second was the State Street decision, which once and for all settled the question of whether pure software patents should be granted. That ruling is responsible for the boom in software patents in the past few years.

According to Ravicher, there are three major blocks to patent reform:
  • Pharmaceutical firms
  • Patent law makers (PTO, Federal Circuit Court, Congress)
  • Patent lawyers
How broken is the patent system? Well, look at it this way. Patents are weapons. If you are hit with a patent infringement suit, it will cost you between 2 and 4 million dollars to defend against it. Even if you win the suit, you're out that cost.