SAN JOSE – The patent system, as much as anything, is what’s on trial in the Apple vs. Samsung case about to go to the jury here.
In my opinion, Apple did something novel with the iPhone: It delivered a handset that gave you access to an open Web browser in a way that was easy to navigate. But that’s not what’s at issue in this case.
I fault the patent system for not being flexible and easy-to-use enough to capture what should be at stake here. The patent system is stuck in old, arcane language. It’s deluged by a daily tsumani of applications and old patents, many of which were granted by examiners who lacked the expertise, time, systems—and budget--to conduct thorough reviews.
In the fall of 2007, I was talking to Sun co-founder and Google angel investor Andy Bechtolsheim backstage at a conference. He pulled out his iPhone and exclaimed, “Finally somebody got it!”
He went on to talk about how there had been many fine handsets before but never one on which you could browse the Web. Past handsets had screens that were too small, or they only accessed “walled gardens” created by carriers, or they had user interfaces so inscrutable that users gave up in frustration before they got to a useful page. Often the cellular networks and apps processors were just too slow to deliver and render a Web page in a reasonable amount of time.
The iPhone was the first device to bust through all that and deliver something so compelling it became the new personal computer.
Some of that achievement had nothing to do with Apple’s invention of anything. Cellular networks and apps processors got more powerful. Low power screens got bigger and brighter. Apple didn’t invent these things, but it was the first to see, understand and implement well something based on these trends.
I give Apple kudos for its Aha! moment and its excellent execution. But can any of that be expressed in today’s patents or trademarks? There’s the rub.
How do you define "put into use", though? Plus, a lot of industries have pretty long horizons from research to selling a product. For example, I know that companies have been spending real money on FinFETs for a good 7 years, and only just recently have you been able to buy a product with them in it. So all of that work should be in the public domain?
This question always came to my mind. Patents can be filed in wide domains and technologies. Does patent granting organizations have the manpower and expertise to do justice to the examination. I guess in the coming era patent related jobs are going to create a revolution.
In my case, a Tapwave Zodiac 2. The Zodiac was a Palm OS device intended to be a combo PDA and handheld games machine. So it had things like as ATI video chip with 2D accelerations and 8MB video RAM driving a 320x480 screen, Yamaha stereo with stereo speakers on device, 200MB of RAM, and two SD card slots, one of which was SDIO. You could plug a wifi SD card into it and go online, and several browsers existed for the device.
Tapwave went belly up in 2005, but I have three Zodiacs and still use one regularly, mostly as an ebook viewer.
@ost: Since most of the working hours I put toward the patent application I was pressed to process for my design was spent in the application process and the design was catharsis then the patent office would get working hours designing would be zero and the sleeping hours would be .01. I do not think adding documentation of the process of designing will benefit anyone but bean counters.
The problem within the present patent process is not proof of work done. It is proof of uniqueness and verification that it is constructive in nature and not being used to prevent progress my a competing entity. If the patent is not put into use within a reasonable time frame (I am a fan of 18 months as stated in a post to a related article) then it is deemed obstructive and opened for use by anyone.
Obstructive patents or squirreling patents away so that they prevent progress is the worst use of patents. The duration of exclusivity (or license) is amongst the next few poorly chosen features of the patent process.
It's a tribute to human ingenuity to say that we were able to produce more new ideas and products despite the patenting process preventing use of ancient (10 years is ancient in many arenas) methods.
Being listed as inventor or co-inventor on 30-some patents - ALL of them obvious (really, one award was for an LED that was essentially an "idiot light" for a high pressure pump)I concur with many of the previous comments about obvious "inventions". But my clients always want at least a patent application as proof-positive of "due diligence" in case of a claim of infringement. This fear is not unfounded - google Jerry Lemmelson...few corporations have not been sued at least once over one of Jerry's often specious patents. And who can forget the infamous Wang 30 pin memory patent that claimed invention by sticking 8 or 9 DRAMs on a pcb using a 30 pin connector. So when in Rome....
An possible improvement to the patent system would probably require the applicant to include a list of documented working hours spent to invent the invention. And the validity period should match that.
I think it is a matter of scale, rather than scope. As you have stated, there is nothing wrong with the concept of a patent system. However, the sheer number of filings creates a denial-of-service scenario, particularly for individual and SMB filers. Like any DoS attack, it can be mediated by throttling the rate of filing, and that throttling could be accomplished by putting a cap on the number of applications a single filer can make per year. This would force large companies to choose their patent applications well and prevent them from flooding the patent office with dubious "inventions". At the same time, it would again put individual and SMB filers on a more even playing field.
Rick, the test of the patent system is not whether it serves today's engineers but whether it serves society's interests long term. These can be different things, but the balance has to be struck with the long term in mind.
Battar - You are flying in teh face of reality. The whole industry is producing products that simultaneously contain hundreds of innovations patented by multiple parties. The patent system gives them tools to cooperate, and it gives them tools to fight if that's what they prefer to do. They cooperate 99% of the time and everybody benefits.
giuann, patent laws were about random granted monopolies _before_ 1574 Venice(before 1623 in the UK). The laws we have today were made to sweep that away and to grant limited monopolies only to meritorious innovations. That's all the system is striving to do, even when it is not perfect in everyone's eyes.
I say, don't tinker with the principles of the system (certainly not until you get your head aroud the reality not the mythS!), just focus on quality and learning how to use the system yourself. Patenting the use of an acceleromter as a tilt sensor is not patenting the laws of physics. Anyway, the system is not designed to prevent people filing rubbish applications. The question is what claism will they get granted.
Join our online Radio Show on Friday 11th July starting at 2:00pm Eastern, when EETimes editor of all things fun and interesting, Max Maxfield, and embedded systems expert, Jack Ganssle, will debate as to just what is, and is not, and embedded system.