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[News] Why Software Patents Are Bad and How TiVo Exploits Them

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Discussing Paul Graham’s essay on software patents

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| Yes, we believe that the patents system has moved much away from it’s 
| original purpose but we especially believe the problem is in software 
| patents/algorithms. Saying that algorithms nowadays are more complex and 
| therefore is ok to patent is incorrect. Algorithms get built over others and 
| with knowledge of previous algorithms, a lot of people are near about the 
| same distance from the frontier. The chances of different people hitting the 
| same method to solve a problem is much higher now than before. This is 
| especially true in the entrepreneurial culture (startups) of today.       


TiVo's rebound

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| Off and on for the past six years I've been an armchair quarterback for TiVo 
| telling them they should do anything and everything to become profitable, 
| among other things: they should offer pay-per-view downloads (I asked for 
| this in 2002), they should broker deals with cable companies, that they 
| should release software for PCs, that they should move to international 
| markets, and that while I'm not a fan of software patents in general I feel 
| the TiVo patents are original and worth fighting.      
| What I realized this week is that TiVo has spent the past couple years 
| starting battles on all these fronts, and it looks like (at least to this 
| outside observer) like TiVo is winning on all fronts. Even as their CEO 
| admits more people are using DVRs and skipping lots of ads, I'd say TiVo is 
| doing well.    



Latha Jishnu: The mouse that bit Microsoft

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| Here’s what Gates wrote in an office memorandum in 1991. “If people had
| understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were
| invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete
| standstill today. . . I feel certain that some large company will patent some
| obvious thing related to interface, object orientation, algorithm,
| application extension or other crucial technique.”
| This was the year after Microsoft launched Windows 3.0, the first of its new
| operating systems that would become hugely popular across the world. Yet,
| three years down the line, Microsoft had changed from a kitten that was
| content with copyright protection to an aggressive patents tiger. In 1991,
| Microsoft had filed fewer than 50 patent applications whereas last year it
| was awarded 1,637 patents, almost a 12 per cent increase in the number of
| patents it received in 2006. According to IFI Patent Intelligence, the rise
| in Microsoft’s patents portfolio bucked the general trend in 2007 when the
| number of patents issued by the US Patents and Trademark Office dipped by 10
| per cent. Apparently several thousand of the company’s filings are still
| pending.
| All this may prompt the reader to conclude that there is indeed a direct
| correlation between IPR and growth — and wealth — as the company claims. Not
| true, says Mark H Webbink, a US Supreme Court lawyer who is a recognised
| voice on IT issues. Charting the company’s revenues, R&D spending and patent
| filings from 1985 onwards, he shows that the spike in patent filings occurred
| long after the Microsoft “had become well established and was being
| investigated for its monopolistic practices”. Webbink contends that patents
| did not spur the launch and rapid growth of the mass market software
| industry. On the other hand, patents have become a threat to software
| innovation, he warns.


Intellectual Property Regime Stifles Science and Innovation, Nobel Laureates

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| Patent monopolies are believed to drive innovation but they actually impede
| the pace of science and innovation, Stiglitz said. The current “patent
| thicket,” in which anyone who writes a successful software programme is sued
| for alleged patent infringement, highlights the current IP system’s failure
| to encourage innovation, he said.
| Another problem is that the social returns from innovation do not accord with
| the private returns associated with the patent system, Stiglitz said. The
| marginal benefit from innovation is that an idea may become available sooner
| than it might have. But the person who secures the patent on it wins a
| long-term monopoly, creating a gap between private and social returns.

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