Suggestion: Engineers Go On A Patent Strike

from the nice-idea,-but... dept

Via Against Monopoly comes an opinion piece from the EE Times suggesting that engineers who recognize how harmful the patent system can be should go on a patent strike:
Stop filing patents. Refuse to sign employment contracts that give your employer sole title to your inventions. Don't participate in any due diligence efforts on patent portfolios.
Basically, his argument is that most engineers recognize how harmful the patent system is, but are pushed into patenting by lawyers and management, and the only way to get the message out is to stop assisting with anything having to do with patents.

It's a nice idea, and if a lot of folks really got involved it might get some attention, but I have a hard time believing it could actually be effective. While many people do recognize the problems with patents, an awful lot either don't care or don't know enough to care about it -- and they'll just keep patenting away. It's similar to calls to "boycott" RIAA music or similar such things. It sounds good, but it's effectively impossible to make such a process really work in practice.


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  •  
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    Chronno S. Trigger, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 8:06am

    Maybe not

    Someone creates something, doesn't patent it, and starts making money off of it. Someone else (who has no scruples) sees it, patents it, and sues the first someone for infringement.

    Is there a way to file for something like a creative commons for patents? Can you file prier art before a patient is issued? Some way of saying: I created this so you can't sue me, but I also won't sue you.

     

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      Willton, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 8:39am

      Re: Maybe not

      Someone creates something, doesn't patent it, and starts making money off of it. Someone else (who has no scruples) sees it, patents it, and sues the first someone for infringement.

      Is there a way to file for something like a creative commons for patents? Can you file prier art before a patient is issued? Some way of saying: I created this so you can't sue me, but I also won't sue you.


      Yeah: publish it. Publish the invention in a scientific journal, or a business journal, or some sort of publication that allows you to explain what it is and how it works. Patent examiners may look at publications that are not patent documents and use it as prior art. See 35 U.S.C. 102(a) and (b).

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 9:34am

        Re: Re: Maybe not

        Willton:

        Even better option: Publish a paper on your web site that is open to web crawlers. If you have a lot of papers, an index is nice. Be sure to date the publication. Now, it is dated and in the public domain. Problem solved (assuming someone has yet to patent the idea).

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 6:10pm

        Re: Re: Maybe not

        Yeah: publish it.

        That might or might not work, depending upon whether or not the second someone could produce/create something to say that they invented it before your publication. And if it did work, it would only work in the US with it's "first to invent" system. In the rest of the world it's "first to file" and such a publishing stunt would do you no good whatsoever.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 23rd, 2009 @ 5:29am

          Re: Re: Re: Maybe not

          This statement is an oversimplification. Yes, you might be able to "prove" you invented before the publication. Good luck with that. As part of an interference process or a court process, diligence after invention would be investigated. If you invented a year earlier, but you did nothing with your invention, that goes back to the rules about suppressing your invention. Have people tried to "create" evidence that they were the first to invent? I suppose they probably have. However, the burden of evidence would be on the supposed inventor who supposedly invented in advance of the publication. Unless you were perfecting the invention diligently and had yet to file a patent application or release it to the public - good luck with trying to create evidence.

           

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      boost, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 10:28am

      Re: Maybe not

      yes there is.

      Any time you do any "inventing" you need to document the work and have it signed and dated by a witness. At this point you can either apply for a patent, or do nothing.

      If you do nothing, someone else can build and sell your invention without any recourse by you because you didn't apply for a patent. This person can apply for a patent, but if you have documentation that shows you invented it first, then the patent can not be granted.

      This is the way inventions become part of the 'public domain.'

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 11:01am

        Re: Re: Maybe not

        Unless you waited too long and did not publish your results. As far too many people forget, the public purpose half of the USPTO is to put patented knowledge into the public domain. If you concealed or obscured that knowledge by stuffing it in your files and never doing anything with it, someone else can still patent the knowledge AFTER YOU because they met the requirement to get a patent: publicly disclosing their invention in exchange for a limited monopoly.

         

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      DJ, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 11:15am

      Re: Maybe not

      --POOR MAN'S PATENT--
      Unfortunately it is not common knowledge that a sealed envelope, with a USPS Postmaster's stamp on it, is an official legal document.
      As such, if your invention can be sufficiently documented on paper:
      1)place ALL such papers in an envelope;
      2)mail said envelope to yourself
      3)NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER open the envelope
      Viola! you have yourself a dated legal document about your invention

       

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        Willton, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 1:55pm

        Re: Re: Maybe not

        --POOR MAN'S PATENT--
        Unfortunately it is not common knowledge that a sealed envelope, with a USPS Postmaster's stamp on it, is an official legal document.
        As such, if your invention can be sufficiently documented on paper:
        1)place ALL such papers in an envelope;
        2)mail said envelope to yourself
        3)NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER open the envelope
        Viola! you have yourself a dated legal document about your invention


        This may sound attractive, but this will not prevent someone else from patenting the same invention. By mailing the invention to yourself and never opening it, you've essentially created a trade secret, thereby suppressing the invention from public view. Under 35 U.S.C. section 102(g), this will not be deemed prior art to a subsequent inventor because it was suppressed and never put in the public domain.

        Again, if you want to dedicate your invention to the public so that it never gets patented, the cheapest way to do so is publish it in a publication that gets wide circulation. It doesn't matter if it's a paper publication or a internet publication, as long as it gets public.

         

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    Shawn, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 8:08am

    Refuse to sign employment contracts that give your employer sole title to your inventions.

    Somehow I think the current job market makes this a strategy of FAIL

     

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    Adam (profile), Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 8:26am

    Unfortunately, even universities are locked into patenting everything they can find in their ongoing research. Biologists are patenting genes and strains of test animals. Contrary to their beliefs, however, I think there are very few cases in which these patents have earned their holders much money -- they simply aren't developed -- but they do stifle further research by others and have really quenched original research in the USA.

     

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    Mechwarrior, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 8:33am

    It wouldnt be effective, because if you dont sign the contract that involves handing over all discoveries and patentable ideas, they can terminate you. Considering the economy, and the prospect of engineering jobs being sent overseas, I dont think any engineer would venture out like this. At least I wouldnt

    My department, for example, has a soft patent quota. Our department only gets paid for transfer of patents to the main company, since we arent directly involved in producing the products. So basically, if we dont make patents, my department doesnt get any money to do more R&D.

    So , with the patent so totally ingrained into the business, it would be nearly impossible for engineers to simply not comply, without risk of losing their job, or job prospect.

     

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      Trueborn, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 10:28am

      Re:

      I challenge you to a Trial of Grievance!

       

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      MRK, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 11:42am

      Re:

      The kind of mentality your company applies to creating patents as part of R&D is also a part of the reason why the patent system is so broken.

      Much like if the police were paid by the number of tickets they issue... soon you would find people being ticketed for every infraction, and a huge influx of broken tail lights.

      I used to work at IBM and the pressure to create patents was ridiculous. Many of us younger engineers would just roll our eyes at the stupid patent applications. But depending on your department, not submitting patents (even if they are rejected) impacts your chances for promotion.

       

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    Michel Billard, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 8:39am

    Alternatives

    The problem raised by Chronno is obvious. The risks are too big not too get the patent. At least if you can get patent then release it to the public immediately then it could work, or release it under a public license which makes any patent against it useless.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 9:01am

    boycott - Don't sign

    I never signed the patent agreement with a previous employer.
    The agreement said all inventions were company property. I asked that it be limited to only inventions within the scope of the company's business. They said they would get back to me, I heard no more on the subject for ten years. They finally laid everybody off.

     

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    Analyst (profile), Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 9:02am

    Not gonna happen

    There are too many engineers looking for an edge to promote themselves. Even if some went on stike, the rest would continue swooping in like vultures, cutting out the ethical engineers in the ongoing Patent land grab.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 9:35am

      Re: Not gonna happen

      Define "ongoing Patent land grab."

       

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        nasch, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 10:27am

        Re: Re: Not gonna happen

        And "vultures". Sounds like "employees who are more interested in keeping their jobs than protesting the patent system." Which is a very strange definition.

         

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    Christopher Smith, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 9:05am

    The useful arts

    In addition to the concerns already addressed, people who are in electrical engineering are likely to be coming up with inventions that are arguably reasonable to patent--real-world machines that do something useful and new.

     

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    Kelly Berger, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 9:21am

    How about not

    How about everyone who wants engineers to give them something for free, exploiting years of education and practice go do it for themselves? If an engineer (or anyone for that matter) wants to not take money from a company and build something themselves, they should. And Patent it, and release it for free to protect it - their choice. Otherwise (though I do recognize the patent system needs reform) deal with the business practices of the companies that pay wages and sponsor the research. If its too constraining as an engineer go somewhere else or if you feel that strongly seek out investment privately.

     

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    The infamous Joe, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 9:27am

    Rules.

    As has already been said, the boycott idea simply won't work. There will always be scabs to come in and take place of the boycotters.

    Refusing to use a broken system doesn't fix it. An overhaul of the system from the ground up is the only solution.

    So, who has the power to do that?

     

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    Neverhood, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 9:29am

    Boycutt RIAA

    I have been boycutting music from RIAA associated companies for the last 5 years... it has worked out great. Look how desperate they are these day :)

     

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    jjray, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 9:36am

    boycott patents

    Before morphing into a web entrepreneur, I was a lawyer so it was a difficult conversion in my thinking to reach a point where I agree with the idea suggested by this article. My company wasted valuable resources going after a patent that, if granted, would have taken gobs of money to defend. The lawyers win in the end. The companies just rack up patent prosecution and litigation expenses. The whole process is a scam.

     

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    angry dude, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 10:19am

    patentless punks

    talking nonsense
    a bunch of retards

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 12:00pm

    As an Engineer that works stuff that could be patented (and has in the past) I'll have to say that if I do not support the company's goals then I will lose my job. Its that simple.

    Go hungry or support a crappy patent and get a bonus? Its not a tough choice, especially in today's job market.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2009 @ 1:28pm

    all this crap about patent alternatives

    this is utter crap.

    you cannot get a "poor man's patent" by mailing yourself anything. you're confusing it with the "poor man's copyright" which is nearly as bunk. the idea with the poor man's copyright is that if you mail it to yourself, you can prove that the date it was wrapped up was the date it was mailed.

    but blocking patents requires publication. if you keep your documentation locked up in a safe forever, it won't block anyone's patent. at the same time, i've never heard of the federal circuit overturning someone's patent because the technology was written about on someone's blog or one of the many free software hosting sites. even if it was, the disclosure on these sites is going to probably be insufficient to constitute a publication of the technology.

    unfortunately, the only way to win the race is to either get reform (so it's harder for crap patents to get granted, and so it's easier to challenge junk patents), or patent stuff yourself. most big companies do both -- they patent stuff themselves, while also joining a trade association that lobbies for reform.

    the big battle is between tech companies and drug companies. the tech companies don't want patents at all (nothing takes "research" -- it's just coding and testing). the drug companies want ridiculously long patents because it takes them anywhere between a half billion and 1.5 billion to bring a blockbuster drug to market, and they lose a ton of time in pto and fda processing. at the same time, the douchebags try to patent ridiculous and trivial changes like switching the coating to an extended release formulation. one coating should be patentable, but applying an old coating to an old (or new medication) should never yield a new patent. that should always be obvious.

     

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    moelarry, Apr 23rd, 2009 @ 5:29am

    feudal system known as corporate america

    "most engineers recognize how harmful the patent system is, but are pushed into patenting by lawyers and management"

    masnick, you're lost in a fog. any sober engineer realizes the patent system is perhaps their only way out of the feudal system known as corporate america. it's a chance to own your own business, be your own master. either that, or be a perennial boot licker like you.

     

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      angry dude, Apr 23rd, 2009 @ 7:12am

      Re: feudal system known as corporate america

      Well said, dude

      a boot licker and a corporate ass kisser

       

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      Mike (profile), Apr 23rd, 2009 @ 11:15am

      Re: feudal system known as corporate america

      masnick, you're lost in a fog. any sober engineer realizes the patent system is perhaps their only way out of the feudal system known as corporate america. it's a chance to own your own business, be your own master.

      Wait, since when was there a requirement to own a patent to start a business? There is no such thing. A patent is not at all necessary to start a business, so your entire premise is false.

      Thanks for playing, though.

       

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        step back, Apr 23rd, 2009 @ 1:09pm

        Re: Re: feudal system known as corporate america

        Masnick, Obviously he's talking about a high-tech start up and not about opening a one-man shoe shining parlor. If your high tech start up relies on an "innovative" (hate that word) gizmo or service, then the only thing standing between you and the wolves may be a patent.

         

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          Mike (profile), Apr 24th, 2009 @ 10:38am

          Re: Re: Re: feudal system known as corporate america

          Masnick, Obviously he's talking about a high-tech start up and not about opening a one-man shoe shining parlor. If your high tech start up relies on an "innovative" (hate that word) gizmo or service, then the only thing standing between you and the wolves may be a patent.

          If the only thing standing between you and "the wolves" (whoever that is) is a patent, you don't deserve to be in business. Simple as that.

          You succeed in business by execution, not patents. If you can't execute better than others, than too bad. You deserve to go out of business.

          You do not need a patent to go into high tech businesses at all.

           

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 11:07am

      Re: feudal system known as corporate america

      Geez...I have no idea where Mike's survey came from, but the overwhelmingly vast majority of the engineers I work with support the patent system and frequently push attempt to push management and lawyers into filing patent applications.

       

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        MikeIP, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 3:47pm

        Re: Re: feudal system known as corporate america

        Ditto here for the engineers I work with. Masnick has never been an engineer nor an attorney, so this whole post is just another rant against patents in general with no knowledge of how the patent system works.

         

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    bill, May 13th, 2009 @ 12:31pm

    Broken?

    I find it troubling how many people continually cry that the patent system is "broken". The US Patent system is universally regarded as the best patent system in the world.

    To all of you who think that simply publishing something will keep others frmo patenting it, bear in mind that improvements and advancements to your invention can be patented as well.

    As a general comment, why would your company want to employ you to innovate if they are not able to reap the rewards of that innovation? Innovation costs money. Businesses aren't charities.

    Finally, I hope most of you realize that major corporations generally don't care about msot of you and the silly ideas you think are revolutionary.

    That is all.

     

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