Chorus Of Mainstream Press Saying The Patent System Is Broken Gets Louder

from the why-isn't-Congress-doing-anything? dept

We've been noticing that the mainstream press has really been speaking up about the broken patent system lately. It was mostly kicked off by the excellent This American Life story about just how broken our patent system is, and that seems to have thrown open the floodgates. So, suddenly an issue that was generally discussed mainly by entrepreneurs and geeks was suddenly showing up all over the place. Last week we noticed stories in both the NY Times and the Economist calling out the dreadful problems of the patent system.

And now we've got two more mainstream publications going further down that road. First up, is The Guardian, which focuses mainly on software patents in explaining how the system is really broken and wondering why the government isn't fixing anything:
Patents were supposed to protect innovation. Now they risk throttling it. Such acquisitions may drag technology companies ever further from their original core competences. Academic research by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society has found that software patents have provided no net benefit to the software industry, let alone to society as a whole. Tragically, because so many corporations which formerly opposed software patents have now joined the system, an effective solution will be harder to find. Once again consumers are pitted against the corporations. Where are the regulators when they are needed?
A much bigger deal, however, is that the Washington Post has a story by Pulitzer-prize winning business and economics columnist Steven Pearlstein, explaining how the patent system is completely broken and the patent reform going through Congress right now won't fix the real problems (he's actually a bit generous in thinking it will fix some of the problems). The piece is a giant condemnation of a broken patent system:
Silly me. I thought the purpose of patents was to spur innovation by giving people who invent something the exclusive use of their innovation for a limited time.

There’s still some of that. But out in Silicon Valley, patents have become the competitive weapon of choice, used by high-tech giants to bludgeon rivals and crush upstarts.

It turns out that the more patents you have, the more likely it is that you can extort exorbitant royalties from people who might have easily come up with the same idea or the same feature that you did but never thought to patent it. And the more patents you have, the more your competitor wants so he can retaliate with a patent suit of his own, claiming that it was you who stole the ideas from him.

In other words, it’s an arms race to buy as many patents as possible, bidding up the price of patents without anyone gaining a permanent competitive advantage. Like all such races, this one involves a huge waste of time, talent and capital, not only in the race to buy patents but in trying to win a patent on every half-baked notion that anyone thinks up.

Instead of spurring innovation and entrepreneurship, patents are being used by companies, venture capitalists and their cynical lawyers to stifle and discourage them.
Pearlstein is someone that folks in DC actually read, which means that our elected officials are hopefully reading this. Will it make some in Congress finally wake up and realize that the patent system is really, really broken, and the patent reform bill they're discussing does little to address the real problems? It would be nice, but it seems unlikely.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 10:25am

    Better odds on a deep tongue kiss between Boehner and Pelosi on C-SPAN.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 10:32am

    2nd paragraph: 'too' more should be 'two' more.

     

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    rubberpants, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 10:35am

    Opposing Propaganda

    I've noticed this as well. I expect that those who benefit from the current system will be running counter campaigns very soon. Expect these talking points from the usual sources: articles written by lawyers in mainstream publications, Fox News, a paid-off Senator (Hatch maybe) or two), and some well-known CEOs:

    1. It's too risky to make drastic (read: effective) changes in the patent system right now, what with the ailing economy an all. It's best to just nibble around the edges a little (read: to keep the casino running for a little longer).

    2. Patent trolls aren't that big of a problem. (With fancy graphs and "studies").

    3. Patents (and intellectual property in general) aren't merely government-granted monopolies, but the sacred right of all thinking beings.

    4. Changing the patent system would hurt inventors (read: lawyers).

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 10:41am

    Wait, Mike, are you suggesting an unsigned editorial is significant?

    We already debunked the NYT article (where your comments seemed to claim that money "disappeared", which we all know is false, right?).

    The Economist story (again, an unsigned editorial) was really just a springboard for you to haul out your usual claptrap rhetoric on the subject.

    At this point, we have 2 unsigned editorials and a debunked NYT piece. Anything you want to add?

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 10:50am

    Somewhere.....

    There is a lobbiest paying an intern or assistant with a new MacBook to simply loose that section paper. If he didn't read it then it must not exist. I doubt that many of them will find the article online. Even though they vote on laws which risk "breaking" the internet, they have not a clue how to actually use it. Most of them probably think a hash tag is some new fusion breakfast or a new method of doing graffiti.

     

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    Prashanth (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 10:55am

    Re:

    I applaud you, sir/madam, for some absolutely first-class sarcasm.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 10:57am

    Re:

    What do you have in favour of patents? Other than unverified claims, wishful thinking and blind faith?

    (Also, it's rather funny that you rail against an unsigned editorial, but post as Anonymous Coward)

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 10:58am

    Re:

    Do you care to link to your debunking of the NYT piece so we can read what you have to say about the topic?

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 11:12am

    Re: Re:

    I don't "rail" against the unsigned editorial, I just point out that it leaves one wondering who is actually writing it. Is it the "editorial staff" postition, the position of a single writer, or perhaps an op-ed style piece from an anti-patent campaigner? There is no way to know.

    As for "who is in favor of patents", you just have to any of the holders of the nearly 7 million patents out there.

     

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    PrometheeFeu (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 11:16am

    Well, the elections are coming up and job creation is on everyone's mind. What I'm hoping for is that the likes of Google and Amazon will get to some candidates and say: "Look at how many jobs WE are creating. Let me tell you what we need: Less patents. Here's a bunch of cash for your campaign, now spread the good word that patents kill jobs." If that momentum can get going, we could have people on both side of the aisle chanting "We want jobs, not patents." Then maybe we can get the Tea Party people say something like: "Patents are socialism for innovation." It's time for the push.

     

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    Gwiz (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 11:18am

    Re: Re: Re:

    As for "who is in favor of patents", you just have to any of the holders of the nearly 7 million patents out there.

    And how many of those patent holders are actually in favor of patents or are simply building their patent arsenals to protect themselves from useless litigation?

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 11:23am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "I don't "rail" against the unsigned editorial, I just point out that it leaves one wondering who is actually writing it. Is it the "editorial staff" postition, the position of a single writer, or perhaps an op-ed style piece from an anti-patent campaigner? There is no way to know."

    Then I guess we'll have to wonder about your own motivations as well. According to your own logic, I should dismiss your entire point just because I am unsure of who you are and what your motivations are.

    That is a coward's way out of an argument.

    "As for "who is in favor of patents", you just have to any of the holders of the nearly 7 million patents out there."

    I didn't ask WHO was is favour of patents. I know a lot of companies are, because it allows them to annihilate competition with the wave of a hand, or to extort those that actually innovate. The fact that the patent system allows for the existence of patent trolls is reason enough to nuke it and start over...

    But what I really want to know is WHAT benefit do patents bring to society in general? Thus far, I have failed to find a satisfactory answer.

     

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    rubberpants, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 11:26am

    Re:

    An unsigned commenter complaining about an unsigned article = pants-on-head circus.

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 11:29am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I just point out that it leaves one wondering who is actually writing it. Is it the "editorial staff" postition, the position of a single writer, or perhaps an op-ed style piece from an anti-patent campaigner? There is no way to know.

    Actually, there is a way to know. It's called looking at the page. Editorials are the position of the editorial staff, not a single writer and not an op-ed piece. This was an editorial piece.

    If it were any of those, it would be labeled op-ed.

     

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  15.  
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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 11:31am

    Re:

    I think people LOL'd you comment thinking that it must be sarcasm because of the blatant trollspeak. Sadly, you replied later revealing that you really believe what you poop onto your keyboard.

    where your comments seemed to claim that money "disappeared"
    I believe it was TechDirt debunking what pro-IP folk spout that money disappears without patents. Mike has pointed out so many times that it just gets spent elsewhere.

    Anything you want to add?
    Well, if you RTFA you would have seen that he spoke of an article that someone did place their name at the header? Guess you just ignored it to make a point. Typical.

     

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  16.  
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    Atkray (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 11:32am

    Re: Re:

    He can't that would reveal too much about his handlers.

     

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  17.  
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    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 11:37am

    Re:

    Amazon being in favor of less patents? Have you lost your mind? They are the company that has claimed ownership of the one click purchase patent and have litigated on that patent a number of times. If you ask me, they would have plenty to lose if patent law were changed to not allow software patents.

     

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  18.  
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    The eejit (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 11:47am

    Re:

    You mean Fox News live, surely? :)

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 11:48am

    Re:

    Let me get this straight: you are dismissing an article because you don't know exactly who wrote it, but you are posting as AC, might a well just save your keyboard some wear and don't post at all.

     

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    PrometheeFeu (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 11:49am

    Re: Re:

    Hm... My post was originally going to say something different where Amazon made sense. You're right of course.

     

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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 11:52am

    Re:

    Well, the elections are coming up and job creation is on everyone's mind. What I'm hoping for is that the likes of Google and Amazon will get to some candidates and say: "Look at how many jobs WE are creating. Let me tell you what we need: Less patents. Here's a bunch of cash for your campaign, now spread the good word that patents kill jobs." If that momentum can get going, we could have people on both side of the aisle chanting "We want jobs, not patents."

    I think it's going to take something like this before much is done. Money and lobbying talk. Until companies actively campaign for change, politicians don't have much of an incentive to take this on.

     

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  22.  
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    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 11:54am

    Re: Re: Re:

    You comment makes sense. I think Amazon was just a bad example for the point you are making. It would be nice if Silicon Valley lobbyists, or even people in general, had more of an influence on legislation. Lobbyists for older businesses like the music and film industry have older relationships with Congress making it difficult for new groups to make friends.

     

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  23.  
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    Simple Mind (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 12:10pm

    Re: Somewhere.....

    You meant "lose". If you were to loose a section of a paper you would be making the paper less tight. And you'd have to throw in an 'n' to make it grammatically correct.

    loose == opposite of tight
    lose == opposite of win
    goose == a big white duck
    luze == the way lose would be spelled if english was logical

    Here endeth the english lesson for today.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 12:24pm

    "Pearlstein is someone that folks in DC actually read, which means that our elected officials are hopefully reading this"

    Our politicians work for who pays them. If you ever actually want to change anything you need to spend more then the people who dont want it changed. Absolutely nothing else besides money will make any difference, not the press, not public opinion, just money.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 12:27pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Then I guess we'll have to wonder about your own motivations as well. According to your own logic, I should dismiss your entire point just because I am unsure of who you are and what your motivations are.

    He isn't the guy that has been trolling lately. I thought I was reading one of my trolling posts, minus the word 'freetard', when I first read his. There's too much sense to be taken as mere trolling, and too much of what I am reading as sarcasm to read as a real post.

    I don't know exactly who he is, but I like him.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 12:31pm

    Re: Re: Somewhere.....

    choose == what choosy moms do to Jif
    caboose == the back end of a train
    roose == Celtic for health or moor
    noose == what you should hang yourself with

     

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  27.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 12:39pm

    Re:

    Our politicians work for who pays them. If you ever actually want to change anything you need to spend more then the people who dont want it changed. Absolutely nothing else besides money will make any difference, not the press, not public opinion, just money.

    Agreed. This is not a voter hot button, so you're not going to get voters demanding that this be a campaign issue.

    And even if patent reform is good for the economy and job creation, politicians have shown that they will actually undermine the economy and stifle job creation if it serves their political purposes.

    So the only recourse that seems to work is for donors to give them money to influence the legislative process. Politicians are governed by self-interest. They want to get re-elected. They respond to what helps them do that.

     

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  28.  
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    DannyB (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 12:42pm

    Re: Re: Somewhere.....

    It's a fun project to construct sentences using "loose" to mean "lose" where the word actually makes sense if you think lose, and is funny if you think loose.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 12:42pm

    Pearlstein is someone that folks in DC actually read, which means that our elected officials are hopefully reading this.

    They can read?

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 12:49pm

    Re: in the appropriate format they can ;)

    It's been converted into a coloring book style with a few large print words per page and pictures for them to follow (and so they have something to color with their crayons later while they are "in session"...)

     

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  31.  
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    Jay (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 12:49pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I don't think it's the connections so much as the money spread around.

    Of/by/4 by Larry Lessig details that problem quite nicely.

     

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  32.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 12:55pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Where I come from, the editorial pieces tend to be signed by one or other of the editorial staff as being the one who wrote the piece. There is no clear way to know on those pages who actually wrote the piece (and what their affiliations are).

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 1:03pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I guess they just do things differently, and by differently I mean wrong, and by wrong I mean improperly, and by that I mean , oh fuck it.

     

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  34.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 1:27pm

    Re: Re:

    I figured Faux would be busy covering the Ms. Tea-Party Pageant.

    Our hopefuls are judged first on looks, second on religious fervor, Historical ignorance, and finally on pyre building.

     

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  35.  
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    AR (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 2:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Somewhere.....

    Personally, I think the only things that are loose are the nuts and bolts holding his head together.

    But thats just me
    Just Kidding

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 2:20pm

    Re: Re:

    Just read the comments in the original post. The NYT piece was very easily ripped apart.

     

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  37.  
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    BeeAitch (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 2:21pm

    Re:

    Hilarious! +1 funny for you.

    You forgot your sarc tag, but it probably doesn't matter: most people will clearly see the sarcasm, I'm sure.

     

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  38.  
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    Zot-Sindi, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 2:24pm

    Re: Re: in the appropriate format they can ;)

    oh! oh! do they also come with those little pictures on the side that make noises when you push them? you know, the ones that the people in the mental institutions play with

     

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  39.  
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    AR (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 2:33pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Somewhere.....

    I also would have edited the comment to read

    caboose==the back end of a train (or Kim K.)

    But Mike might get mad for taking his article though the mud.
    Wait... that doesnt sound right either

     

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  40.  
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    Richard (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 4:09pm

    Patents are immoral

    This has been known, by those who think deeply about these things - for many years.

    Here is Henry George's position from the 19th century:

    "When the king granted his minion the exclusive privilege to make gold thread, the handsome income enjoyed as a result did not arise from interest on capital invested in manufacturing. Nor did it come from the talent and skill of those who actually did the work. It came from an exclusive privilege. It was, in reality, the power to levy a tax (for private enjoyment) on all users of such thread.

    Much of the profits commonly confused with earnings of capital come from a similar source. Receipts from patents granted to encourage invention are clearly attributable to this source. "

    (btw thanks to Nicedoggy for first pointingme at this wonderful book )

     

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  41.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 4:31pm

    Re: Patents are immoral

    If you want to change the laws, you need to become part of the political process. The masses aren't going to rise up against patents because it is too far removed from their everyday lives.

    If companies are being hampered by patents, then they are the ones who are going to have to exercise whatever leverage they have.

    I'd like to see an overhaul of the entire world economic system, so I'm curious how patent reform will play out.

    Here's some reading on that subject:

    Deregulated, Laissez-Faire, Trickle-Down Economics Destroyed U.S. Dominance: "We did not have a mere recession in 2007 and 2008, we experienced the beginning of the culmination of an era of ideologically-driven mismanagement occurring amidst, and partially in response to, one of the most massive changes in political economics in modern times."

     

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  42.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 4:40pm

    Re: Re: Re:

     

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  43.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 4:49pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Hey, thanks for that link. It's a good reference when trying to explain what's happening in the world.

     

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  44.  
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    John in Brisbane (Oz), Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 4:51pm

    softly softly

    Ha ha the person I was discussing this with yesterday just sent me the link to this article... so I can tell you that at least 2 people from Australia agree absolutely with the concerns outlined here.

    There will always be people abusing the system. These patent trolls are simply a new version of cyber-squatters - people with enough brains to be useful but who chose to be cunning instead of clever. Now it is just writ large with big money and a bunch of patent attorneys (who could be saving the world but instead spend their days using the letter of the law to circumvent the spirit of the law). Simple, relatively minor tweaks are all that should be needed to deal with this. I know you yanks are scared of anything that looks like regulation but given what is going on, surely some oversight of this is needed. Careful, it's the slippery slope to socialism kids!

     

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  45.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 5:04pm

    Can't we all get along and be happy it would deter criminals.

    http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-08-happiness-deter-crime.html

    ps: This is a random comment not to be taken seriously.

     

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  46.  
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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 1:48am

    Re: Cry Havoc, And ...

    ... where did those Dogs of War go?

    Here, Dogs of War!!

    Here, Dogs of War!!

     

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  47.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 2:36am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Where I come from, the editorial pieces tend to be signed by one or other of the editorial staff as being the one who wrote the piece.

    Really? I can't think of a major newspaper that does that. It's entirely standard for editorial pages to be without bylines, and represent the opinions of "the editorial board."

    What paper do you read and where do you come from that doesn't follow that standard?

     

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  48.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 8:52am

    Re: Re:

    I always get a laugh out of this logic.

    I am just "some guy" making a comment. The editorial (you know, opinion, not fact) is held up by Mike as an example of, in this case, the "chorus". I am claiming nothing, they are claiming something, and I would like to know who is doing the claiming.

    See, what often happens is that when you find out who did the writing, you find out that someone the likes of Lessig or one of the other Tardian leaders was actually behind it, and as such, it isn't really anything more than them stating their opinion again.

    It would be nice to know who is actually responsible for the article, who was involved. Considering the Guardian is often quoted here on Techdirt, I am guessing at least one member of the Tardian nation is on board. Anyone able to find a link that actually lists their editorial staff? Their site is a freaking mess!

     

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  49.  
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    staff, Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 11:36am

    propaganda

    "the excellent This American Life story about just how broken our patent system is"

    The only thing they exposed is their lack of knowledge in patents. They thought the title of the patent was what it covered. In praising them you ridicule yourself.

    "patent reform"

    Just because they call it “reform” doesn’t mean it is.

    The patent bill is nothing less than another monumental federal giveaway for banks, huge multinationals, and China and an off shoring job killing nightmare for America. Even the leading patent expert in China has stated the bill will help them steal our inventions. Who are the supporters of this bill working for??

    Patent reform is a fraud on America. This bill will not do what they claim it will. What it will do is help large multinational corporations maintain their monopolies by robbing and killing their small entity and startup competitors (so it will do exactly what the large multinationals paid for) and with them the jobs they would have created. The bill will make it harder and more expensive for small firms to get and enforce their patents. Without patents we cant get funded. Yet small entities create the lion's share of new jobs. According to recent studies by the Kauffman Foundation and economists at the U.S. Census Bureau, “startups aren’t everything when it comes to job growth. They’re the only thing.” This bill is a wholesale slaughter of US jobs. Those wishing to help in the fight to defeat this bill should contact us as below.

    Small entities and inventors have been given far too little voice on this bill when one considers that they rely far more heavily on the patent system than do large firms who can control their markets by their size alone. The smaller the firm, the more they rely on patents -especially startups and individual inventors.

    Please see http://truereform.piausa.org/default.html for a different/opposing view on patent reform.
    http://docs.piausa.org/

     

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  50.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 11:49am

    Re: propaganda

    The only thing they exposed is their lack of knowledge in patents. They thought the title of the patent was what it covered. In praising them you ridicule yourself.

    They did no such thing. What makes you state that other than a willful desire to mislead about the report?

    Just because they call it “reform” doesn’t mean it is.

    You cut and paste the same thing every time and never once seem to recognize that we don't support this patent reform bill either. Is it so hard for you to read?

     

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  51.  
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    Gene Cavanaugh (profile), Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 5:36pm

    Patents inhibiting innovation

    While, as an IP attorney, I believe IP done as the founders envisioned do promote innovation, nearly all IP today has the opposite effect, as this article points out.
    But, the net effect of attempts to reform the system will only cause trolls, etc., to have to pay legislators more.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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