You know, back in one of my previous lives I was a sysadmin for a small cluster of Unix nodes. I dealt with the problem the following way, and let everyone know I was doing it:
I never asked anyone to change their password. I simply ran every cracking program I could find, in background, on every account, over and over. When I cracked someone's password, I told them and their boss. And I sent them the password to prove it.
Worked pretty well. But of course that was early days, and it wasn't even my primary job. Maybe if I'd have a lot of formal training I could have come up with something way better. Like a bunch of increasingly angry memos about password safety from something called the "IT Department".
I think that this patent is almost certainly going to get invalidated after reexamination. The key phrase from an earlier article still rings true for me: "discloses nothing useful". Without some actual novelty, grounded in reality, the patent is just a science fiction story. "In the future, newspapers as we know them won't exist..."
But, in defence of the examiner, examiners are not allowed unlimited time to research these issues. The typical time allowed (and I mean 'allowed', as in, "you'd better maintain your rate of production or you're fired" kind of allowed) to fully prosecute a case is about 3 days (don't think every part of the federal government fits the stereotype). Whereas the attorneys' time to fight the decision of the examiner is limited only by the depth of the clients' pockets. I notice the patent didn't get allowed until 2012, sixteen years after the first filing. So I don't think the Patent Office was simply roused briefly from its torpor and handed a patent to a delighted inventor. Obviously someone in the Patent Office smelled a rat almost immediately. But with enough attorneys, and enough appeals, and enough arguments, it is -- well, I won't say 'easy', I'll just settle for 'not impossible' -- to get a patent when you don't deserve one. At every step of the process, the examiner has an easy out: give in to the attorney. The alternative is, well, you see it here: sixteen years of work, much of it done by the examiner without compensation.
Even circuit court judges are not immune to this tactic (and you all know who you are out there...), and they don't even have the excuse of time pressure. And I don't think you can sue a judge, either.
I agree that this patent is almost certainly going to get invalidated after reexamination (tough luck for all those companies that caved -- are you listening, Apple?). The key phrase from the article is "discloses nothing useful". Without some actual novelty, grounded in reality, the patent is just a science fiction story.
But, in defence of the examiner, examiners are not allowed unlimited time to research these issues. The typical amount of time allowed (and I mean 'allowed', as in, "you'd better maintain your rate or you're fired" kind of 'allowed') to prosecute a case is about 3 days, which may sound like a lot of time until you discover that this isn't the only case demanding the examiner's attention during those three days (don't think every part of the federal government fits the stereotype). Whereas the attorneys' time to fight the decision of the examiner is limited only by the depth of the clients' pockets. I notice the patent didn't get allowed until 2012, sixteen years after the first filing. I don't get the impression the Patent Office just rolled over and gave this applicant his patent. Obviously someone in the Patent Office smelled a rat almost immediately. But with enough attorneys, and enough appeals, and enough arguments, it is -- well, I won't say 'easy', I'll just settle for 'not impossible' -- to get a patent when you don't deserve one. At every step of the process, the examiner has an easy out: give the inventor a patent. The alternative is, well, you see it here: sixteen years of work, much of it done by the examiner without compensation.
Even circuit court judges are not immune to this tactic (and you all know who you are...), and they don't even have the excuse of time pressure.
Umm...not the Thais, probably. The Japanese were so pathetically eager to leave one country unconquered (so they could have their own 'coalition of the willing') that they left Thailand almost alone -- after brokering a peace treaty between the French and the Thais and securing the right to move troops across Thailand to attack Malaya. Meanwhile the Japanese ambassador to Thailand had the pleasure of watching the OSS operate right under the collectives nose of the Thai royal family....
Anyway, I would mention that this thread is getting way too far from the original point, but I understand that the Hitler restaurant in question closed for good quite a while ago, and KFC is now in the awkward position of threatening to sue a picture on the Internet -- the only legacy of the Hitler restaurant -- because some Guardian journalists couldn't be bothered to fact-check the original story.
You know, I've always thought that it just didn't make sense that Valerie Plame's husband was the intended target of her outing. I mean, this is Dick Cheney! If he wanted, he could simply arrange to have the guy found in bed, naked, drunk, with an entire Girl Scout troop as his only visible companions. And the only way he can get back at this guy is to intentionally blow his wife's cover? No, sorry, can't buy it.
What I can buy, though, is the idea that Valerie Plame herself -- who was, after all, working independently to answer that vital question of where the WMDs were in Iraq, or if they existed at all -- might have been the real problem for Cheney, and the real target. A CIA agent loses a lot of her effectiveness once everybody in the world knows she's a CIA agent. All Cheney had to do was figure out a quasi-legal way to get the information to the media.
And there you are, another whistleblower dealt with.
So let's see if I have this right: we already know that the people who were paid to collect all this NSA data have been absolutely effusive in extolling the wisdom, the farsightedness, of the people that hired them to collect it (well, except for that troublemaker Snowden...obviously not a team player). Through the mechanism of the periodic reports they sent to their managers, those managers know that 'dozens' of 'potential terrorist plots' were foiled.
And they say government can't do things the way the private sector can!
I'm guessing that a conversation that was flagged for follow-up -- but didn't lead to anything -- would constitute a 'potential terrorist plot'? After all, if it led to something more significant, it wouldn't have been 'potential', now would it?
So, now that I understand that, I guess I can ask how this massive surveillance program would have prevented Dick Cheney from ordering the interceptors to stand down on 9/11?
And now that that question's been answered ("It's because we didn't have a massive domestic surveillance program in place, you dummy! Pay attention!"), I guess I can hit the snooze button and go back to sleep?
Well, I think you can expect Scalia for one to argue (you'd almost think he was a lawyer rather than a judge, you know?) that since cameras can record 'everything' at a public place, people outside their homes already have no expectation of privacy.
I'm inclined to agree. And that may explain why the Patent Office eventually granted the patent: what was obvious in 2001 would not be obvious in 1996.
I don't see a solution either (save shortening the term of all patents), particularly if I require that any solution that keeps this guy from collecting on his patent does not keep the hero of The Inventor from collecting on his.
I've since taken some time to skim the patent in question.
First, the patent itself says nothing about mailing or about cassette tapes. Instead, the patent does appear to describe -- in appropriately vague terms, to be sure -- the entire podcasting 'industry'. At the time of the original patent (yes, there were several, and the one listed in the article above is not the 1996 patent) the author probably thought this would be the direction in which newspapers and magazines would evolve, and 'hard copy' would be a quaint anachronism. So I think the basic germ of the idea was the question, what would newspapers of the future look like?
And I should also point out that the category of things for which one can apply for patent protection has greatly expanded as well. When I was in short pants you couldn't patent living things, or computer programs, or business methods. For good or ill, these are all considered patentable categories of inventions now.
So it's important to keep a distinction between the idea the guy had, and what he ended up doing with his life. If you like, go rent a copy of The Inventor and watch it. It (The Inventor) obviously takes a somewhat different view of what is essentially the same situation: person A has an idea, gets a patent; person B, without any provable knowledge of person A's patent, develops the same idea and successfully implements it. Is person A entitled to any compensation? In the case of the movie, the timeline is somewhat shortened, but that's the only fundamental difference.
And be careful with the phrase "2 decades", too. That happens to be the normal term of a patent (although the term can be extended if it can be shown that the Patent Office has dropped the ball somewhere along the way in the process of examining the patent). That means (I think...) in this case that sometime in 2016 (absent the qualifiers I just mentioned), this guy's rights evaporate, and his patent enters the public domain.
I would certainly be open to the idea of shortening the term of a patent (although it would be a huge undertaking to get that through Congress), since I believe that the pace of innovation today is such that letting anyone keep a lock on an idea for 20 years may be unreasonable. And that's part of what I see motivating your reply.
I mean, this isn't a new type of carriage harness, or a new type of plow. Back in the 1800's it might literally take 20 years for an idea to develop into something marketable. But so much happens in 20 years these days that rewarding people who happen to guess right doesn't seem to promote much innovation -- and after all, that's the basic charter of the Patent Office.
And even the 20 term is subject to a lot of abuse. Drug companies are notorious about extending their patents beyond the 20-year limit by piggybacking those patents. Your blood pressure medication is about to go off patent? OMG! Something Must Be Done! Let's combine it with our diuretic and market it as a single pill, and sell it for just slightly under the combined price of the two medications taken separately. And (wait for it...) let's patent the resulting drug, and set the timer back to zero. Done right (from the drug company's POV, that is), you have another 20 years to sell what is essentially the same old drug at whatever price the martket will bear.
Finally, I should point out that you can search the USPTO database yourself, and save yourself the "thousands of dollars" you might waste having an attorney do it (and it would be a waste if it was that much money: a paralegal would be able to do the job for you in less than a day; doing it yourself, maybe three or four days).
Look, patents are public documents. Most applications even get published before (often years before) a patent is granted. The Patent Office doesn't charge you anything to look through their database. If you're ever curious if your idea has already been thought of by someone else, you can find out pretty quickly. You can even hire a patent attorney to do this for you (so you see, they don't just spend all their time running around looking for people to sue). After all, wouldn't you want a patent too, just for self-protection, if you were working in this field?
Even the word "broadcast" had a clear meaning before the invention of radio. Carrying an old idea over into a new field is not necessarily inventive. Obviously someone was making money recording concert performances and marketing those recordings through distributors or directly to the public before radio began copying that idea.
Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_network (which of course you may have to copy and paste), and in particular, the first paragraph of the section on braodcasting networks. The discussion of how the radio networks patched over the gaps in their system before they managed to switch to true, all-radio operation should sound very familiar to people reading this thread.
Actually, under the version of the first to file system that's going into effect in the U.S., I think there is a grace period and some other exceptions as well. For example, the inventor him- or herself can disclose the invention some months in advance of the filing of the patent, or can file earlier for a patent for the same invention in another country, etc. Disclosures by third parties operating with the inventor under a nondisclosure agreement are also allowed in some cases without invalidating the patent.
See my comment above. Unfortunately, the inventor is allowed to claim as much 'territory' in a patent application as he or she wants. The examination process is supposed to cut that down to a reasonable size, but the inventor really is allowed some leeway in extrapolating the invention.
Suppose for example that you filed a patent, back in 1942, on some aspect of delivering mail by air. I'm sure you would want your patent to remain in force even as the propellor-driven craft of the day were replaced by jets.
you are allowed to get a patent on an idea you haven't fully developed, because the patent office doesn't require working models of everything that's patented. If that shocks you, just imagine what would be required if an examiner also had to test out every invention that had a patent application submitted to it. Think of new types of transistors, for example....
Okay, so here's something you (or anyone) can do. You can find, somewhere in the available literature (it will be good if the idea is published in English), a clear and unambiguous example of podcasting that antedates the filing date of the application by at least a year (check the actual patent; the filing date is not the publication date. I would suggest science fiction stories as a start.
There you are. A constructive suggestion. And crowd-sourceable, too. Report your findings to the Electronic Freedom Foundation at www.eff.org.
Actually, the U.S. was at the time under a "first to invent" system (and is now switching to a "first to file" system), so all an applicant had to do back then was 'prove', sometimes by affadavit, that they had been working on the idea longer than anyone else. And since 'everybody else' isn't even asked for an opinion, you can see how this can lead to some abuse. But the fact that only this guy (assuming he was the only one) thought to patent the idea (whatever it was) doesn't cut any ice with the Patent Office. I mean, it can't.
But what happened here was a bit more subtle. Basically, the examiner failed to force the attorney to properly narrow the claims (that's the legal gobbledygook at the end of the patent that almost no layman would ever read). I haven't looked at the patent in question, but trust me, if the patent claimed nothing more innovative than cassettes and magazine articles, the patent holder would have been laughed out of every office he visited in his journey to scare up some long-overdue (if due at all) royalties. But, as is the case with every other legal document, what the original author meant makes no difference - only the words on the page matter.
Every examination of every patent goes through this process: the attorney claims everything in sight (and this first step is the one and only point where something can be claimed: if you fail to claim something initially, you can't go back and correct that error later; from the attorney's point of view, the examination process is all downhill from this point forward: the coverage can only shrink, never expand), the examiner rejects those claims that are obviously anticipated by another patent (or are otherwise clearly part of the public record), the attorney replies with amended claims (usually the modifications specifically exclude whatever the examiner found that anticipated the invention, but exclude no more than that), and so it goes.
Eventually the attorney and examiner reach some point of agreement where the 'true' novelty of the invention has been revealed, and the claims give the inventor credit very specifically for what was invented and nothing beyond the invention. Obviously the wheels fell off the process at some point in this particular case.
It may be here that the unusual length of time between the filing of the patent and its actual grant made it very difficult for the examiner to avoid using what's called "improper hindsight", and the examiner may have overcompensated a bit here in his or her effort to give the inventor every reasonable consideration.
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