App Developers Dropping Out Of US Out Of Fears Over Patent Lawsuits

from the innovation! dept

A whole bunch of you have been submitting this story about how mobile app developers around the globe have begun pulling their apps from the US Apple iOS and Android Market stores because they’re afraid of getting hit by patent lawsuits in the US. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Plenty of folks in the tech industry have been warning for well over a decade about the problems with our patent system and how it’s basically being used to extract money from innovators, rather than to encourage innovation. The article quotes a bunch of developers, some of whom say that they’re “concerned about my future as a software developer due to these patent issues.”

At what point will people finally admit that the system is broken? Totally and completely broken?

And yet, what did Congress do? It took them five or six years, but they passed a totally toothless bit of patent reform that won’t address a single one of the problems we all know are facing the system. But how can people deny that the patent system is a problem when it’s clearly keeping innovation out of the US market?

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Comments on “App Developers Dropping Out Of US Out Of Fears Over Patent Lawsuits”

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chris says:

Re: Re:

I agree. The current law is way too vague. Just read the opinions from past patent cases. The judges are obviously stumbling all over the place, trying to make distinctions like method versus process, physical versus non-physical.

Here are some of my observations from reading past cases. Software itself cannot be patented. The patent will be for preforming some physical task using the software as a tool. A patent may have non-patentable components but those components cannot be the only thing unique about the patent. Advocates will claim that combining new software with a computer transforms it into a new special purpose computer. Detractors (myself included) claim that a computer is already designed as a universal device capable of running any software, and so adding software does not make its capabilities any different from what its designers intended.

Robert Doyle (profile) says:

A patent shouldn’t be something you should be able to sit on for 20 years and make money off of it.

I am for patents as a way for inventors to have a chance to bring their products to market first and get paid for it, but it shouldn’t be something to just put in your back pocket and wave around when you need a new paycheck for no new work.

The reason I am for them is that some people are creative in how to invent something, but not in how to market it – a patent gives them a chance. But it shouldn’t be like winning the lottery.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I will admit that I think you have something with the whole turn a profit thing though. Something like, once you make a profit, anyone is able to compete. That, too, is still flawed of course, and all someone would need to do is move some money around to essentially keep the parent forever anyway…

Still, there might be something there.

Nicedoggy says:

Re: Re: Re:

You see people should be forced to prove that they are producing something that could be sold first to have the right to enforce a patent, because otherwise you are in fact creating a class of real not figuratively speaking parasites that will harm the business eco-system.

But I like the idea of no patents at all.

They only serve one purpose and that is to exclude others, they don’t reward cunning or competence they don’t promote innovation, they promote bad behavior.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

An idea without implementation is worthless. I understand your stance though, and it’s not a terribly bad one, but the time frame in which someone holds exclusive rights to a registered idea would have to be insanely short to the point that it’s hardly worth filing. Something like a month or less.

Plus, how would you handle 2 people *independently* coming up with the same idea and then filing and executing around the same time? Does the first to finish execution get all the spoils?

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Solution is so simple it is obvious!

> how would you handle 2 people *independently*
> coming up with the same idea and then filing
> and executing around the same time?

The solution to this one is blindingly obvious.

If two people independently come up with the same thing, then it is OBVIOUS. Not novel. Not an “invention”. Merely evolution.

Therefore it does not qualify for patent protection.

Simple solution.

Someantimalwareguy says:

Re: Re: Re:

…how would you handle 2 people *independently* coming up with the same idea and then filing and executing around the same time? Does the first to finish execution get all the spoils?

No need for making “Solomon’s Choice” here. If at or near the same time while still being independently developed, then both should get the right to exploit the idea for a short period of time concurrently. The key would be in crafting the appropriate standards of proof for simultaneous, independent invention.

It might even force the inventors to work together and thus have a stronger product on the release side of things as well as a more stable company who will not have to face potential court fights from the other…

Just a thought…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Problem is with software, often multiple people come up with multiple ways of doing the same thing, but if you patent the thing that’s being done (subscribing to a twitter feed for example) Even if my method is different than your method I’d still get in trouble for my own personal solution.

Paul (profile) says:

Re: Patents: They don't enable you to build a product

The problem here is that just because you have a patent doesn’t mean you have all the patents you need. If you want to build your better “mouse trap”, you can’t unless your patent also covers the “bait” you use, the “spring” you need, your “platform”, your “latch”, your “framing”, your “animal disposal method”, etc. etc.

The fact is most products are *more* than a single patent. And the existing cloud of patents around your product means that your inventor can’t bring his product to market on the basis of his patent. All he can do is either 1) force other products off the market, or 2) prevent products with his invention from entering the market, or 3) force products using his invention to pay him, or 4) get bought by some big corporation.

The option generally excluded by patents is the one where the inventor puts a product into the market and excludes other companies from making that product, and makes money by being productive. This option is excluded because Big Business will have plenty of patents to keep him out of the market, and if they choose to compete, then they will use their patents to force a cross licensing agreement (likely in their favor, not the inventor’s).

But in no case recently that I can recall has the small inventor created a product, and used their patent(s) to make money by being productive and to keep the big corporations out of their way, and made loads of money.

Patents make things stop. They can’t make things happen.

Jimr (profile) says:

You mean to tell me the patent system is not for extracting money from others?

That seems to be all it is used for. Big players with big money can buy patents and sue the little guys. The little guys create their own patents and then still face a massive finical burden to claim cost recovery on the big players using it. How long and how much it is cost i4i to finally win against Microsoft? How many start-up have that kind of capital and time to engage?

The current patent system encourages stagnation as that is much more profitable in the short term.

Part of the American downfall is that the smart people, the ones who innovate are staying home or leaving. American is quickly becoming an innovation economy of stagnation.

Roman (user link) says:

I think what’s missing in the debates here and elsewhere is to note that software is essentially math, and math cannot be invented only discovered. Does that mean there aren’t some companies who don’t spend lots of time and money to discover it? No. But that’s all they’re doing – discovering. Patents are supposed to be for inventions, and so software should not be patentable in the first place!

Lance (profile) says:

I won't do it

I’ve spent the better part of the last 30 years writing code. Up until about 7 years ago, I would write code at my day job and then come home and write more code. I always negotiated my employment agreements to exclude the software I would write during my off hours, and I usually had to give up some money to get those exclusions. But I always figured it was worth the cost. I loved creating software so much that I was willing to do that.

Today, I don’t bother trying to negotiate those kinds of terms. I don’t write code for any entity other than the company where I work. The simple reason for my stance is that I can’t afford to become moderately successful, should I write something that people actually want. With the current state of patent law, there’s too great a chance that whatever I create will be viewed as infringing on a patent held by someone else. Even if I were willing to bear the costs of doing patent searches, there is no guarantee against someone with deeper pockets alleging that I have infringed on their patent(s).

In the end, it makes me sad that I can’t create things without worrying who will accuse me of “stealing” their idea.

ts says:

Re: I won't do it

I feel EXACTLY the same. No matter how new your idea is, or how different it is, there is no way you can write any kind of software without violating some patent. People that don’t understand computer programming will never understand this problem.

I believe the only time you should be sued over software is if they can prove you copy/pasted their code. A lot of companies/individuals are being accused of stealing when they wrote their code using a completely different programming language than the patent holder used. So how can that be stealing?

Instead of lawyers fighting in court, why don’t they let the programmers come to court and explain how they came up with the idea, why, and how it was implemented. Show the judge the actual people who spent the time to develop something from scratch… and then see if he can still call them thieves.

Bryan (profile) says:

Just Wait Until. . .

the members of Congress and, more importantly, their staffers can’t get the latest update to Angry Birds for their smartphones and run out of levels to play. When they ask why and find out that developers are not having their apps sold in the US because of patent trolls, thinks may actually change. Most of what is discussed here is in the abstract, but developers pulling apps for fear of trolls is pretty concrete. You can’t spend enough on lobbyists to counteract that.


Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Patents and Innovation

Good article, well written and thoughtful.
I agree on all points, except I will point out two things:

1. Congress, I believe, passed “first to file” laws; a step in the right direction. Big business has done a good job of claiming it harms small inventors, which isn’t true, but it passed.
2. It is the way patents (and IP generally) is implemented that is so harmful. As an IP attorney, I see the advantages of properly done IP all the time – and the enormous harm in the way it is usually done!

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