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?


Reader Comments (rss)

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 1:38pm

    Next...

    The U.S. will declare war on any country who harbors these IP pirates.

     

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    fogbugzd (profile), Jul 18th, 2011 @ 1:47pm

    Eliminating software patents would go a long way toward fixing patent problems. However, coming up with a definition of what constitutes a software patent could be difficult.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 2:22pm

      Re:

      They already have a definition, they just don't respect it. Specially the "prior art" one and the "someone with reasonable skill" one. Nowadays you can patent a mouse click and sue the world

       

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      chris, Jul 19th, 2011 @ 12:04am

      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.

       

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    Mike42 (profile), Jul 18th, 2011 @ 1:49pm

    Naw...

    Ya got it all wrong, the patents foster innovation. After all, how do you know who invented something? You just go and check who got the patent, and that's who invented it. Naw, the European market is gonna be stale, no new code, ya understand? No patents, no reason fer new stuff. Now git with the funny TSA groper stories, will ya?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 1:54pm

    Worth noting in that Guardian article...

    ...is the reference to disgusting patent trolls Kootol, who are busy suing everyone over their utterly ridiculous patent claims.

     

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    Robert Doyle (profile), Jul 18th, 2011 @ 1:54pm

    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.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 2:01pm

      Re:

      This guy represents the middle ground of a lot of this debate, and its a fairly reasonable argument, if you invented something, why shouldn't you get first crack at making money off it? You should get 4 years, or first posting of profit, whichever comes first

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 2:10pm

        Re: Re:

        That's a bit flawed too. You assume that execution means success. It does not. Just because the first to register sucks at execution doesn't mean someone else shouldn't be able to try, does it?

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 2:13pm

        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.

         

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          fogbugzd (profile), Jul 18th, 2011 @ 2:32pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Patent monopolies are supposed to be for the benefit of society. Society only benefits from the execution unless the idea is truly unique (which it rarely is with software patents). Given the Constitutional basis for patents, it makes sense to give rewards to the first to implement.

           

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        Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 18th, 2011 @ 3:46pm

        Re: Re:

        This guy represents the middle ground of a lot of this debate, and its a fairly reasonable argument, if you invented something, why shouldn't you get first crack at making money off it?

        You do get first crack at it by bringing it to market.

         

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        Nicedoggy, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 5:14pm

        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.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 2:04pm

      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?

       

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        DannyB (profile), Jul 18th, 2011 @ 2:39pm

        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.

         

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        Someantimalwareguy, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 2:48pm

        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...

         

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          Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 7:25pm

          Re: ... then both should get the right to exploit the idea ...

          In other words, anybody who comes up with the idea should have the right to exploit it.

          Or in other, other words, there should be no such thing as patents.

           

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 2:33pm

      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.

       

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        Nicedoggy, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 5:16pm

        Re: Re:

        Patenting processes should be illegal but they are valid in the U.S. from some distorted reason nobody is able to fully explain.

         

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      Paul (profile), Jul 18th, 2011 @ 3:31pm

      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.

       

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    Designerfx (profile), Jul 18th, 2011 @ 1:55pm

    well, not quite

    think of all the lawyers in employ! With all these patents business is booming!

    /reality check elsewhere.

     

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    Jan Bilek (profile), Jul 18th, 2011 @ 2:10pm

    manipulate with incentives

    Companies like HTC or Samsung... basically all non-US companies should just license all those US patents and add it to prices of their products only for US customers. Having to pay for the same products much more than the rest of the world should create strong motivation to fix the law.

     

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    Jimr (profile), Jul 18th, 2011 @ 2:30pm

    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.

     

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    Roman, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 2:32pm

    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!

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 2:57pm

      Re:

      That's correct. "patenting software" is an absurd concept. And one of the very biggest boosts to American innovation that we could possibly give -- at zero cost -- would be to invalidate ALL software patents.

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 2:47pm

    Welcome to you worlds newest 3rd world country.

     

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    Hothmonster, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 4:32pm

    Well obviously you are misreporting this. We need stricter copyright and patent laws to inspire and encourage innovation, it is known. I'm sure they are leaving to find a country that allows them to sue people for patents they haven't invented yet but dreamed that someday they might.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 6:44pm

    congress can't pass budget reforms with a tooth.

     

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    Lance (profile), Jul 19th, 2011 @ 6:08am

    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.

     

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      ts, Jul 19th, 2011 @ 6:58am

      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.

       

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    MetalSamurai, Jul 19th, 2011 @ 7:31am

    Misreporting

    There's some misreporting here. This shows what a success the US patent system is. It has driven those parasitical IP thieves out of the country. Hurray! Now the US should lobby other countries to adopt the same hard line stance and this rampant idea piracy will be stamped out.

     

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    staff, Jul 19th, 2011 @ 7:57am

    patent bill

    "Dropping Out Of US"

    They should go to China where there are no property rights. The state owns and controls everything. That's where all US jobs are going thanks to large US tech firms. Thanks to the patent bill Congress is on the verge of passing all that will accelerate.

     

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    Bryan (profile), Jul 19th, 2011 @ 10:43am

    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.

    Bryan

     

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    Gene Cavanaugh (profile), Jul 19th, 2011 @ 3:38pm

    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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