Some large company will patent some obvious thing…and it will be enforcable… everywhere

A very dangerous proposal from Microsoft:

Microsoft pushes for single Global Patent System

“In today’s world of universal connectivity, global business and collaborative innovation, it is time for a world patent that is derived from a single patent application, examined and prosecuted by a single examining authority and litigated before a single judicial body,” said Guiterrez. “A harmonized, global patent system would resolve many of the criticisms leveled at national patent systems over unmanageable backlogs and interminable pendency periods.”
Guiterrez went on to praise efforts to harmonize international patent systems through projects such ad the Patent Prosecution Highway and the “IP5” partnership but said more needed to be done to allow corporations to protect their intellectual property

Of course when they say “more is needed to be done to allow corporations to protect their intellectual property” they really mean “more to be done to erect high barriers to entry, so no one can legally compete with us.”   Microsoft is just against any company smaller than they are (meaning, for those who are not paying attention, everyone else)

My evidence?  Here’s Microsoft’s own Bill Gates, speaking out against software patents in 1991, as covered in the NYT:

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Some large company will patent some obvious thing…and it will be enforcable… everywhere

The Self-Regulating Market requires state intervention

Tim Lee makes a couple of points about what he sees as the puzzling connections between free trade and protectionism, and he stumbles across the point I’d made earlier to one of Jerry Brito’s comments, (yes, the comment that Jerry can’t respond to, and therefore must censor) It’s a simple point that Karl Polanyi made in his excellent book The Great Transformation: that the self-regulating market requires state intervention, both for it’s creation and for its maintenance . So the creation of a self regulating market in copyrighted goods requires state intervention to create and maintain that market. But Tim, being a libertarian, can’t read or understand Polanyi, so he’s confused about why those who support free trade also support certain market interventions:

This is a fascinating question. One of the things I find really interesting about the 19th century political debate is that the opposing political coalitions were more sensibly aligned, perhaps because people had a slightly clearer sense of what was at stake. My impression (which may be wrong in its details) is that the free traders tended to be liberals and economic populists. They clearly understood that protectionism brought about a transfer of wealth from relatively poor consumers to relatively wealthy business interests. In the opposing coalition were a coalition of business interests and xenophobes making fundamentally mercantilist arguments about economic nationalism.


Karl Polanyi covers this period in his book The Great Transformation. His perspective is a little different.

First, Polanyi notes that those opposing the liberal agenda there were the defenders of the old order, ultimately derived from the feudal social structure, as well the working urban proletariat. Their interests never coincided and their visions of an alternative to the dominant liberal creed were so very different, it is not surprising that they never formed a united opposition. It is true that once the middle class realized that free trade meant cheaper food they were temporarily won over to its cause. But there were a few others who realized how disastrous free trade would be in the long run.

Second, Tim Lee, as all libertarians do, makes a whole series of informational exclusions about what comes along with liberalism. For example, it cannot be an accident that Great Britain, during the time of the ascendancy of liberal ideals, also maintained a very large colonial empire. Ultimately, adherence to the dogma of the self-regulating market requires state intervention to ensure that the prices of labor, land, and money are all controlled only by economic factors internal to that self-regulating market. When social, environmental, religious or national policies interfere with the operating of that self regulating market, state intervention is required. Case in point: US invasion of Iraq. When political ideals interfere with the functioning of the self-regulating market, state intervention is also called for by supporters of the market. Case in point: the DMCA. From this view, the fact that those who support the self-regulating market also support strong imposed patent, copyright and trademark laws is entirely consistent and unsurprising.


The bottom line is: you cannot separate the economic functioning of society from its broader social, political, environmental, national and social contexts, as liberals are wont to do. Human society just cannot be distilled into neatly separate fungible categories. They are all connected. Failure to come to grips with this reality is why libertarianism can only be maintained by making excluding whole categories of information.

Thus the following confusion on Tim’s part:

Today’s free trade debate is much weirder, because there are enough businesses who want to export things that significant parts of the business community are for freer trade. On the other hand, the liberals who fancy themselves defenders of relatively poor consumers find themselves in bed with predatory industries like sugar and stell that have been using trade barriers to gouge consumers. And the “trade” debate has increasingly come to be focused on issues that don’t actually have much to do with trade, whether it’s labor and environmental “standards,” copyright and patent requirements, working retraining programs, cross-border subsidies, etc.

Continue reading “The Self-Regulating Market requires state intervention”

The Self-Regulating Market requires state intervention

Shot-gun patents

As a follow-up to the post of March 2007, The System IS the Sickness here’s an interesting report by the Sunshine Project which sums up some of the issues concerning patents for the H5N1 avian influenza virus, otherwise known as “Bird Flu.” It seems that some companies are patenting whole sequences of any Bird Flu virus sample that WHO or the CDC sends them, hoping by a kind of shot-gun strategy, to come out with a winning ticket in the patent lottery. They haven’t analyzed any of these sequences at all, they are just patenting them as the sequence them.  Indonesia, as I had noted last March, is unsure why it should contribute information that WHO hands over to the CDC who in turn hands that sample over to an American Pharma Company, who will extract royalties from whoever ends up producing the vaccine. There is no offer on the table to share royalties based on the information Indonesia provided with Indonesia, or to release that information into the public domain, so any company could use it. Indonesia could end up being unable to afford the treatments that their samples were instrumental in creating.

The report is a good summary and is especially interesting when it discusses how the science interacts with the legal/patent framework.

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Shot-gun patents

The genie is out of the bottle…

An alternate title: Do the large PC players really want to play whack-a-mole? Because that’s what they will be playing, whacking one down, and two will sprout up.

Of course, some 900 lb gorilla of a corporation has stepped up and tried to stomp on the eeepc, or perhaps they just want to cash in on something they really wish they had thought of:

Continue reading “The genie is out of the bottle…”

The genie is out of the bottle…

Microsoft dooms Software Patents, forever, everywhere

Groklaw has the news about Novell and Red Hat being hit by a Patent Infringement lawsuit from a certain ‘IP Innovation LLC”, noting that Ballmer has been making threats in the last week or so:

IP Innovation LLC has just filed a patent infringement claim against Red Hat and Novell. It was filed October 9, case no. 2:2007cv00447, IP Innovation, LLC et al v. Red Hat Inc. et al, in Texas. Where else? The patent troll magnet state.

Of course, PJ posts the links to the Patent involved, which has been used as an example of misuse of the Patent system by others already:

You might recall the patent was used in litigation against Apple in April 2007, and Beta News reported at the time that it’s a 1991 Xerox PARC patent. But ars technica provided the detail that it references earlier patents going back to 1984. Appropriately enough. If you use Google to search for “IP Innovation LLC 5,072,412” you’ll find more. Note that it’s IP Innovation, not plural. There is another company using IP Innovations. I gather Apple paid them to go away in June.

This patent has been pointed to as an example of the need for patent reform. Now, Patent Troll Tracker claims that IP Innovation LLC is a subsidiary of Acacia. More here. did a story on Acacia in February, “Extreme Makeover: From Patent Troll to the Belle of the Ball.”

The next interesting item to note is Acacia’s ties to Microsoft (duh!)

Continue reading “Microsoft dooms Software Patents, forever, everywhere”

Microsoft dooms Software Patents, forever, everywhere

Evolving, away from patents

As the knowledge economy migrates away from static knowledge, such as fixed information, and develops the ability to deal more and more with meta-processes, it’s developing tools such as evolutionary computing. Evolutionary computing finds an answer by massive numbers of trial and error iterations, eventually ‘evolving’ a design that meets a set of criteria. In one particular case, that criteria included avoiding patented technology.  In that particular case, the ‘evolved’ design was more efficient than the patented one. (From the Economist: Don’t Invent, Evolve)

“I HAVE not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” So said Thomas Edison, the prolific inventor, speaking of his laborious attempts to perfect the incandescent light bulb. Although 10,000 trial-and-error attempts might sound a little over the top, an emerging technique for developing inventions knocks even Edison’s exhaustive approach into a cocked hat. Evolutionary design, as it is known, allows a computer to run through tens of millions of variations on an invention until it hits on the best solution to a problem.
As its name suggests, evolutionary design borrows its ideas from biology. It takes a basic blueprint and mutates it in a bid to improve it without human input. As in biology, most mutations are worse than the original. But a few are better, and these are used to create the next generation. Evolutionary design uses a computer program called an evolutionary algorithm, which takes the initial parameters of the design (things such as lengths, areas, volumes, currents and voltages) and treats each like one gene in an organism.

It’s also another datapoint that shows how the PC has the potential to level the playing field between smaller and larger organizations. Here it is, doing something that until very recently was only within the reach of a few large corporations or government agencies:

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Evolving, away from patents