18 May 2009

Remember What "Patent" Means?

It means to make clear, or obvious. Like this?

1. A system that facilitates rich interaction with and/or management of environmental components included in an environment, comprising:a housing with a face;a communication component that manages a set of I/O components, the communication component is configured to receive an input by way of an input component from the set of I/O components and to transmit an instruction by way of an output component from the set of I/O components;a presence component that employs a set of sensors to determine an orientation of the housing;a command component that determines the instruction based at least in part upon the orientation; andan advisor component that is configured to provide guidance in connection with the orientation.

2. The system of claim 1, the set of I/O components includes at least one of a keyboard, a keypad, a button, a switch, a touchpad, a display, a speaker, a microphone, a receiver, or a transmitter.

3. The system of claim 1, the instruction is configured to update a state of an environmental component, the environmental component is configured to receive the instruction and to update the state.

4. The system of claim 3, the environmental component is at least one of a light device, a thermostat, a media device, a game console, a computer, a controller device, or a component of one or more of the foregoing.

5. The system of claim 1, the orientation is at least one of a direction of the face or a gesture, the gesture is a recent trajectory of the housing.

6. The system of claim 1, the orientation indicates an environmental component targeted by the face.

7. The system of claim 1, the set of sensors includes at least one of an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a camera, a laser, a biometric sensor, a transmitter, or a receiver.

8. The system of claim 1, the command component further employs the input to determine the instruction.

9. The system of claim 1, the advisor component, in order to provide the guidance, facilitates articulation or display of at least one of the instruction, a targeted environmental component, a suitable orientation to produce the instruction, or a suitable orientation to target a particular environmental component

10. The system of claim 1, the advisor component provides the guidance by way of an associated avatar, the avatar is presentable by way of an audio output, a text-based output, a video output or display, a holographic output or display, or combinations thereof.

This comes from a new Microsoft patent:

The claimed subject matter relates to an architecture that can facilitate rich interaction with and/or management of environmental components included in an environment. The architecture can exist in whole or in part in a housing that can resemble a wand or similar object. The architecture can utilize one or more sensor from a collection of sensors to determine an orientation or gesture in connection with the wand, and can further issue an instruction to update a state of an environmental component based upon the orientation. In addition, the architecture can include an advisor component to provide contextual and/or comprehensive guidance in an intuitive manner.

The long, detailed and dull description of this wonder is so obscure and unclear that people are speculating what exactly it might be or do. But the whole point of a patent is to explain what you have invented, and what it does, so that you can lay claim to it as a new and wonderful creation. If it's not even clear from your patent, then you've clearly failed, and it ought to be rejected out of hand.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.


Jose_X said...

[As per US patent law.. and IANAL...]

The more general is an English sentence patent claim, the more inventions can be covered over which the author knows the least possible.

It's insulting to the rational, free mind to allow a person to be awarded a monopoly over everything that would be describable by a single sentence, the only effective disqualifying scenario occuring if the sentence as worded describes things that can qualify as prior art.

In a bit more detail, rob society and everyone's existing rights as follows:

Look around at what people want to build tomorrow but haven't yet gotten around to building (in a way which would qualify as prior art), and then describe the key aspects of these future (still unimplemented) creations. Doing this and paying a fee will get you monopoly rights over all such future creations. .. I kid you not.

You want the description to include enough unique details so that there is no question that such a creation doesn't yet exist. As long as this requirement is met, you want the description to be a general as possible and cover as few details as possible. This is so that you can achieve what was stated at the top: get the most bang for the buck. Remember that each detail we add to a description limits the scope. We want to maximize the reach of the monopoly award while knowing as little as possible.

[And as a bonus:]

It's faster to write one sentence patent claims than it is to write many tens of thousands of lines of code that could serve as prior art to any of those claims. Worse for the prior art's author (the implementer), the prior art can be blocked from future growth by having the patent author augment the patent claim with one or two simple extra features that such prior art's author hasn't yet gotten around to coding up but would likely want to add anyway.

Considering that the long much more difficult implementation doesn't give you rights over anyone else's creation, while the short description gives you full rights over everyone's creation fitting that description, is there much surprise the less scrupulous are absolutely in love with software patents?


It's sickening. The group writing up the quick executive summaries gets total full rights over the elaborate, insightfully detailed, and meticulously designed creations.

The above applies to most patents, but intellectual patents are the ones that in practice infringe upon many people's rights (because of low cost to participation).

Glyn Moody said...

@Jose_X: thanks for those points

Jose_X said...

How to kill a competing product with patents:

I want to clarify the part in the earlier comment where it's mentioned that adding features to a patent claim that has prior art can be used to bypass that prior art and to cut off development/growth of that prior art.

Let's say that cars are like software. You can mix a car and a bicycle and add wings and get a flying thing that is also very mobile in the city (where cars can't go but bicycles can).

I want to use the car/physical analogy, but it has to be clear that the possibilities (and hence opportunity costs) are much much greater when we deal with a thought/idealized medium like software (virtualized world) vs when dealing with objects that are limited to the laws of nature for large masses.

Patent Claim 1: a car [the basics only: some wheels, a steering wheel, windows, wagon/body, seats]
-- this won't fly (figuratively). Cars already exist.

Patent Claim 2: a car with a bicycle down the middle where said bicycle can be used to support the car entirely.
-- this almost passes except that there is a current FOSS car project that does just this. This project is a work in progress but enough of the bicycle component has been demonstrated and documented to void this patent claim.

Patent Claim 3: a car with a bicycle down the middle where said bicycle can be used to support the car entirely and where the bicycle component has a seat to hold a different driver and access to the car's basic controls.

[Note, that patent claims tend to use short-cut langauge. For example: Claim #2: "The system of claim 1, and where the bicycle component has a seat...."]

Alright, I'm not trying to write real patent claims, but the idea is that claim #3 (unlike #1 and #2) has no prior art. Further, the FOSS project likely was moving in the direction of what claim #3 describes. The result is that the FOSS project may not be able to do too many useful things now if claim #3 in fact was a natural way to extend the project in time.

The patent author can now keep going adding more distinct claims so as to prevent others from adding useful claims on top of them and as insurance in case we actually do find prior art for #3.

What makes this exploitation really killer (and easy to pull off if you have large market share or involvement in standards) is the use of or need for standards and interop: when interop or an actual standard requires some base components to necessarily exist and these have been patented. Then implementations that will be useful will have to be violating. There is no "go around" because that would break the standard and/or interop. Worse is that no one knows which of the many patents out there might apply (for example, how many third parties know when the patent described in this blog posting will be applicable).

Another key point is that if the FOSS project did the equivalent of a patent, in terms of documentation, there would still be the constant threat of having anyone anticipate some important future future before this project got down to formally adding it or documenting it. Furthermore, that patent holder would then still have a monopoly from that point onward [for the subset of possible inventions which is the FOSS project's prior art + that useful feature -- a useful feature can become something almost absolutely necessary in practice or which if missing would really put the product at a competitive disadvantage. And this can be true for numerous features, all of which might be patented.]

The solution is to end software patents simply because beating someone to a description should not give you a monopoly over all future inventions that can be described by that description. That's ludicrous. There is in fact no "huge capital costs to manufacture, distribute, etc" possible argument.

Jose_X said...

A few more points (continuing from the car-bicycle example):

Another less satisfactory approach (pseudo solution) is to make patents automatic (ie, eliminate the attorney overhead/costs/waste of time elements). This way, everyone that is the first to something would have leverage against anyone else. As things stand today, mostly only the patent savvy, wealthy or hungry to sue, and/or the unethical are getting the monopoly levers.

The end result of automatic patents would likely be that so many will be able to block off so many others that there would be near unanimous support to drop the patent garbage (ie, implement the solution in the prior comment: extinguish "intellectual" patents) in order to unfreeze the industry. [Note that today's system quasi-works because a minority have control over most patents, and these few tend to be smart and not push beyond the breaking point; however, this throttling is anticompetitive (small competitors are severely hamstrung), is stifling to much innovation and to individual freedoms, biases against most inventor-implementors because of time/money/"soul" costs to take out patents, etc.]

Claim #3 can actually be split into 2 distinct claims for maximum effect. Each of these two claims would be based on claim 2. For the new claim #3, we would add the bicycle seat. For claim #4, we would add the access to controls. Doing two distinct claims costs more money (this cost is a strategic hurdle, see next paragraph) but allows more inventions to be covered. Eg, you can get all inventions that have only the seat and all inventions that have only the controls access. If you combine into a single claim (ie: AND the two properties), then you miss monopoly over all of these inventions that have only one of the two properties since your invention requires both properties to be present. Also, it becomes more likely that the industry will be able to grow around your AND-claim since it might prove easy to go around one of these two properties. Point being that as much as possible you want to have each new property be a distinct claim. OR covers more space than AND.

Note that large patent supporters like the idea of raising costs for patenting (rather than lowering them) because it puts this tremendous exploit out of the reach of the larger population and small competitors. This way they can use a machine gun approach that others could not use. They could fudge with standards to wipe other patent holders off since most people could not create an endless stream of patents but would only keep the few they though were of quality. Ie, large companies could bet on all horses in the race and then use that leverage against all who missed the right horse. Additionally, they could use their many horse race victories as leverage against those that had bet properly on only a single race here or there.

Glyn Moody said...

@jose_X: Thanks for those interesting thoughts.

Jose_X said...

Glyn and readers, a small apology for the tone and content of prior comments (also an explanation):

The above reflects my understanding of how patents work and one way to use them to snuff competition. *Snuffing competition* is the net effect of getting the most powerful patent you can and then using it as leverage offensively or by selling it knowing it might be used offensively.

Reader should keep in mind that I have no patents to my credit and am not a lawyer; hence, the earlier comments should be questioned.

I don't mean to insult everyone (or, in theory, anyone) that gets a patent. I do get fairly defensive about any patenting that would be used to hamstring FOSS in any way, or, generally, to get in the way of individuals, nonprofits, or small businesses, or in the way of anyone making significant positive contributions to society, especially if positive in contrast of the status quo.

My response to those that say that those opposing patents are condoning theft:

Looking at a given patent as "property" also means we should be able to regard as "property" the rights that were taken away from people through the granting of that patent. Additionally, a patent (or class of patents) ruled to be unconstitutional (US law) was never legally "property" in the first place.

Glyn Moody said...

@Jose_X: indeed, opposing patents has nothing to do with theft: a patent is a government-granted monopoly, so opposing them is simply opposing a monopoly - a good thing in most people's books....