TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Volume Number:9
Issue Number:8
Column Tag:State of the Industry

Patent Stupidity

A horrific story about patents

By Eric Shapiro, Ann Arbor, Michigan

I was minding my own business one afternoon and who should call me but one of my publishers. “I received a letter today,” he began, “from a company that claims that your software violates one of their patents.”

I chuckled at first, until I realized that April 1st was an entire month away. The tone in his voice indicated that this wasn’t a scheme to lower my royalties either. “That’s impossible,” I said, “my software doesn’t really do much of anything.”

Fifteen minutes and one fax later, I wasn’t laughing anymore. I received a copy of a very legal sounding cover letter claiming patent infringement along with a 10 page copy of the patent itself. As I read the patent, I was dumfounded that anyone could patent something this ridiculously obvious. The more I researched the issue, however, I discovered that this is the norm and not the exception in the United States patent system.

First let me describe my software. It’s a control panel called VideoBeep™ that lets users assign QuickTime™ movies to various system events such as inserting a disk or emptying the trash. It’s not particularly original or useful, but can be a lot of fun since it’s bundled with several disks full of clips from the movie Star Wars®.

The patent, #5012334, is entitled Video image bank for storing and retrieving video image sequences. The patent holder, Tektronix Inc., insists that their patent applies to our product. They claim to have invented the very system for storing indexes to video media on computers. Their cover letter states:

“Claims 1 and 5 [of the patent] apply to the use, in conjunction with other products, of a video disk (or CD-ROMs or floppy disks) to hold an indexed library of video image sequences. Claims 9, 11, and 12 apply to the use of key words to index, classify, and access video image sequences.”

This states, as far as I can tell, that all use of video in conjunction with computers falls under the domain of their patent! In short, we should thank them for inventing the entire multimedia industry and pay them royalties.

I talked to several people familiar with patents and here’s what they said:

1) The Patent Office doesn’t know very much about computers, so they tend to approve even the most simplistic patents and then let the courts decide which ones should stand.

2) The patent office is often more concerned that the complicated paperwork is filled out properly than with the originality of the request.

3) A patent search is done before a patent is issued, but a search through books and magazines is generally not made, as it takes too long. This means that a lot of patents are granted for things that aren’t original.

4) Companies holding patents like to attack small companies first, knowing that a smaller company is unlikely to win a court battle. Once the case has been won, legal precedence has been established and future court cases against larger companies are more likely to end in their favor.

5) A court case will generally cost at least $30,000 in legal fees and possibly as much as $1 million! Many companies settle out of court for this reason or sign cross-licensing agreements.

The problem with the current system is that companies can patent ridiculous and obvious “inventions,” and then force another company to prove that the patent shouldn’t stand. In short, we programmers must prove our innocence rather than having them prove our guilt!

It may be several years before this issue is resolved, as in the Microsoft/Apple battle. The court system is slow and Congress has been remiss for a decade in not updating patent and copyright law to apply properly to computers and software. The immediate problem, however, is that a bureaucrat with little understanding of computers is right now approving patents that may affect your next software product.


Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes guide - How...
Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes is all about collecting heroes, powering them up, and using them together to defeat your foes. It's pretty straightforward stuff for the most part, but increasing your characters' stats can be a bit confusing because it... | Read more »
The best cooking apps (just in time for...
It’s that time of year again, where you’ll be gathering around the dinner table with your family and a huge feast in front of you. [Read more] | Read more »
Square Rave guide - How to grab those te...
Square Rave is an awesome little music-oriented puzzle game that smacks of games like Lumines, but with its own unique sense of gameplay. To help wrap your head around the game, keep the following tips and tricks in mind. [Read more] | Read more »
Snowboard Party 2 (Games)
Snowboard Party 2 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Crowned the best snowboarding game available on the market, Snowboard Party is back to fulfill all your adrenaline needs in... | Read more »
The best games like Animal Crossing on m...
Animal Crossing amiibo Festival is out right now for the Wii U, reminding us of just how much fun that world can be. Or at least to go back and check in on our villages once in a while. [Read more] | Read more »
Between 2 Taps - Tap for Tap interview M...
Hello, and welcome back to Between 2 Taps, Tap for Tap’s Indie Dev interview series. [Read more] | Read more »
Facility 47 (Games)
Facility 47 1.0.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0.1 (iTunes) Description: You wake up alone and freezing in an icy cell. You try the cell door but it’s locked, it seems that you are stuck with no... | Read more »
The best Photoshop alternative on iPad
Instagram and Lightroom are great and all, but sometimes people need to get extra creative with their image editing.Like, Photoshop creative. If you're one of these people, take a look at our pick for the best mobile Photoshop experience on iPad... | Read more »
The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land guide -...
A new update for The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land was released last week, making it the perfect time for you to head back to your base and take out some walkers. Here’s the lowdown on what’s new to the game, and how to take advantage. [Read more] | Read more »
Goat Rider guide - Tips and tricks to st...
We've all been there. One second, we're riding high on a crazed goat, and the next, we've been tossed off it like someone who's no good at goat ridin'. [Read more] | Read more »

Price Scanner via

Best Buy Black Friday deals: Up to $200 off M...
Best Buy has posted their Black Friday sale prices for 2015. Save on MacBook Pros, MacBooks, MacBook Airs, iMacs, iPads, and Apple Watches. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if... Read more
Save $30-$40 on new Apple TVs after rebate
Adorama has new Apple TVs on sale for up to $40 off MSRP after mail-in rebate, good through December 15th. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges NY & NJ sales tax only: - 32GB Apple TV: $119.99... Read more
13-Inch Haswell MacBook Air At Two Years – Th...
The 13-inch mid-2013 “Haswell” MacBook Air I ordered in Apple’s November 2013 Black Friday sale was my first new Mac in four and a half years — the longest interval I’ve gone between system upgrades... Read more
Target Black Friday Early Access deals: $100...
Target is offering early access to their Black Friday deals on Apple products on their online store for today, the 25th, only. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available): - Apple... Read more
BlackBerry Q3 Mobility Index Report Finds iOS...
BlackBerry has announced results of its thirteenth Good Mobility Index Report, showing that organizations are increasingly building custom secure apps. Among Good Powered by BlackBerry (formerly Good... Read more
Wednesday roundup of early Black Friday Mac s...
Save up to $500 on a new Mac with these early Black Friday deals from Apple resellers, currently the lowest prices available for these models: (1) B&H Photo has all new Macs on sale for up to $... Read more
iPod nano on sale for $119, $30 off MSRP
Walmart has the 16GB iPod nano (various colors) on sale for $119.20 on their online store for a limited time. That’s $30 off MSRP. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Sale... Read more
Adorama Black Friday deals: Up to $400 off Ma...
Adorama has released their Black Friday deals for 2015. Save up to $400 on MacBook Pros, $200 on MacBooks and MacBook Airs, and $270 on iMacs. Use code RYBFDEAL during checkout to see these prices.... Read more
B&H Photo Deals: $200 off 12-inch 1.2GHz...
In addition to the B&H Photo Black Friday week sales we posted yesterday, B&H has lowered their price on two products to $200 off MSRP: - 12″ 1.2GHz Gray Retina MacBook: $1399 save $200 - 13... Read more
Best Buy Early Access: Today only, Up to $125...
Best Buy has iPad Air 2s on sale for up to $125 off MSRP and Apple Watch models on sale on their online store for up to $100 off MSRP with special codes through midnight CT tonight. Choose free... Read more

Jobs Board

Hardware Systems Integration Engineer - *App...
# Hardware Systems Integration Engineer - Apple Watch Job Number: 39380139 Santa Clara Valley, Califo ia, United States Posted: Apr. 23, 2015 Weekly Hours: **Job Read more
Sr. Technical/Project Manager, *Apple* Educ...
# Sr. Technical/Project Manager, Apple Education Job Number: 36588557 New York City, New York, United States Posted: Jul. 30, 2015 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Merchant Operations Manager: *Apple* Pay -...
Changing the world is all in a day's work at Apple . If you love innovation, here's your chance to make a career of it. You'll work hard. But the job comes with more than Read more
*Apple* Pay QA Manager - Apple Inc. (United...
Changing the world is all in a day's work at Apple . If you love innovation, here's your chance to make a career of it. You'll work hard. But the job comes with more than Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.