Ex-MS CTO dismisses patent problems

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In an article entitled Ex-MS CTO dismisses patent problems, Builder UK quotes Nathan Myhrvold: “Patent litigation represents only 3 percent of federal lawsuits and there has been a steady decline in the number of lawsuits filed per patent, Myhrvold said. ”

Which I’m sure is true, but is only one take on the numbers. Another way to look at those numbers would be to say that between 1991 and 2000 the number of US patents issued annually increased by 64%, and that over the same period the number of patent infringement lawsuits increased 111%. (Peruse the other numbers on the linked page, as well.)

As I’ve mentioned before, a decrease in the number of suits filed per patent doesn’t necessarily indicate a healthy environment when the number of patents issued is increasing so dramatically. The raw number of patent infringement lawsuits is still increasing, and the money that goes towards supporting those lawsuits — rather than, say, research and development budgets — is increasing right along with it.

Basecamp: Now Automatically Coding Your Projects?

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Based on a quote from the CNET.com article Pearl Jam to offer ‘bootleg’ downloads, it appears that 37 signals’ Basecamp — a really excellent project management tool — may have achieved what project manages have been asking for since time began: you put in your project plan, and then Basecamp automatically develops it for you…

“The idea to embark on such an endeavor has been floating around the Pearl Jam camp for several years. ‘The thing we were looking for was a really good way to manage the thing,’ Tim Bierman, manager of Pearl Jam’s Ten Club fan organization, told Billboard.com. ‘That’s where Basecamp came in. They developed a killer application I’m really confident the fans are going to love.'”

…or, I suppose, Tim Bierman may have just gotten the company and their flagship product confused. Though that’s a somewhat less entertaining possibility.

Urge to post on asspatents rising…fading…rising…

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Following (and posting on) the vagaries of the US patent system gets a little wearing after a while…outrage sags into scornful disbelief, which in turn fades into a fatalistic apathy. But then you get one of the particularly egregious perversions of the original intent of the system and the whole cycle starts over again…

While there are any number of articles on the topic to choose from, this article summary really cuts to the heart of the matter: “Wired News reports that the US Patent & Trademark Office rejected a request that Apple filed in October 2002 to patent technologies that support the iPod’s rotational wheel interface. The reason for the rejection: Microsoft had apparently outraced Apple to the patent office with a similar request by five months.”

Hmmm…so the the two requests were filed five months apart? Perhaps the method of using hierarchical menus covered by the patent wasn’t exactly “non-obvious to the skilled practitioner,” eh? I’ve linked to it before, but let’s take another quick look at the relevant portion of the US Constitution: among other things, it states that the Congress shall have the power “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to the respective Writings and Discoveries; […]”

The authors of the constitution recognized that it benefitted society at large to offer inventors a guaranteed, legally protected monopoly on use of their inventions for a limited period of time, in return for making the details of that invention public and available to all after the expiration of that monopoly. Note, however, that this deal only works to “promote progress” if the invention is one that is difficult or impossible for some other clever person to develop on their own.

To put it another way, Section 8 of the US Constitution doesn’t say anything at all about “providing corporations with the opportunity to generate additional revenue in licensing fees by completing their patent application before any of the other individuals and organizations who are filing overlapping or identical patent applications.”

RSS Version 3: Because There Aren’t Enough Competing Standards

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I’m sure everyone has already seen the RSS Version 3 Homepage, whether via Slashdot or one of the other million sources that have pointed to it. From the homepage:

Welcome to the RSS Version 3 Homepage. This site strives to create expanded and complete standards for syndication of online content – more specifically, it aims to recompose the RSS Version 2.0 standard due to underdocumentation and lack of concern towards modern necessities. Our goals are to provide at least one complete standard for common use under the Attribution/Share Alike Common License.

Hmmmm…so RSS 2.0 is underdocumented, and the solution to that is to create a competing standard? Interesting. Classic case of the dark side of OSS: “I don’t want to figure out how X works, or contribute to the boring parts of the project, so I’ll start my own very slightly different project.”

People, Cookies (Me and My Data)

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Fred Wilson has clearly spent some time thinking about cookies, and consistently comes down in the cookies’ usefulness to users outweighs their drawbacks camp. I don’t disagree, exactly, but nor can I say that I wholeheartedly agree. Couple of things:

1. Browser cookies are the best commonly available approach to handling certain issues of persistent identity on the web, but that doesn’t mean they’re a great approach. Everybody (including Fred, if I’m reading correctly) acknowledges that cookies aren’t an answer by themselves: just to pick the easy example, cookies can be considered broken when your model includes either multiple individuals using a single computer/browser or a single individual using multiple computer/browsers. That doesn’t make cookies bad or useless, but just illustrates that there are limitations on the technology that you must remember if you’re thinking about building out on top of it.

2. Too many of the people trying to rehabilitate cookies’ reputation are idiots. Take, for example, a snip from this NY Times article:

It isn’t necessarily just corporate America that is threatened by the anticookie fervor, Ms. Ross said – the deleters stand to suffer, too. For example, cookies help a computer limit how many times a user sees annoying ads like a floating, animated message. Such “frequency caps,” to use industry parlance, are common among publishers. “So cookies are a really good thing for managing the user’s experience,” she said.

Huh? I, the user, am supposed to feel warm and fuzzy about that? Got some bad news for Ms. Ross…if your ads irritate me you don’t get the opportunity to “manage my experience” by playing with display frequency — Firefox, Adblock, and Flashblock allow me to set my own personal frequency cap to zero, but thanks so much for your concern. As Fred points out, cookies can and do provide some real benefits to users, but “cookies allow ad servers to annoy you just a little less” doesn’t make that list.

3. The really important one: what’s in it for me, damn it? The weakness that I see in Fred’s line of thought — as it applies to the existing implementation of cookies, at least — is that in all but the most specific cases we’re talking about largely hypothetical benefits to the user, when the (real and imagined) drawbacks are already burned into the public mind. If we’re going to get past cookiephobia, we need to see some tangible benefits coming from keeping cookies: the mantra of “stuff will be more personalized” just won’t cut it.

Cookies mean that I don’t have to manually log in every time I post something to del.icio.us? Clear, immediate benefit for me. Good del.icio.us — have a cookie. Fifteen separate advertising.com cookies get me…ummm…what, again? My own intermittent and unscientific testing has proven to my satisfaction that deleting ad network cookies doesn’t have even the slightest negative impact on my Web browsing experience, nor keeping those cookies any positive effect…so why should I allow these cookies in the first place? Those cookies are another example of me giving data to a service, and if I’m going to give someone that data I’d damn well better get something in return.

The Asspatent Series: United States Patent Application 0050177789

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United States Patent Application: 0050177789 is Microsoft’s filing for ” Method and apparatus for visually emphasizing numerical data contained within an electronic document”…which would be “highlighting the numbers, whether in their alpha or numeric forms, in a word processing document.”

Asspatent.

Asspatent, asspatent, asspatent.

Though it does point to an interesting omission (as far as I’ve seen, at least) in word processing and presentation software: the damn things do spelling and grammar checks, why not basic math checks? I can think of several occasions in recent months where I’ve seen Word docs or Powerpoint presentations that had arithmetical typos (misplaced decimal points and the like).

I suppose that this is a sort of half step in that direction, highlighting the numbers so that you can check them, but why not go all the way and have the computing device try to identify and validate your computations?