As it generally happens in software/hardware patents, the claimed solution seems quite obvious whenever one wants to solve that particular problem, and the hard part is the "execution", i.e. implementing it efficiently and figuring out whether the tradeoffs are worth it.
So assigning patents to things like this seems really dumb.
An easy example is to patent an "opening mechanism that requires force" (door). Yes, that's an idea but can have different ways to execute, sliding door, regular opening door, suicide doors.
Now a patent on the hinge that performs the operation seems more concrete. The exact execution of said idea.
The patent seems to be based on this paper: http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=264189. It has an extensive experimental evaluation. Another thing to keep in mind is that Sohi, Vijaykumar and Moshovos are all respected computer architecture researchers, and this paper was published in ISCA, which is the best and most competitive forum for computer architecture research.
Architectural optimizations are often dismissed by outsiders as being "obvious", but what they don't see are all the other "obvious" ideas that don't work for various subtle reasons. I worry that if you make these techniques unpatentable, they'd become trade secrets and nobody would publish them, and we'd be worse off as a community.
These were University researchers. It's not like they're in it for the crazy-$$. In my experience, they'd publish anyway... for all the right reasons: furthering humanity, intellectual curiosity, academic prestige, etc.
(1) When he was a professor, would he have still published the work even if he couldn't patent and profit from it later? My assertion: Yes, he probably would've still published.
(2) Would he have founded MIPS (and made it successful) w/o the patents? I don't know, but that was beyond the scope of my claims. ;) Or perhaps: If he hadn't patented it, but just published... then would other companies have picked up his technology (for free) and integrated it into their products, resulting in a net win for society anyway?
You also have to consider the prospective impact of the rule. Would smart ambitious people go into the PhD/academia track if they couldn't parlay research into a business opportunity? Many wouldn't.
Of course patents aren't a necessary condition for turning research into a business. But for hard R&D type businesses, they're a pretty important criteria to getting investment.
If someone did implement this into a chip that was successful, it would take a lot less than 20 years to reverse engineer how they did it, even if they took steps to avoid reverse engineering.
I also think “one click to buy” is brilliant.
Since it's impossible to unambiguously distinguish between crappy and worthy patents, we should either abolish them, or have them last for a really short time, like a year or two. Plenty for the inventor to secure its return on the research's investment, not enough to stifle innovation.
How? It's a digital slide bolt. They just digitized a simple mechanism that's been in use for hundreds of years.
They didn't patent the gesture, the patented its usage in the human/software interface context.
You couldn't patent the steering wheel just because you stick it in something that's not a car. You'd have to use it for something that's not steering or wheeling. Slide-to-unlock is obvious because it's based on a bolt that you ... slide to unlock. There's no novelty in unlocking something, software or not, by solving such a simple 'puzzle' as moving your finger sideways. It's certainly not a stroke of genius.
> even then it was a stroke of genius to "port" real life object interaction into the software realm
Of course, the current subject proves that even legitimate worthwhile research can produce absurd and abusive patents.
Think about it. A touch screen can only detect a limited number of basic interactions. All interactions with the software must occur through those basic primitives. Touching the screen and moving your finger are really the only two things the interface can recognize.
It's like if someone was called brilliant for suggesting that we should turn our phone screens off when they aren't in use to save battery. It's just the obvious solution, and patenting it and enforcing that patent is just meant to create obstacles for competitors.
Apple thinks it own the very idea of the smartphone. They even claimed they owned curved corners... It is nice to see them get a taste of their own medicine.
It would be great if they won, just so we could use the precedent to make them lose all of the asinine lawsuits they start.
I agree that finding the obvious should not entitle you to "own" it or allow you to prevent others from using the insight.
Anyone who does claim that (e.g. Apple) should be ridiculed mercilessly for it.
Give 100 UI designers a touch screen and ask them to design a few unlock mechanisms each, I think you will get a slide to unlock pretty quickly. On click purchase (is this a troll) is basically saving billing and shipping details.
Statutory material: No matter how brilliant, a poem, law of nature, mathematical algorithm or computer program is supposedly not patentable. Lots of details at http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/s2106.html
Novelty: It has to be new. This is where prior art comes in.
Non-obviousness: This is the test for patenability you're talking about. It can be hard to judge obviousness in hindsight. There are so many specialty areas today that it's unreasonable to expect the patent office to be able to determine what would be obvious to an ordinary practitioner in every area of invention.
Is slide to unlock a clever UI mechanism to put on a phone? Sure. Should that entitle it to a 20-ish year monopoly as an idea irrespective of implementation? I don't see how a reasonable person comes up with an answer other than "of course not".
The entire patent system is so far twisted from what it was intended for, it is really quite a shame.
Dynamic Speculation and Synchronization of Data Dependences, Moshovos et al, Proc. ISCA-24, June 1997
The patent in question pertains to an optimization of what these days you'd call "memory disambiguation." In a processor executing instructions out of order, data dependencies can be known or ambiguous. A known data dependency is, for example, summing the results of two previous instructions that themselves each compute the product of two values. An ambiguous data dependency is usually a memory read after a memory write. The processor usually does not know the address of the store until it executes the store. So it can't tell whether a subsequent load must wait behind the store (if it reads from the same address), or can safely be moved ahead of it (if it reads from a different address).
If you have the appropriate machinery, you can speculatively execute that later load instruction. But you need some mechanism to ensure that if you guess wrong--that subsequent load really does read from the same address as the earlier store--you can roll back the pipeline and re execute things in the correct order.
But flushing that work and replaying is slow. If you've got a dependent store-load pair, you want to avoid the situation where misspeculation causes you to have to flush and reply every time. The insight of the patent is that these dependent store-load pairs have temporal locality. Using a small table, you can avoid most misspeculations by tracking these pairs in the table and not speculating the subsequent load if you get a table hit. That specific use of a prediction table is what is claimed by the patent.
Maybe this is worth a patent, or maybe not. For what it's worth, I don't think anybody was doing memory disambiguation at all in 1996. Intel was one of the first (maybe the first) to do so commercially in the mid-2000's. Apple's Cyclone architecture also does it, and I think it was the first in the low-power SoC space to do it.
Maybe start with another question. What do you think the odds are that there was any kind of causal chain from the invention of this technique by the patent holder to Apple's use of the technique?
In particular, given how much industry funds them, collaborates with their professors, etc, what is going on now is a remarkably stupid approach mostly driven by tech transfer offices that want to prove their value.
Which will be "zero", once the tech industry starts cutting them off.
Take away the faculty awards, industry collaborations, donated labs, donated computing time, hiring of interns, etc.
So it's a university [mainly] funded by the tax-payer. How can it be that the research of this university isn't in the public domain? The public paid for it, the public should reap the benefits without paying again.
Sure, Apple tries their hardest not to pay taxes, but the patent isn't limited to them.
"Intel had supported Sohi's research with about $90,000 in gifts in the 1990s and argued it was entitled to the intellectual property that resulted from Sohi's work.
However US District Judge Barbara Crabb laughed Chipzilla's argument out of court and ordered the case to trial.
She said that the funding terms did not give Intel the right to use patents resulting from the work. However she said that any infringement by Intel was not willful because the funding agreements were ambiguous."
This is not true, at least for most states. For example, the UW system got 1.2 Billion from the state out of a 6 Billion dollar budget: https://www.wisconsin.edu/about-the-uw-system/
The large majority of most state university funding comes through tuition, research grants, and donations.
That's not necessarily to say their work should be in the public domain but it would still be nice to see them focus on more productive uses of their IP rather than just license fee extraction.
I mean, let's be honest here, a patent like this is isn't particularly useful to the public because almost nobody outside of a few very large corporations can afford to implement it, and they stand to make a ton of money from it. The last thing Apple needs is publicly subsidized research.
 Like an NFL-class stadium.
Because NFL-Class Stadium is not one of the features I would think of if I was doing a bullet list of things a university should have.
My 30k student university has a sports hall and a gym.
Also, just the ticket sales for one game at Camp Randall Stadium bring in ~$4 million.
What an upside down system!
In order to avoid this from happening too often, they added a(nother) feedback loop in the whole process: if a sequence of instructions seems to cause a mis-speculation often enough, it's added to a table, so that when it's encountered again, the control unit doesn't speculatively execute an instruction whose result is most likely going to have to be retired anyway.
I don't know if there's prior art to this, but the basic idea is fairly straightforward. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that IBM or DEC engineers knew about this prior to 1996.
1. In a processor capable of executing program instructions in an execution order differing from their program order, the processor further having a data speculation circuit for detecting data dependence between instructions and detecting a mis-speculation where a data consuming instruction dependent for its data on a data producing instruction of earlier program order, is in fact executed before the data producing instruction, a data speculation decision circuit comprising:
a) a predictor receiving a mis-speculation indication from the data speculation circuit to produce a prediction associated with the particular data consuming instruction and based on the mis-speculation indication; and
b) a prediction threshold detector preventing data speculation for instructions having a prediction within a predetermined range.
Whether or not there was a prior implementation of this, I don't know – but it's also obviously more than a simple saturating counter branch predictor or whatever.
So inductive patent expansion. Take previous innovation, add 1, profit.
What about L0 and L4 caches? Or Renaming sets of renamed registers? The problem as others have outlined, that patents are not concrete enough. Simply describing a problem is enough to be granted a patent. The value of the description of most patents is zero, which afaik this opposite of their intended effect as a record and transfer of technology.
The innovation of the UWM paper was the MDPT and DDST, then due to practical manufacture reasons merging them, and then studying the trade-off with a simulator to arrive at a very efficient system.
For comparison, here is the IBM patent for the bigger more expensive approach used in Power4:
(obviously the processor does this on a much lower level than this code)
There's a discovery process for civil cases.
Well, it normalizes large patent payment damages which isn't good and guarantees that non-giant companies will never, ever be able to compete in this space because investors are spooked over random near $1b lawsuits.
Big companies seem to not mind the patent status quo for some reason. I suspect it just keeps competition away by raising the barrier to entry. This should be concerning to all. The refrain of "Apple can afford it" is scary as Apple is the world's wealthiest company. Of course they can afford it. That's besides the point.
> Man, that's such a humbling stat. Many of us here don't even earn that in a lifetime!
Unless I missed the /s ;)
I tell ya, this tech news stuff is sometimes more entertaining than infotainment on TV.
For this article it's here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/20039682
Please do let them know that they need to start linking, or at least naming, documents that they're talking about. They do it all the time and I agree it's annoying. They'll discuss a medical study and not have any links to it. Sometimes they don't even name the report nor where it appeared.
The job of a journalist isn't report every fact, it's to cut through the noise, take something that happened and condense it into something that their audience will read and can understand, without distorting it.
This article does exactly that. That's why it's journalism.
> Apple faces a bill of $862m (£565m) after losing a patent lawsuit.
It then goes on to describe what products the patent covers, when the patent was filed, what it does, what other companies have been sued infringing, what the outcomes was, what the likely outcomes is going to be in this case and the factors that are likely to have an effect. It then describes some recent related news which may be on interest.
It's a perfectly fine article for the audience it is aimed it. Most people don't give a shit about the details - not everyone reads HN.
The BBC have a very predictable style. Open with a very short (single sentence) summary that covers the main points. If the reader is interested, they read on, if not, they've already read enough to get the gist. As the article goes on, it will go into more detail, sometimes repeating what has been said earlier but going into more depth.
Stop reading BBC articles if you don't like their style, but that's what the BBC do, they are very good at it, and are respected world-wide because of it.
Have a look at this story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-34520631
That has an inline hyperlink to a previous story. It has a list at the end of the article to other articles about the same topic. And it also has a related Internet links.
So a link to the patent could be:
_The patent, filed in 1998_
Or it could be listed in related Internet information.
Most people aren't going to use it, but it saves time for everyone who does use it. And for medical studies it's probably important to get people into the habit of trying to read and understand them.
Oddly enough, they got lots of these things wrong. Here's the patent in question: http://www.google.com/patents/US5781752
1. It was filed in 1996, not 1998.
2. The patent itself doesn't say anything about power efficiency (although perhaps that was argued at trial), so I'm not sure where they got that.
3. The article says it "relates to use of the technology in the iPhone 5s, 6 and 6 Plus - but an additional lawsuit making the same claim against Apple's newest models, the 6S and 6S Plus, has also been filed." That may be true, but it's so vague as to be pretty information-free.
The whole article reads like it was written by someone who doesn't know anything about patents, doesn't care to learn, and just uncritically copied information he read elsewhere. That isn't journalism.
> 1. It was filed in 1996, not 1998.
Ok they used 'filed' when they should have used 'issued' or 'granted'. That's technically incorrect although unlikely to matter to layreader.
> The patent itself doesn't say anything about power efficiency (although perhaps that was argued at trial), so I'm not sure where they got that.
It's argued explicitly in the complaint. Not sure how you count this as something they got wrong since they're right just because it's not footnoted to a level you're comfortable with.
> That may be true, but it's so vague as to be pretty information-free.
It is in fact true and I don't find it vague at all. What information do you think need to be included in an article pointed at the casual reader?
Details are important. Getting them wrong makes a journalist look sloppy and incompetent.
> It's argued explicitly in the complaint.
Is it? I withdraw this point if so. At a quick skim, the patent doesn't seem to have anything to do with power efficiency, but if it's in the complaint, I can't fault BBC for mentioning it in the article.
> What information do you think need to be included in an article pointed at the casual reader?
I dunno. Maybe this is the right level of detail for the casual reader. It seems extremely, uselessly broad to me though.
I mean, that'd be funny, right? Teaching students something that you patented, waiting a few years for them to go into industry and apply what they learned, then suing them for it.
Or maybe a table of processor engineering. That could work too.
Why doesn't Apple start lobbying for real patent reform?
Competition is so tedious.
The earliest case I'm aware of dealing with "corporate personhood" is The Rev John Bracken v. The Visitors of Wm & Mary College, from 1790, which is discussed in the linked article  (page 434 discusses the founder's wishes, treating the corporation as an extension of the will of its founder, through its charter.) The rest of US case law, long before Citizens United, follows this same pattern -- corporations, being "merely associations of individuals united for a special purpose" , function legally as individuals in many ways, with the right to speak and own property and other such things that fit with the purpose for which they are founded.
A relevant quote from US case law: "The principle at stake is not peculiar to unions. It is applicable as well to associations of manufacturers, retail and wholesale trade groups, consumers' leagues, farmers' unions, religious groups, and every other association representing a segment of American life and taking an active part in our political campaigns and discussions .... It is therefore important -- vitally important -- that all channels of communication be open to [all of the above types of associations] during every election, that no point of view be restrained or barred, and that the people have access to the views of every group in the community." 
 Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania, 1888 https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/125/181/
 United States v. Auto Workers, 1957 https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/352/567/
edit: disregard, I don't read good
UW sued Intel. This lawsuit was settled.
UW then sued Apple. A different company.
Why would the fact that the suit with Intel was settled impact their ability to sue Apple? What's the source of confusion here?
Typical trolling involves finding a dogshit patent and then extorting companies.
This is exactly the reason patents exist. To allow inventors to exist separately from manufactures.