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