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Vigilante engineer stops Waymo from patenting key lidar technology (arstechnica.com)
569 points by sonnyblarney 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 143 comments



I have actually reviewed this man's supposedly vigilante's submission to the USPTO and it is clear that this story is not what it seems. The document is a highly professional 95+ page document of complex legal argumentation that only a law firm with a small team of lawyers with a lot of prior experience doing this could have put together. It contains lots of lawyer speak and contemporary argumentation that a lay person would simple not have knowledge of. As much as people are keen to believe the vigilante narrative, there is zero chance that is what happened here. Instead, he was used as a 'strawman' by a company with much deeper pockets to attack Waymo's key patent. I estimate that this actually cost around $100k to prepare and file.


I think this story does an injustice by calling him an 'engineer'. He cofounded Speedera Networks, which was acquired for $130m by Akamai after a 3-year patent battle, a battle he was on the front-line of and learnt a lot about patent infringement. Yes, he's an engineer, but he's also an engineer who knows more than the average engineer about patents and complex legal argumentation.

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/eric-swildens-uber-waymo-lawsuit...


It is not a deservice. Its indicative of how poorly we view our own profession that everyone with other skills must be more than engineer, merely by applying them.

A lawyer who becomes mayor is still a lawyer. A doctor who runs a phamacology company is still a doctor. And yes, and engineer who founds a company still retains the core skills and prestige of their hardwon profession.

Or at least, I think they should.


It's not a disservice or an injustice, but it does paint a very incomplete picture. Like talking about Harvard lawyer and law professor Barack Obama.


Hardwon profession: Three weeks in a boot camp followed by two years on the bloody frontlines of the Framework Wars...


To be fair, when you become a doctor it is because your peers grant you the title, not merely due to your GPA.

Outside the US, engineering is the same. Within the US, there is no formal board for software engineerig but we can at least informally say one is an engineer if other engineers would recognize them as such. I know people whom graduated bootcamps and could qualify as engineers, albiet inexperienced ones, and those who have finished 4 years of schooling but cannot practice engineering.

The guy in the article was inducted into the Academy of Science and Engineering at 34. Whether that makes him pretigious or not isn't the question, but there is no doubt in my mind that he is an engineer.


This. It's "engineers" themselves who have degraded the term (once a profession nearly as stringently accredited as doctors or lawyers) by applying it to anyone who can copy/paste stack overflow answers into a text editor.


It's not the engineers doing that.

A software developer is an engineer the same way a janitor is a sanitation engineer.


I have friends in IT who get really angry when I refer to them as computer-janitors.


I support our troops.


In certain Eastern countries, Engineer (capitalized) is a title much like Attorney or Doctor.


It is really funny that a conspiracy theory posted by an anonymous person with no backing evidence whatsoever is sitting at the top of this thread.


It's as if people can still think for themselves and make arguments from the available information (even if they prove to be wrong), instead of expecting the final story to be handed down to them...

The reference to the "95+ page document of complex legal argumentation"? That's evidence in support of the claim in the comment. Parent didn't make up that it's a complex lengthy legal document themselves.

Sure, the theory that he was a strawman might or might not pan out. But that this is no simple "engineer vigilante" is evident. Perhaps it's a very organized vigilante with big resources (and the money mentioned also point to that). But such a move is not above suspicion of some other corporate entity being involved. Should anybody thinking so just keep it to themselves? Or are people that might agree at fault if they vote such a comment up?


The original poster doesn't provide any substantive evidence of what they're claiming (since then they've posted a link to the document without further discussion). They have an account with very little activity so we don't really know who they are or how knowledgeable (and how biased) they are on these issues. I think some skepticism is very much warranted and I don't understand why their comment sits at the top of the thread. They're not making "arguments from the available information", they're just making a statement without providing evidence.

>But that this is no simple "engineer vigilante" is evident

It is not to me. It's plausible that he might not be but I haven't seen a conclusive demonstration either and I'd sooner trust Ars over "some anonymous poster on HN who says it's not true".

I tried reading the PDF provided and I found it very obtuse and verbose, but then again so are patent applications as far as I'm concerned. I'm genuinely incapable of judging the level of skill and dedication required to create something like that. If you are I'd very much like to hear about it instead of throwing vague accusations. Is is that implausible that a skilled engineer used to dealing with patents could come up with something like that on their own or with only minor outside help?


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_the_stone

If you're going to argue against an assertion, you should include an argument.


The argument was implicit: he called it a conspiracy theory.

A conspiracy theory is an explanation of an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy [...] without credible evidence.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conspiracy_theory


That's not an argument. You should look at the example in the wikipedia article I posted.

The poster formed an opinion based on observations and gave his reasons for doing so. If you disagree with his observations, the best way to do so is to provide your reasons for disagreeing with his analysis.


What analysis? OP basically said "these words are big" and from that determined it was written by others.


It's funny how I seriously can't tell whether you mean the comment or the article on top of this thread.


Fine, I'll bite. The person mentioned in the article is not anonymous, his name, credentials and motivation are all publicly stated. None of which applies to the GP.


Granted. s/seriously/almost/g would have been more appropriate


Many users of this site are used to evaluate comments on merit alone, without ever bothering to check who the comment author is. I personally don't think it's that bad of a situation.


Elsewhere it's mentioned that Swildens was on the receiving end of a 3 year battle over patent infringement, where he was a founder and so intimately involved. After an apprenticeship like that it would be unsurprising if he could emulate a team of lawyers.


"Our marketing person sat in the room with engineers for 3 years. It's no wonder they can now emulate a team of engineers"

The amount by which engineering egos are inflated is amazing. Guess what - being a lawyer takes a bit more work than being on a legal case for three years. Why, as opposed to engineers, there's actually a bar they are held to.


Interestingly, sitting with lawyers 5 days a week for 3 years can earn you a JD degree and for many is sufficient preparation to pass the bar.

If your purpose is to pass the bar, you probably want to direct the topics of those 3 years of meeting with lawyers. If you want to specialize in patent law without concern for passing the bar, 3 years could be overkill. So you may only need to spend 1-2 days a week for 3 years meeting with patent lawyers.


Sure, but the claim here isn't that the person passed the bar or is a lawyer, just that they were able to produce a lawyer-like document requiring knowledge of one specific subset of the law that they happen to have had lots of exposure to in their regular job.

Sometimes marketing people that sit with the engineers actually learn to code. It has happened at my company. Do they have all the skills someone who got a CS degree would have? Maybe not. Do they have some subset of those skills necessary for the particular tasks the team is faced with daily at this company? Sure.


You can take the legal documentation from the previous patent battle to see how to frame arguments. It's not uncommon for intellectual property and patent attorneys to dabble in their area of expertise to better understand both the exceptions raised by experts and form arguments that experts understand. My wife asks for advice all the time on how to phrase key points because at the end of the day they are trying to make compelling arguments.

Do you really think it's impossible a founder and engineer who went through a three year battle over patents could form a similar document? You'd only have to understand the assertions and have an attorney review your work. There are tons of legal reviews which end up with only one person being listed while the others are not given attribution to the document.


I was about to comment something similar. I've myself worked with patent lawyers and can emulate their speech to some extent.


The Ars article omitted an important background note about the guy, that he sold a company for $120M at one point, and that it was "cheaply" because he was forced to do so by a lost patent dispute: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18119018


Can you give some more specifics? What are your credentials exactly? You only have three comments in five years on your account, all related to patent discussions but no context as to who you are exactly.


If you are willing to sink the time into it it it not impossible for a smart person to do legal work that appears to require a professional lawyer.


Actually, I am pretty good friends with a civil engineer that did something almost exactly like this for a friend of his. He did this in his spare time and having no prior experience with the niche industry and law his friend's company operated in (botanical health supplements). The people from the federal government involved in the complaint did not believe he wasn't a specialized lawyer with a team of assistants. Do not underestimate the capacity of an engineer scorned.


if a dedicated civil engineer can pick up some law books and make it seem he was some high powered lawyer team,

can a dedicated lawyer pick up some engineering books and build a bridge that can survive SF's 'Big One'?


The two are not equivalent. A patent application is something a patent attorney will make hundreds of in a career. A bridge that can survive the big one is something a team of engineers would do a few times in their career (treating it as a unit). There are multiple orders of magnitude in difference between the two.

I can tell you from witnessed experience that a "car engineer" can custom design a house, do most of the code-related work himself, and pass all relevant inspections on the first try (with flying colors and compliments from the inspector), which seems much closer in scope.


Seems to me he could almost certainly design a bridge with resistance to failure due to an earthquake. The material and principles involved in designing earthquake resistant structures are well understood and publicly available. The primary constraints on such structures are the cost and time to build them.

As for surviving "the big one"... it depends on how big? I'm not sure humanity in general knows how to build a bridge that could survive a dozen meters of shift between its piers. But that is a possibility in the largest conceivable earthquakes.


Don't know about the bridge but he can definitely build the next Facebook.


Because of the internet - information is much more readily available. Nowadays a layman can just search all the information and perform similarly.


Maybe? A wooden pedestrian bridge with seismic shift absorbers like pagodas have seems feasible for a 1-man job, given enough time.


Having done both, I would in fact argue that it is almost exactly as easy as using books and self-study to create software that appears to require a professional developer.


Perhaps thats where the $6000 of his own money was spent, having a lawyer/lawyer friend edit his document into legal speak?


I would've thought the $6000 only covered the cost of filing the challenge with the PTO.


Goodness yes, everybody knows that a mere engineer can never be a clever lawyer.

Except perhaps patent lawyers, which in most jurisdictions have both engineering and lawyering degrees. Or perhaps just a motivated company founder with 4 years of expertise fighting patents. Pretty far fetched I know, but perhaps one should keep a open mind...


>Goodness yes, everybody knows that a mere engineer can never be a clever lawyer.

Sure, an engineer can be a lawyer (there's no law of physics against it). But it's also much less often than this happens than an engineer NOT being a lawyer. That's the parent's argument, not that it's impossible.


Well, sure, but most engineers don't regularly submit patent challenges. This engineer is not typical.


Or he hired a law firm to write it for him? Not far fetched.


He said he paid $6k, and that he considers the money well spent. It seems weird that he would pay $100k and then claim to have paid $6k.


Well, $6K is a pretty good deal, considering I paid over $15K so far for an associate level patent lawyer to finally submit a 49-page provisional utility patent. Now, there is still a ton of work we need to do to go back and clean that shit up. Basically, he just photocopied everything plus the kitchen sink to get it filed. I know I have at least that bill amount waiting on us before we finally get it issued.


Where are you getting 100k from?


That is the amount suggested (with zero evidence) by the original comment in this thread.


Can you share the document?



The plot thickens...


Props to this guy.

I just took a look at the patent (highly recommended), and it's fairly ridiculous. It's a 101 design to control a diode with a transistor.


It does look that way but then if that's the case why didn't anybody at Uber point that out during the lawsuit? From the article:

>The patent describes how a laser diode can be configured to emit pulses of laser light using a circuit that includes an inductor and a gallium nitride transistor. That chance discovery helped spark a lawsuit in which Waymo accused Uber of patent infringement and of using lidar secrets supposedly stolen by engineer Anthony Levandowski.

>In August 2017, Uber agreed to redesign its Fuji lidar not to infringe the 936 patent.

If "some guy" with $6000 lying around could overturn most of the patent why couldn't Uber? That's the part that baffles me.


Real life example from someone I know:

They worked at a company which was only allowed to use certain DRM stuff if they used patent-protected encryption within the hardware. Therefore he invented some and worked with the company lawyer to get a patent.

The patent lawyers’ job includes making the patent as general as possible. The lawyer did not understand the technology, and while broadening the patent claim they accidentally changed the patent into something which already existed - a binary adder, if I remember, certainly something that simple although the details are unimportant. None of this was relevant to my acquaintance nor their employer as the mere fact that they had a patent entitled them to use the DRM.

Even lawyers are vulnerable to the game of telephone. Despite their reputation as vampires, they are very human.


This is a good answer to the question "why did Waymo have a patent that could be invalidated by one guy with $6000?"

But it's a terrible answer to the question "if one guy with $6000 could get this patent invalidated, why couldn't Uber?"


Probably because none of the lawyers on Uber's side had the credentials to stop and ask themselves "hey, is this even patentable?!"

Nobody consulted any engineer. Just lawyers fighting each other, and the side with the biggest pockets won.


Absolutely believable - I’ve been amazed at some of the foolishness of general councils at LARGE corps. They may know law, but they can suck at getting details right about engineering problems. Heck even when it comes to law, can’t tell you how many times I have heard “we will need to consult outside council”..


See, I'm being absolutely cynical and tongue-in-cheek here, but my understanding about the modern law is that lawyers aren't fighting for the "truth" or "common good" nor they are in the "righting wrongs" business.

Their only job is doing whatever the client wants done. A _good lawyer_ wins a case even when it's total bollocks. The fact that it is bollocks is not a concern at any level.

https://youtu.be/oYj7q_by_2E?t=5m56s


This is how adversarial justice systems are supposed to operate. The idea being that you get lawyers advocating in the best possible way for either side, so the argument is 'fair'. This is in comparison to an inquisitorial system, where one party is charged with investigating the case and exposing the 'truth'. This is more prone to bias and ability on that one party but it does generally mean that the level of resources each side has matters less.


Its a modern version of trial by combat (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_by_combat). As always ,those who can buy a better combatant - win.


Makes sense, I'm not very informed on justice systems.

What concerns me is, with such a system, when A wins a case against B, we (the vast populace) deduce that A was in the right / B was wrong.

In many cases, if A wins a case, it's just because they lied better than B. It does not prove anything more than that.


Nobody consulted any engineer. Just lawyers fighting each other, and the side with the biggest pockets won.

For a case like this, it would have been malpractice for Uber's lawyers not to have consulted a subject matter expert to review the patent. It's very likely that Uber will (if they have not already) be demanding reparations from their lawyers over this.


Maybe Uber is big enough that noone in the legal team even thought about asking for an engineer opinion on the claims to begin with ? You know, like "This thing is a matter for our department, we'll take of it for sure !"


Well it does incorporate a voltage boost converter as part of it's operation but yeah, people have been doing that sort of thing since forever. Any time you have a requirement for a higher voltage than the supply and you are pulsing something this design will just fall out from that. Not an invention...

The Velodyne driver circuits are also entirely straightforward. The characteristics of inductors and capacitors are pretty well known by now. Apparently you can get a patent for using them in entirely obvious ways.


Literally is a GaN xtor driving a laser diode. It's not like Velodyne has been doing that for years :/


If the US patent office did their job, then there would be no need for "vigilante" engineers.

Maybe the reporting of the patent situation is a bit biased but from what I've heard over the years it appears to me that every second patent should be invalid and has prior art.


That would require someone to pay the US patent office to do their jobs.

I believe paying for government services is considered a contentious issue in the USA.


> A quick review of the budget and supporting Commerce Department Appendix suggests the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has received everything it requested ($3,586,193,000), and will not suffer the indignity of fee diversion...

https://www.ipwatchdog.com/2017/05/23/uspto-3-6-billion-pres...

more about the fee diversion

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Patent_and_Trade...

The USPTO isn't mentioned in the congressional budget resolutions

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_United_States_federal_bud...

> Congress Approves $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill, Averting a Shutdown

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/22/us/politics/house-passes-...


USPTO processed >600K patent applications in 2015 [1]. I assume more recent years are similar. Looking over their fee schedule they probably bring in around ~$1-2K per patent application. I'll be generous at $2K.

So they have ~3.5B + 1.2B in revenue. This allocates on avg <$8K to evaluate a patent. Patent examiners likely cost ~150K/yr to employ (wages, benefits, overhead). This is $300/hr.

So an examiner has on avg ~25 hours to evaluate a possibly lengthy, complex, specialized document that often took a team many months to prepare.

That's not very much time to do the job people want them to do. The limiting factor is money.

[1] https://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ido/oeip/taf/h_counts.h...


Wouldn't $150K/year in total compensation be $75/hour - thus changing it to ~ 100 hours to review the document?

I think you still make a valid point. The deluge of patent applications and the relatively specialized knowledge base of certain patents makes it a challenge.

If anything $150,000/examiner seems a bit low if we are trying to tie in building overhead, administration, and benefits to a per person figure.


>Wouldn't $150K/year in total compensation be $75/hour

Oops - correct :)


> The limiting factor is money.

When isn't it? Parent was suggesting the US is underfunding the USPTO. The undisputed claim is that they got all the money they requested. If they need more money, then they should request more. My line of reasoning can be falsified by showing the USPTO didn't get all the money they requested, or that through some bureaucratic machinations submitted an insufficient budget under duress.

This quora post corroborates your napkin math

https://www.quora.com/How-much-time-does-a-patent-examiner-s...

They seem to get 14-29 hours. Your implied claim is: that isn't enough time, for which you'll have to make a case because it isn't established. How much time is enough? What degree of "patent integrity" is acceptable, are there diminishing returns in spending twice as much time assessing a patent? What other federal programs should be sacrificed to make the patent system X% more accurate?


>When isn't it?

When it's time. Or skilled people. At some point there are not enough LeBron James' at any price to fill out the size roster one wants. At some point there is no physical way to spend X hours on a thing for X large enough and enough things.

So showing that money is putting a definite upper limit on a thing shows one constraint is money. It's entirely possible there are not enough people on the planet to both invent novel things and validate those inventions as novel, for certain classes of things. So I suspect in patenting, there is also a shortage of experts capable of validating a thing. I know for some patents I've been involved with, at some point in the process there was likely not another person on the planet that would understand what we/I did because sometimes the edge of knowledge is completely esoteric and the domain of one person.

Heck, there's very important math proofs right now that have gone unvetted for a decade despite all the world's experts working on it, having entire conferences and workshops dedicated to it, and they still cannot come to a conclusion about the work. I suspect such things happen in other fields as well, including patented things.

So, in a situation like that, time and/or people is the limiting factor.

>If they need more money, then they should request more.

What they view as their need to accomplish what they want to do need not be what others want them to do. They also might make the request knowing more about how their budgetary process works than outsiders.

Overall I'm fine with the system as it is, taking into account the difficulty and increased costs it would entail to make it significantly "better."


> That would require someone to pay the US patent office to do their jobs.

You mean like charging a fee[0] for using the USPTO?

[0] https://www.uspto.gov/learning-and-resources/fees-and-paymen...


Absolutely the patent system is underfunded.

We need to force companies to pay a yearly "patent maintenance fee" which will pay for the governments costs in defending and enforcing patents.

We are sick of subsidizing patent enforcement for giant corporations


Nope, overpaying, or having a system too large (requiring large pay), or not requiring users of the system pay are contentious.


In any classification system you're going to get false positives and false negatives. We could improve the situation through better funding to the Patent Office but given the breadth of things getting patented it's a really fundamentally hard problem and thank goodness for recent changes to US patent law making it easier to invalidate bad patents.


That's stunning that (evidently) no one noticed the patents were for a physically impossible design. Was the legal battle even about the designs or more so for posturing?


Patents are broken. I give you: The Stick.

https://patents.google.com/patent/US6360693

HN discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2102388

Also: we all owe license fees for using gravity.

https://patents.google.com/patent/US6368227B1/en


I see yours and raise you this: https://patents.google.com/patent/US20070244837

"System and method for extracting value from a portfolio of assets" - a.k.a. The process of being a patent troll is patented.


As an experiment I once applied for and received a patent on a faster-than-light communications system:

https://patents.google.com/patent/US7126691B2/en

The patent system is FUBAR.


And if anyone builds an FTL communication system based on your design, your rights will be protected.


Yeah, but only for the next four years so they better hurry it up.


https://patents.google.com/patent/US20170213291A1

He patented automated patent troll. Unfortunately, this will not hold in court.


I vaguely recall some guy in Australia took out a patent on the wheel a couple of years back as part of a crusade to show how broken the patent system was.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn965-wheel-patented-in...


It is an innovation (i.e. minor) patent, though, not utility (i.e. invention needed) patent. Some patent offices have this kind of patent and it usually has less protection and easier application than utility patents.


Worth noting that both of those patents were re-examined and later rejected. Not excusing its larger flaws, but a system with throughput like the USPTO must make mistakes occasionally, and these were corrected.


From the article, it sounds like Waymo's attempts at rewriting the patent were what introduced the physical impossibilities. Presumably the circuit from the original patent was physically possible.


I agree.

Just like how engineers certify building plans to ensure the laws of physics are respected, patents really should need to go through some sort of peer certification review - at the submitter's expense - before it gets in front of an examiner!


Making patents even slower to approve, and even more big-corp-only focused.

You win some, you lose some. I'm not even sure which I'd prefer. It's all just fairly terrible.


For the little guy--you lose some, they win more.

Patents need to have a much shorter lifetime except when regulation is involved.

Tech patents, in general, should probably last about 5 years. If you get a patent, you should have to actively promote and license it if you want money from it. You shouldn't be able to just sit on it for decades and then nail somebody who comes out with a useful product down the road.

Medical patents probably should be a little different. They should probably be 5 years OR you can tie the patent to an FDA approval which would give you FDA approval date+5 years. But, if that particular FDA approval fails, your patent falls.


You could keep the time limits where they are, if only they required that the inventions "actually" be novel and non-obvious.

They need to stop issuing patents for basic reorganizations of existing tech. Idiotic things like a "one click checkout" or "sending email" or "packaging a media file into a podcast" should have been kicked back with a big red "denied" stamp from the USPTO after about 10 minutes of wasted time by the examiner.


They only check:

Prior art

Form requirements

Legal form of the PTO s reply

https://www.indeed.com/m/viewjob?jk=07e3e8caed7c8dc1&from=se...

They do not seem to be checking obviousness at all.

And if this scares you may I suggest you never look up what determines if a public prosecutor takes a case or how social workers decide to go after children or psychologically ill people or not.


They don't look at prior art. Otherwise, they would have found all the prior art that the "vigilante engineer" found (and it's not like it was very hard to find, some was ironically linked from the patent itself).


They do look at prior art but remember they only have basically a "google search" type of tool so often find so-called duplicates that are not (because they have the same words in the title maybe) and miss ones that are the same because they are called something else.

Just a very poor system for the money it costs and the potential outcomes to businesses who can literally go bust over a wrong decision.


5 years, from filing to market to making profit is really short. Maybe it works for simple parents but I'm pretty sure most true inventions (and smaller companies with somewhat less complicated patents) will not be able to profit properly from the patent that way.


Depends on the market. For most software patents, even 3 years might be too much, as in that time the "invention" will be already obsoleted by something else.

I strongly agree with GP that companies should not be able to just sit on patents. The ability to literally prevent useful ways of thinking from manifesting in this world is something that goes against the core justification of the patent system.

Also, I'd like to see much bigger pressure put on quality of patents. All patents are eventually meant to go to public domain, and the public is meant to be able to recreate the invention from the text of the patent. Therefore, I believe a patent should not be granted if it isn't demonstrated that it contains all and accurate information necessary to reproduce the invention.


Tough.

The nominal goal of a patent is to encourage innovation--not rent seeking.

And, if you can't monetize the patent within 5 years then maybe the patent really isn't that important or you really don't know how to implement the thing in the patent. That suggests that maybe you shouldn't be granted the patent in the first place.

Making patent terms short also has the upside that the big guys will want stricter review of patents rather than the current mess of almost universal approvals. After the big guys get burned a few times by somebody patenting something that can't actually be implemented but causes disclosure and burns up the clock on the patent they were going to file on their current product development, they will start screaming for real patent review processes.


The review will never be enough.

It's better to eliminate the presumption of validity. Without that presumption, there is no need to bother with review, and patents become little more than certified timestamps.


...with R&D price tags attached. Then everyone who uses something a court considered similar must pay his contribution to the price of the oldest patent involved.


Maybe patents should come with a prototype.


Maybe your competitor finds out while you are trying to build the prototype, builds one more quickly and gets the patent before you!


I don't think it would be too hard to enable some kind of preliminary filing while still requiring a functional prototype.


This also fullfills the purpose as all parties are encouraged to innovate.


the later, it's for having an IP portfolio and getting a choke-hold on the market


I'm impressed that the random engineer was willing to put up $6k of his own money to challenge the patent, despite not benefiting from the decision in any way.


"Random engineer", or guy who sold a company for $130M after a patent-induced nightmare? https://www.wired.com/story/eric-swildens-uber-waymo-lawsuit...


Doesn’t matter - he saw something anyone with EE101 should’ve spotted from the rewrite, stuck with his guns for no personal gain and won.

I would love to have that much attention to detail (or even in the interest in reading through the patent).


It matters. Of all possible patents to invalidate, why this one?

Uber - one of the world's most valuable private companies, doesn't need help with patent law.


Possible explanation: because this guy doesn't spend his day looking for patents to challenge; he read about that particular one on the news due to Waymo vs Uber case, and decided to take a look at it, only to notice it's bullshit.

That's the official story, but it also sounds pretty plausible.


Apparently they do considering they hadn’t submitted their own reexamination request of the patent in question that inevitably led to Waymo dropping the patent claim.


He visited two of [Uber's] buildings in San Francisco before being directed to its headquarters, where he was met with skepticism by a security guard.

“I explained that I had filed an ex parte reexamination on my own and Waymo had had it for two weeks already and it didn’t seem fair that Uber didn’t have it, given it was going to trial,” explains Swildens. “But I felt the guy thought I was some crazy person who just came in off the street.”


He had at least 2 other cofounders, and the company had raised $50 Million from investors. He didn't get much of that $130 million.


I disagree that he did not benefit. When a bad patent is invalidated, everyone in society benefits. That so-called "invention" is no longer exclusively locked up in the hands of a single company.


And it's quite possible he's holding shares of Waymo's competitors, no?


Although some engineers may disagree, this is one of the reasons I believe engineering should NOT be a protected industry/profession. Fine if the title was but not the action of doing it.

I read a story about someone showing flaws in a USA traffic light system and he was subsequently fined for "illegal engineering" which is the most idiotic thing ever.

Going on current USA progression it won't be long before you get 10 years behind bars for "illegal engineering" in some states.

Wasn't even that long ago. https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/04/29/engineer_fined_for_...


That case is a little out there, I've never met an non-pe engineer that has ever gotten in trouble for doing engineering. I think PE certifications are fine in cases where there is one guy having the final say on a massive project that could kill someone if it fails. If my calculator app crashes, no one is going to be crushed to death. I think software and electrical engineering is a little bit different compared to a mechanical or civil engineer that is designing buildings and superstructures. For one, software and hardware is something you can constantly test and redesign for relatively little cost. You can come out with a product that just works and works well. Even if you are producing software and hardware that goes into lifesaving equipment, you can still perform tests on the final product to make sure it conforms. Once you build that bridge, its up there. You can't refactor it and come out with a new version if a strut fails. And because your design is in the public, the county/state/country is going to make sure you do it right. Too many people have been hurt by shoddy buildings in the lifetime of humanity to ignore modern safety code. There should be no reason why having a licensed professional engineer is a bad thing for anyone except those not good enough to beat the exam or those too cheap to hire one.

I really don't see anything to suggests that "illegal engineering" is a trend. I don't think that discussing engineering topics should be illegal but you should be fined for lying about being a PE just as you would by saying you are a medical doctor when you really aren't.


I believe that the PE in Industrial engineering works that way (ie., as a professional title designation). I don't think there's anything you can do with a PE in Industrial Engineering that you wouldn't be allowed to do as an "Operations Research Analyst". I read this a while back and tried to search around for it and wasn't successful, so sorry, I'm saying this with no cite (and not a lot of certainty). I suppose software engineering could work the same, but I seriously doubt anyone of the 200K+ salaried software engineers at top tech companies would bother getting it if it were just a title designation. Nor do the better paid supply chain analysts and other types who are essentially doing IE seem to bother with the PE designation.

The problem here is that we have sound engineers and special effects engineers, and I truly don't think there's a huge problem with the dilution of the term.

I personally don't like the term software engineering much, mainly because I think it's better to acknowledge that something very new has emerged, and that it really isn't a branch of engineering. I think that it shares a set of great grand parents with many engineering disciplines and a few other fields (the math department), but I think software is about as closely related to engineering as actuarial science or statistics, or maybe even quantitative economics. We have our own thing here. If we want to make it more rigorously licensed, ok, that's not a bad discussion to have, but I'd personally rather see it kept well away from engineering. I'm suspicious of degree requirements, but if we had one, a degree in math might even make more sense than than engineering.

I see a lot of this as an engineering land grab. There's all this talk about how software "engineering" is diluting the term engineering, and yeah, when you can read a book on PHP and MySql (or just the first few pages) and call yourself an engineer, that tends to happen.

But come on now, folks, let's not be excessively modest here. Incredible things are happening in software. PageRank is a work of math, not a work of engineering.

Before it strikes you as excessively paranoid, keep in mind that the patent bar specifically excludes mathematics as coursework that qualifies you to become a patent agent or lawyer. This surprises a lot of people, but yeah, someone with a degree in civil engineering can qualify to evaluate whether a new development infringes on page rank, where as someone with a BA, MA, and PhD in math? Nope, math isn't relevant to the patent bar.

The low, low quality of patent review in this field is pretty evident, and we actually go out of our way to specifically exclude people who probably have the strongest background.

Trust me, engineers will totally screw up software if they get control of licensing, and I assure you, they will absolutely exclude people with math degrees from licensing. Look, if they want to do that with structural engineering, go ahead, but they need to keep their mitts off software.


So, the last year, Waymo claimed that Uber infringe this patent and Uber claimed they redesign it so it didn't infringe the patent now.

And then, the same patent is concluded to be "impossible" and "magic".

What kind of nonsense is this? How do you use or redesign to avoid using the impossible magic tech?


The way I understand the story from this article, the patent wasn't magic, it was just obvious and plenty of prior art existed. When this guy challenged that patent, Waymo started rewriting it, and this is when the "impossible magic tech" was introduced.


Yes. I read the article and it looks like so.


It's sad that Google has become part of the problem rather than the solution.

So much for "Do no Evil".


On this one, they may have some ground. A former engineer allegedly walked out with designs, and pleaded the fifth amendment when asked to testify in court.


Makes me wonder how many patents are unrightfully granted.


I'd guess about 95% of them give or take a few percentage points.


> In March, an examiner noted that a re-drawn diagram of Waymo's lidar firing circuit showed current passing along a wire between the circuit and the ground in two directions—something generally deemed impossible.

Oh! Someone took inspiration in real magic[1].

[1] http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/magic-story.html


> The USPTO found that some claims replicated technology described in an earlier patent from lidar vendor Velodyne, while another claim was simply "impossible" and "magic."

I don't see the word "magic" anywhere in the Final Rejection document. What did they say exactly?


Just goes to show that in top-down organizations, it doesn't matter if they have tons of employees and engineers when the work output of all of them is just a sum and intrinsically limited by their masters at the top.


How can I but this man a beer?


Interesting that Google/Waymo is one of the companies that boasts about not filing for bs patent portfolios and yet...

:(


All patents are BS.


Not all to be honest, there are keystone patents (e.g. patent for integrated circuit) that were genuinely novel and breakthrough, but somewhere along the way the system seems to have become large dysfunctional.


Well done


Url changed from https://www.cnet.com/roadshow/news/waymo-uber-lidar-patent-e..., which points to this.


This URL referenced by CloudYeller is a much better story than the Ars one: https://www.wired.com/story/eric-swildens-uber-waymo-lawsuit...


That was discussed in 2017 here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15875685. The new articles do have new information, so we'll leave this one up.


> He then spent $6,000 of his own money

Who on earth has that kind of scratch just lying around to spend on something like this? I mean good for him for doing it but wow!!


If I read correctly correlated informations, the guy sold a company for 130 million dollars in the early 2000s (a story which also provided him with much needed experience in patents laws). If his only hobby in the meantime has been challenging patents, he probably can afford it !


We don't know how much of that he got to keep. The company raised $50 Million from investors (who need to get repaid), and there were other co-founders involved.

He said $6000 was "not a drop in the bucket" for him, so I guess he didn't get much of that.


Luckily for the engineering community, it's somewhere around > 1


There are billionaires who regularly post here, the impressive part to me is the self-filing not the $6,000.


There are approximately 35 million millionaires on Earth.




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