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Yahoo Crosses The Line (avc.com)
525 points by barrynolan on Mar 13, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 230 comments



I really don't like saying this, but here it goes:

Don't hate the player, hate the game.

We need real, substantive patent reform in this country.


A) I'm perfectly ok with hating the player and the game. Patent reform would be great, but you can't legislate sanity or neighborliness.

B) This is not the game. As Fred Wilson explains, web company patents have been thought of as defensive. If this triggers a wave of patent lawsuit bullshit, then everybody will end up poorer. Except the lawyers, of course.


Mutually Assured Litigation.


MALware?


MALwar?


The more we have companies blatantly showing how unproductive and how software patents are actually hurting innovation, the more likely it is that change will happen.

Just remember though that right now the pharmaceutical companies are massively outspending the technology sector as far as lobbying Congress. (A Senator is a wonderful thing --- everyone should own one!)

As a Google employee I can contribute to Google NetPAC. I'm not sure what opportunities exist towards donations to organizations that directly lobby Congress. The EFF is an advocacy organization, which is a good start, but they are not a lobbying organization per se.

It's a horrible system and it's not a productive way to use money as far as society is concerned, but unfortunately, it's the way the game is structured, and if you don't play the game, you'll get run over by those who do....


Companies like Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM which hold a huge number of software patents and aren't exactly keen on seeing that system go away, either. But yes, big pharma relies almost exclusively on patents to recoup R&D costs.


R&D costs actually make up a pretty small portion of the pie. It's unclear what if anything patents are doing to recoup those since they're all just copying each other with designer drugs that are just slightly different enough to not violate someone else's patent. The pharma industry is probably a better example than the software industry for why patents suck. http://www.dklevine.com/papers/imbookfinal09.pdf


It costs ~$1B to bring a pharmaceutical to market because of the amount of testing and clinical trials required to make sure you're doing more good than harm. Of course some are copycat drugs, but that's going to be inevitable.

There are real advances too, and those wouldn't happen without some ability to generate a return on the $1B or more you spent on the drug (let alone the hundreds of millions on drugs that didn't make it).

R&D being a small part of the budget doesn't change that. The fundamental business is still based on the patent system.


So did you read the linked PDF?


Their solution seems to be that the government should fund the expensive part of drug development.

That sounds like a terrible idea though: now you'll have the govt "picking winners" that can go to market. As with anything in the government, that will be subject to tons of lobbying, earmarking, waste, and endless debate.

But if you think about it, Pharma drugs are actually similar to SW or movies or music. In each of those, a large investment produces a good which is cheap to replicate (knowledge of efficacy/safety of a compound, or in SW / movies / music, bits arranged a certain way).

Each of these need protection on the investment to create it, so that there can be a return.

In SW, music, and movies/etc, that protection is essentially copyright law.

The only difference with Pharma is that copyright law doesn't buy them anything. So they need some other mechanism of protection.

Maybe it doesn't have to be a patent: how about an exclusive government license to sell a pharmaceutical tied to the FDA approval. Kind of like a pharmaceutical-specific patent.

The key is that financing still happens via private means, and there isn't a fixed quota of budget or # of drugs... Let the market decide the right amount for our society to spend on drugs.

The government should step in when there is a market failure (e.g. unpriced externalities, or tragedy-of-the-commons, etc). But just the fact that there's a large investment that needs protection for an ROI isn't a market failure.


It doesn't matter if it's a better example for why patents suck. They are spending more than we are lobbying congress to keep the current patent regime in place.


> But yes, big pharma relies almost exclusively on patents to recoup R&D costs.

What? I was under the impression that they rely mostly on advertising to recoup costs, their advertising budgets are generally much larger than their R&D budgets.


Coincidentally, I just posted a huge rant against, "It's just marketing" in another thread, but I'll respond to this much less rantier.

Big pharma uses patents to protect their monopoly on a drug for seven(?) years after its introduced. Once that window is up, generics come in and take a huge chunk of sales. Pharma uses marketing and advertising to push their new drugs to try to sell as many during the patent window as they possibly can, when they have a large markup on it.


These days big pharma has outsourced all their early stage development to startups, purchasing compounds in the late stages through acquisition. They do pay for research, but it's not going to look that way on their balance sheet.

Their primary function, as you say, is shifting far towards the marketing end.


I think you mean 17?


> What? I was under the impression that they rely mostly on advertising to recoup costs, their advertising budgets are generally much larger than their R&D budgets.

It's completely irrelevant what the size of their advertising budgets are. They will increase their advertising budget as long as they think that the added revenue will be larger than the added costs.

But if they have no patent protection, they will probably have no profitable product to advertise at all.


Absolutely. It's easy to bash at Yahoo, but we can't forget that while Facebook (and many other players, including Yahoo) are using one hand undermine the "intellectual property" of other companies, they're using their other hand to try and protect their own IP using the same laws.

Take this absurd Facebook patent as an example

>System and method for dynamically providing a news feed about a user of a social network (US2008040673).

While the situation is different, as Facebook aren't suing anyone (yet), we can imagine if the roles were reversed, the story might be a little different. Why else would they file for patents if their intent wasn't to defend "their ideas."

If we're calling out Yahoo's patents as junk, we should be doing the same for facebook and the rest, otherwise we're turning a bad system of "who dunnit first" into an even worse one, a popularity contest.


> Why else would they file for patents if their intent wasn't to defend "their ideas."

As the original article said, most SV web companies claim to file patents as a defensive measure - so if they get sued by someone else, they can hit back. Suing first is extremely bad form.

> If we're calling out Yahoo's patents as junk, we should be doing the same for facebook and the rest

I don't see anyone saying that Facebook's patents are fine and Yahoo!'s are junk - Yahoo! are being criticised because they're attempting to enforce their junk patents. If Facebook attempted to force theirs they would get exactly the same flack for it.


NPR this morning they noted that Yahoo did something similar previously with their search patents when Google went IPO and ended up with some Google stock, and of course Facebook also recently went IPO. So, maybe this action is not quite as unusual as everyone is pretending it is.


I agree completely. While Y! is clearly acting in desperation, this is an obvious and predictable act given the legal system in which they operate and patent portfolio they have. We can (and should!) demand that they not do the expected, but I the think anger is better focused on systemic reform then getting angry at any single company's actions. In a system of laws, what else should anyone expect but a legal entity to act in what it sees as its own best interest. Software patents need to end; working to that end is the best way to deal with this sort of event.


It's not desperation it all. It is blackmail (or as it was once, and perhaps still, known, "claim-mail").

Facebook has a lot to lose if it is perceived that Yahoo can hurt them, now that they are going public. Which is exactly why Yahoo is doing that, and why they did exactly the same thing when google went public.


We can (and should!) demand that they not do the expected

Then you are demanding that the board neglect its fiduciary responsibilities and go to jail.


The almost-myth of the fiduciary responsibilty of company executives to be irresponsible. I wrote elsewhere [1]:

> A point about the morality of companies angle: the so-called "fiduciary duty" of companies that is an overriding duty to maximise shareholder returns within the constraints of the law above all other ends is a legal obligation in only a few countries. In most countries, including most states in the US, executives have a legal responsibility to be honest and open about their performance and honest (if not very open) about their strategy, but have no legal obligation to prefer a more profitable course of action over another, which is obviously right since there is usually no knowable fact of the matter about whether one business plan will turn out to be more profitable than another.

> In short, the idea that companies have a moral obligation to act immorally if it pays is mostly or always a myth.

There is no chance that Yahoo executives would go to jail if they decided not to pursue a cursed-earth patent troll strategy. Fiduciary duty is about executives not putting their personal interests before that of the shareholders.

It is not even obviously in the company's interest, what they are doing. If cash-rich FB refuses to settle, all 10 patents get invalidated, and Yahoo has to pay heavy legal fees, then Yahoo is left with a smaller warchest of patents, and one whose firepower has been seen to be lacking. Does the quiet period make that such an unlikely outcome?

[1]: https://plus.google.com/u/0/103703080789076472131/posts/K74a...


I had a ton of stock options that would have made me rich if Yahoo had accepted Microsoft's buy out well above the trading price a while back - something shareholders would have loved. So even this particular company is well known for not following the duty of making the most money for its holders...


>even this particular company is well known for not following the duty of making the most money for its holders

The selling of a company doesn't exactly fall into maximization of shareholder profits: it depends on a couple things. The board of a company has no obligation to maximize it's short term value. Otherwise, anytime someone is offered a profitable buyout and turns it down they would violating their social responsibilities. I could be wrong, but I had a similar discussion with a close friend who is a big dog in the world of finance and that's the message I got from him.

Here's some relevant info: >The role of such statutes is especially important in light of the QVC decision, which prohibits directors from simply approving a strategic merger based on their business judgment that the transaction provides more value in the long term. http://apps.americanbar.org/buslaw/blt/8-3shareholders.html

Also, you may be interested in this. http://sloanreview.mit.edu/executive-adviser/2010-3/5231/the...


Fiduciary duty doesn't mean attempt to maximize revenue and profits at all costs [1]

besides, I would argue that the cost in both goodwill and brand value of pursuing a strategy of patent licensing far outweigh the potential benefits.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_judgment_rule#Standard...


If Yahoo has any "brand value", it's with users who are very non-technical, and have no idea or opinions about patent lawsuits.

So brand isn't a good argument against this suit for Yahoo.

Morality might be. But it's hard to get people to act against their financial best interest over the long term, so I still feel the real issue is the patent system.


If the board decide to pursue bogus patent lawsuits, throw millions of dollars at at and lose the case, should they go to jail for making a poor decision?

If they go for it, win, but every single talented engineer at Yahoo! quits in disgust and the company falls apart, should the board go to jail then as well?


Has that ever happened over something like this?


god no


It seems that a lot of people think that we need substantive patent reform, but what I haven't heard is any real proposal except for scrapping the entire system (or possibly just for software). I've put together the basics of a proposal here:

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3698637

I'm sure that it has a lot of problems, but we need to start having the discussion of how to fix the system, instead of just whether or not it needs fixing.


I replied to a couple points in your thread.

Long story short, kill patents, kill copyright, keep trademark.


There would be huge problems with killing copyright IMHO. Most open source licenses are based on it for example.

http://arstechnica.com/open-source/news/2009/07/pirate-party...


At least in my opinion, the ultimate goal of Free Software is to kill copyright. In a perfect world, everything would be public domain and at the utmost, we'd have a right to attribution (ie, you may demand to be named as the creator of something you made). Copyleft is, right now, just a "necessary evil" to bring us closer to that goal. In a sense, it's a form of using the enemies' weapons against them - but what we actually want is mutual decommissioning.


Open-source writ large is a dumb marketing gimmick. As far as useful code goes, the people who care and respect other hackers release the code anyways, copyright or no.

"Free software" vastly overestimates the value and talent of the average user--I don't feel any pity for the average City Of Farm Wars user if they don't get the source to IE.


True, but open source would continue fine without copyright -- it's just mean that everything was MIT-licensed.


Wouldnt it then shift from being a copyright enforcement issue to a contract/license enforcement issue? I.e. you agreed to share your source code if you distribute, but now you didn't, so sue city?


But if there is no copyright, there is no need to license the software, you can just copy it without agreeing to anything. That's what it means for something to be in the public domain.

Contracts are only valid if there is an exchange of value; you could reasonably argue that there is no value in being granted a right you already have.


Without copyright, for example, movies would have to recoup (most of) their production costs before ever showing the film to the public. Once they do, there is huge incentive for theaters to obtain third-party copies and show them without any remuneration to the moviemakers. There are similar arguments for books, music, and video games. How do you propose that this would work in practice?


What about crowd-funding?

Kickstarter already funded over $1m entertainment projects. So did the Louis CK experiment. These are far and far away from the mainstream popularity that buying movie tickets have. Don't you think that it's reasonable that web organized crowd-funding could finance even big blockbuster movies as these websites get more popular?

Imagine if popular celebrity directors with huge cult-followers like Tarantino would post a project on Kickstarter, then properly advertise it. I'd imagine a huge movie could be funded that way.


It's possible, but there's still a lot of details that need to be worked out. For example, how do you deal with projects that don't spend all of the money that was collected? If you've raised $100M to make a movie, it must be tempting to only spend $10M, and pocket the rest.


> Without copyright, for example, movies would have to recoup (most of) their production costs before ever showing the film to the public.

Kinda true, although lots of films make more money through merchandising than the box office.

But even in that situation, why can't movies be funded by crowdsourcing? I'm sure there's lots of fans of LoTR who'd be happy to crwodfund The Hobbit, for example.


In a copyright-free world, that merchandise could be made by anyone; there's no guarantee that any merchandising money will make it back to the movie's creators.

Crowdfunding can be a viable option, but paying large sums of money before any work is done makes it tempting to abscond with most of the money and produce either an inferior or nonexistent product. How would you prevent this from happening on a regular basis? Would your solution make it too risky to attempt large projects out of fear of them not being deemed "good enough"?


> In a copyright-free world, that merchandise could be made by anyone

Not if you keep trademarks and have trademarks on the relevant characters, objects, etc.


If you allow trademarks on the characters and such, you end up in a worse position than when you started: Nobody can reproduce the original work or create any kind of derivative work without permission. This lasts in perpetuity as long as it is defended, and permission will likely never be given out of a belief that the trademark needs to be protected.

In other words, you're free to do anything you want with the Harry Potter movies, so long as you remove all instances of the name "Harry Potter" and all likenesses of Daniel Radcliffe wearing a robe?


I'm describing how trademark works. And yes, it does a lot of that.

Mind you, the trademark owner can authorize things. And I think there is even some analog of fair use for trademarks, but you should consult with a lawyer if you ever have more than an academic interest in such things.


The ability of trademarks to protect against commercial re-use of intellectual property isn't a good measure of how much they can replace copyright protection. If I write a fantastic book, trademark protection isn't going to help protect me from someone just duplicating it wholesale and changing the name.

Bad things are done in the name of copyrights (and patent protection). That doesn't invalidate the whole concept, it just means reform may be needed.


You don't need it to. Kids don't want crappy knock-offs.


Have you looked at the list of top 10 movies from last year?

Besides, it's only a knock-off if you were exposed to the original.


Things worth being made would be prefunded, and things that aren't won't get made. As much as we enjoy entertainment, we cannot claim it is implemented as cheaply as possible.

This would let the market actually sort out what is naturally viable.


Things worth being made would be prefunded, and things that aren't won't get made.

Because prefunding is effectively a requirement, there's no way for a creator to take a gamble, produce something with their own resources, and then try to make it up later. This is essentially the process by which all novelists get started now. Are you sure that prefunding is a suitable replacement?


Ideas are cheap, tools for writing/directing/coding/filming/editing are cheap--hell, cheaper than they've ever been! I would disagree that this gamble is unavailable to anyone of even modest means.

If you can't raise sufficient funding, frankly, that's a your problem. There are a lot of people (myself and cofounders included) who prefund by working some job (of varying degrees of satisfaction) and diverting the funds towards development of their own creative enterprises.

In the absence of patrons, yeah, we fund ourselves, and one day it'll pay off--or it won't. That's life.

Novelists are great and all, but it seems obvious that if you cannot write something quickly enough on a budget, or in your freetime, and it isn't good enough to get picked up, well, sorry. The system should be in place to let you fail fast and figure out what to do next.


The gamble isn't available because the payoff isn't there. Why would any company pick up something that you've already made if they can't make any money on it due to the lack of copyright? They can publish it without paying you. Even if a publisher does pay you, some other publisher can undercut them because they didn't have to pay you.


Things worth being made would be prefunded

Prefunding isn't going to get us flying cars, just faster horses.


+1. Nothing more to add. Other than: I think we're stuck with the current system for at least a decade because we just "did" patent reform which was really just a dog and pony show for the unwashed masses.


How about hating both?

Yes, current patent law is broken, but that doesn't mean that Y! have to use it. If this was a defensive move against a patent claim from Facebook, I'd have some sympathy. But as far as I can tell, it isn't. So I don't.


They don't have to play this game. Once they dared to: start your hate machine.


It's a chicken-egg problem. The game will only stop once people stop playing it, but people won't stop playing it until the game stops.

And you can be sure that companies once they have lots of patents will lobby mercilessly to keep the current "game" in place. Who wants to stop playing when they feel they are winning?

Apart from some sudden massive outbreak of sanity, there is no way out.


But at least we can try and make them miserable.


No, no one forces them to play it. The fact that they play it is a good reason to disrespect them already.


The fact that they play it, and perhaps incidentally help show how fucking stupid the whole system is, is more respectable than armchair quarterbacking.

(and yes, their shareholders and executive force them to play it.)


When the player is a huge corporation consisting of numerous layers of management, it is very hard not to hate them.

This player will most likely also lobby aggressively to thwart any attempts at reforming the patent system since it is one of its few remaining sources of revenue.


True. Very true. They are in a weak position, and this is their hand.

It may take all out war, and an overwhelming of the legal v startup ecosystem, before sense returns. Akin to the opinion piece in the NYTimes "Go to Trial: Crash the Justice System" over the weekend.


Patent reform is not going to happen until people start hating the player. Whenever someone says "don't hate the player" we end up a little bit further away from patent reform.


For reform, the trick is to find a solution that works at two ends of the spectrum:

1) A pharma company spends $1B on R&D to develop a drug and get FDA approval. If someone could knock off the resulting compound at 10 cents per pill, we wouldn't have the drug.

2) Software companies, where there are hundreds of potential patents to file or infringe on, and there is tons of iterative evolution.


Maybe reform could happen by fixing how damages are awarded? Like if you infringe on some patent that is a small part of a product, you pay a $100 fine or something? That would remove the financial incentive to sue unless you can prove someone's whole business is built on your ideas...


Not really. Those who act unethically bear the responsibility, and saying that since system is broken it's OK to abuse it just doesn't cut it. With that said, of course the system needs to be blamed (and changed) as well.


What's unethical about this?

Seriously, where is the moral imperative that says "Thou Shalt Not Patent Troll"?


Seriously, isn't it obvious? Look at the purpose of the patent law. It's supposed to promote innovation for the benefit of the society, or how it formally sounds: "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries". Software patents do exactly the opposite. They not only don't promote any innovation or progress, they stifle it.


Thank you for elaborating on your position. Upvoted for content.

That said, note that this isn't an abuse of the system--it is very much using it to the letter of the law. Note further that, at least in America it would seem, we place a very high value on the letter (as opposed to the spirit) of the law.

I still think there isn't a fully developed moral argument here, but at least you've elaborated on your position. For what it's worth, I think the rough sketch of the argument would go something like: scarcity is Bad, knowledge promotes nonscarcity therefore Good, patents intended to promote knowledge therefore Good, wording of patents allows companies to act to decrease knowledge there Bad.

I just wanted to make sure you had a better backing than the usual "Oh noes patents are teh evil and the abuses you see".

If we're ever going to fix this mess, we need to make sure our ideology and reasoning is in line and clear.


Something of that sort. You can also structure it as:

- Knowledge and progress are beneficial for the society. - Inventions and discoveries promote knowledge and progress. - Patents are supposed to encourage inventors to publish their work thus helping the promotion of the above. - If applied badly, patents can be misused to serve totally different goals (like monopolizing the technology or knowledge), hurting the society in result. So the system needs to avoid that.

Software patents are the perfect example of the case where the original goal is reversed. I.e. by the nature of the software, patents only hinder innovation. So they should not be applied to software at all.

And that's why I called it unethical, rather than illegal. Patent aggressors might appeal that their actions are legal (within the current broken system), but since they have negative impact on the society and serve totally the opposite goal, they are unethical.


It's a form of blackmail.


They had a choice - not to use those patents they know are worthless, to make money from FB. So yeah, I'm also perfectly fine with hating the player in this case, too.


It's just business. They have a responsibility to their shareholders.


>Don't hate the player, hate the game.

In case you missed it, it's the players who make the game and keep it running - a self-sustaining spiral of endless bullshit.


It's not very effective to hate. I would prefer "fight/act effectively against the people who make/are responsible for the rules of the (dirty) game."


what sort of substantive analysis of the patents in this case have you done to justify claiming that this case indicates we need patent reform?


Well, I don't agree with the author.

Why would it be ok for Yahoo and other big companies to use patents "only" to threaten small shops and keep the status quo?

Let them fight between eachother, let Yahoo sue Facebook sue Gooogle sue Microsoft sue Apple sue HTC sue Samsung sue Sony sue Oracle sue ... let everyone sue everyone else. Let the total war on patents begin. Let the big players burn a ton of money on pointless legal battles. And then, and only then, they might push for a patent reform which will level playing field for all players, including new ones.


Right, because that's what they're going to push through: legislation that levels the playing field.


This is already what happens. Changes have reinforced and will further reinforce the status quo and ensure that only the mega corporations will be able to play.


> I used to care about that company for some reason

That's the strangest part. I never found Yahoo useful for anything (except Douglas Crockford, but he could have been employed anywhere).


They were useful for navigating the web between 94 and 96 or so. They then proceeded to acquire a few sites which were also useful at one point in time, (Flickr et al), although they do seem pretty good at driving such sites into irrelevancy.


Their public finance pages are the best I have found (until some time later this year when we release, that is)


Yahoo! Pipes is extremely useful.


Hell yeah. Very cool service.

I mainly use it to correct strangeness in sites' RSS offerings. For example, BBC iPlayer offers feeds for channels but not per show (?!), and Penny Arcade doesn't offer a feed for just the comic without the news posts.


I did try that and found it not very consistent; plus you never know when it's going to be discontinued.


I actually like Yahoo News for some reason. Some of the stories they feature in the front page makes me want to click through and read it when I'm bored.


I'll second news.yahoo.com. It's better than Google's layout, and you can dive right into subregions of the world to get more specific world news.

Also, nba.yahoo.com has a better layout than nba.com itself for following stats and even following the games live (a really well-done java applet).

Finally, I've been playing around with switching search engines from Google to something else, and I found for most tech stuff, Yahoo! actually has more relevant search results than Bing or DDG.


it's funny you mention this. yahoo actually got several maching learning algorithms in place, constantly adjusting headlines and summaries to get a higher CTR on the articles. i've visited the site occasionally and noticed and immediate desire to click on some of the links. Source: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/09/23/yahoo_core_personali...


This guy doesn't even mention the claims of the patents in suit, so why should I trust his opinion about their merits? If you don't know how to read a patent, you're absolutely not qualified to make pronouncements like this:

> None of them represent unique and new ideas at the time of the filing. I supect they all can be thrown out over prior art if Facebook takes the time and effort to do that.

Also, even the article that he links to just quotes the damn abstracts of the patents, as if that has anything to do with what they cover.

Honestly people, I know you like to rail against software patents and the patent system in general... but educate yourselves first, or you just come off looking ignorant to anyone who knows the first thing about patents.


Far more valuable than this contrarian response would be an analysis of the claims on their merits, since you allude to a knowledge of the subject. Care to share?


I haven't read the patents myself either, and I'm not willing to put in the time to pore over 10 patents just for the sake of curiosity and karma on HN. It just irritates me when I see such ignorant rage.


The guy is a VC with over a decade of experience investing in technology companies and selling a portfolio company to Yahoo for billions of dollars. He may know a thing or two about software patents.


This blog posting certainly makes me believe he does not.


Can we bring Hitler into the conversation?

No one needs to be "educated" in the intricate and fascinating political and economic power dynamics of the Third Reich to have a valid opinion about Hitler. All they need to know is that Hitler killed the Jews and was evil.

Similarly, no one posting here needs to know anything about the technical details of patentology, a subject in which I suspect you're quite expert, to know that the patent system is evil and needs to be eradicated from the earth - like Hitler.

Does that make you a bad person? Fact is, a lot of good people worked for Hitler. But at a certain point, they all had to reevaluate their career choices. I can only hope you'll do the same.


If ridiculous comparisons make you feel better about holding strong opinions on subjects you're ignorant about, then by all means.

> The best lack all conviction, while the worst

> Are full of passionate intensity.


An analogy is not a comparison. You know that. But lawyers love to play stupid, don't they? It sells in East Texas.

Don't worry, I'm quite aware of the mechanics of our patent system. I also know a lot about Hitler. But I believe it's intellectually permissible for others to condemn Hitler in a sentence - without my extensive training in Hitler Studies.

The worst in this case are not full of passionate intensity. It's their wallets that are full - and their minds which follow the money. If I take a drive in Palo Alto and see a fancy new building, five to one it's yet another branch office of Dewey, Cheatham and Howe.

The only people who support the patent system are those who profit from it. I'm quite sure you're one of them. Hey, everybody's gotta eat - but try not to kill the host, OK?


> An analogy is not a comparison

An analogy absolutely draws a comparison. I don't even know what you're getting at here, other than trying unsuccessfully to nitpick.

> But I believe it's intellectually permissible for others to condemn Hitler in a sentence - without my extensive training in Hitler Studies.

So you think it's permissible to condemn a human being while knowing essentially nothing about him, just going by what the groupthink tells you. Got it. Because "knowing essentially nothing" is what we're talking about here. I'm not saying you need to be an attorney to comment intelligently. 15 minutes of reading, if one reads the right things, would teach him more than 90% of the people here know about patents.

> Dewey, Cheatham and Howe

How clever. Never heard that one before.

> The only people who support the patent system are those who profit from it. I'm quite sure you're one of them.

Wellll... yes, but not in the way you probably think. I'm not a patent troll, and I don't represent trolls. I write patents for inventors. Plain and simple. And for what it's worth, to my knowledge none of my clients have ever engaged in patent trolling or sold their patents to a troll.

Patent reform, coming down hard on the trolls, whatever you have in mind... it would have essentially no influence on my business. Getting rid of software patents altogether would have a small effect, but it would basically be de minimis. Certainly not enough to color my opinions about software patents.


> An analogy absolutely draws a comparison.

An analogy illustrates common logical features of two commensurate problems. Man:woman, bull:cow. If I state this analogy to my wife, am I "comparing" her to a cow?

> So you think it's permissible to condemn a human being while knowing essentially nothing about him, just going by what the groupthink tells you.

If the groupthink is right, yes. Groupthink isn't always right. It isn't always wrong. It's not wrong about Hitler. It's not wrong about patents, either.

> I write patents for inventors.

In other words, you're a patent lawyer.

I'm quite confident that you have never, ever once told any of your "inventors" the following: yes, I can get this patent issued. But I don't feel it's genuinely novel or non-obvious, so you'll have to find another advocate.

"The rockets go up - who knows where they come down? That's not my department, says Wernher von Braun."

> And for what it's worth, to my knowledge none of my clients have ever engaged in patent trolling or sold their patents to a troll.

And if they did - you wouldn't want to know, would you? Since you're a patent lawyer, you probably know the term mens rea.

> Patent reform, coming down hard on the trolls, whatever you have in mind... it would have essentially no influence on my business. Getting rid of software patents altogether would have a small effect, but it would basically be de minimis. Certainly not enough to color my opinions about software patents.

Since you're a patent lawyer, you know perfectly well that our patent system does not have the power to distinguish between "inventors" and "trolls." You also know perfectly well that the controlling legal authorities do not have the power to identify and bar "software patents," "business method patents," etc. Legally there are no software patents in Europe, for instance, but the patent bar is not to be stopped. Same with the Supremes in Parker v. Flook.

Therefore, the only practical reform of this system is to destroy it entirely. This would change your life, wouldn't it? And not for the better.


> Man:woman, bull:cow. If I state this analogy to my wife, am I "comparing" her to a cow?

Some women might actually take offense at that, but I'd say no. But throwing Hitler into the analogy really does change its flavor, doesn't it? We're not talking about bulls and cows here. The analogy

your position:my position::Satan:Jesus

is a little bit more in line with the inflammatory one you actually used above. And in a case like that, I think reading an analogy as a comparison is both inevitable and exactly what you intended.

> It's not wrong about Hitler. It's not wrong about patents, either.

That's your opinion, and you're entitled to it. But it has nothing to do with whether people should follow groupthink without the capacity to determine whether it's right or wrong.

> I'm quite confident that you have never, ever once told any of your "inventors" the following: yes, I can get this patent issued. But I don't feel it's genuinely novel or non-obvious, so you'll have to find another advocate.

I've told inventors that I thought a particular application would be a challenge to get allowed. I've told inventors that in light of the prior art, they won't get a patent that's broad enough to be worth anything. And yes, on more than one occasion, I've told an inventor that I didn't believe he could get a patent on his idea. (Just a nitpick here, but I've never told an inventor I could get something patented. Nothing is assured, and sometimes you get an examiner that simply will not allow a case.)

> And if they did - you wouldn't want to know, would you? Since you're a patent lawyer, you probably know the term mens rea.

I certainly wouldn't stick my head in the sand to avoid knowing how they use their patents. And there's no issue with mens rea here, since patent trolls aren't doing anything illegal.

> You also know perfectly well that the controlling legal authorities do not have the power to identify and bar "software patents," "business method patents," etc. Legally there are no software patents in Europe, for instance, but the patent bar is not to be stopped. Same with the Supremes in Parker v. Flook.

Indeed, this would have to come from Congress. But it could certainly happen.

> Therefore, the only practical reform of this system is to destroy it entirely.

Aaaand here's where you go off the deep end. Is there a single industrialized country that has no patent system whatsoever? That's a serious question... I don't know of one.


> And there's no issue with mens rea here, since patent trolls aren't doing anything illegal.

No. They aren't doing anything illegal. They're doing something evil.

Mens rea is the mental state of doing evil. Not everything evil is illegal - for various reasons, some good and some bad. But the mental state is the same.

Your enormous shiftiness around this issue demonstrates clear mens rea. In short, you know you're a bad boy.

Mass murder is evil. Graft is evil. Your industry doesn't involve mass murder. It's just a big graft scheme, that's all. It's not Hitler. But it's still evil, like Hitler.

> But it has nothing to do with whether people should follow groupthink without the capacity to determine whether it's right or wrong.

Anyone is entitled to be right for any reason at all. You're simply trying to restrict the number of your enemies.

Besides, you're missing something here. You make a living sending rockets up. We live where the rockets come down.

The existence of rocket impacts is purely conjectural to you - so you can call it "groupthink." It's a shared reality for us. It's not groupthink that the sky is blue.

Your profession nominally exists to serve our interests. In fact, it serves to suck our blood - when it isn't filling up our days with worthless bullshit. All genuine innovators, at least in our field, despise your rule with a passion. I'm sure many of them would be quite happy to see the entire patent bar in prison, or at least collectively disbarred.

> Indeed, this would have to come from Congress. But it could certainly happen.

No. You miss my point. Not even Congress could do it. If Congress passed a law, the patent bar would simply work around it and continue its present practices.

In other words, the American voter has exactly the same power over the patent industry that the German voter had over Hitler. Ie, at a first approximation, none.

> Is there a single industrialized country that has no patent system whatsoever? That's a serious question... I don't know of one.

Germany before 1877. China now. (Yes, I know nominally China has a patent system, but nobody in China gives a shit about US patents.)

There is only one "industrialized country" today, the US, because every other "country" in the world today unthinkingly adopts whatever comes out of WIPO's derriere. Alas, ruling the world doesn't mean your turds are made of gold - though I'm sure it's been quite golden for you.


> Your enormous shiftiness around this issue demonstrates clear mens rea. In short, you know you're a bad boy.

Simply not true. The work I do helps independent inventors protect themselves, and it helps startups get funding... believe me, I have no qualms about what I do. It is a net positive for the economy and for people who create things.

> Mass murder is evil. Graft is evil. Your industry doesn't involve mass murder. It's just a big graft scheme, that's all. It's not Hitler. But it's still evil, like Hitler.

There you go again. I'm done responding to this nonsense though.

> You're simply trying to restrict the number of your enemies.

First of all, people who don't like the patent system are not my enemies. They simply hold different beliefs than I do. And second, all I'm asking is that people educate themselves to a very minor level before making asses of themselves.

> I'm sure many of them would be quite happy to see the entire patent bar in prison, or at least collectively disbarred.

I suspect not many people hold your extreme beliefs about imprisonment. Disbarment... who knows. If one has gotten the short end of the stick in a patent dispute, I guess it could make him dislike patent attorneys.

> No. You miss my point. Not even Congress could do it. If Congress passed a law, the patent bar would simply work around it and continue its present practices.

There's simply no reason to believe this. If Congress made a clear law prohibiting software patents, and it was a well-drafted law, then it would be followed.

> Germany before 1877. China now. (Yes, I know nominally China has a patent system, but nobody in China gives a shit about US patents.)

Nor should they. U.S. patents have no force outside the U.S. Chinese patents, however...

> There is only one "industrialized country" today, the US, because every other "country" in the world today unthinkingly adopts whatever comes out of WIPO's derriere.

You know WIPO isn't a U.S. organization, right? It's part of the U.N. It's in Geneva.

> I wanted to highlight this truly remarkable response, which displays the complete prostitution of the patent industry. Imsgine a literary agent saying: "on more than one occasion, I've told an author he couldn't get his book published."

So we've gone from you being "quite confident that you have never, ever once told any of your 'inventors'" . . . to "OK, but you don't say it often enough! But there are three things to note here:

1. Most of the clients who come in my door legitimately have come up with something that is, as far as I know, novel. But hey, I'm not an expert in every field, and I don't always do a patent search (it's not a requirement, and clients often don't want to spend the money).

2. It opens me up to a malpractice suit to tell someone "you cannot get a patent on that." Because what if I'm wrong? There's a lot of uncertainty around this question, so this is a phrase reserved for cases where I'm pretty damn sure.

3. You don't know how many clients I've served, or what percentage of them I've turned away. Hell, I dunno either. But I call them like I see them. I have a duty to my clients not to waste their money on a patent I know will never issue. In the cases where I'm sure enough to risk the malpractice claim, I tell them not to bother. I'm not sure what more I could do.

Just so you know, I've enjoyed our discussion today. With the exception of your Hitler comments, you've been pretty reasonable, and I try listen to conflicting, but reasonable, opinions with an open mind. I ask that you do the same. I'm not some demon, and I'm not ashamed of anything I do.


> You know WIPO isn't a U.S. organization, right? It's part of the U.N. It's in Geneva.

Yeah, and who created the UN? Denmark? Indonesia? The UN is about as Swiss as the Warsaw Pact is Polish.

> U.S. patents have no force outside the U.S.

You mean in theory, or in practice?

> First of all, people who don't like the patent system are not my enemies. They simply hold different beliefs than I do.

No, they are your enemies - for one simple reason. You're stealing from them. They may not know this, but I do.

> If one has gotten the short end of the stick in a patent dispute, I guess it could make him dislike patent attorneys.

It's not me personally - just my entire community.

> There's simply no reason to believe this. If Congress made a clear law prohibiting software patents, and it was a well-drafted law, then it would be followed.

Europe has a clear law prohibiting software patents. Parker v. Flook was a clear decision prohibiting software patents.

> So we've gone from you being "quite confident that you have never, ever once told any of your 'inventors'" . . . to "OK, but you don't say it often enough!

No, you misread. Intentionally, I imagine. I said: how often do you refuse to pursue a patent you're confident will issue, just because you don't believe it is morally worthy? I got my answer, between the lines.

> Just so you know, I've enjoyed our discussion today.

I have as well. I think you've been as frank and reasonable as is possible for someone in your profession.


> Parker v. Flook was a clear decision prohibiting software patents

Supreme Court jurisprudence about software patents has never been very clear. In any case, Diamond v. Diehr came out just a few years after Flook and made such a cut-and-dried reading untenable. And then there was the whole Bilski mess of an opinion...

This is what I mean when I say it'd have to come from Congress, and it'd have to be clear. If you want to prohibit software patents, you don't want 80 pages of Supreme Court justices all writing their own opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part. You want a statute no more than, say, a third of a page long, clearly defining what's meant by "software" (and maybe also "business method") and prohibiting patents on it. That would be damn hard to argue about. Supreme Court decisions are notoriously easy to argue about.

> No, you misread. Intentionally, I imagine. I said: how often do you refuse to pursue a patent you're confident will issue, just because you don't believe it is morally worthy? I got my answer, between the lines.

Ah, I did misread. It was not intentional. But the answer you read between the lines was correct--I have never done that. Maybe when I'm the head of a law firm I can make decisions about turning away money because of a moral objection... but for now, that's a little above my pay grade.


> And yes, on more than one occasion, I've told an inventor that I didn't believe he could get a patent on his idea.

I wanted to highlight this truly remarkable response, which displays the complete prostitution of the patent industry. Imsgine a literary agent saying: "on more than one occasion, I've told an author he couldn't get his book published."

Creating a useful invention and writing a readable novel are acts of human ingenuity on roughly the same level of difficulty. But as we see, the USPTO has lower standards than your average vanity press. So long as you keep feeding the machine, of course.


Are you seriously comparing patents to genocide? Is that really what's happening here? One, get some class. Two, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwins_law


Honey, before you were born I had some great flamewars with Mike Godwin on rec.arts.sf-lovers.

HN is really turning into Reddit, isn't it?


> If your account is less than a year old, please don't submit comments saying that HN is turning into Reddit. (It's a common semi-noob illusion.)

Taken from http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


I'll bet you're not just a patent lawyer, but a good one.


I'm pretty new to the game, but I do my best.


This title is unnecessarily sensational. Why not use the actual title of the post ("Yahoo! Crosses the Line")?


I did consider the title, and was about to go with the original. Fred is one of the best writers out there - insight, humor, compassion, humility, honesty. I thought his closing remarks really captured his rare but real venom at the shakedown. Nothing more than that.


barrynolan,

Thanks. Now that I understand your reasoning, I have no problem with the title. FWIW, I wish I could delete my comment, but unfortunately that's no longer possible.


It conveys the tone of the post much more than the original title. And those are Fred's actual closing words. I say this title is spot-on.


The close analogy, for me, was Oracle's attempt to shake down Google.

Patents are a game that's a lot like Poker.

I couldn't blame any startup for accumulating a patent portfolio because that's something of economic value -- it could help an acquisition because a larger company would like to put together a broad portfolio.

So long as you can get value out of it that way, it's all roses. Once you get to a lawsuit, it's ugly, largely because the result is unpredictable -- if people settle out of court you get the desired result, but if your opponent can fight you to the end, you're very likely to end up with invalidated patents. That, of course, is why companies like this broad portfolios -- if there are ten patents involved, it's much more likely something will stick.


Their actions just show how desperate they are. Bye bye Yahoo! and thanks for the fish.


Well I hope he doesn't use any Apple products then. That would be pretty hypocritical.


i called Apple evil on stage at a conference a few years ago

http://venturebeat.com/2010/07/21/fred-wilson/


Good point, Apple is literally the only other company that has ever filed a patent lawsuit.


Apple sits diametrically opposed to Yahoo in the overall internet zeitgeist. Apple is the hot girl everyone gives a pass to, and Yahoo is the band nerd that everyone laughs at.


It used to be the other way around, say, circa 1997.


The only Yahoo! property that I care about is Flickr, which I also pay for. It would be nice to find an alternative.

So: suggestions for a social photo archive service which is reliable enough to be the "master copy" of my pictures, and preferably has Flickr import ability?


Take a look at 500px.com; it seems a large swath of the higher-end of the community is migrating there. At this point, it's probably where I'm going to land with my archive if I have to move.

Unfortunately, I don't believe they have the ability to automatically import your Flickr photos.


I was looking at the API, and it seems that import would be quite easy. But since they lack tagging and some other Flickr-like features, the import would have to be slightly lossy.


imgur.

They are not stagnant, improving all the time. Not as big as flickr, but big enough and reliable.

I used both imgur pro and flickr but now I only use flickr because I am too lazy to switch.


I really don't understand what their weak market position has to do with this lawsuit. If Yahoo! believes Facebook violated their patents, they will sue. They _should_ sue. They do it now because apparently that's the way new CEO does the business. I can't blame him, can you? Now, whether FW post was an emotional rant or he has any business saying what he said, hard to judge. But I read his blog for a while now and don't recall last time stumbling at such an emotional rant.

Further, whether patent system needs "reform in this country" is relevant to the fact that one part believes other part infringe. If Yahoo!, Facebook or anyone else feels someone infringe and ended up saying "oh they system is broken lets wait until its fixed", then they may as well wait another 75 years.

I say good things can come up from this, especially if Yahoo! loses. Facebook is claiming that what they are being sued over was "nothing new" at that time. Cool! Have them win. Next time someone build highly successful social website with human connections done based on request/approve/reject, and Facebook will try to shut them down based on infringe of one of their hundreds of patents, you can say: "oh, none of this was new at the time of Facebook: MySpace, Fridndster, etc. Here, I am using Facebook own rules - they win, I need to win too".


No it should not. It's as if you said, if Yahoo has a gun, it should fire at Facebook.

Tech companies do not make their living by exploiting their patents directly (as e.g. pharma companies do). They make living from advertising to their userbase. They do patent some things they use to keep and monetize that usebase, but there is no direct relation.

So: Of course they should not sue "by default". It just isn't a winning strategy for them.


so as long as I do a business in tech, I should not care about anyones patents (or IP in that matter) -- just open the patent book and look what I can steal (sorry: take) from others and use it to build my own tech company.

Okay then.


You don't need to open the patent book for that. Patents are written in such horrible language that you should not bother. The signal to noise ratio is pathetic.

Instead - yes, you just open the HN and look what you cak take from others and use it to build your own tech company. That's what you do. Are you new?


yes I am new. Today I learnt that HN society hates patents and everything related to it (which kind of make sense). Lost 10% of my karma in couple minutes over 3 posts I wrote.


OP: "Yahoo! thinks they can bully Internet newcomers ..."

Wait... Is he still talking about the facebook lawsuit?


Totally agree, compete on innovation - not by patent troling! Goodbye Yahoo!, shame you decided to disgrace yourself in such a way.


The problem is innovation is measured as number of patents filed. Investors who want more innovation, judge how innovative a company is by number of patents. More patents -> more innovative. And so that's what managers optimize for.

The program is that is a ridiculously crude measure. Like measuring programmer output by lines of code, this idea that measuring innovation at such a micro level even makes sense, needs to die.


They saw Apple going away with that over and over again and thought "What the hell, let's do it".


I'm in the mood to pick nits this morning.

The article links to the description of the patents http://paidcontent.org/article/419-meet-the-10-patents-yahoo... and tries to summarize each one in "plain English."

> Control for enabling a user to preview display of selected > content based on another user’s authorization level (Filed > 2005, Issued 2009) > In plain English: Share an item only with selected friends

This is actually about a preview of what a given user (friend) would see.

The reason software patents suck so hard is because for every 10,000 totally bogus patents there's one that when you read it makes you think, wow, that really is an invention.


Patent system doesn't need to be reformed. It needs to be flat out abolished. It's a disgrace to the human race. You can't own ideas. Patent system is a form of control, just as is oil, or just as the way the monetary system is run. All these must go, will go.


Facebook isn't a 'newcomer' and Yahoo! wouldn't bother suing anyone that wasn't already a giant.


US Patent 7406501 ... "Conversion of an instant message to an e-mail message" WTF...Is that it?


Read the claims.

http://www.google.com/patents/US7406501?printsec=claims&...

The abstract doesn't define the patent. The claims are what defines the patent, in combination with the notes in the patent file which can often limit the claims even further.

Yahoo is claiming a specific method of seamlessly converting an instant message communication into an email one, not the general concept. Claim 1 narrows the claims from that general case immediately.


IMHO the linked article misunderstood what this is all about. I think it's more the "Reply to this thread by replying to this email" facebook does when you receive a message notification.


Google does that! Quick Yahoo! sue them!


Google vs. Yahoo! would be even bloodier than Google vs. Oracle has been.


If you consider that an e-mail is a type of instant message, it makes even less sense.


Sounds like something from Apple's portfolio.


I suppose we all knew this day would come from Yahoo. The start of where lawyers take over the company and product make a steady march to complete crap. Pretty common pattern for companies that can no longer compete (SCO anyone). It is sad Yahoo still have a great brand and could reinvent itself. This entire thing is nonsense but I guess to try and squeeze some more revenue for the share holders is what they are obligated to do. I miss the old Yahoo.


Fred Being Fred aside...

Yahoo! could be aiming to be acquired by Facebook or Google.

Assuming the patents involved are tenable, this looks rather like a viable reverse-acquisition strategy.


You're kidding, right? It's kind of hard to tell with all these trolls nowadays.


But this really isn't the way to make any friends.

I'd be surprised if anyone wants to do business with people like this ever again.


Who manufactures the memory in Apple iOS devices? Samsung.


Corporations are like nations: they don't have friends, they have interests.


This is like watching a once great sports team play in a rusty, deserted stadium. This hurts so much because Yahoo helped make the a web a beautiful, free place where humans could create and communicate. They once understood that but are now reduced to mugging full pockets in back alleys. Pretty clear the company is being run by stooges and fee chasing lawyers now and is sinking fast.


I disagree with the patent situation as much as anyone, but that was massively melodramatic (and almost completely lacking any substance).


it was a rant. you are right.


My new hobby: googling abstract website techniques to see what kind of patents I'm violating on a regular basis. Did you know about the patent on mouseover (but not mouseclick!) dropdown menus?

http://www.m-cam.com/patently-obvious/intellectual-property-...


With treble damages, that could turn into an expensive hobby.


The engineering soul of the company is being evicted from the body, and now this. They're like the zombie Husks from Mass Effect. :)


I'd love to hear Fred talk about how Twitter is preparing, because it's a good guess that they're next.

Probably the reason for this post in fact.


TBH it would be a true douche move if we were in say 2006, but right now FB is worth almost ten times more than Yahoo, so who cares? they can either buy Yahoo or even sue it into oblivion.

Is not that crazy to assume this may actually be a last-resort strategy to sell Yahoo once and for all. Most agree Yang dropped the ball when he refused MSFT's offer.


The reason for the timing is because of the IPO. Yahoo! is using this as a way to make Facebook desperate to settle, so that their pricing is higher during the IPO.


That too


I tried to find an example where Google sued a company for infringing on PageRank, but it doesn't appear that has ever happened.

If everyone really just uses patents for the threat of a possible lawsuit, is it still worth having them, even if you hope to never use one?


Many others have already pointed it out, but how closely it parallels nuclear weapons philosophy is startling.


SCO tried this crap to the tune of 45 million. What a stupid use of time and effort.


The title of this changed from:

"They are dead to me. Dead and gone. I hate them now"

to:

"Yahoo Crosses The Line"

Curious about the reason this was done.


Yeah, I just noticed that as well. Once something goes live you have the right to change it, but I would leave an update on why.


Thomas Jefferson's 1788 quote, in a way, portends this: "the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground." The dictionary definition of government ("authoritative direction or control") ostensibly extends this to encompass corporations. Patents are merely one of many tactics for corporations gain control; it's nothing new, and it ought to be expected.

Notwithstanding the foreseeability of patent warfare, I remain despondent toward "unwritten rules" in American law. Yes, they exist; it's no surprise that defendants in criminal cases who assert their 6th Amendment rights to a speedy trial that they subsequently lose will suffer a heightened penalty. The seminal case on this subject, Bordenkircher v. Hayes, specifically endorses threats of stiffer sentences to entice criminal defendants to waive their right to trial and plead guilty to a lesser offense. One can model this as a game of imperfect information, with society reaping the rewards.

So the author's reliance on this de facto "rule not to litigate" is flawed. The real problem arises when companies exclude others from practicing a technology in which that company's property interest is a mere subterfuge. Rarely do companies practice the technologies for which they've secured patent protection, and that brings me to my last Thomas Jefferson quote:

  A man has a right to use a saw, an axe, 
  a plane, separately; may he not combine 
  their uses on the same piece of wood? 
  He has a right to use his knife to cut 
  his meat, a fork to hold it; may a 
  patentee take from him the right to 
  combine their use on the same subject? 
  Such a law, instead of enlarging our 
  conveniences, as was intended, would 
  most fearfully abridge them, and crowd 
  us by monopolies out of the use of the 
  things we have.
However, we should be careful not to criticize the managers of these companies too much: they have a fiduciary duty of care to the corporation. Is there another "unwritten rule" that shareholders of a (struggling) corporation won't launch a derivative suit against the board of directors for failure to assert the corporation's patent rights against an infringing third party?

So in my view, the solution isn't at the corporate level; it's at the national level. As such, patent reform should be a national issue addressed by politicians. Patent term length [c|sh]ould be proportional to the research expenses actually incurred. Alternatively, we might want want a "patent abandonment doctrine" that moves to public domain those patents whose rights haven't been enforced (almost like in trademark law). Even still, we might want to wholly abandon the right to transfer or sell patents (and for that matter, all intellectual property) entirely. I haven't researched the ramifications of these potential solutions, so they're offered merely as points for discussion.


Laws are generated by a largely accretive process. The corresponding ablative process is missing. I wonder if this is key to the imbalance?


In this case, it's unnecessary to make a leap from government gaining control to corporations gaining control, since patents are created and enforced by governments, not corporations. On top of that, a corporation is by definition an entity created by a government.


"So the author's reliance on this de facto "rule not to litigate" is flawed."

And also historically ignorant. Yahoo did the same thing to Google when they went public in 2004. Somehow the world didn't end.


No, they didn't. Your memory of history is incorrect.

Overture, a completely different company, sued Google in 2002, two years before their IPO.

Yahoo purchased Overture in 2003. After this, Google settled.

Google's IPO wasn't until 2004.


Thx for correction.

Google reveals that Y! did sue X-fire apparently over a buddy list patent in 2005 which would also make the same point though.


Absolutely. I should make it clear: I am not defending Yahoo's behavior here. Just trying to keep the facts factual.


>they have a fiduciary duty of care to the corporation

I absolutely agree. if you're the CEO of a publicly traded company, it is your fiduciary duty to extract value from the company's assets.

Exhibit #1: Sun Microsystems

if Sun had the cojones to sue Google (re: Java/Android) they'd still be in business today.


Sounds like it is finally time to migrate off flickr. I wonder what the best options are -- self hosting of full res, plus FB Photos for social? Is Picasa worthwhile?


same sentiment here. I've been using y! mail for a decade. Y! 'wall streetish' behavior is a good incentive to sever all ties. I am also certain , lot of their portal traffic comes when users are redirected to the portal home page when users sign off their ymail accnts.


I feel slightly more disgusted than usual because I bought YHOO stock a while ago, because it was cheap (when factoring in Asian assets, etc.).

I had hopes the new CEO would try to turn Yahoo around. I don't believe in shitty display advertising long-term, but it could be viable for another 5 years. At least, I had confidence he could fire enough Directors and VPs to make Yahoo at least as innovative as eBay (also not a particular paragon in Silicon Valley), and I was hoping Yahoo's boardmembers would start actually acting in the interests of shareholders.

I guess I was wrong.


NB: Yahoo Mail is still an excellent source of widely-accepted disposable anonymous email addresses. If not the only one left.


Well, I'd simply say that:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mh4jvDsNtEE


I wish I would have choose law instead of software.


Today it's Yahoo, tomorrow Facebook.


What about Amazon then?


yawho?


The OP wouldn't seem quite so hypocritical if VCs didn't put immense pressure on startups to generate patents. Don't tell me those patents are supposed to be purely defensive, either. They were supposed to stake out a bit of technical turf, just like Yahoo's doing. I'm not saying it's right, but I don't think much of demanding patent generation on one hand and then complaining about their use on the other.

If you want to oppose software patents - and you should - then be consistent about it. Either forego them entirely, or require via contract that they be used only defensively. The latter is the approach taken by my employer, BTW, who also spends more money than anyone else fighting software patents. As schizophrenic as that strategy might seem, I believe it's the right one for the crazy world we live in.


Union Square Ventures, of which Fred Wilson ("the OP") is a partner, is an investor in my startup (Stack Exchange). They never put pressure on us to generate patents. They have been consistently anti-patent for quite some time. They have complained frequently that a third of their portfolio is under attack from patent trolls. They have organized fundraisers and meetings which I have attended with Senator Chuck Schumer from New York to press their position for patent reform.

Maybe YOUR stone-age, backward-ass VC thinks that startups should generate patents, but don't tar Fred Wilson with that brush.


As a publicly traded company, Yahoo does not have the same discretion as a company like StackExchange.

I also suspect that startups capable of the sophistication StackExchange brings to the selection of a VC are a distinct minority.


I got tired of this and other VC games after my tenth startup a couple of years ago, so I guess it is possible that attitudes have changed. Even if Fred is one of the good guys, though, I'd still bet that he's in a small minority. That's the real point, which of course has been missed by most of the responses. Pick a random startup and go look for patent applications. Most of them clearly are pursuing that strategy, and most of those are likely to be doing so at the behest of their investors. This has been going on for many years, so why is it suddenly evil when Yahoo! does the totally inevitable? Is there seriously any reason to believe that Etsy or Twilio - USV companies for which I've already found applications - wouldn't? This kind of thing won't stop until people like Fred refuse to invest in companies that are pursuing patents without a binding commitment to use them only in defense, and for all their strong words they don't seem to be doing that.


we don't do that at USV and never have. i agree that the VC industry is guilty of that practice, but we are not.


I don't think that in general the practice is something over which the VC industry should feel guilty. Venture Capital has historically and continues to fund industries where patents are appropriate, e.g. semiconductors.

Software patents are problematic, but only because of the general features of the patent process and the fiduciary responsibilities of boards of directors to their shareholders.


Not nearly good enough as an answer. I've watched dozens of investors pressure founders about patents. Usually it's in the guise of the valuation of a company - what intellectual property am I investing in? - and the idea of defending himself later is used as a rationalization.

It doesn't matter at all whether Fred's firm does this. Union Square Ventures isn't suing Facebook either, that's another behavior they're not engaging in. They're also not actually coding software.

What matters is that Fred wrote a seething post about the patent system without mentioning how many if not most bogus patents get created in the first place - at the urging of the other guys on his side of the table.


"I encourage all of our portoflio companies to file for as many as they need"

http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2006/04/patently_absurd.html

If you're letting them spend your money on filing patents without any kind of binding commitment to use them only in defense, and there's plenty of evidence at USPTO that your portfolio companies are still doing just that, then you're not clearly any different than any other VC in that regard.

This madness will not stop until there's more retaliatory capability than first-strike, and that won't happen as long as there's money pouring into the acquisition of first-strike weapons. Those who fund the stockpiling are culpable, no matter what they say as they're doing it.


It's quite possible that Fred's actions do make him a hypocrite here, but can you show that they do, rather than waving your hand at him and calling him a VC?


Fred's official standpoint is here (the slug already says it):

http://www.usv.com/2010/02/software-patents-are-the-problem-...

Of course it is not clear if he lives up to that stance in all cases (http://www.usv.com/investments/) , but I read CPlatypus' statement more as pointing out the structural problem.


That's not Fred's official standpoint. The author is Brad Burnham.


Funny that him being a VC is specific enough to argue your case, yet an official blog post from his company, written by a partner of his, is a little too vague and probably doesn't represent his opinion.


His blog title is "A VC" plus right at the top of the page it says "Fred Wilson is a VC and principal of Union Square Ventures" so yeah, I think I was on pretty firm ground there.


There is no doubt that Fred Wilson is a VC. You haven't shown that he pushes startups to apply for frivolous patents, though.


Not only that but Fred would have to push for enforcing the frivolous patents for OPs criticism to be justified.


No, he'd just have to allow that. Anyone can say they're spending all that money on lawyers for purely defensive purposes, but without a public written commitment it's just BS. If the talent leaves and the business dries up, the intellectual property is often the only asset remaining. That's why VCs demand it, so they can minimize their losses by capitalizing on the IP. I have friends whose names are on patents that have been abused, and they're livid about it (or in one case severely depressed) but there's nothing they can do. If the intent is to use patents only defensively, why not put it in writing? If somebody doesn't, anybody else who believes that will be the case anyway is hopelessly naive. It's part of the game plan from before the moment of filing.


No, sorry, I'm not in the room at other people's startups when they do that. What I can do, however, is look at the list of investments at Union Square Ventures where he's a principal. Then I can find patents and applications for founders and VPs at Etsy, Twilio, GetGlue, and others. I've probably been at more startups than most in this thread, and I've been under that pressure myself, so I know exactly how that happens. Do I know Fred was involved here? No. Does it seem likely? Yes. He sure doesn't seem to take a strong stance against the practice, does he?


Wow. Stereotypes are a real timesaver, eh? Judge the man by his actions and words. Not his freakin' job title.


"Dima is Russian. Some Russians are crooks. Therefore Dima is a crook."

This bad logic is what you are applying here.


Firstly, an analogy to people is going to cause a lot of emotional load for no reason, so this is flawed from the word go.

More to the point, these patents are objectively BS. Go look at the claims. There is not a single, novel claim among the whole lot, and you could probably pay a college kid an hour's wage to find prior art on every single one of them.


This comment is nonsense and is guilt by association. Fred has been on the record numerous times advising startups not to bother with patents.


[citation needed]


for starters, in the comment section of the original post

and besides, the onus of citation should be on you with your crazy broad assumption that Fred has placed 'immense pressure' on startups to generate patents.


I just looked at all of Fred's comments on that thread, and saw no such thing. Please don't lie just because you find the truth about startups and patents inconvenient.


Please don't lie just because you find the truth about startups and patents inconvenient.

Will you please stop? The fact that you're having to hop all over this thread defending yourself should make you reconsider what you said, not start calling third parties liars for contradicting you.


He may be wrong and he may want to consider his views based on what others are saying. He may also be annoying you and others.

But the fact that he has to "hop all over this thread defending" does not mean he is wrong in what he is saying. Edit: It just means the group here does not agree with what he is saying. The group has disagreed with what I have said in the past as well.

I appreciate hearing his views although he uses language that I wouldn't use "lie" etc.

But I also don't believe in bullying. Saying "will you please stop?" in a "we don't need you around here" way seems parental and a put down to me regardless of whether it's deserved or not.


you mustn't have looked hard. Fred is very well known for his views on patents. from that thread:

http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2012/03/yahoo-crosses-the-line.html#...

http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2012/03/yahoo-crosses-the-line.html#...

more importantly, where is there even a single citation of Fred placing immense pressure on even a single startup to generate a patent?

You should retract your comment, since you made it all up.


The burden of proof is on the accuser. In this case, that would be you. I enjoy HN for the evidence-based approach that most posters take.

Claiming someone is guilty by association or virtue of their profession is bad form.


I think his point was that these "Specific" patents were bogus patents in the first place...

"None of them represent unique and new ideas at the time of the filing. I supect they all can be thrown out over prior art if Facebook takes the time and effort to do that."

I do think that pre- IPO this is a pretty dirty play. You might have a point if you can show a case where Fred Wilson or VC's sues other companies right before an IPO on bogus patents...I am not aware of any such instance.


That's a fair point, but I don't think it gets very far. He also goes on to say, "I don't think there's a unique idea out there in the web space and hasn't been for well over a decade." That's a pretty common attitude. Have you ever seen anyone say "yeah, that software patent is truly novel"? Ever? I haven't, so he's not really making a distinction between these specific patents and others. Without such a distinction, he's essentially saying that any patent suit would be wrong . . . but then why do he and his ilk put such pressure on startups to generate the raw material for those suits? Whether Fred himself is actually hypocritical on this point is not clear, but without a strong statement from him about that kind of pressure - and there's none in that post - he still seems so.

Is it a bit dirty to do this immediately pre-IPO? Yeah, I think so, even absent other concerns. But Fred's comments go far beyond these specific patents at this specific time. He talks about a very general "unspoken line" that web companies shouldn't cross. It's the general statement I object to, not the specific one.


Please see route66's comment which points to Union Square Ventures' official position on software patents. (USV is Fred's VC company.)

To answer your question about novel software patents, yes, I've seen people say the RSA patent was novel. However, novelty is only one of three requirements for patentability. RSA is essentially a mathematical algorithm patent. It's not statutory material for a patent, any more than Benson's patent was.


Any chance you could post (or privately send to me) information about the process by which you contractually set up patents so they can only be used defensively? I'm very much interested in doing the same.

BTW, you're taking a lot of heat in this thread that you don't deserve. I work at a VC funded startup (with USV as an investor no less) and I basically agree with you.


Don't worry about the heat. Karma here has no value, or perhaps even negative value, to me. What I'm saying about VCs, startups, and patents is real and important, even if some self-interested HN'ers don't want it heard or even if Fred was the wrong frame on which to hang that picture. I'll burn some karma to get the word out about the real source of the problem and the real solution.

To answer your question, of course IANAL but the way to do this is to assign the patents to an external entity such as http://www.patentcommons.org/ or http://www.openinventionnetwork.com/, where that entity has a charter allowing only defensive use - and preferably with other entities involved to enforce that charter. A public statement like http://www.redhat.com/legal/patent_policy.html doesn't hurt either, though it's not legally binding. Now, PC or OIN might not be the exact right vehicle for you, for other reasons, but that's the basic approach.

Disclaimer: I work for Red Hat, which is a strong proponent of this approach and supporter of these organizations. Until software patents go away - and Red Hat is supporting that effort too - this is the only way to play the game that is both safe and (IMO) moral.


I've worked in, and co-founded, several VC funded startups, and even have my name on a patent. Despite that I have never come across a case where the VC's pushed for patents at all, and several where they thought it was a waste of time and money.


Yep. I don't even use/like Facebook, but I just deleted my 10 year old Yahoo account in protest (in truth it was only a secondary account after Google, but still).


This is why I use my own domain for my primary email address. If Google decides to pull some kind of crap on me, I can always ditch them without having to write that silly "My new email is" message to all my contacts.


I use a personal email domain on gmail[1] as well.

But for a different reason: It allows a "catch all" email, so I register on every site as <sitedomain.com>@vekslers.org and have my account act as a catch all sink. This allows me to both filter out spamming sources and trace back who leaked my email address to 3rd party sources. This approach is a pivot on the name+tag@domain.com email tagging which most js form validations devs are unaware of it being a legal email syntax and thus do not allow.

This relives me of the need to worry to post my email address, which is news.ycombinator.com_3698017@vekslers.org out in the open (true emails are very much welcome).

[1] http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/business/index.html


I've been doing this for a while. I've caught out 3 companies selling (or leaking, presumably via an employee) my email address. In one case they claimed they'd do something and I never heard a followup (but received no further spam, which could mean the boss was in on it); in the second case the company never bothered replying (Topaz Labs, pretty disappointed with them) and I still receive spam directed towards the address; in the 3rd case I didn't bother doing anything because of the previous 2 experiences - I realised it didn't help much except in the extreme case of being spammed heavily, which so far hasn't actually happened.


I wonder how hard this is to set up if you run your own mail server.. should be pretty easy..

Do you get a lot of spam to addresses like admin@domain ?


I used to run a catchall and the problem wasn't addresses like admin@; it was popular names. Turns out some spammers just take a list of common email local parts and email those names at every domain they can find.

There's a silver lining, though. When I took down my catchall I took the 100 most popular guessed addresses and routed them all to my Bayesian trainer. It was a big help with certain sorts of spam.


This sounds like a good setup (and workaround the name+tag issue). Can regular Gmail handle a catch all or is this a paid feature?


The free Google Apps has catch-all, yes.


> I just deleted my 10 year old Yahoo account in protest

From Apple device?


And how many worthless patents doe USV firms have?

And where was Fred when MS started its shit?

Oh effing come one now, lets have a honest conversation Fred instead of some lame miss-direction..


i've been pretty loud and vocal on the anti-software patent thing for quite a while now


The only reason for taking such decision is the money.We have noticed the same thing in the past.


I have no problem with someone being down on ridiculous patents. And think it is great that Joel stood up for Fred to say Fred isn't being hypocritical. However, i think that Fred should have dialed it back a bit before posting. He was trying to get noticed and Yahoo is an easy target as it has been sinking like the Titanic for a few years. But just because it is an easy target doesn't mean you should shoot at it.




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