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A Patent Lie: How Yahoo Weaponized My Work (wired.com)
136 points by charliepark on Mar 13, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 22 comments



This is one reason why I have never and will never file any patents for my current company, even though there would be some financial benefit for me doing so. Even though the company is very benign and has the best of intentions with patents, one never knows what could happen in the next 20 years and who those patents might be sold to.


If those are your convictions, then you have to do more than just not file; you ought to publish them in a way that allows them to be used in a prior art defense.


What makes for good prior art? What is the best way to publish an idea or invention so it can be used in a prior art defense in the future?


It can be hard. My dorm's laundry server[1] was actually Slashdotted shortly before someone filed for a patent on the idea of hooking up a webserver to a laundry machine. Luckily, being covered in the mass media does put you in a good position if you get a cease and desist letter, though.

[1]http://laundry.mit.edu/


Aren't there journals where you pay a small (in comparison) fee to publish your prior art in a place specifically where the patent office won't overlook it?


"I’ll never file a software patent again, and I urge you to do the same."

Screw the lawyers and MBAs, engineers can put a stop to this if we want to, all it takes is having the courage of your convictions. You'll probably have many jobs over your career but a patent is a landmine that will be dangerous for 20 years, you don't know when it will come back to bite you. They can't force you to write a patent, you can always get another job.


Except someone else is likely to patent the same thing.

Until software patents are killed off what we probably need is an organization something like the EFF or the Creative Commons (sorta) which could pool those patents to be used as defences against future attempts to patent software.

Not sure at all if there is a legal framework under which such an organization could exist.


What makes software patents so special? Whether an idea is novel seems relative to who you are talking to in my experience.


Several things:

1) They last a VERY long time as measured in "Internet time"

2) It's very hard to find examples of GOOD software patents. They tend to either cover too much (one click shopping), or they are really just math expressed in code (encryption and compression algorithms).

3) They are easy to abuse, since it takes so little time to produce them and the people who grant them don't really understand them.


I'd say their legal status in current intellectual property law (in some countries) is what makes them special.

The widespread abuse of patents has IMO flipped the original rationale for having them (to promote the progress of Science and useful Arts) into tools that discourage innovation and experimentation.


Whether an idea is novel seems relative to who you are talking to in my experience.

That's one of the significant problems with (software) patents. Someone who thinks an idea is novel gets a patent on it and uses it to attack people who knew it wasn't.

If there's anyone on the planet who finds an idea obvious, it shouldn't be patented.


Except someone else is likely to patent the same thing.

Not if the invention is published or otherwise disclosed in any other form. You don't have to claim ownership of an idea to keep someone else from patenting it.


It will take a lot more than that, especially when it comes to educating other people. There are millions of new engineers entering the workforce every year, and that number is only going to grow. Most haven't yet learned about the problems software patents can cause.


It is the senior engineers that are normally being asked to patent what they've "invented". Also, there are not millions of new software engineers every year, maybe 10s of thousands. There are only a few million programmers in the whole world.


A similar story with more details: http://ploum.net/post/working-with-patents


If your company was acquired by someone and then they ask you to file patents on the IP that you sold them, then what's so wrong with doing it?

Rather than bitch and whine at Yahoo, why not bitch and whine at your decision to sell to Yahoo in the first place?

Granted, I think that when you cooperated with the lawyers and helped them apply for patents on the ideas they acquired, you acted professionally and in good faith.

If you had purposefully not cooperated and the post was about how you fooled them and they did not patent any of your ideas, that would have been professional suicide, and would be best posted anonymously.

So yeah, Yahoo's pursuit of patents is stupid, and this latest action is truly despicable. But you did what you were supposed to do.


Yahoo's lawsuit is not against any small fish or unrelated business, Facebook is a direct competitor (Google was too). Please don't take it out of context and mud it in some emotional fudge.

If you want to be emotional though: Is Facebook is fine with selling people's private information, and using others' IP in the process? That money Facebook is soaked with has been made with the lowliest of the bait&switch. It is obvious that they have used the technologies developed with hard work in other companies which they are now killing. It is only fair that they pay the fair price for what they have taken.


Yahoo sued Google over GoTo / Overture in 2004, picking up a cool billion dollars in the process.

This guy wasn't already seriously skeptical about their intentions by 2005 when he joined Yahoo? Yeah OK.

And this: "I thought I was giving them a shield, but turns out I gave them a missile with my name permanently engraved on it."

Uhm. What? They had just sued Google for a billion dollars. On what planet does that sound like a shield that you're giving them?

This entire article is a lame attempt by the guy to wash off some guilt he's apparently feeling. It's ridiculous.

Own it big boy, you sold, enough with the excuses.


Well, hello! First off, Yahoo's never initiated a lawsuit with Google. It was Overture that sued Google in 2002, when they refused to license their patent for search ads. Yahoo acquired Overture a year later, and it settled out of court.

Sure, Yahoo could've just dropped the case, but I think that's different from initiating a lawsuit against a competitor.

Up until this week, Yahoo was never known for using their patent portfolio as a weapon. They'd built up defensive assets to protect against other competitors, but didn't use it offensively. They even worked with Google, Facebook, and others to defeat patent trolls like Eolas.

You can say what you like, but you weren't there. Ask other people who were, and they'll tell you the same thing: in 2005, Yahoo had bright prospects, they were making solid progress, and everyone was optimistic. Some of the most intelligent, creative people I know have their names on Yahoo patents, and they signed the contract for many of the same reasons I did -- the patent system is deeply broken, but the only sane strategy for a company Yahoo's size is to build a defensive portfolio. And we regret it.


Andy is a good guy. He was young an naive. He was wrong and he fessed up to it, and he said he won't do it again. Cut him some slack.


It's the "won't do it again" part that really gets me.

As much as I am against it, if the acquisition of my company hinged upon my agreeing to sign off on some patents to Big Co., I'd do it.


Andy was 28 years old or so when he sold out to Yahoo.

I don't think he was all that young or naive when he sold. It would not have been difficult at his age to understand the nature of Yahoo in the context of what they had just done to Google.

I appreciate that he might be a good guy, it's the excuses that he's making now for his choices then, that isn't deserving of slack.




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