Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Famous judge spikes Apple-Google case, calls patent system “dysfunctional” (gigaom.com)
601 points by bokchoi 1639 days ago | hide | past | web | 121 comments | favorite



Judge Posner is indeed a brilliant and highly-respected jurist and his views on our problematic patent system will undoubtedly resonate and help the cause of reform. In his courtroom role as such, though, he can have only limited impact on the broader patent debate.

The judge entered a tentative ruling saying that he was inclined to dismiss the entire case on the merits with prejudice (meaning, to kill all the claims in the case definitively so they could not be brought again by either party) on grounds that (a) neither party could prove actual damages on their claims, and (b) no good ground existed for the grant of an injunction.

These conclusions are well supported on technical grounds by existing law. A damage case can be tossed, once and for all, if a party is conclusively shown not to be able to prove damages, as happened here. And a judge can decline to impose an injunction where the costs of doing so would be far out of proportion to the benefit it gives to the harmed party, where the wrongdoing party is not gaining great benefit from the wrong committed, and where the public would be more damaged than helped by such a remedy.

What this really amounts to is a victory for common sense. Where patents involve essentially trivial rights (as often is the case with software patents especially), judges do not like to be used as tools to be manipulated in a broader commercial fight between litigants. In essence, this judge, looking at these facts, said "OK, kids, time to stop squabbling in the sandbox and go home." The lesson: pick your fights carefully and don't push claims that are essentially trivial.

Judges, good as they are, can only do so much in a system that is defined by constitutional authorization, congressional implementation, and a specialized court set up by Congress that has become cozy with the patent bar. That said, Judge Posner can hardly be accused of being a judge who doesn't respect property rights or IP rights generally and his voice will carry far more impact than most. It will be necessary to have respected voices in the legal community say, "enough is enough" many times over before Congress will listen. This act may not be enough but it is a great push in the right direction.


"OK, kids, time to stop squabbling in the sandbox and go home."

The problem is that these kids have weekly allowances in the hundreds of thousands. And most lawyers do not discriminate among potential clients by maturity level, they discriminate by net worth. They are happy to become instruments of a sandbox squabble, for a price. The kids don't do the squabbling. They pay lawyers to do it for them.


"OK, kids, time to stop squabbling in the sandbox and go home."

I could say the same for our judicial system up until now. Slam them all day if you'd like (referring to the judge), but all the patent troll rulings up to this point has precipitated this state of affairs.


This opinion is both extraordinary and extremely significant. Richard Posner is probably the most prolific legal intellectual not on the supreme court. He co-writes, along with Gary Becker (Nobel Prize winner in Economics) this excellent blog http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/

Posner is the author of the 4th most cited Law Review article in the field of intellectual property law[1]. Most telling of all is this statistic: "As of 2000, Judge Posner was the most often-cited legal scholar of all time with 7,981 citations, nearly 50 percent more than anyone else" [2]. He retains that position in 2012.

[1] - William M. Landes & Richard A. Posner, An Economic Analysis of Copyright Law, 18 J. Legal Stud. 325 (1989). [2] Fred Schapiro & Michelle Pearse, The Most Cited Law Review Articles of All Time, Michigan Law Review 2012.


An excellent quote from Posner:

"The institutional structure of the United States is under stress. We might be in dangerous economic straits if the dollar were not the principal international reserve currency and the eurozone in deep fiscal trouble. We have a huge public debt, dangerously neglected infrastructure, a greatly overextended system of criminal punishment, a seeming inability to come to grips with grave environmental problems such as global warming, a very costly but inadequate educational system, unsound immigration policies, an embarrassing obesity epidemic, an excessively costly health care system, a possible rise in structural unemployment, fiscal crises in state and local governments, a screwed-up tax system, a dysfunctional patent system, and growing economic inequality that may soon create serious social tensions. Our capitalist system needs a lot of work to achieve proper capitalist goals." [1]

[1] http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/2012/06/capitalismposner.h...


That post is an excellent read. He gets right to the heart of the biggest challenge facing the US right now. However there are no solutions put forward, a job which is unfortunately left up to the politicians.


Well, the solution is to elect politicians who are capable of understanding those concepts while having the ethical character necessary to act on behalf of our society.

Unfortunately, the electorate is mostly interested in Lindsay Lohan's latest car wreck and Miley Cyrus's engagement.


He missed talking about our massive trade deficit, which is the cornerstone of many of the other financial problems we have. Obviously cheap prices is a valid goal for an economy to work well but without good paying jobs then it barely aids the economy as a whole. Is it any wonder our fiscal problems are so great including, but not limited to, our currency being devalued internationally.

How many dollars can you pack into foreign FOREX reserve accounts?


well, this was 30 years in the making...


Everyone should read the second paragraph of that article, so here is a link: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/IPCoop/89land1.html -- it is one of the baselines for intelligent consideration of the subject, pro or anti.

(relevant jargon ref: "public good" -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_good)


Why is Posner NOT on the Supreme Court?


He's too opinionated. I'm serious. Ever since Bork, the trend has been towards finding nominees who have left the smallest possible paper trail of potentially damning legal opinions. And so you're left with the farcical confirmation hearings of e.g. Elena Kagan. The majority of sitting justices are/were not brilliant jurists or legal scholars for this very reason.


I would add he is old enough that the appointment would have relatively limited value. In an increasingly politicized court, it might be better for a president to appoint someone with limited intellectual weight who will be a reliable (liberal or conservative) vote on the supreme court for a long time than a brilliant scholar who might step down in a few years, at least from a political power standpoint.


Thanks for the link. Posner and Becker exude knowledge and understanding of how societies and economies function.

To me, it's strange/sad how as a society we elect politicians that couldn't even understand that blog much less resonate with the ideas in there or (FSM forbid) author that level of scholarship.

Instead, we get endless class warfare demagoguery and debates on gay marriage. We pay so much for our government and are so poorly served.


What a wonderful surprise. I'd forgotten about the judicial branch, and now they appear like the cavalry to sort out this mess.

Wouldn't it be great if they went after the patent trolls next?


If it was not for the judicial branch, the internet would, as we know it today, would not exist.

Remember such detestations as the Child Online Protection Act? Which, after being struck down, and the Supreme Court agreeing with the ruling, a John Ashcroft led Department of Justice continued to use tax payer money to push back through the courts?

I suspect that the differences between functional and dysfunctional governments, elected or not, lie largely in their legal and court systems.


If it was not for the judicial branch, the internet would, as we know it today, would not exist.

But for the judiciary, many of the liberties we take for granted wouldn't exist. It's easy to sneer at "activist judges" when you don't like how the rule, but never forget how brilliant the multi-branch system of government is.


> But for the judiciary, many of the liberties we take for granted wouldn't exist.

True. Then again, a lot of evil has been done by the judiciary. Particularly with the supreme court, you have a small number of unelected decision makers who wield an enormous amount of power.

> It's easy to sneer at "activist judges" when you don't like how the rule,

Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater, though. "activist judges" is a loaded pejorative, but in the right context it labels a real corruption of our system that we should be wary of.

A true "activist judge" is one who gives the government new powers not explicitly granted by the US Constitution -- whether by allowing a new law to stand that doesn't pass Constitutional muster, or by creating new concepts out of thin air.

The Legislative body is where we want our laws to be constructed, since those guys are the easiest to control through democracy. We don't want that law making function to leak all over the system like into the judiciary and the bureaucracy of the executive branch where we don't have good mechanisms to track and control.


Live by the judicial branch, die by the judicial branch.

It is very much worth remembering that the judicial branch invented software patents in the first place. And that the Federal Circuit (which has jurisdiction for most patent-related appeals) seems to be a big fan of patents of all stripes and has been actively fanning the software patent flames. Fortunately, the Supreme Court has been correcting them recently on patents, but that is a slow, painful and potentially fallible process (see: Eldred v Ashcroft, IMO).


I would like Paul Graham, Richard Posner, and perhaps Mike Bloomberg to have a long, meandering dinner party wherein they discuss and solve America's most important problems.

It worked for Jefferson/Madison/Hamilton 222 years ago. This could be exactly what we need.


By the rich for the rich then? Sounds about right.

Seriously though, you want 3 privileged, white men to decide the fate of your entire country? I'm all for smart people coming up with solutions, and I know your comment wasn't mean't to be taken too seriously, but this is just ridiculous. Technocracy is not the answer, no matter how much technologists would love it to be.


I don't believe a racial attack is in any way an appropriate response to portman's comment.


That wasn't a racial attack, it was pointing out that the 3 people who he proposed to "fix" everything were among the most privileged people on the planet (in part due to the colour of their skin). This was done to try and make the point that, given past history, another round of letting the most privileged people on the planet come up with "solutions", probably won't get us very far.


>That wasn't a racial attack

"attack" might be a strong word, but it was definitely a racist comment. Whenever you generalize or predict behavior or outcomes based upon race, you've made a racist comment. Maybe you liked the sound of it. Doesn't really matter, though, does it?

Substitute "black" for "white" and how does your original statement sound?

You're decrying the solutions that those three guys could come up with in part because they're white. Maybe you wanted to say, "ethnically homogenous"?


I'm not so sure.

They were also described as men. Does that make it sexist?

They were also described as privileged. Does that make it class warfare?

The point is obviously that they come from the same, very particular place at the very top of the same hierarchy that's created the world we now live in. Simply because the media has chosen to glamorize those people more than others doesn't mean we should do the same.

Why not throw some equally intelligent and qualified people as Elinor Ostrom or Amartya Sen in there? Aside from the fact that they're probably a bit more left-leaning/sympathetic to the little guy than the three mentioned.


> They were also described as men. Does that make it sexist?

It notes the sex of the decision-makers and implies the quality of results as part of a generalization, so I guess it is sexist.

> They were also described as privileged. Does that make it class warfare?

Warfare? That has a lot of extra meaning. "Classist" would be more clinical.

Words like "racist", "sexist", and "classist" have real definitions and you don't get to apply them only when they support portions of an argument that you happen to agree with.


> That wasn't a racial attack

You explicitly mentioned race. It's racist.


I see. And if I point out that the KKK is all white dudes, then I'm also being racist? What a meanie I am!

Pointing out the unbalanced composition of a group meant to solve society's problems is not in any way racist. It's a specific application of the general rule that humans have hard time understanding the experiences of people different than themselves, especially when there's privilege involved.


Unlike the kkk, there is no indication the OP chose the three men on account of their race. To therefore attack them on the basis of their race is an ad hominem racial assault. Furthermore, obviously the three are privileged compared to a kid born in, say, Ethiopia, but I don't see how that illegitimates them for a discussion on America.


It doesn't mean they can't participate in the discussion. It does mean that if they're the only people in the discussion, there's probably going to be some things wrong with the outcome.


That's the silliest statement I've read all day.


The founding fathers were all privileged white men.


And then you had almost a century of slavery...

I think that he has a point in saying that if you have an heterogeneous society, it's not wise to put all the power in an homogeneous group.


It is worth observing that slavery was not universally practiced or accepted in the US and that ending it involved, among other things, a mind-boggling pile of corpses, the suspension of habeas corpus and the near destruction of the US as a political unit. Moreover, that the great empires maintained de facto slavery in their colonies up into the 60s. So I think there is a serious lack of historical perspective when you are trying to ding the founding fathers very hard for slavery, as if they all intended it, as if this were some kind of inevitable result of putting white people in power.

I like affirmative action, but I don't think it is a viable principle for determining political rights, which should be universal and colorblind rather than being denied or granted based on race or a distaste for homogeneity.

The idea that white people should not have power because of their inherent moral depravity is definitely a racist idea.


Yeah dude white people are all the same.


Technocracy is not the answer

Why not? Democracy doesn't seem to be so great.


Well, one problem is to ensure that the people making the decisions really are more knowledgeable and really can act in a disinterested way, rather than this just becoming an excuse for a full-blown power grab. Democratic power grabs, although very problematic, tend to have time limits.

Another problem is getting your technocracy to be accepted. Installing it only to have it quickly overthrown is another scenario for getting a dictator.


You referenced Mike Bloomberg in the same thought and within the same context as you did Thomas Jefferson?

Thomas Jefferson's head would explode if he witnessed the dictatorial authority with which Bloomberg is attempting to control the most minute aspects of citizens' lives.

Madison and Jefferson did everything they could to allow people to be free from the control of government. They would both be tremendously saddened by how our individual liberties that they worked so hard to protect have been given away to politicians and a government bureaucracy that is lunging headlong toward mediocrity and undeniable unsustainability.

When Alexis de Tocqueville toured the US in the early 1800's and wrote "Democracy in America", he noted the rugged individualism and lack of trust in anything from the government and the elite. He wrote that only in America could the culture and nature of the citizenry insulate itself from the inevitable erosion of democracy, "But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom".

That America no longer exists. The slow march of government toward tyranny that Jefferson tried to warn us about passed a point of no return a long time ago.


What do you mean by 'tyranny'? Are you referring to taxes?

Since you mention tyranny and a point of no return, I suppose your solution will be to start killing people who you find to be complicit with the government? Watering the tree of liberty, etc. etc.?


"solve America's most important problems."

Keep in mind that whatever dream team you assemble has to have experience solving real world problems. Not sure exactly of the connection between the individuals you choose and the particular problems that need to be solved but forgetting that for a second and assuming they are qualified there are also politics to consider. It's not as if the citizens are going to authorize binding arbitration by a group of arbitrarily chosen "smart" guys.


The world is a far more complicated place than three people sitting around a table can solve.

Remember that 222 years ago the entire country of America didn't even have the population of New Jersey and a budget smaller than most school boards.


I wouldn't read too much into this. Judge Posner took standard principles of law governing damage awards and injunctions and applied them to a very specific set of circumstances. The opinion itself [1] is worth reading.

[1] http://www.scribd.com/doc/96427053/Posner-Order


fwiw, Mark Cuban seemingly forgot about the judicial branch also when examining problem recently (http://blogmaverick.com/2012/03/13/i-hope-yahoo-crushes-face...) - "Rather than originating in Congress, its going to take a consumer uprising to cause change".


It's unfortunate that it's easy to forget the judicial branch (I do too). It's tough to perceive their actions as governing in the same way that Congress governs, but it is in fact the case. It's also great when it's used effectively.


But they don't govern the same way Congress does, which is part of the beauty of the system.

They certainly play a role in governing, but where Contress is active (in theory), the Courts are reactive, waiting for a case to be brought to them. Where Congress is reaching for power and often places limitations on citizens, the Courts (in principle) ensure Congress does not claim too much power and limits Congress.


Nice quote from a different judge: "The court is well aware that it is being played as a pawn in a global industry-wide business negotiation."


Ha! At least they know they are being played and are not as foolish as they look! :D

So very true though! Even if nothing comes of the lawsuit, the amount of time, effort and money that is wasted in defending these must be colossal!


Wow, I think the more interesting part of this is his slamming of the current situation in America:

"The institutional structure of the United States is under stress. We might be in dangerous economic straits if the dollar were not the principal international reserve currency and the eurozone in deep fiscal trouble. We have a huge public debt, dangerously neglected infrastructure, a greatly overextended system of criminal punishment, a seeming inability to come to grips with grave environmental problems such as global warming, a very costly but inadequate educational system, unsound immigration policies, an embarrassing obesity epidemic, an excessively costly health care system, a possible rise in structural unemployment, fiscal crises in state and local governments, a screwed-up tax system, a dysfunctional patent system, and growing economic inequality that may soon create serious social tensions. Our capitalist system needs a lot of work to achieve proper capitalist goals."

Not mincing words indeed.


The linked blog post from Posner is excellent:

http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/2012/06/capitalismposner.h...


The number of comments disagreeing with his post certainly helps explain why we've gotten in such a mess.


To be fair, calling Alan Greenspan an advocate, let alone a practitioner, of laissez-faire economics is kind of like calling the pope an atheist.


Since he was one of the contributors to Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966, http://www.amazon.com/dp/0451147952), one of the more influential laissez-faire manifestos of the late 20th century, I think it's fair to say that he was an advocate of laissez-faire economics during at least a portion of his life.


Ok, but the blog post was clearly referring to Greenspan's actions/statements during his tenure as Chairman of the Federal Reserve by which time his credibility as an advocate of laissez-faire was out the window.


What does it mean that Posner was assigned to a lower court? Should we assume that he requested a chance to rule on this matter? Or is the entire judicial branch disgusted with the patent system too, and they asked for a pinch-hitter?


The chief judge of a circuit can assign a circuit judge to hear a district-court case, if they deem it to be in the public interest. (I don't know anything about how often this is used, or what the reasons typically are, though.)


In the federal court system, it's not unusual for circuit (appellate) judges to volunteer to be assigned to preside at trials in the district courts. This is especially true if the appellate judge didn't previously serve as a trial judge. That was the case with Richard Posner, who was a highly-distinguished law professor before being appointed to the appellate bench.

The reverse is also true: It's not uncommon for district (trial) judges to volunteer for temporary duty as a circuit (appellate) judge. They do this to get a first-hand perspective of how the appeals court will evaluate their work.


So from what you are saying it sounds like Posner volunteered for this. He wasn't drafted by someone else.

Personally I think that's fantastic.


Or an indicator of self-selecting bias, which may result in an interesting appeal.


> [re a slide-to-unlock patent] Apple’s .. argument is that “a tap is a zero-length swipe.” That’s silly. It’s like saying that a point is a zero-length line.

But a point is a zero-length line.


Yes, and a tap is, technically, a zero length swipe. But there is nevertheless a distinction between taps and swipes just as there is between points and lines. Apple's API distinguishes between the two gestures, even if Apple's lawyers don't. Claiming that tap-to-unlock violates a swipe-to-unlock patent is silly. The whole point of swipe-to-unlock is that a tap doesn't unlock the phone.


This is what I thought the judge was getting at - yes, you can define a point as a zero-length line in theoretical space, but when you apply it to something like finger movements in the case in front of him, it's a big pile of horseshit. Describing a point as a zero-length line is a mathematical trick used to help understand a concept; it's not a real-world application of mathematics.


Your statement would imply that a point has a direction, which it does not. Also, a line does not have a length; both you and Posner meant line segment. So a correct statement would be:

A zero-length line segment is a point.

Edit: not even this is true if your definition of a line segment explicitly states that the endpoints must be distinct, as does PlanetMath's definition, as Aethaeryn points out below.


  > A zero-length line segment is a point.
The Wikipedia definition of a line segment says that it is bound by two endpoints.[1] It provides a reference to Planet Math that goes into specifics.[2] In this page, it is made clear that the two endpoints cannot be equal. Planet Math provides an equation for a closed[3] line segment:

  L = {a + tb | t in [0, 1]}
This means that a line segment can be expressed as all of the points a + tb, where t is the range [0, 1] (which contains 0, 1 and all the points between them). It also limits a, b as real or complex numbers with b != 0. In other words, any line segment is just "morphing" the basic 0 to 1 range, with a shifting it and b scaling it.

Now, since b can't be 0, and 0 != 1, you're not going to get the endpoints of the range 0 and 1 to equal each other no matter how you scale them with b or shift them with a.[4] In other words, line segments will always have length.

Because you cannot get the endpoints to equal each other, a point cannot be thought of as a line segment under what appears to be the common definition.

-----

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Line_segment

[2] http://planetmath.org/encyclopedia/LineSegment.html

[3] Open is the exact same thing, except with (0, 1) instead of [0, 1] and it doesn't include the points 0 and 1.

[4] Of course, if b = 0 was allowed, you could just say that points are where b = 0 for all a.


I'd also refer to Hilbert's Axioms[1], which are the basis for the modern treatment of Euclidean Geometry.

[1] http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17384/17384-pdf.pdf


No, the basis for the modern treatment of Euclidean geometry is the explicit construction of the plane as R^2. Axiomatization is reserved for things like set theory and elementary number theory. Although Hilbert's axioms aren't exactly even a proper axiomatization anyway, seeing as it's a second-order axiomatization, and thus requires some ambient set theory. But if you've got set theory, you may as well construct it. You could think of the axioms as just conditions, of course, but then you need an existence proof, which is provided by the explicit construction as R^2, so...


Good point, my statement was poorly formulated. While I agree that analytic geometry and other developments in the field could be more fundamental, Hilbert's formalization can still be useful to express more precisely what one means by "points" and "lines", being, I think, applicable to the current discussion.


On the contrary, it's an axiomatization, and thus only describes the relation between them. If by "what one means by them" you mean a definition, then you'll need a construction for that. Of course, for the most part, the relation between them is what we mean by them; but Hilbert's formalism doesn't seem to be a good way to address such statements as the one that started this, "a point is a line segment of zero length".


Ah good I was looking for the restriction b ≠ 0 but couldn't find in on the Wikipedia page. Forgot to check out PlanetMath, thanks.


I'm actually surprised by the lack of rigor in many of the sources I checked. It's obvious that b != 0 is necessary because otherwise you can't get results like line segments having an infinite number of points, and hence equal to the amount of points in a line.[1] The thing is, a lot of common references seem to leave out that the endpoints can't be equal.[2] It's so obvious that it's just implied, but it's dangerous to treat mathematics like that!

-----

[1] http://mathworld.wolfram.com/LineSegment.html

[2] Just saying 'two distinct endpoints' instead of 'two endpoints' would work, so it's literally just one word that makes a big difference!


I think there's a difference between what's referred to as a "line" in mathematical terms and in conventional English. I believe the judge and mikek were both using the term in the latter sense.


Depends on your definition.

In my interpretation, to be considered a line in any number of dimensions, it must be specified by no fewer than two points. This puts a lower bound on the amount of information to specify "lines", a bound strictly greater than specifying a "point" in a space of similar dimensions. Otherwise, is point also a polygon consisting entirely of zero-length sides?

But anyway, I think it was only meant to highlight the Judge's opinion of the absurdity of some claims.

edit: so glad this tiny portion was the subject of the most discussion


That is the point he is trying to make. A point _can be seen_ as a zero-length line, but this is really on the boundary of the definition of a line. Likewise a zero-length swipe is a tap, but that is really stretching the definition of a swipe. Basing a court case on such a stretched definition is what he is opposing.


Not exactly. Even if you disregard the definition arguments discussed below, and allow the definition of "line segment" to include "point" I would not say that a point is a zero length line segment.

It seems to me that the "lenght" of a point, if such a concept is to be allowed, is infinitely small but not zero. Thus, a point has length of lim(x->0) x.

To me, a zero length line segment would be nothingness.

But putting the math aside, in the context of patent law, it is important to follow the commonly accepted definitions. A person should not be able to change the meaning of his claims by suggesting new definitions. And it seems obvious that, as others have pointed out, the accepted definition of a line segment is something with finite length, and the accepted definition of a swipe is something that (obviously) results from swiping, i.e. some movement of the finger.


Euclid, Book 1, Definition 1. "A point is that which has no part."


A point has no dimensions whatsoever. No length, width, or area. A point is not a zero length line segment, but not because of the reason you mention.


Yeah. This struck me as well. I think what you say is right, but probably the 'silly' part comes from the context of the legal argument.

For instance, You could also say a point is also something with 132 dimensions of data - all but one or two of which are set to 0. Does that mean if we patent ways of working with 132-dimensional data that our patents should apply to anything with fewer dimensions? Of course that would be silly....


A zero-area polygon. A zero-volume hedron. etc. etc.


Such degeneracy!


Only if you have a jury full of mathmeticians


Is it? Maybe a zero length line segment. In geometry terms, lines are infinite, aren't they?


No. Yes.


A zero-dimmensional equivalent of line, maybe?


I'm beyond disappointed that the article is about the most important ruling regarding patent law in recent memory, and the overwhelming majority of this thread is arguing about the geometry cited in the judge's order. Rational people understood what he meant, even if maybe it's not 100% mathematically sound.

This pedantry really frustrates me, and it extends beyond Hacker News. It's pervasive in conversations I've been having recently as well, as if we're all looking for the slightest thing wrong with what someone has said so that we can achieve some kind of acclaim by pointing it out. I made a point recently about how people need to work together and cited a Star Trek film as a joke, and some jackass in the group decided to go to the mat with me on the fact that I had cited the wrong Star Trek film (my quote was in III, not II).

There is nothing more frustrating than a pedant. It seems like it's tech people that do it most, too, which makes sense, but still.


> and the overwhelming majority of this thread is arguing about the geometry cited in the judge's order. Rational people understood what he meant, even if maybe it's not 100% mathematically sound.

> This pedantry really frustrates me

People are well aware that they are nit picking, but they enjoy the resulting discussion! Intellectually inclined people enjoy discussing minutia with other like minded people. They are perfectly aware that it makes no difference, and they don't care - it's just something interesting to talk about. It's no longer nit picking about the original (i.e. the practical use is settled), at that point it becomes a discussion for its own sake.

Do you never learn or do anything just for the sake of doing it, rather than in order to accomplish something useful?

> and some jackass in the group decided to go to the mat with me on the fact that I had cited the wrong Star Trek film

He was showing off. If you don't wish to participate in the Star Trek memorization culture just ignore him - his comment was geared to other members of his group who do like doing that. Or simply acknowledge that he was right and move on. Clearly you don't care about that topic, so that acknowledgement shouldn't cost you too much ego.

That's also the point of threads: You can ignore an entire thread that is off topic - but it also gives people who found something interesting a place to talk about it without disturbing the rest of the conversation.


>People are well aware that they are nit picking, but they enjoy the resulting discussion! Intellectually inclined people enjoy discussing minutia with other like minded people. They are perfectly aware that it makes no difference, and they don't care - it's just something interesting to talk about. It's no longer nit picking about the original (i.e. the practical use is settled), at that point it becomes a discussion for its own sake.

Pedantry like that indicates that the person may be suffering from OCD, not that they have a high IQ. There is a correlation between intelligence and anxiety-spectrum disorders but there are, ofcourse, many anxious people who have low IQ's too.


Your entire comment would be wise were it not for, both in the case of my anecdote and this original comment, the observation that someone is incorrect. It's one thing to enjoy intellectual pursuits, it's another to put down others, belittle them, or critique their opinions because of a perceived mistake they made (such as the geometry). It's doubly worse if the mistake has no bearing whatsoever on the actual opinion, like the finding and the opinion I was sharing in my anecdote.

Also, I like to think of myself as intellectually inclined, and I simply hate discussing and arguing minutia like this. It just doesn't matter, and my time is limited. I don't want to argue with you on what Dickens meant by a certain character's dialogue in David Copperfield, I'd just like to enjoy it as a great novel. (That is fairly specific, and there are instances where it's fun to think about, but in general it isn't.)

> Clearly you don't care about that topic, so that acknowledgement shouldn't cost you too much ego.

Not about my ego, oddly (most everything else is, but this isn't). It undermines the opinion or discussion at hand from everybody else's perspective, however subtly. It's an annoying opportunity to show off, as you say, like those people that get up at conferences and ask a question that shows off at the expense of everyone listening. Both are distractions from the topic and are a detriment to the conversation, regardless of their original purpose.


> the observation that someone is incorrect ... to put down others, belittle them, or critique their opinions

I really don't think they are doing that. They understand that for the normal purpose he's right, they are just talking about mathematics, or general cases. At this point it's removed from the original, they are no longer talking about him (the Judge) they are talking about the concept in general.

> I like to think of myself as intellectually inclined

and

> and there are instances where it's fun to think about

There you go. There is no rule that says you have to enjoy talking about the same things as someone else. Each person likes their own stuff.


"it's another to put down others, belittle them, or critique their opinions because of a perceived mistake they made (such as the geometry)"

I would guess that people who are in certain professions which require precision would be more likely to act this way. Because lack of precision would cause the plane to crash or the bridge to fail or the code to croak. Medicine (drugs) for example is not really super precise when you think about it. Dosing isn't so critical that if you take a little more or a little less you end up dead or sick. You have latitude. (Of course someone who knows more than I about this would point out that coumadin (Warfarin) dosing is quite critical and correct me.)

Have you found that to be the case in your IRL conversations?


No. Most of my conversations revolve around my career, and I'm a system administrator. Bike shedding I had already identified to be a problem. Pedantry like this I'm starting to notice as well.


"It's pervasive in conversations I've been having recently as well"

It's so much easier to do this as a result of information so readily available at your finger tip. So any statement anyone makes can be quickly verified and corrected with pretty good precision. Wondering if the people who corrected you in conversations looked up the fact on their iphone (or whatever) while you weren't looking.


If my high school maths teacher were here he'd say that a point is a zero-length line segment.


Except it isn't. Doesn't a line segment required two distinct endpoints?


Sometimes it is useful to think of a really short line becoming a point, like in calculus, but that doesn't mean a point is a really short line any more than its a really tiny triangle or anything else we want to scale to a point.


I notice that NeXT is listed as a co-plaintif - does anyone know why? Weren't they completely acquired by Apple?


Not a lawyer and speculating so take it for what its worth... when you acquire an entity you don't always remove all of the assets from it and shut it down. It turns into a wholly owned subsidiary. The patents are likely still assets of the NeXT subsidiary.


Posner is so famous and respected and such a polymath that his absence from the Supreme Court is conspicuous. Does anyone know why he's never been nominated?


Two big reasons: (1) he's not doctrinaire enough for either party (as a shorthand: Obama can't assure supporters Posner would uphold Roe, and Romney can't assure supporters he won't), and (2) at 73, he's way too old; nominating Posner is like giving the next sitting opposition President an extra nominee.

Did you ever read the Becker-Posner blog?


Of course, he wasn't always old :) But probably always volatile. Amusing to imagine a senate confirmation hearing with a nominee who's ok with selling babies and LSD (per dpatru's comment).

I haven't read their blog – should I?


"Posner's most significant contribution has been in law and economics, the influential legal movement he practically created. (...) Looking at the world through a strictly economic lens, he writes with a refreshing, parsimonious intensity. He also, occasionally, produces outrageous conclusions, such as his contention in a 1999 article in the literary journal Raritan that the rule of law is an accidental and readily dispensable element of our legal ideology, and his argument in favor of buying and selling babies on the free market in lieu of government-regulated adoption. Add his advocacy of legal marijuana and LSD, and it is clear that Posner -- despite his obvious brilliance -- will never sit on the U.S. Supreme Court." - Robert S. Boynton, The Washington Post (20/1/2002) from http://www.complete-review.com/authors/posner.htm.

I've also read that Posner was deemed too old by either Clinton or Bush. Presidents want to have a lasting influence on the Court.


My understanding is that back in the 80s & 90s when he was being considered for the Supreme Court he was repeatedly blocked by Joe Biden then chair or ranking minority member on the Judiciary Committee. Not sure of the exact issue that drove this.


I remember a curious remark Biden made in an interview (probably during the 2008 campaign, but I forget). The interviewer asked him what he had learned from his years on the Judiciary Committee. Biden answered that he'd learned that ideology matters, and went on to explain that during his early years he thought it most important to pick the most generally qualified candidate and trust them, but later had realized that was wrong: you needed to pick someone who would reliably vote your way. I've long forgotten everything else about the interview, but that remark stuck in my head. If true, it would explain why he would block Posner.


Probably because at the times vacancies have existed he was not the strategically optimal candidate in the President's political maneuvering?


I'm glad Posner and a few other justices seem to have an interest in discrediting frivolous patent cases but can they do anything other than point a dirty finger at corporations for abusing the patent system and dismiss their cases with prejudice? Posner can't shift around his appointments indefinitely.

It's obvious that most HNers feel the patent system won't change any time soon or they wouldn't be filling this thread with a discussion on the definition of a line segment.

Edit: I'm not saying he should do more. I was asking if he could do more from his position. I recognize that he's bringing needed attention to the subject and setting an example that will probably be followed by others in the judiciary.


Patent trolls need to go to court in certain states to be effective. States like Texas are a big part of the patent troll problem. The courts there welcome the insanity with open arms.

If we could clone Posner and put him in every state, this type of ridiculous patent litigation from IT companies would not be such a viable course of action.

Maybe it's not a question of what one justice can do, but a question of people taking a greater interest in their local and federal court systems. Are the courts in your state giving the go-ahead to frivolous patent proceedings from IT companies? Do you think that is a good thing? Is the time and expense for the courts to hear these cases warranted? Take an interest, as you did with SOPA. Imagine if there was a calling campaign to state bar associations instead of state politicians. Believe me, it would get noticed. Most people just do not care about this stuff enough to take an interest.

That said, there are a lot of people who support this patent trolling nonsense. It doesn't fly in Chicago, but it's par for the course in Washington and California. Good luck rallying the troops in those places. Many of them are part of patent trolling machine. It's what their employers and clients do.


Exactly what do you want him to do? He could not be a judge and also be an activist.

Speaking this clearly from the bench - a position of impartial authority - is probably the best he can do.


He called it right, as it is.


I can't read the embedded Scribd document (scribd is blocked here)... what term does Motorola claim has a "plain and ordinary meaning"?


The quote is from an earlier ruling, not from the PDF. The full quote is:

"Motorola is hereby ordered to propose a claim construction of the term 'predetermined number of channel resources' in patent '898 at tomorrow's Markman hearing. Motorola's contention that the term has a 'plain and ordinary meaning' is ridiculous; Motorola seems to have forgotten that this is a jury trial. The term 'predetermined' means 'determined prior to some other event,' and what that 'other event' is is not obvious in context and certainly will not be obvious to a jury. If Motorola does not want Apple's proposal to be accepted, it must propose some alternative."

http://www.fosspatents.com/2012/03/judge-posner-praises-appl...


Downvoted for referencing fosspatents. You wouldn't cite an Aryan Nations site on human genetics, even if they were quoting facts. Likewise FM on IP.


I invite you to find the original source for the quote, and I'll change the link.


Outside of his nigh-endless legal accomplishments, Posner is also allegedly the basis for the character of Mr. Burns on the Simpsons.

His blog (http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/) is well worth a read.

If you're an economic-utilitarian you'll love it, otherwise you'll probably think he's a monster, albeit a very rational one.


It didn't seem to make much difference when Posner endorsed Keynes as "the best guide we have to the [recent economic] crisis"; I don't expect his comments will make much difference to discussion of the patent system. In both cases, you have too many actors invested in a different view.


Ah, Judge Posner. Years ago I was the Creative Commoner for a while, Lawrence Lessig sent me a congratulatory email in which he said that I was "another Judge Posner" -- it took me a good bit of research to get the humor.

Now I smile whenever I see Judge Posner's name.


Judge sounds biased against the patent system. Would be interesting to see an appeal based on this.


I think I like this guy...


U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner is my new hero.


> Motorola’s contention that the term has a “plain and ordinary meaning” is ridiculous; Motorola seems to have forgotten that this is a jury trial.

Look who's talking.


What do you know, a judge from an appeals court that never hears patent cases doesn't know anything about how the patent system works.

Why we let circuit judges sit by designation on cases that are literally outside their jurisdiction escapes me.


Your other comment I saw indicate an personal prejudice against this judge. I'm curious, what did he do to earn your ire?


He's just kind of a publicity hound. I find that his opinions are usually well-reasoned, so this one is kind of an exception. Basically, I think he's a decent judge, but I don't like him much. This time, though, I think he's out of his depth.


Posner is a drama queen, as usual. "I don't like what you're doing, so I'm going to ignore law and binding precedent to come to a decision that feels right and will get me some more publicity."

Puke.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: