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A few thoughts:

1. The complaint here presents Hipmunk as the developer of an innovative travel search engine that offers something great that no one has ever offered and, hence, as a rising star in its market. It contrasts this with i2z Technology, LLC, - a Marshall, Texas shell entity run by a Silicon Valley lawyer - that invented nothing through its own efforts, that took an assignment of a soon-to-expire 1992 patent in July, 2011, that sued a score of mostly-large companies in the fall of 2011 for allegedly infringing that patent, and that made a letter demand on Hipmunk to take a license from it or be immediately sued. It notes, very pointedly, that the innovation done by Hipmunk from which so many people stand to benefit has no connection whatever with the patent upon which i2z threatens to sue. It further notes that, on the face of it, the primary claim of the patent in issue deals with two-window configurations not even used by Hipmunk. And it identifies prior art that Hipmunk claims invalidates the patent. Finally, the complaint states that this demand came to Hipmunk only after it had raised significant VC funding for the purpose of continuing to grow and to innovate and, rather than use these funds to pay for a worthless "license," it has instead elected to fight to expose this for the bogus claim that it is.

2. The themes of the complaint are almost a template for what is wrong with U.S. software patents at their worst. Patents are supposed to protect and encourage innovation. They are supposed to take things that would otherwise remain secret and get inventors to disclose this secret know-how so that it can be absorbed into an ever-broadening public pool of knowledge for society's benefit and, as a trade-off, give the inventor a limited monopoly barring all others from using the invention for a limited time even if those others developed it entirely independently of the efforts of the inventor. To get this monopoly protection, the innovation has to be truly inventive and not such that those skilled in the relevant art would see it as obvious in light of prior art; and it must be practical and useful as applied to real-world activities and cannot be so abstract and vague that it amounts to an idea, a law of nature, or a mere concept. To benefit society, the monopoly protection must extend to a point deemed reasonable for rewarding the inventor but not so long as to give him a windfall at the longer-term expense of others. All of these concepts applied beautifully to an industrial age where inventions tended to be tied to heavy machinery or to other innovation tied to long and expensive development cycles and where the resulting inventions were discrete and significant departures from the analog-style forms of prior art that preceded them.

3. Digital technology, when first deployed, tended to fit within the historical patterns but not so with software. When it comes to software development, development cycles have become extremely rapid. The ability, or even the inventor's desire, to keep innovation secret and undisclosed has severely contracted and, in a sense, much of what is innovative in software is an open book, with a whole universe of developers drawing from the same or similar sources and deriving very similar outcomes without reference to one another's work. Change comes quickly and incrementally and knowledge of that change rapidly becomes widespread. Often such changes, when reduced to practice, can only be described in vague ways that might be applied in all sorts of surprising ways to future incremental changes and, hence, the monopoly rights tied to such vagaries hang like a menacing cloud over anything that anybody might do in those areas. And even things that truly might be classified as inventive in light of prior art can be seen as being of very limited value in the broader swirl of rapid technological change within even a few years of the time they are given patent protection and hence giving every appearance of society's having given the inventor a 20-year windfall over what should instead have been incremental stuff worthy of 3-year protection at most. Now add to the mix an underfunded and besieged patent office whose examiners are not particularly qualified to make consistent, astute judgments about innovation involving software and who are effectively under quota-pressure to keep the patent grants moving along in the system - add further an enforcement system that imposes multi-million dollar costs upon those who seek to enforce their patents and also upon those who seek to defend against claims of infringement and that produces widely variable results tied to a jury system in which those passing the ultimate judgment can easily be confused and bamboozled in evaluating technical claims - add further that the appellate review level concerning patents has been placed in the hands of a specialized court having exceedingly close and sympathetic ties with the patent bar and with the idea of broad-based patent enforcement remedies (including potentially crippling injunctions) - add further that a specialized judicial district in a backwater Texas area routinely provides favorable treatment for patent claimants even when claims are weak or frivolous - add further that patent rights, being freely assignable, can be gathered in the hands of shell entities having no connection with any form of innovation but being intimately tied to a system whose purpose is to play the enforcement system to its maximum value in order to force parties to pay up or get swept into a litigation mess - yes, added all together, this becomes one lethal brew whose poisons now maim or kill, rather than encourage, the innovation that the patent system was designed to foster.

4. I am by no means hostile to IP rights generally. These can and do protect various forms of creative effort in ways that can benefit society. Still, IP rights when abused are the worst form of perverseness in a technologically-driven society and can and do damage society in serious ways. You wind up with those who have not innovated a day in their lives making debilitating demands on those engaged in brilliant innovation in furtherance of a cynical shake-down process that amounts to a toll on innovation with no offsetting benefits. The patent system has served the U.S. well for over 200 years. Its structure was put in place with the pace and methods of innovation fostered by the industrial revolution. That structure did not envision digital technology as embodied in software and has in the past 20 years become corrupted. It is time for a rethinking of what it takes in the patent area to encourage and protect software innovation. The current system, as exemplified in the Hipmunk case, is absurdly broken.




This is a remarkably readable and succinct explanation of what's wrong with software patents. Thank you for taking time to write that.


I don't want to discourage intelligent discussion, but your penned thoughts are about 3x the wordcount of the original article.

Or - tl;dr


The TL;DR is that the patent system is horribly broken and this is a shell company from East Texas trying to take the VC money of a hot new startup (among others).

The more interesting question is whether or not they'll get stuck in EDT or not. People have found several tricks to escape that particular jurisdiction only to have the trolls invent new counters. It sounds like they've filed a Declaratory Judgement action here, but it's hard to tell. But DJAs can be quite complicated[1]. So you can practically have your case dismissed as not yet "ripe" only to have them turn around and sue you in a jurisdiction where they can get money out of you fast (usually East Texas).

What I'd like to know from grellas is whether this particular DJA appears likely to succeed? Because I wouldn't be surprised any more to see it fail due to some oddball procedural trick, only to have them file suit in their home court the very next day. I even remember one time where a patent troll even abused a quirky local court rule in East Texas to file a day early and gain priority. In fact, I think that was complications arising out of that case that led to the shuttering of the excellent Patent Troll Tracker blog.

[1] See, e.g. http://www.patentlyo.com/patent/2012/03/3m-v-avery-walking-t...


Black and white ideas can be expressed succinctly. Shades of gray require detail.

Short and sharp writing is like candy for the brain. It feels rewarding to consume, but ultimately has little educational merit.

Taking a chainsaw to grellas' posts would remove the detail that makes them fantastic and educational reads.

I've written short posts about patents before. One of them got 72 upvotes this week. Nobody learned a damn thing from it.

Hacker News needs more of grellas, and less of me. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.


Although this is true, I think the post from grellas could be trimmed substantially without losing nuance. And what remains could be formatted much more readably.

Writing for the web is different than writing for print. If grellas wants to maximize the spread of his ideas, he would benefit from learning a new approach.


On the other hand, his approach was perfect for me. A matter of opinion maybe?


Sure, but in writing for a broad audience, you aim to cover the bulk of the readers despite differing tastes. If you look at the examples from Jakob Nielsen's work on writing for the web, you can see that people who are fine with the giant-wall-o'-text approach are also fine with something that shows more structure.


I down-voted your comment. I don't believe in down-voting without giving a reason for having done so. Here's mine:

Your post adds no value whatsoever. Think twice before hitting "reply" if all you are going to do is post a negative comment that is utterly irrelevant.


Same idea can be expressed succinctly or with a lot of verbiage. Some prefer the former.

The point of my post was asking the parent to consider this point.


That could have value. Did you take the time to study the matter and post a succinct explanation? I'd love to get a link to your post.


You'll note that your comment has no value except as author feedback. Isn't that exactly the value of the comment you downvoted?


I always prefer to leave a comment when I am downvoting, and I think that, at least in my head, it's beneficial in encouraging the type of behavior I would like to see more of on HN.

Simply put, I would MUCH prefer to see a long, well-thought comment by someone who has obviously put effort into their post than someone deriding them for having been so wordy.

Regrettably, I downvote so much more often than I used to (because there is, whether it's acknowledged or not, a battle between the 'old guard' and the new) that I am not able to leave commentary where I once would have, nor would my ire be appropriate by my own standard, so I often drive-by-downvote, all the while envisioning the day where HN will either be saved from those who prefer to make short, catchy quips than well thought diatribes, or I will leave.

I don't mean to make this all dramatic, as I will likely leave unnoticed when that day comes, but I wanted to give some sort of additional commentary before saying that I also downvoted each of Omron's posts, and I don't feel that sort of post is at all appropriate here.

Grellas' commentary is often invaluable on legal matters such as this, and I am visibly disappointed when I see legal threads where I could use some insight, and can't find a topical post by him on the matter as his posts are almost always the most enlightening for laypersons such as myself that are nevertheless interested.

Lastly, while I generally abhor the notion of judging people by account ages or karma values, I think Grellas deserves far better than to be asked to shorten his posts by someone with 82 karma, though I would be just as vocal if Oman had 20,000 karma.


Posting an explanation for a down-vote is very rare. It should be a requirement for the privilege of down-voting on HN. It is also, in my opinion, good manners.


I disagree. Personally, I try not to down-vote anything that I also respond to. I reserve down votes for comments that I don't think contribute to the conversation, and I don't want to give them more attention than they already have.

I'd be fine with requiring an explanation that was visible only to the down-voted poster. I actually wish that more people would down-vote more freely, in the hope that low-quality comments would be more discouraged than they currently are.


Perhaps the part that you are not seeing is that if the poster truly cares about engaging with the community he or she cares about understanding why their post is being down-voted. A lot of topics usher-in fanboi downvoting which is petty and unfair. A down-vote with an explanation is good because it will keep the down-voter from impulsive action and create a better relationship overall. It is possible that the down-vote isn't appropriate, which could come out of a discussion stemming from the down-vote comment.

HN could easily make down-voting comments a requirement and then add a simply feature by which down-vote comments are folded below the original post and not visible. You could then have a "view down-vote comments" link that would reveal that thread. In other words, keep them out of the main conversation so that they don't clutter things yet make them available for review by interested parties.


Perhaps the part that you are not seeing is that if the poster truly cares about engaging with the community he or she cares about understanding why their post is being down-voted.

I see that, but am prioritizing the good of the group over the re-education of the individual. I think the majority of new posters will catch on to the norms of the site quickly, and those that don't will likely move on if they don't get responses.

HN could easily make down-voting comments a requirement and then add a simply feature by which down-vote comments are folded below the original post and not visible.

Fine idea. I posted it as a feature request here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4209304


I would have thought that education of individuals is nearly always good for the group, otherwise an "us and them" attitude becomes prevalent.


This may be true if the group has fixed membership, but if participation is open to all there a limit to the returns of educating newcomers. Picture a advanced sports practice that attempts to include those who have never played before, or an graduate seminar that spends its time answering basic questions for the benefit of whomever happens to be in the room. The benefits for the existing group will be reduced. It shouldn't be a black and white "us and them", but a certain amount of elitism can elevate the dialog.


This is probably the most blatant anti-intellectualism I've seen on Hacker News.

I generally skim walls of text as well but the post was well-written and -reasoned.


The original wordcount to response word count ratio is not really relevant IMO— for example, people have written thousands of pages dissecting the Tao which is a mere couple dozen pages long.

However, better layout (ie. more paragraphs) would help.


"However, better layout (ie. more paragraphs) would help."

Yes. I saw that huge block of text after just reading the GigaOM article and just skipped right over it. I came here to see what people thought on the matter, but I wasn't about to invest it all on one post.

Still, downvoting the other guy that mentioned the length of the piece is pretty crappy. "It adds no value to the conversation". Hell it doesn't. His thought was exactly my thought and the cause of my reaction (to skip the War and Peace-length comment).

For a "comment that didn't add value" he sure got a lot of comments.


They were all worth reading though.

The average attention span of the internet is not the best guide for an informative writing style. I like the fact that you will get long thought-out posts on here as it means people are actually expressing themselves with some level of depth rather than worrying about the needs of the easily bored.




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