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Software patent reform just died in the House (washingtonpost.com)
525 points by alecco 1220 days ago | hide | past | web | 225 comments | favorite

I wonder how people associated with Microsoft and IBM deal with the morality issues surrounding them. What they are doing is clearly evil and detrimental to innovation.

Bill Gates receives a lot of credit for his humanitarian work; but at least part of that wealth seems ill-gotten. In my mind, real heroes are people like Torvalds and Stallman; relatively unknown but the impact of their contributions might have already superseded what Gates has been able to accomplish.

I wonder how people working at Facebook and Google deal with the "morality issues" of peddling advertising to impressionable children and teenagers (while calling it "innovation") while consuming 10x as much resources per capita as people in China who actually build real tangible things?

NB: I don't want to give the impression that I think advertising is bad or anything. I think of it like porn: fine for adults, but not something I want my daughter exposed to until she can appreciate what it is.

> I don't want to give the impression that I think advertising is bad or anything. I think of it like porn: fine for adults, but not something I want my daughter exposed to until she can appreciate what it is.

That's an interesting comparison. One could argue that advertising is far worse than pornography, in the sense that pornography is usually being purposefully sought out when one is exposed to it, whereas advertising is often intrusive info-pollution, going out of its way to expose us to strongly-biased and/or manipulative rhetoric.

One of the best classes I had in college was "Reasoning and Critical Thinking", taught by the Philosophy department. A few friends and I took it to satisfy some degree requirement or other. Afterwards we reflected that wasn't enough -- we felt that a passing grade should be required for graduation for every single student.

Why? Because it was inoculation against bogus argument. It covered basic logic, logical fallacies, and gave students a solid footing in resisting and debunking nonsense in argument, advertising, and other communication. Really an invaluable life skill.

If everybody were required to take that one particular class, the content would be so diluted that it'd lose its original intention. I think it's better for some to seek it out than for half of the freshman class taking it, failing, then complaining that it was the most worthless course ever.

My university required everybody take a philosophy course, and I can't remember anything from it because there was essentially nothing taught. The professor assigned the absolute bare minimum and expected the absolute bare minimum since he knew people took it for only one reason: they needed to.

Too bad no one learns a thing about arithmetic, because we're all required to take it.

Seriously, I don't actually give a flying fig about the feedback and evaluation mechanisms. I care about raising skill in this kind of thinking capability in as many people as possible. That is, taught with the cultural vigor we give to skills such as literacy. I also don't mean "some kind of random class with this label slapped on it". At the time, we very clearly meant the instruction quality that we had just experienced.

Or stop admitting students who can't pass a basic philosophy course.

1. You could say that about any course... Statistics comes to mind.

2. The original justification was "everyone should learn basic reasoning". You just turned it into "kick out people who can't learn it, cause screw those guys".

Many people do take that opinion though. I've seen it reasoned, and felt it a little bit myself, that you should take any and every opportunity to say "kick people out who can't learn X" because that's what assures the value of the degree in the first place.

However, that gets into "what does a degree really mean" and plenty of other arguments, not something I'm interested in.

1. I don't believe that everyone needs to go to college. 2. I don't believe college is a day care where students should be coddled. If they can't pass a basic philosophy course, they have no business being in college. That's not to say they are worthless, just that college isn't right for them.

This is actually a required course at CSU, Chico (my alma mater). I believe it is required at all CSUs and UCs [1]

[1]: https://secure.csumentor.edu/planning/transfer/ge_breadth.as... (Under Area A)

Some educators are directly opposed to teaching critical and high-order thinking: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/texas-...

has your daughter gone outside, watched a movie, watched a tv show, took the bus, went to a sporting event, etc?

This disingenuous -- he was complaining about ads targeting children/teenagers rather than ads in general.

Children's toys are not generally targeted towards the parents.

I think your understanding of advertising is rather shallow. Of course children's toys are targeted towards parents. The underlying message in most advertisements is, "buy this toy to make your kid happy and get them out of your hair for a few hours."

Sometimes, sometimes the kid sees the commercial and just annoys the hell out of their parent until they buy it; specially in Christmas because is socially expected.

This reminds me of an example in a book I read about advertising. Toy companies increase advertisement before Christmas but lower production rates so the big toys of the season sell out. The reasoning is that kids bother their parents to buy the toy and the parents promise they will but can't since its all sold out so they buy something else. The toy companies cut the ads a little before Xmas only to ramp it up again a month or so later at which point the kids complain that you promised and parents psycologically feel obligated to buy. The toy companies then get 2 purchases from you. They use your kids against you

You know, there are some places where at least two of those things don't involve any advertising, thankfully.

I hear that complaint, but I think that my kids are growing up more savvy regarding the tricks of advertisers because they've been exposed to them at such a young age.

I would definitely distinguish it from porn in that heavy sexuality is way too able to psychologically scar someone at a young age -- but learning that the Barbie in the commercial isn't as much fun to play with as the girls in the ad made it seem isn't a bad thing.

heavy sexuality is way too able to psychologically scar someone at a young age

Evidence? Not sure what you mean by "heavy sexuality"... rape porn, sure, I'm inclined to agree, but anal sex, scat, orgies, etc. I'd need to see some proof. I saw all that when I was 8-9 years old, and anecdotally I have a healthy sex life now that is free of any destructive fetishes (or really any fetishes in general).

From the NYT:

Microsoft sang a very different tune in 1991. In a memo to his senior executives, Bill Gates wrote, “If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today.” Mr. Gates worried that “some large company will patent some obvious thing” and use the patent to “take as much of our profits as they want.”


That actually sounds logical to me, like Obama taking money from companies despite opposing the Citizen's United verdict. The rules are the same for all, and people take advantage of the rules.

It is also similar to Google warning about the patent issues with H.264 while pushing WebM and then later (through Motorola) asking for exorbitant licensing fees for H.264 patents, from Microsoft and Google. They got fined over the FRAND abuse by the courts.


Hate the game, not the players.

> Hate the game, not the players.

What about when the players made the rules you hate? The patent system was never intended to be used like this; it has been transformed into this by the very players you are telling us not to hate.

It's one thing to play the game by rules you have said you disagree with. It's another to then lobby congress to keep those bad rules.

like Obama taking money from companies despite opposing the Citizen's United verdict

It's still illegal for corporations and unions to give money to political candidates' campaigns, or coordinate their own spending with those campaigns. They are free to give money to advocacy groups to run ads with a political message, or run their own ads, but that's not the same thing.

Indeed, but it's a distinction without a difference since the biggest cost is TV and Radio campaigns and Super PACs run ads.

The issue was that Obama blessed a super PAC officially and his cabinet and campaign folks talked to the donors at their meetings.


So what Obama should have done is...?

Not respond to the tidal wave of advertising against him? Inevitably lose the election? Turn the election into a demonstration of what happens if you don't let money rule politics? Let the monied interests run rampant with the subsequent elected majority?

> the impact of their contributions might have already superseded what Gates has been able to accomplish

Oh come on. In the long run, the ideas of Free Software are hugely important. But for now, Gates is actually helping people not die through philanthropy on a level which, as far as I know, Torvalds and Stallman are not even remotely capable of achieving.

Technology does help people immensely, perhaps in ways less measurable than philanthropy. Consider medical devices, weather forecasting, medical research - all these significantly leverage GNU/Linux.

For some Bill Gates associates with his infamous letter which can be considered the cornerstone of all the IP crookedness which comes out of Microsoft (like software patents racket and so on):


Bread and circuses.


Some people look around the world and see the carpet being grabbed from beneath their feet, and the appeal of a roof and warm beds for your family is not easily ignored.

Most people don't have the luxury of sacrificing their lives for an ideology, and even fewer are willing to risk their family's lives.

I believe in the future things will be quite clear, without PR manipulated opinions. They will be remembered as sociopaths.

History rarely corrects this kind of story. Gates will be remembered as an innovator and as a great man of his time, who was altruistic enough to give away most of his fortune and dedicate his latest years to humanitarian causes. The chokehold Microsoft created in the 90s IT industry will be a footnote in History.

For a reference of this kind of History effect, compare the common man views of Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. They shared the same period in History, and worked in the same field (the electricity boom). Edison was the astute businessman with shady tactics but also with public success. Tesla, a brilliant scientist, produced the still unchallenged fundamentals for electricity transmission and for AC electric motors. Which one is considered the epitome of innovation? The shady acute businessman.

To be honest, I feel that if History did that, it would be right. I've worked with people who've worked with people who've had Microsoft bully their businesses into submission. But even though it sounds trite, that's their first world problems. Gates is now focusing on third world problems. I'm comfortable with the stranglehold being a footnote so long as it is not completely glossed over.

This view is common. It is the tragedy of negative externalities. Since the damage that MS did to the industry in the 90s was widespread and not easily quantifiable, it is not easily identifiable and as such is not felt.

Do you really think History (as in the practice, not the story) will continue to follow the same rules post-internet as it did pre-internet?

Modeling the future path of that field on its past mechinations seems silly to me. Any sensible model of future history, I think, must be built on novel, untested understandings of the new physics of information, to have even an outside chance of predictive power.

Except that now a days Tesla is practically worshipped and Edison is known as the guy who shocked elephants in the street.

Only in tech circles, otherwise it is "Tesla? isn't that a car?".

IDK, I feel like this has shifted in the last generation. Nobody is shocked nowadays when you inform them that Columbus was a bad guy, and the same historical rethink in pop culture is happening with Edison.

I don't know about Columbus[1] since he was always a bad guy when I grew up, but I still think Edison gets plenty of good press.

1) went to school on reservation - "Discovered" is not the word used

> Which one is considered the epitome of innovation?

Always been Tesla for me, and he invented a hell of a lot more than electric motors.

99,000 employees. That's a lot of sociopaths in one place!

It's hard to imagine the impact of open source software exceeding that of eradicating malaria and polio.

I could see open software being more important on the 100+ year scale (I could also see it not). The work or Bill Gates is very high impact, though.

Depends the value you put on potentially hundreds of millions of lives and what might be achieved by those people who otherwise wouldn't have survived.

Ultimately it's an apples and oranges comparison though and not especially useful.

That is fair. Open software could save many lives too (potentially more than the quoted hundreds of millions), but it is definitely a lot less clear or certain.

Also, wow! I knew malaria was a big deal, but I didn't realize it was that big.

It's massive. Also, the 100 year timescale helps...

Regardless of what you think about Microsoft, you have to say, Gates isn't messing around with some vanity project. The man has come to play.

Agreed, even though I've lots of respect for BG's humanitarian work. Also, it is much much easier to do good when one has insane amounts of money, than one doesn't.

Today, almost every company thinks their first (and only?) responsibility is to their shareholders, and hence profit. That affects every decision they make, and they somehow come up with rationalizations for their behavior. Until this line of thinking changes, how can we expect anything nice to happen (nice for the common good, but terrible for short term profits)?

His humanitarian work was out of your pocket.

So you idolize people who create intangible things that don't make life any better for most people all over the world, but it's wrong for people to create intangible things that you don't approve of. I agree with your disapproval, just not your backwards hero worship.

And if you're going to lampoon anyone who uses "ill-gotten" wealth for philanthropy... I can't see how you'll ever be happy. People do or supervise things you consider "evil," then they turn around and work charitably, but no -- it's gotta be squeaky clean all the way down?

It may be time for a reality check.

> it's gotta be squeaky clean all the way down?

Yes. You seem to be implying that this concept is strange or ridiculous, and I don't understand why.

Contributions from people I idolize help some of the most important projects pushing humanity forward; like Wikipedia SpaceX/NASA/ISS and LHC. Their work supports the largest computers used in medical research and weather forcasting. Not to mention every internet service we use; and some like Twitter were invaluable tools in Tunisia and Egypt.

I don't know what your definition of 'intangible' is, but people I idolize are doing some tangible, visible work.

> And if you're going to lampoon anyone who uses "ill-gotten" wealth for philanthropy... I can't see how you'll ever be happy. People do or supervise things you consider "evil," then they turn around and work charitably, but no -- it's gotta be squeaky clean all the way down?

Good deeds don't erase past bad deeds. No amount of charity with a fortune you earned being bad makes you a good person or absolves you of past wrongs.

so youre cool with hitler stealing money as long as he donates it after?

... Seriously? I never thought I'd see an instance of Godwin's Law on HN...

Dismissing something via Godwin's Law is always a cop-out.

I'm not comparing him to hitler. just pointing out how silly that persons comment/train of thought was.

Yeah. Well, at least Facebook and Google try to innovate, and are quite successful at doing so. Microsoft, never mind IBM...these are old dying giants who will never budge in the name of innovation.

There is not (edit: much) about Facebook that deserves the label "innovative." It's an entertainment product designed to sell advertising, no different than the Superbowl or American Idol. That's totally fine, of course, the world needs entertainment and I like using Facebook to send pictures of my kid to her grandparents as much as the next guy. I also loved the first four or five seasons of American Idol (it's gone downhill) and have a Superbowl party every year.

I feel like some people in Silicon Valley have this weird investment in the word "innovative." They have this need to justify making tons of money while essentially working in the advertising business. So they label every little engineering advancement "innovation" utterly diluting the word. But why is that necessary? There is nothing wrong about working in the advertising industry, or making a bunch of money selling people entertainment.

But, comparing Facebook to IBM (or even Microsoft) is absolutely laughable. IBM is pushing the boundaries of semiconductor manufacturing, designing new CPUs, building artificial intelligence, etc.

Google does innovate (Glass, cars, etc), but they don't make any money doing so.

You may have some specific conditions for what you consider innovation, but Facebook is a service that dramatically changes how a significant percentage of humans spend their free time, and the implications are huge. Connecting with people, sharing information, etc. The fact that the business model is backed by advertising isn't relevant. By your definition I wonder if TV, film, or even the printing press is innovative.

American Idol was also innovative, and whatever group created the spectacle of the Superbowl and the NFL were also likely innovators. Just because it isn't hardcore technology doesn't mean it isn't innovative.

'There is not a single thing about Facebook that deserves the label "innovative." '

Trolling? Or merely ignorant?

See e.g. http://prestodb.io/

You might not like FB, but to claim there is not a single innovative thing they've done is laughable.

Inventing a new way to turn dog poop into coffee cups is, technically speaking, innovative. Thus, any discussion of innovativeness is not tremendously useful without also considering the value the invention brings to market.

Part of that is necessarily clever marketing, but some portion of Facebook's value has to be real, new tech that makes a lot of people's lives better. If you can't point to any single thing, maybe it's the packaging of a lot of single things that is innovative?

opencompute is very innovating in datacenter technology

It's essentially open source for server design.

The common Hacker News definition of "innovative" is "company I like."

Facebook innovates - https://github.com/facebook

Every single engineering advancement is innovation. By definition[0].

The fact that you are ready to discount Facebook as non-innovatine tell about your personal bias. Even if they 100% advertising business it still requires lots of innovation. Including the task of capturing, analyzing and presenting the largest social graph to hundreds million people. And Facebook has significant open source contributions. Sure, it doesn't produce so many engineering advancements as Microsoft, but saying the comparison is laughable is simply wrong.

And of course, Google makes money innovating. AdWords and AdSense,arguably, are the most innovative ad platforms on the planet. You may dislike advertising all you want but don't change the meaning of words ('innovation') to rant about business models based on advertising.

[0]"Innovation is the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, inarticulated needs, or existing market needs." - Wikipedia

I'm perfectly happy to operate under a definition of "innovation" in which Facebook is considered innovative alongside Survivor and American Idol. But I don't think that was the operative definition of the person I was replying to, or the definition that is usually intended when talking about how patents are stifling innovation.

Props for using a Wikipedia cite. At least when I was in school, you couldn't cite an encyclopedia as a reference, and that was when they cost money and were written by scholars. So lets look at the patent doctrine [0].

The definition of an invention by the USPTO is not simply something new. In a nutshell, it needs to be novel (no prior art), non-obvious to someone skilled in the art, and not a simple combination of existing things. Making a new algo or something run and scale faster is not inherently an invention. Sadly, while a ban algorithms (mathematical forumulae) and the non-obvious requirement are in the patent doctrine, the courts have set precedents in the recent decades to allow the current software patents despite the classic interpretation that these things were not patentable.

Indeed folks are taking this current contorted patent doctrine and conflating "invention" with "innovation", bestowing on their innovative new WordPress theme the greatness of an actual patent. Sadly, much of the difficult stuff going on in the startups would not have been a patent in 1950. But if we want to focus on the "feel good" version of invention, where it's new to you, then there is a ton of "innovation" going on. FB might be scaling and have a ton of technology to do so, but the net result of being able to share cat videos faster than a decade ago isn't pushing civilization forward the same way the killer patents of the 20th century did.

[0] http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/mpep-9015-appx-l.h...

I completely agree about Facebook. I thought by now Facebook might morph into something really useful, but no--there just another big, dumb company. A company who felt Snapchat was worth 3 billion dollars. (Yes--I know they played a part in the Arab Spring. I think even the genius in the hoodie was surprised by what took place?).

Based on your comment, I feel like you value tangible things as much more innovative.


That's a bitter sounding opinion. Sure, the things Facebook creates may not be what you consider innovative but it's pretty clear there are lots of people there creating new technology https://github.com/facebook?tab=repositories

> IBM...these are old dying giants who will never budge in the name of innovation.

> IBM has 12 research laboratories worldwide and, as of 2013, has held the record for most patents generated by a company for 20 consecutive years.[15] Its employees have garnered five Nobel Prizes, six Turing Awards, ten National Medals of Technology, and five National Medals of Science.[16] Notable inventions by IBM include the automated teller machine (ATM), the floppy disk, the hard disk drive, the magnetic stripe card, the relational database, the Universal Product Code (UPC), the financial swap, SABRE airline reservation system, DRAM, and Watson artificial intelligence.


Notable inventions by IBM include...[only one thing invented in the last forty years].

Your claim doesn't really argue against the description "old dying giants." The best response might be that IBM is still profitable, but you didn't include that.

I realize that Wikpedia is the source of all information in the world but IBM has created or contributed to a considerable number of interesting things more recent:

- Eclipse

- Dojo

- Apache Software Foundation (Apache WebServer, etc)

- PowerPC

- Watson


- Deep Thought

- Deep Blue

- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_(atoms)

- http://singularityhub.com/2012/10/03/ready-new-microscope-te...

- http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2013/05/01/ibm-made-a-...

- http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-57541381-76/ibm-brings-car...

The list goes on, and on, and on.

I don't really think IBM is an old dying giant, it's just lost its way a little focusing on short-term shareholder value. Ginni Rometty might not be the right person to lead IBM.

Disclosure: I'm long IBM :)

> Microsoft, never mind IBM...these are old dying giants who will never budge in the name of innovation.

Not sure if naive or ignorant.

This is probably one of the clearest examples of Poe's law I've seen in a long time.

Kinect and Watson come to mind...

The depth sensing in the old Kinect was developed by PrimeSense. The New Kinect was probably developed from technology acquired with the purchases of 3DV and Canesta.

Where did the skeleton tracking come from?

Both PrimeSense and Microsoft developed their own separate skeletal tracking systems. PrimeSense released theirs in binary form with OpenNI.

I'm not trying to be a jerk or anything, but saying that software patents are "evil" is hyperbolic.

The slave trade is evil.

Software patents are a real problem area of our law...but they don't rise to the level of "evil".

Hardly IBM and Microsoft. The headline should read "thanks to easily bought senators". IBM and Microsoft don't have any real say, only the senators do. If the senators choose to destroy their own country for monetary gain, it's still not the fault of anybody else. This blame shifting is getting old.

In cases of bribe, do you blame only the receiver, or the one who gives bribe, too?

And as a non-American I fully see this as nothing but bribing. The only difference is that in US paying money to pass or fail bills like this is "legal".

It's not quite that clear cut. In this case, Rep. Goodlatte probably considered how vocal opposition of the bill by large corporations could cast him as 'Anti-Business' by his constituency, or a challenger in an upcoming election. There is no mention in the article that IBM, Microsoft, or any other company offered to contribute to Goodlatte's campaign fund or support him in any other way in exchange for the removal of the CBM provisions.

While American politics is often seen as pay-to-play, especially after the 'Citizens United' decision by the Supreme court, it's important to differentiate situations where there is almost-direct financial ties from situations where it is more a question of political pressure. If some people (i.e. the tech-consuming public) elected to pressure our representatives more than large companies, this bill could have turned out very differently.

The difference between the threat to cut off your campaign support directly and the threat to support a challenger in your next primary is a rather fine hair to split.

Political pressure in the US always boils down to two things: money and media support. And those two are almost freely convertible, provided that you are completely milquetoast and unthreatening to the status quo.

>> And as a non-American I fully see this as nothing but bribing. The only difference is that in US paying money to pass or fail bills like this is "legal".

You think it doesn't happen in your country? You can rest assured your government is full of corrupt shitbags too, just like the US. There's overt corruption, covert corruption, and lots of degrees in between.

The problem he is pointing out is that here is blatantly clear that this is corruption but is socially acceptable because is a "gift" or "campaign sponsorship".

Campaign contributions are common all over the world, but it's not like we can do anything about it.

That is false, is just laziness (and sometimes comfortability or mediocrity) the causes of our idleness against corruption but we can do a lot; but we have to try!

Just in Paraguay many restaurants and other public sites are prohibiting the entrance to all the corrupted senators, in Brazil public manifestations against corruption were able to label corruption as a crime against humanity; and never forget things like the apartheid and other peaceful manifestations that were able to create big changes.

>> Just in Paraguay many restaurants and other public sites are prohibiting the entrance to all the corrupted senators

That's nice and all, but do you think those evil corrupt shitbag sociopaths will change their behaviour because of that?

"WHOA! I've been taking bribes for ages, but now I see that has to stop! I shall mend my evil ways and become a bet- oh, wait, I'm a sociopath and don't have a conscience! Come to think of it, maybe I'll just keep taking bribes and destroying ordinary people's lives just like before!"

The only real "solution" is for people to let go of their belief in authority.

Blame the receiver. They are the ones entrusted by the system to uphold the laws. We have laws (and lawmakers) precisely because we don't expect companies to always play fair. By contrast, once someone starts taking bribes, it becomes disadvantageous for a moral company to not offer bribes. Basically, hate the game, not the player, but hate the people who determine the game's rules most of all.

Depends on the kind of bribe. On this specific case, I'd blame both, but it's not a universal rule.

Do you mean congressmen?

Yes, these senators and congressmen are literally so impressionable that the very fact that IBM and Microsoft and other companies are objecting cause these political leaders to become nervous and kill the bills (to put it kindly). It seems to me that America is now on the same page as most other nations: your laws are also bought-and-paid-for by special interest groups in many cases, just like our more corrupt nations and especially mine. Very sad.

edit: grammar

Someone remind me why wealthy businesses buying amendments to legislation isn't criminal corruption? I have a hard time remembering...

Because the founding fathers were exceptionally rich businessmen, and wanted to found a representative democracy of successful businessmen?

Singling out IBM and Microsoft is a bit disingenuous. IBM seems to be the vocal subject in the article but there are far more companies behind the opposition as shown here: http://images.politico.com/global/2013/09/22/final_-_letter_...

The list:


ActiveVideo Networks, Inc.

Adobe Systems

Advanced Technology Ventures

Allison Transmission, Inc.

Architecture Technology Corporation

Beckman Coulter, Inc.

BGC Partners, Inc.

Bi-Level Technologies

Biotechnology Industry Organization

Boston Scientific

Brash Insight Corp.

BSA - The Software Alliance

Cabochon, Inc.

California Healthcare Institute (CHI)

Cantor Fitzgerald L.P.

Caterpillar, Inc.

Ciencia, Inc.

Cleveland Medical Devices Inc.

Colorado Technology Consultants


Cotera Inc.

The Cummins Allison Corporation

Dolby Laboratories

Domain Associates

Donohue Consulting, Inc.

The Dow Chemical Company

DR Systems, Inc.


Eatoni Ergonomics, Inc.

Eli Lilly & Company

Embedded Systems LLC

Entrepreneurs for Growth

Entropic Communications, Inc.

ExploraMed Development, LLC

Fairchild Semiconductor

Fairfield Crystal Technology

Fallbrook Technologies Inc.

Flocel Inc.

Forsight Labs

ForSight VISION4, Inc.

Foundry Newco XII, Inc. (d/b/a Twelve)

Freescale Semiconductor

GearMax USA Ltd.

General Electric

General Nanotechnology LLC

Global Network Computers

Great Lakes Neuro Technologies Inc.

Holaira, Inc.



Illinois Tool Works Inc.

Innovation Alliance

Inogen, Inc.

Insight Legal


Inventors Network of the Capital Area

IP Advocate

IP Pipeline Consulting, LLC

Irwin Research & Development, Inc. eptember 19, 2013

Johnson & Johnson

Karbonique, Inc.

KeepSight LLC

Kovogen, LLC

Lauder Partners, LLC

Licensing Executives Society (USA & Canada), Inc.

Lightstone Ventures

MediaFriends, Inc.

Medical Device Manufacturers Association

MH Systems, Inc.

Micron Technologies


Miramar Labs, Inc.

Morgenthaler Ventures-Life Sciences

National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)

Neodyne Biosciences, Inc.

NeoTract, Inc.

NeuroPace, Inc.

NeuroWave Systems Inc.

Nevro Corp.

NuGEN Technologies, Inc.

NuVasive, Inc.

OL2, Inc. (OnLive)

Orbital Research Inc.

Patent Office Professional Association

Power Auctions LLC

Precision Combustion

PreEmptive Solutions

Procter & Gamble

Prometheus Research, LLC


Rearden Companies, LLC

Restoration Robotics, Inc.

Sapheon, Inc.

Software Partners LLC

Soleon Robotics LLC


The Foundry LLC

TM Technologies, Inc.

Trading Technologies

U.S. Business and Industry Council

Vibrynt, Inc.

Xerox Corporation

All those companies are there precisely as cover for the few that really drive the lobbying efforts, so that people like you can pop up on the internet and say how it is not just a minority of companies perverting the law in their own favor. You can fall for it or you can see through it (assuming you are not a paid shill in the first place) - I think we should see through it and call it for what it is: a small minority of enormous companies manipulating laws in their own favor and to the detriment of the people.

I guess that's one perspective. For those that do want a list of the "big" companies, here are the ones that I recognize and thought of as "big names":

    Adobe Systems
    Boston Scientific
    Dolby Laboratories
    The Dow Chemical Company
    Fairchild Semiconductor
    Fairfield Crystal Technology
    General Electric
    Johnson & Johnson
    Procter & Gamble
    Xerox Corporation
This is probably not a complete list, since I am not very tuned in and may not be familiar with the "big names" that others are.

Things like "Medical Device Manufacturers Association" probably count in that list as they exist solely as a lobbying group. http://www.medicaldevices.org/

The point is not which big companies have signed the document - the question is which companies have attached $donations$ to their signature.

Driverdan, the user you're responding to, has been here for nearly five years.

Insinuating that they may be a paid shill is truly obnoxious behavior.

That's a reasonable criticism, and I would certainly agree such an insinuation would be a step too far. However I would also argue that the tone and context of my comment make it quite clear that I don't consider the poster to be a shill, but merely allow for that possibility in qualifying my statements, which is quite different to what you are suggesting.

Since accusations of "shilling" have been made anyway, check this out: Remember when the Judge made his "Name Your Shills" order in Oracle v Google? Guess what! The author of TFA was named in Google's list of shills! I guess that makes him a legally certified shill! And since you're so quick to support the author's viewpoint...

To be fair, I don't think the author's a shill. But I've been following him since he wrote for Ars (and he's also on HN sometimes), so I can tell he certainly has drunk some Kool-aid, and it has a slight Google flavor. He interned there after all, so that may explain why Microsoft was highlighted in the headlines. 

But notably, he also is (or was) a "scholar" at the Cato Institute, which believes in "limited government and free markets" and seems to have anti-IP leanings. Unsurprisingly the author's articles (even this one!) often uncritically cite the works published by academics like James Bessen, which like to paint a "sky is falling" situation with respect to US IP policies, even though these works have time and again been strongly called into question by other academics. Given that he's a scholar himself, I'd be surprised if he's unaware of that, but his articles only ever present one side.

So the Kool-aid may have other, stronger flavors as well, but he's definitely drunk some.

I find having the list in full is great, because they need to be named and shamed, too. Each and every one of them deserves a negative business impact for signing it.

Obviously from their perspective they'd have a greater negative business impact from not signing it.

only if the company incorrectly assume that their signing will be overlooked by most of their customers.

If a big fuss was made about such problems, they might chagne their tune.

Maybe it's you incorrectly assuming whatever TFA says is true. Or that most of their customers would hold the same viewpoint as you.

According to the article, IBM and Microsoft are notable for their portfolio size and lobbying budgets:

> And few firms have larger software patent portfolios than Microsoft and IBM. These companies, which also happen to have two of the software industry's largest lobbying budgets, have been leading voices against the expansion of the CBM program.

I can believe that IBM does far more software patent lobbying than most of the firms whose core products are not directly software related

I can believe that IBM does far more software patent lobbying than most of the firms whose core products are not directly software related

This is in part because they have a heavy patent culture, perhaps due to their legacy as a machines company.

The culture is there because they make serious money from licensing. Also so if anyone comes after them for anything patent related then big blue have effectively got the nuclear option at their disposal and can wipe the aggressor off the map.

>According to the article, IBM and Microsoft are notable for their portfolio size and lobbying budgets

This is what tech companies spent in Q3 2013, maybe someone else can post IBM's stats but Microsoft's spending doesn't look all that high to me.

Google 3.4M

Microsoft 2.2M

Facebook 1.7M

Apple 0.97M

Amazon 0.78M

I think the real story is how cheap the lobbying costs are.

What I completely fail to understand with all the Snowden revelations and stories like this is that Silicon Valley tech folks have enormous salaries and high disposable income.

If they would actually contribute some of that to a PAC or to the EFF, it would be way more productive than sitting in Starbucks sipping a $5 latte and posting "Not going to get the Xbox from M$. Getting a PS4 for $400 + games for $60 each instead! That's going to teach them! And Bill Gates sucks despite helping the poorest people in Africa and India!" from their latest MacBook or iPad Air on HN articles such as these(you can see those posts below).

I guess gathering HN karma feels better and is cheaper than actually trying to make a real difference on issues that people seem to write emotional posts about.

Having seen a lot of such issues and discussions from my Slashdot days, my prediction is that nothing will come out of it except a lot of hot air discussion.

That's their budget on paper. Donors don't have to disclose all their donations:


... nonprofits like Crossroads GPS and trade associations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are allowed to keep their donors secret. As a result, there is a great flood of campaign spending this election cycle for which there is no official paper trail.

I don't think the proper response of rich Valley people is to ramp up their donations to PACs unless it's the Wolf-PAC which is organizing to pass a Constitutional amendment to reform campaign finance and lobbying:


They are at least focusing on the heart of the matter: corporate personhood. Get rid of that, and you open the door for all the other reforms. As long as amoral, immortal and extremely powerful entities like corporations get equal rights as human beings, it is unavoidable that the laws, including patent law, are forced along amoral pathways.

Software patent reform is battling a symptom, not the cause.

Soft jobs for favoured ex-politicians and ex-bureaucrats won't show up as campaign or lobbying expenditure either.

Oh, and then there are the insider trading tips too.

I believe that's true for contributions from private companies who don't have to report their earnings. Maybe a finance guru can pitch in, but don't public companies like IBM and Microsoft have to declare such donations in their earnings statements?

Yes, most people here make absurds amount of money and rage against this kind of thing but for some reason are super hesitant to actually donate to people fighting for things they believe in. If you're a developer, please consider making a monthly donation to the EFF. https://supporters.eff.org/donate

Nice idea but why they don't talk about what they really do? Five sentences in the "what we do" section isn't enough, where's detailed plan? And as I see in their latest financial report, they've got 7.86 million dollars last year but only spent 4.53. Looks like they've got enough money, but not enough opportunities for it?

Having a small savings to get you through trouble doesn't make you well off. You make it sound like you have to run yourself irresponsibly in the red to be able to qualify as struggling to get by.

I don't know too many details, but they are running multiple lawsuits against the nsa https://www.eff.org/nsa-spying.

Yes--we need to know what they do? We need to be able to look up their financials on GuideStar. We need to know how much the founders are taking home in salary. (I haven't checked GuideStar yet). The days of blindly giving over money are over--at least for me.

These very very low numbers should already tell you that they come from doubtful sources. $3M is absolute pocket change for companies like Google and Microsoft, compared to the enormous benefits you can realize with lobbying.

I really want to like Bill Gates, but whenever I see him bragging, along with Wife, about all the people he helps-- I can't think,"But we actually paid for all your Philanthropy?"

As to this bill, it's a shame. I don't think there's a politician out there who understands B.F. Skinner.

Why should I put my money where my mouth is when I can just write a few angry posts on HN. My congressperson reads HN right?

Seriously, people need to understand that unless you are reasonably famous, people care way less about what you say than what you do. That means money. Don't give it to people and companies you don't like. Give it to people and companies you do like.

Oh and for the love of god, don't argue for silly "campaign finance" laws that restrict our ability to donate to politicians. I guarantee these large companies with armies of lawyers and lobbyists will be way more adept at finding loopholes than we the average people will be. It silences us way more than them.

Want your company to not eventually end up on a like list? Sign it up for the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defensive_Patent_License before it gets big.

Thanks for the list. All companies I will try to avoid in the future. Look at all the LLCs and the obvious trolls on there.

Good luck - many of these companies form the basis for the products you eat or use (Proctor & Gamble), rely on (General Electric), or need in an emergency (Medical Device Manufacturers Association). A boycott here won't have much effect because in practice it's almost impossible to avoid using or relying on the products or services offered by these companies.

Rather, you should focus your ire and spending practices on the congress people that agreed to leave the CBM out of the legislation. They care more about what you think or care about.

Or give your money to folks like the EFF that will use their lobbying power to counterweight these other folks.

Here's the link to donate to EFF: https://supporters.eff.org/donate

>Rather, you should focus your ire and spending practices on the congress people that agreed to leave the CBM out of the legislation.

Or rather.. do both; do anything we can.. Boycoting the products its also a good idea.. a very good one.. if we can get a "anti-patent" conscious citizen the same way we do with the green conscience..

The companies will fall faster, less money to spend in lobbies.. so why not?

Boycott P&G? Do you have any idea what you're suggesting? You might as well boycott eating.

Boycott eating processed shit, no problem.

Looking through the list of P&G brands, I can say that I haven't bought anything from them in years, even when I lived in the US.

I do agree though that boycotting every company that engages in questionable behavior would be near impossible. It's better to change the system, but if in the meantime you can avoid giving money to the most heinous companies then why not?

Is there a such thing as a partial boycott, where you just use less of something or avoid some of a company's products but not others? Perhaps there's another word for it. Either way, this seems like it would be useful too (maybe even more so because it's more realistic for people to do).

How could that possibly be effective?

Why wouldn't it? What do you believe the goal of a boycott to be?

The goal of any public pressure tactic is to force an organization to change its policy. Not to deny it revenue. If you're not doing the former, then all you're accomplishing with the latter is making yourself feel good about 'doing something'.

And how do you force it to change its policy simply by not buying its products? Why would a company, particularly a worldwide conglomerate, care whether you buy their products or not?

Hint: You've already said it.

Most chain grocery stores in the US have equivalent generics that are cheaper. This boycott is not only trivial but it saved you money.

Most "equivalent generics" are in fact made by the same companies that make the major name brands, in the same factories; they cost less because lower marketing expenses.

If you buy store generic-equivalents, its quite likely your money is going to exactly the same major corporation as the name brand in pretty much the same quantity (after deducting that the part that the major corporation would be paying to marketing/advertising firms to market the name brand.)

So, while it saves you money, it may not be as effective a boycott technique as you think. Unless your boycott target is the advertising industry.

Indeed. Here's the full list of P&G brands: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Procter_&_Gamble_brands

I might be wrong but I don't think that the problem is with those companies trying to help themselves. Like many, I think that politicians should not be allowed to accept bribes from companies and that it might just solve problems like this one.

Look at the list posted above about the tiny amounts these huge companies spent "bribing" politicians: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6770059.

The fact of the matter is that Procter and Gamble doesn't need to "bribe" any politicians to get favorable legislation. They just have to call up a Congressman and say: "hey, we have tens of thousands of workers in your state, it would be a shame if anything happened to them."

I think that you have a good point. But these "tiny" amounts could easily double/triple the politician's salaries (if the companies spend it in the right places, they don't need to bribe everybody).

What is the significance of LLCs being on the list?

I believe it's that the LLC "incorporation" is something generally used for small businesses, sole proprietorships, etc. The LLCs could likely be viewed as either patent troll companies or small companies built or paid to put their name behind legislation like this. (I could be way off, but that's how I'm viewing them)

How much business were you really planning on doing with Caterpillar?

Lol I actually do business with one of their subsidiaries - can't say which because NDAs.

Might want to go off the grid, live off the land.

Interesting how some household names aren't on that list. Namely Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter.

Look for who is behind BSA Software Alliance... http://ww2.bsa.org/country/BSA%20and%20Members/Our%20Members... Yep there's a big apple there... and others...

Because there are patent trolls, and there are truly innovative companies.

IBM comes to mind given that they like to sue you for patents out of the blue -- like when you're going IPO.

really? Could you cite an instance of this, where IBM sued a company over software patents right before an IPO.

If anyone here hadn't already, this is yet another reason to drop IEEE memberships.

I dropped mine last year over their copyright policies.

Why is the IEEE involving itself in software patents to begin with? Or would this change to the patent system have affected non-software patents as well?

How do you boycott Qualcomm? That's like saying don't buy a cell phone, ever.

Great idea, this way we also get to boycott phone snooping (NSA or your local spying agency)!

Come to think of it, that wouldn't be a bad idea.

Why am I not surprised that Adobe is on the list. They are one of the O.G. patent trolls. RIP Macromedia.

Why is Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble on this list?

I can only assume that these companies have subsidiaries that have software patents. They probably own manufacturing patents not to mention patents in the tech and pharmaceutical areas, many of which could be software related.

That settles it, I was tossing around whether to get the Xbox One or the PS4. I'm voting with my wallet and getting the PS4. Fuck Microsoft.

Ever since Microsoft started extorting money from open source vendors/OEM's with bogus patents, I've started dropping Microsoft's products as soon as I could.

The only one left is Windows 7, which I can't wait to get rid of in 2-3 years, once either Ubuntu or Android come into their own as more mature mainstream operating systems.

I jumped ship from Microsoft when Vista came out, switching to Ubuntu in 2008. It was good enough for mainstream production use then, albeit with some warts - but it was already a hell of a lot more polished, functional and user-respecting than Vista.

Ubuntu has continues to improve in polish, stability and usability since then. There's no reason for you not to start making the jump now.

My recommendation is to start by replacing the applications on your Windows machine with cross-platform FOSS equivalents, if you haven't already. That way, the OS transition will be a lot easier because you will already be familiar with the software.

Guess the 14.04 LTS release (a few weeks after release) would be a good point to switch.

edit: p.s. I'm using Linux since about 97 and as primary system since sometime from mid-2000's.

> which I can't wait to get rid of in 2-3 years, once either Ubuntu or Android come into their own as more mature mainstream operating systems.

This comment was brought to you by the year 2006 and the letter Q.

I am assuming you're changing your vote next time for the Green/Constitution/Libertarian party as well? Since I assume you'll treat the congressmen and their political parties who take the lobbying money the same way you treat the corporation that is giving the bribe.

I don't live in the US. I turned down a job at Google not because of anything to do with Google, but because it means living and paying taxes in the US. I work remotely from a tax haven, have no debt, and I'm on track to retire with a million in savings by my mid thirties. You'd have to make a quarter million a year to pull that off in the US. In Panama I can do it on a lower salary than what Google pays. I have freedom and you have big brother and big banker. You can't pay me to accept a green card to the land of "freedom and opportunity."

Ha, I don't live in the US, I live in a some times worse nation - India. We don't pay as many taxes though. I made my comment as an assertion of the fact that people blaming corporations must also blame the participating government as well. Good to know you're a dollar vigilante! I always wanted that lifestyle; can't get it, not yet anyway.

Some people maximize their lives for money, other people for their surroundings.

Sounds like a classic cop out. I'd wager that my surroundings aren't terribly much worse than yours, but the difference is you'll have to work for 30 years more than me (if you're average), while I will be free to change my surroundings as often as I feel like. If you optimize for money and focus on long-term goals you can end up with a much higher quality of life overall.

>while I will be free to change my surroundings as often as I feel like.

Except you can't afford to live in high-cost cities if your savings is only 1 mil and you want to retire on that in your thirties.

Yes, I'd have to work longer if I wanted to do that. I don't see any reason to though, I don't much care for large, expensive cities.

How's Panama, by the way?

It's nice. There's a number of rough edges but not hugely more than in the developed world. Learning Spanish was the biggest problem for me, because I've never committed the time to it. I met a great girl (model) here that I intend to marry (I think I would have had great difficulty meeting a loyal old-fashioned girl in my home country, nevermind that girls as pretty as her never used to give me the time of day.) I can't complain.

You speak of this person like she's an ornament to be hoarded.

You can share your girlfriends if you like, but I prefer to hoard mine ;) Don't read things into my text that aren't there.

That's to be expected from a person that moved to panama solely to maximize his salary/col ratio.

Cool. I'll have to visit Panama some day.

Sony did put rootkits on music cds tho. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_BMG_copy_protection_rootki...

... 8 years ago.

If you want something more recent, along with Apple, Microsoft, BlackBerry, and Ericsson, they are one of the backers of Rockstar, which is currently suing Google using old Nortel software patents that claim the concept of matching internet search terms to advertising.

Good for you. I threw my win phone out of my car in anger the other day and broke it. I will not be buying another.

I've already decided not to renew my MAPS and MSDN subs again in December thanks to the epic crack smoking going on.

Or buy neither, as Sony isn't any better. PC game on Linux or OS X.

Apple is bordering on patent troll, too. They may not have bothered to oppose this legislation, but they recently exerted some of their patents via the Rockstar thing.

Yeah, but at least at Microsoft, no one is eating whales.

My point, is you can find something to hate about every company or group of people.

Why so much hate?

Patent trolls make me see red. I hate them with every fiber of my being. They're the bully that used to beat you up and take your lunch money. Except here it's worse, because you can't go the principal for help (here the principal is called the law and it is on their side.) You're left to fume powerlessly against the injustice being done.

What if Sony was also in that bunch? Genuinely curious: I had to make a similar decision a year ago, and since Sony had been on my shitlist because of DRM-related prosecutions, I went for the Xbox.

Yeah Sony is evil too, but less so in my mind. Patent abuses are something that hits close to home for me.

Do you think Sony is any better?

Has anyone noticed that the IEEE appear on this list? They're a non-profit, and if I needed another reason to keep my membership expired, this was it.

My thoughts exactly. Glad to keep it expired.

Instead of "voting with dollars" because of companies' lobby groups, why not put your energy into joining EFF or other patent-reform groups?

The title of the article is really sensationalized. The resolution is still going to pass, just without the "covered business method" (CBM) provision. People in Congress support CBM and are actively trying to find a way to make it work. Plus we could always try and reform software patents at its source and make it harder to grant the lower quality patents.

> we’d be forced to oppose the bill

Did IBM become a legislator? Who cares if they oppose the bill or not if that's the right bill to make?

Most big companies in the US are legislators...

We should change the word "lobbying" to "bribing" and then it would make more sense to the average person.

Just want to point out that patent reform is being voted on in the house judiciary right now.

Worth watching: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/hclive02

Why am I not surprised that IBM and "patent reform died" are on the same line?


We need to stop saying "reform". These people want more patent protection; those people want less. They both want patent reform, so we're gonna give it to them! Those people want to actively import criminals, these people want a 500ft tall wall encasing the US, they all want immigration reform - they have SO MUCH IN COMMON!

What? No thanks to the thoroughly bribed government itself?

Seems like software patent processing would benefit by some simple machine learning tools to help examiners identify similar content. Anyone familiar with what tools they currently use? Muddling about with the law will obviously take forever, the guys in congress have no idea what they are legislating, and the lawyers in corporations have no idea what they are lobbying for, aside from monopoly money.

Machine learning on that corpus would be extremely difficult task. This is what engineers don't really get about patent applications. We see the underlying technology or specifications and say, same thing-identical.

IP Lawyers, patent clerks look at the claims and see difference. Claims have two functions. Public notice and kind of a "patent scope" of applicability. It's all very obtuse and would not be very easy I think to attach semantics via ML alone.

There have been some crowdsource attempts: http://peertopatent.org https://www.articleonepartners.com

Most everything over the past 3 years have died in the house: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/10/31/wo....

So raw number of bills passed is a good proxy for effectiveness as a congressman? I wonder if you think that number of pages per law is also a good measure of success... All things equal, I prefer the government passing less laws than more.

Yes, when it deviates significantly with the historical record it implies significant obstruction.

While we support what Mr. Goodlatte’s trying to do on trolls, if the CBM is included, we’d be forced to oppose the bill.

OK, so go on the record as opposing it.

Isn't that what the letter was saying?

How much margin must a company make from their lobbying effort to make it worth destroying the ecosystem around them?

Why am I not surprised that IBM and "patent reform died" are on the same line?


(deleted)??? no free speech on HN eh?

You double-posted, about ten minutes apart. HN automatically killed the second post because it was identical to the first (before your edit).



Ah... too bad... this is how innovation is killed. Kill the big companies, it will foster innovation.

long live all patents (software or hardware)! they fuel invention/innovation. Edison, Bell Graham, Nikolai Tesla, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, they were inventors/innovators that deserve to be highly credited for the contributions that they made to the society, and yet so many people are trying to view a few of them as "evil" just because they made their ideas into reality before anyone else did.

...or didn't make it a reality. What if Edison, Bell Graham, etc etc filed their patents and then never went into production. Then when someone else had the idea, they sued them for billions of dollars. Where would the US be now?

You forgot Nobel, who invented smokeless gunpowder.


This is daft, Bill Gates has nothing to do with this. He spends his time at his foundation helping poor people, not directing Microsoft to lobby against patent reform.

I don't know what the original, now-deleted message said, but Gates is still chairman of Microsoft's board. I'm sure he isn't micromanaging lobbying efforts, but he definitely has more than nothing to do with this.

He is apparently involved with Intellectual Ventures, so while probably not directly involved in killing the reform, this isn't the most noble of positions.


Let's not get carried away. Bill Gates is Chairman of the Board of Microsoft. Its not like he is far removed from the company that he used to run.

Software patents reform -> medical patents reform -> cheaper drugs?

He still did not comment on his Monsanto investment shenanigans.

I do think it is very good what his foundation is trying to achieve. But do you believe all his actions are good? Do you believe all his past actions regarding this issue were right? Beware of Halo Effect.

Of course not. He ran a powerful company in a ruthless manner. I just said it's daft to think he's personally involved in this particular event.

I think he is still responsible for creating this monster. And he never apologized for the consequences of his actions that are still unraveling like today. Remember Ballmer was placed because he was always following his lead and counsel, as reported.

yeah helping poor people like when he donated a bunch of money along with bloomberg to try to turn over the douglas county schoolboard along with the teacher's union. I don't consider this type of messing with local politics to be helping "poor people".

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