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Greed and the Wright Brothers (nytimes.com)
201 points by kanamekun on Apr 19, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 90 comments



I think the real answer is compulsory licensing of patents.

Congress thought the ownership of something as trivial as a song was so important they wrote laws to compel songwriters to license the performance of a song to any and all comers. Have you ever wondered how bands can "cover" other bands songs? They can because whoever wrote the song is forced by law to give them a license to perform it.

Patents need to work the same way. Under current law the liabilities for infringing a patent are completely unbounded. If a potential user of a patent knew beforehand what the cost of using a patent was, they could make some real business decisions.


> I think the real answer is compulsory licensing of patents.

The trouble with compulsory licensing is that it doesn't solve one of the most fundamental problems with software patents, which is how do you set the price? An iPhone is probably covered by some tens of thousand of patents. How much of the value of the iPhone should be attributed to each patent? There are too many patents to spend any real resources evaluating each individual patent; the lawyers fees would surpass the royalties. On the other hand, not looking closely creates a powerful market incentive (which is what has been happening) to file for thousands of low-quality patents, and thwarts the patent incentive to make significant inventions because high-quality patents requiring significant R&D are awarded no additional royalties over the crap.

On top of that, circumstances change quickly, and how do you respond to that? If you establish royalties for specific patents one year and the next year the new model comes out which is covered by all the old patents plus thousands of new ones, do the old patent holders get less money for the same patents until the royalties from a patent fall below the cost of filing for one, or does the price of a phone keep going up until they each cost $100,000 and everyone is forced to go back to pen and paper? And what do we do about free software -- percentage of zero and no money for the patent holder or fixed fee and free software ceases to exist?

Compulsory licensing can't fix software patents. They probably can't be fixed. The patent system was never designed to apply to products with zero marginal cost and a combinatorial explosion of patent liability.


We could apply a kind of value-added tax to every good sold that might possibly be encumbered by patents, say 5%, put that money in a pool overseen by a special court, then let patent-holders file with the court to claim a portion of the money based on what products their patent applies to and how important it is relative to the other patents that apply. The other patent-holders can then file challenges if they think they're getting short shrift. The filing fees should float such that it covers the costs of the entire system.


I'm assuming you're only wanting to implement this for software. (It obviously doesn't work for e.g. drugs, the amount that patents contribute to drug prices is far in excess of 5%.)

But I don't see that it works for software either because you still have the same problem. 5% of a billion dollars is 50 million dollars. A billion dollars on the high side for a single product; the Galaxy Note doesn't infringe all the same patents as the Galaxy S3. 10,000 patent holders fighting over 50 million dollars means they'll get an average of $5000. You can't hire a lawyer to fight over your share and expect to have any left over when "your share" is $5000. Which means that a) the lawyers would get all the money, and b) world+dog would still have the incentive to file for a million low-quality patents because having a patent gets you a share and nobody can afford to look too closely at whether you deserve one.


For drugs, you could allow the product maker to opt into having a greater percentage going to patent holders. (Edit: Sorry, I see what you're saying. You couldn't keep another drug company from copying the drug and only paying 5% to the inventor. Fair point.)

I doubt that a typical smartphone actually infringes on 10,000 patents held by outside entities, or that 10,000 separate entities each hold one of those patents apiece, but taking that for granted, if filing fees are set so as to cover the entire costs of the court and system, and the system has a fairly inelastic capacity (supply), the increased demand for services would cause the filing fees to rise. Presumably an equilibrium would be reached where only those with large and realistic claims would bother to file, whereas those with low quality patents would be priced out.

Ideally the system could always afford to look closely, because it's self-funding. It wouldn't necessarily need to be adversarial, either -- it could be more like arbitration, where you file, paying the court to evaluate your claim, and the court makes a decision. No need for lawyers, unless you need help putting your claim together.


> I doubt that a typical smartphone actually infringes on 10,000 patents held by outside entities, or that 10,000 separate entities each hold one of those patents apiece

10,000 is probably in the ballpark. People have no recognition of how incredibly complicated phones are today. They're obviously not owned by that many separate entities, but that doesn't really help much. It takes about the same amount of time to determine whether a device infringes the claims of a patent regardless of whether the same patent holder also holds other patents. The "savings" come when you stop looking at the claims and start paying royalties based on the quantity of patents the patent holder claims you're infringing, but that's where the incentive to get low-quality patents comes from.

> if filing fees are set so as to cover the entire costs of the court and system, and the system has a fairly inelastic capacity (supply), the increased demand for services would cause the filing fees to rise. Presumably an equilibrium would be reached where only those with large and realistic claims would bother to file, whereas those with low quality patents would be priced out.

The counterargument you're going to get there is that you'll price small inventors out of the patent system.

> Ideally the system could always afford to look closely, because it's self-funding. It wouldn't necessarily need to be adversarial, either -- it could be more like arbitration, where you file, paying the court to evaluate your claim, and the court makes a decision. No need for lawyers, unless you need help putting your claim together.

But you're still not solving the pricing issue. What objective metric is an arbitrator supposed to use to evaluate the value of a patent?


> (It obviously doesn't work for e.g. drugs, the amount that patents contribute to drug prices is far in excess of 5%.)

For one thing, it's arguable that the amount that patents contribute to drug prices, and to drugmakers' revenues, is too damn high. Secondly, the basic scheme is obviously compatible with setting a higher percentage of sale price in the case of drugs. Alternatively, about 10 or 15 years ago some lawyers proposed a kind of mandatory Dutch-auction scheme for drug patents, which seemed interesting.

> world+dog would still have the incentive to file for a million low-quality patents because having a patent gets you a share and nobody can afford to look too closely at whether you deserve one.

The nice thing about this is that it would be somewhat of a self-resolving problem, since it would give the holders of non-trivial patents reason to lobby for high standards for patentability.


> The nice thing about this is that it would be somewhat of a self-resolving problem, since it would give the holders of non-trivial patents reason to lobby for high standards for patentability.

It would also give the holders of trivial patents (and patent lawyers who want more business) reason to lobby for low standards for patentability.


No, the trivial-patent holders already have that incentive. In any case, in a direct lobbying/political conflict between IBM, GSK, Dow Chemical and whoever versus pure-play trolls, even big ones like IV, my money is on the former. The way in which a fixed levy would or could facilitate trivial-patent holders is by putting in place a revenue-collecting process (making claims on the 5% pool) which might (or might not) be smoother and more reliable than the process by which these gentlemen make their money nowadays.


One nice thing about such a system is that would give the holders of non-trivial patents a direct interest in demanding a high bar for patentability, because other people's trivial or obvious patents would be directly taking a slice out of their revenues.


The first step is to stop using the word "compulsory licensing". Compulsory licensing sounds like some kind of crazily authoritarian evil government regulation; if I didn't know what it actually is, and there were no triggers that convinced me the idea is worth taking an hour of my time to research, I would imagine I would instinctively oppose it. The language implicitly accepts that patents are a natural right, and that what it is proposing is an infringement on that right. In reality, of course, it's a limitation on a government-granted monopoly. Nobody is being "forced to give a license"; it's actually the derivative creator who is no longer forced to face unbounded cost when using something which was patented.


Maybe it could be called something like "licensing by right" or "right-to-use", so casting it as a defence of something positive, rather than the imposition of something negative.


"Right-to-use" sounds like something people could get behind.

Congress needs to pass "Right-to-use" patent reform to prevent Saudi oil companies from buying up patents that increase gas mileage and preventing US companies from developing them into products.

I don't think this has ever actually happened, but current patent law would allow it.


Isn't the word "statutory" used in similar contexts? So there would be a "statutory" maximum for, say, individual and total royalty costs in producing some product.


You are hereby compelled to furnish the audience with an alternative less-authoritarian sounding substitution. I compel you to not "compel against" with merely strict negatives, and insist that you provide tenable positive alternates.


I would say rename the whole thing to something like "intellectual use tax".


I think a better way that might treat copyright and patents equally well is to make it a continuous act of will and treasure to keep things from the public. Right now, the default state of a copyrighted work like you mention is essentially automatic eternal restriction. Patents, once issued (for little relative cost) remain in force for more than a decade with no effort required for upkeep.

Restricting "intellectual property" from public use should require exponentially increasing effort/cost as time goes on. I think this would allow the system to automatically discover the value of the restriction, and help redistribute the cost of maintaining that restriction back to the public which provide it with the force of law to begin with.

tl;dr : Each year you hold on to a copyright or patent, you should be required to pay a great deal more to the governing body that grants you that monopoly to keep it in force.


I don't think this would be very good for small creators. Existing copyright giants could use their current wealth to overwhelm the market, making it impossible for an independent to get any exposure. Then they just wait for the independent to run out of copyright support money, create a derivative work, and never have to spend anything on original writing.


It would depend on the protection being nearly free in the short term but becoming very expensive in the longer term. This would allow small upstarts to find out if a market existed and then, if true, capitalize on it and use the profits to fund continued protection as far (and only as far) as the market would bear.

If they failed, the patents could not then be acquired by trolls for pennies where they would then pollute the ecosystem for decades.

As far as copyrights go, this would neatly solve the orphaned work problem with the added benefit of Disney having a serious think about paying a billion dollar tax to the public in order to keep "Steamboat Willie" in the "Disney Vault".


I still think such a system would need a way to prevent large players from waiting out smaller creators and getting free source material that they currently have to pay big bucks for (e.g. consider J.K. Rowling).


It's so sad, because the Wright Brothers really were innovative. Not just the control system of planes, but the system of discovering that: they realized that building and testing a whole aircraft was too time consuming (not to mention risky), so they made a wind tunnel, and ran years of tests on models.

The first successful man-powered aircraft (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gossamer_Condor) also found ways to iterate more quickly.

But, as a creator, I can really empathise with Wilbur Wright's feeling, tragic and short-sighted though it is: they thought of it; they put all their blood, sweat and tears into it, for years and years; they were the first to climb this mountain; therefore, it's their's.

Though it seems more artistic ego than "greed" to me.


See also http://idlewords.com/2003/12/100_years_of_turbulence.htm, by HN-banned author and entrepreneur Maciej Cegłowski.


That article is painfully flawed, though its point remains valid. What makes Alberto Santos-Dumont, a dedicated experimenter with a positive genius for simple solutions to baffling problems, a "one-man freakshow"? The author never explains, and it's not obvious to the reader. The author's dismissive analysis of the innovations of the Wright Flyer minimizes its advantages and inflates its idiosyncrasies beyond any sense of scale — and for what purpose? His frivolous distortion of fact does nothing to enhance his point.


Usually if I'm downvoted I understand why, but in this case I'm baffled. Can anyone help me understand why this wasn't considered a useful contribution to the discussion?


As I understand it, downmodding can currently mean as little as that somebody disagreed with your comment.


It could even be someone accidentally tapping the down arrow while scrolling on a phone.


What-the-wha? The creator of pinboard.in, an awesome bookmarking site, is banned from HN? How? Why? Link?


HN-banned? Why? How? By whom? When?


https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4108008

The whole affair is really sad. Especially due to high quality of Maciej's blog.


Interesting. So that's the story of the origin of lobste.rs.



Maciej isn't banned and he's welcome back anytime.


Maciej was banned, though, and left immediately when that happened, like many reasonable people would.

Mistakes happen. I don't think there's much drama to mine here.


Oh I know, and I wasn't implying otherwise. (It struck me as a big misunderstanding, though I don't know all the details.) My point is, he's not banned and he's welcome. The comment upthread was at best ambiguous on this, so I felt obliged to say something.


I think I misread your comment, and also that we are probably totally agreed about Maciej. :)


> “That is, of course, the irony of the patent system. Without patent protection, a competitor can simply replicate an invention and undercut the inventor’s price — which necessarily includes all the time and expense of research and development — so the incentive to experiment and create is severely inhibited. But if innovators such as Glenn Curtiss cannot build on the progress of others without paying exorbitantly for the privilege, the incentive to continue to experiment and create is similarly inhibited.”

That's not really irony. The patent system exists (or did exist) not to benefit the inventor, but to provide a mechanism by which he may share it with other people who want to build on it. The alternative was keeping trade secrets.


This is an oft-repeated lie. The point of patents, as stated in the US constitution, is to incentivize inventors by giving them a monopoly for a limited time. It says nothing about disclosure.

Promoting disclosure doesn't make sense anyway since once an invention is commercialized it can usually be reverse-engineered.

I don't understand where this idea comes from or why people always bring it up.


The US Constitution didn't invent patents; it enabled them based on an earlier tradition. That tradition had come to include a descriptive/disclosure requirement, as part of the mechanism by which the patent promoted technological progress.

The US Constitution's language is sufficiently open-ended –"promote the progress of science and useful arts" – that it covers not just incentivized conception but also the 'progress' of knowledge-diffusion (disclosure). Also, in that era, before mass-manufactured products or even a proper understanding of elements and molecules, it was far less likely that the delivered product itself embodied enough information to reverse-engineer the processes that made it.

So:

not a lie;

• the significance of disclosure is brought up because it was familiar to the authors of the US Constitution;

• the Constitution's language is generic enough to include 'disclosure' as one aspect of the 'progress' it describes;

• modern reasoning about the supposed ease of reverse-engineering doesn't apply to the early patent systems.

See, for example, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_patent_law#Developm...


You are saying that we should ignore the plain language of the constitution and instead look into the authors' minds and invent a convoluted hidden meaning that supposedly has something to do with disclosure.


Many of the same people who wrote and ratified the constitution (1787-1789) also then wrote and ratified the Patent Act of 1790, which (just like earlier English law) included disclosure requirements.

I trust them on what they meant by "promote the progress", over your idiosyncratic interpretation from 225 years later. Especially since even today "progress" is understood to be advanced by widespread-knowledge, not just first-knowledge.


You can't grant a monopoly on an invention without describing the invention. You need something for judges to decide if there is infringement. Disclosure is just a side effect of how patents work, it's not the purpose.

The idea is to promote science by granting exclusive rights, as it says in the constitution. Not to promote science by publishing vague legalistic descriptions of inventions. Inventors do not go rummaging through patent documents for ideas.


Patent descriptions didn't used to be vague. That's a relatively new technique in avoiding the disclosure requirements legally.

Look at the Wright Brother's patent: http://invention.psychology.msstate.edu/i/Wrights/WrightUSPa...

The document makes perfect sense. Just randomly pick a point and start reading and you learn what they had researched and discovered.


Patents were already a legal device long before European pilgrims settled Jamestown. The original reasons behind patents existing, assuming the non-existence of time machines, has nothing whatsoever to do with the constitution of the USA.


I think he's advocating we read the plain language using definitions of the words as understood at the time they were written.



The constitution is rather pithy. It simply states that:

"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

No incentive mentioned either. It's just understood that providing the exclusive right for a limited time will somehow promote progress. So you need to go to the founders' more expensive writings and generally understood truths of the time to argue intent.


er ... extensive :-)


It's not to "incentivize inventors" (you) it's to "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts" (the US constitution).

It comes from the USPTO, for one place. It's called the "Enablement Requirement". It requires that you enable other people to make the invention.

That's where it comes from, and that's why people always bring it up.

"The purpose of the requirement that the specification describe the invention in such terms that one skilled in the art can make and use the claimed invention is to ensure that the invention is communicated to the interested public in a meaningful way."

http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/s2164.html


> Promoting disclosure doesn't make sense anyway since once an invention is commercialized it can usually be reverse-engineered.

Well still don't know for sure how people built the pyramids.

It is difficult to imagine a world with guilds and trade secret like the middle age. Everything from the simplest element to the most complex is only available to selected member of the guild. But the accumulation of undisclosed tech ends up mounting and make reverse-engineering much harder.


> Promoting disclosure doesn't make sense anyway since once an invention is commercialized it can usually be reverse-engineered.

The idea is to encourage inventor to disclose details of his invention before it is successfully commercialized so others can take it into account in their own ideas and actions. To develop complementary or improved inventions. Basically not to invent exact same thing twice.


I've often been told I should not read patents related to my work as it could result in a worse judgement against me if I were sued and found to be infringing. Unfortunately, it's so difficult to know if you're infringing that it doesn't seem worth trying to prevent reinvention.

It's a shame, but the idea doesn't seem to have worked out in practice.


Have you ever looked at patents to inform your ideas? As slavik81 says that's legally dangerous, but it's also typically useless.


I didn't say ideas behind patent system worked by any stretch of the imagination.


Fair enough!


If you want protection for an invention, you have to disclose what that invention is.


For a lot of this stuff, trade secrets wouldn't really keep people from sharing innovation.... Anyone could have looked at a Wright airplane and figured out how the lateral stabilization worked.


Interesting write up about Writght brothers and Santos Dumont.

http://www.cnet.com/news/were-the-wright-brothers-really-fir...

Disclaimer: I am Brazilian and I learned that Santos Dumont was the first one when I was little in school.

I just find it interesting and wanted to share, No sides or flame wars.

He was Brazil's Leonardo Da Vinci I guess.


Likewise, Richard Pearse of New Zealand is sometimes considered the first. He was able to get airborne in early 1903, but not really able to maneuver.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Pearse

It's also worth reading about Sir George Cayley, Samuel Pierpont Langley, and Gustave Whitehead -- all aviation pioneers with some degree of success in the pre-Wright era.

One of the main accomplishments of the Wright Brothers was that they continued to improve on those flights over the next several years, putting flight in the public eye -- their flights in 1908 and 1909 catapulted flight from "something a few people have claimed, but there's still a lot of skepticism" to "something everyone realized was really possible".


If you should ever visit Nova Scotia's North island do not miss the Alexander Graham Bell museum in Baddeck.

Bell employed Glenn Curtiss to work on an airplane which is up in the rafters of the museum. For whatever reason Bell lost interest in aviation leaving Glenn Curtiss to launch his own company. The guides spend quite a bit of time talking about what Curtiss accomplished while he was at Baddeck.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Graham_Bell_National_...


The Curtiss Museum in the finger lakes area of central New York state is also very neat. Curtiss was born in Hammondsport on Keuka Lake and spent most of his life there.

http://www.glennhcurtissmuseum.org/


On a bicycle the left hand pedal screws in one way and the right hand pedal screws in the other way. To anyone that has noticed it the reason is obvious - you don't want the pedals to fall out or work free over time, therefore it is common sense that the threads are different on each side.

However, there was a time before 1900 when you did not have a left-hand thread on one of the two pedals on a bicycle. You probably didn't have bearings in the pedal either and the pedals really could fall out on the one side.

It took the Wright Brothers to see this problem and come up with the solution of using the left-hand thread. Back then there were two patent offices in the U.S., one for bicycles and one for everything else. The Wright Brothers were awarded the patent even though the left hand thread was far from a new innovation, it was the application of that innovation that was what they could patent. This really was a must have feature for bicycles but history has this 'invention' as an interesting footnote to the Wright Brothers story, there are no generally known details as to how they were able to profit from it, which presumably they were able to do to some extent.

There is also another Wright Bros. patent that comes before that. This is for some self-oiling hub. Nowadays bicycle hubs are packed with grease and the last thing you want to do is to oil them. However, once upon a time, oil was what you used to lubricate bearings, and still was the case with 3-speed 'Sturmey Archer' hub gears up until the 1970's. The Wright Brothers innovation was to use some bits of felt as seals, this prevented the oil running out when the bicycle was parked on its side. At that time there were literally hundreds and hundreds of variations on the humble bicycle hub, plus what we know today as a ball bearing had actually only been invented thirty years before hand. No thread sizes were standard so this small bit of engineering was more like home computers before the IBM PC - nothing compatible and all very new.

Much like how the million and one different home computer variants that existed during the 1980's died a death as soon as the IBM PC (and clones) took over, a similar thing happened with bicycles back in the early 1900's. Parts became standardised, bicycles became mass produced and 'craft' manufacturers such as the Wright Bros. could not compete on price. It all happened very quickly, within a short space of time everything ended up being a variant of the Rover Safety Bicycle with Dunlop tyres.

By the time of the 'Patent Wars' the Wright Brothers were quite experienced at applying and getting patents. I suspect that there is a lot more to the Wright Brothers history that needs to be understood, far beyond the potted back-story I mention here. It is also difficult for us to appreciate their inventions, because they are laid out before us. For instance the left-hand thread, the physics going on there are beyond 'well it could work free if the bearings seized', there is this concept of precession that needed some deep knowledge to understand. Similarly with the patent for controlling the plane, the Wright Brothers understood flight at a deeper level and I think they thought there patents should reflect that knowledge and disregard 'workarounds' such as what Curtiss came up with.


TL;DR: the wright brothers had a history of patenting special additions to bicycles, so when the market for craft bicycles dried up due to standardization of parts, they "pivoted into creating the airplane". :)

fair summary?


I'd never heard of there being a patent office just for bicycles. I know around that era a lot of the patents were around bicycles, so I could imagine it'd make sense.


It is fascinating how those who begin as "doers" and innovator can end up having their entire activity controlled by something as inactive and uninnovative as the legal system?

I wonder if it is the situation of having achieved a palpably fundamental innovation leaves someone open to thinking that the world owes them success.


The world is in no way short of people who think the world owes them a living. Didn't a recent survey show that over half of all programmers think they're going to be millionaires? Ah yes, invent a better mousetrap and blah blah blah.

In what way is the legal system not innovative? Sure, it relies on precedent, but look at the innovative ways precedent is used. The problem isn't lack of innovation so much as the purposes to which it is put.


> Didn't a recent survey show that over half of all programmers think they're going to be millionaires?

Seems pretty reasonable. Rule of thumb is to save 10% of your income. Median income of programmers is reported to be $90,000, which is roughly $67,000 after tax in my location. That annual addition compounded at 5% works out to $900K over the course of a typical career.

And that is just in cash savings. Another rule of thumb is spend 30% of your income on a home. If you use that to buy, that adds another, say, $400,000 to your net worth and we should be safely able to assume another $300,000 once the home is paid for if you redirect those payments into savings.

Add in an earning partner and the numbers get even larger. And while prices can fluctuate, those numbers have historically gone up, which means decades from now you will probably be making more than $90K, and your home will probably be worth more than $400K.

I'm more interested in why half of the programmers surveyed don't think they will be millionaires. You don't even have to make the median income I proposed earlier to get there. Quite a bit less will do.


In what way is the legal system not innovative?

Context, context, context!

While we could get into a whole argument about the legal system itself is innovative, you could instead note that point is that my point and the point of the parent article is that a person who occupies themselves in suing someone is not engaging in innovation. Now do you really disagree with that?


Inventor of vaccine against syphilis - same storey.


No, the Wright brothers' patents did not hold up the US aviation industry:

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2355673

Although the introduction reads something like a conspiracy theory, this paper does a decent job of providing historical industrial data and references as evidence that despite the various patents at play, the aviation industry in the years leading up to and during WW1 was actually doing well.


James Watt also spent much of his time and energy fighting patent battles in a hope to prevent others from entering the market. Who knows what further innovations he could have pursued if he hadn't been derailed by that greed. It looks like this is a recurring problem.


It was largely Matthew Boulton who fought Watt's patent battles. Edward Bull worked for Watt and then attempted to rip off Watt's steam engine designs. Watt's key insight was a separate condenser, which made the steam engine much more efficient. Watt and Boulton's license fee was 1/3 of the coal saved from using the Newcomen Engine.

Watt was not commercially successful until he met Boulton, and it is interesting to note that Watt also faced a patent problem. James Pickard had a patent for a crank to convert reciprocating motion to rotational power. Pickard wanted to simply cross license their respective patents, however with Watt's being significantly more valuable, Watt simply designed an alternate solution, sun and planet gear.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Watt


For more examples see: http://levine.sscnet.ucla.edu/general/intellectual/against.h...

And join a Pirate Party of your location!


I just got an insight upon reading this. Patents stand to incentivize the research and development, the failures that precede innovations. On the other hand, they hinder research and development that builds on existing technology.

A good middle-ground would be patents being applicable only on rights to create _products_ based on a technology. Rights for any products based on a derivative patent belong solely to that patent, with nothing going towards the 'parent' patent.

This encourages the incremental innovation, as well as pushing the original inventor to continue to improve on their own patent.

For example, let's imagine someone patented a glass bottle as a container for ketchup. Any glass ketchup bottle makers pay that person. A person examines that glass bottle, observes that breakage of glass is a problem, and patents a plastic ketchup bottle. All plastic bottle makers buy their rights from this person. Glass bottle makers (if any) continue to pay the original patent owner for their rights. The glass bottle person, improves upon the plastic bottle, and gets a patent for a squeezable plastic ketchup bottle...You get the idea.

Discuss.


Ailerons aren't really conceptually different from wing warping, it just uses a hinge rather than bending.


“That is, of course, the irony of the patent system. Without patent protection, a competitor can simply replicate an invention and undercut the inventor’s price — which necessarily includes all the time and expense of research and development — so the incentive to experiment and create is severely inhibited. But if innovators such as Glenn Curtiss cannot build on the progress of others without paying exorbitantly for the privilege, the incentive to continue to experiment and create is similarly inhibited.”

I read this and wondered if the patent system could be reformed to have a standardised rate for all licensees, similar to what is attempted with FRAND patents, but enforced with teeth across all of them.


Their pop-over "you've read 5 of your 10 free articles this month" made me want to read the article more thoroughly, to make sure I didn't waste the resource/gift, thus increasing my engagement. It's valuable.

Seems like an effective enhancement to freemium. The most sincere best advertising: the thing itself. And if it's not free, how will people know it's great? How will they develop a taste for it if they've never tasted it?


It's just a bullshit limit that gets in the way of my reading. More times than not I have _not_ read an article just because it's not worth the extra effort. I know the NYT doesn't care about losing my eyeball in that instance just as I don't care enough about the article to go the extra mile. It works for both of us.


This was clearly a not-too veiled slam at Apple. Joe Nocera really needs to get over it. Yes, Steve Jobs lied to him about his health. Yes, he was made to look like and idiot for repeating those lies. Yes, that was a shitty thing for Steve to do (Steve Jobs acting like an asshole to someone - woah, shocker).

But seriously, at this point you can't read anything that Joe Nocera writes without wondering what axe he is going to grind against Apple this time. He even wrote a glowing review of the universally panned "Haunted Empire", he's become so blinded by his dislike of Apple. He really needs to find a new schtick or at least present some more sophisticated nuance.

Also note, Apple isn't suing Samsung over all Tablets/SmartPhones, or all general methods of building tablets/smartPhones, but very specific elements that Samsung just ripped off, rather than inventing their own approach.

Microsoft has certainly been able to develop their own Tablets and Phone OS elements without having to blindly copy the iPhone/iPad - so it's certainly possible.


It's sufficiently well-veiled that I don't see the link to Apple at all. I don't know the detailed history you're referring to but if you're determined to see things through this lens then everything this author writes can be taken as a snipe at Apple (no matter how stretched). In other words, he'll never be able to redeem himself in your eyes. Is that reasonable?


"But if innovators such as Glenn Curtiss cannot build on the progress of others without paying exorbitantly for the privilege, the incentive to continue to experiment and create is similarly inhibited.”

Thus, in the story of the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss, is a lesson for our age as well."

That's the link to Apple.

And certainly, partisans can either be blinded by their dislike, or they can introduce nuance. A good example would be comparing a couple Apple Partisans, Jim Dalrymple and John Gruber. Dalrymple is like a broken record - He brings almost zero insight into assessing companies like Blackberry, Android, etc... Just rants against them.

Gruber has had phases like this, but in the last couple years he's done some worthwhile reviews of the Windows Phone product line, and has had good things to say about the Lumina. He's even been more open minded about Microsoft's web services, and went so far as to appear in a promotional video for Windows/Microsoft Azure. Gruber is regaining my trust.

Perhaps the critiquing with insight is someone like Siracusa - There is a writer who can rant against Apple's every conceivable product, decision, and technology - yet he does so with an overriding rationality that you can appreciate.

I don't see that rationality any more in Joe Nocera's writing.


Please,

I found the article fascinating in it's own right.

The theme of greed and patents goes back a long way while Jobs' name is unmentioned in the article from reading and text-search.

Jobs is kind of exception to the pattern in that he both innovated and sued, sometimes successfully, sometimes less-so.

And the lying about health issue thing is bother irrelevant in this context and one of the smaller issue in any weighing of Jobs' sins and achievements.


I actually really liked the article standing by itself. But, the article is without question a commentary on Apple's recent litigious behavior, and, indeed, coming from other writer's might have been insightful. But I couldn't help but read it as another in a long thread of articles by Joe Nocera trying to slam Apple.

Nocera's treatment by Job, including his statements about his health is the source of Nocera's ongoing diatribe's against Apple. The context is useful when reading essays knocking Apple by Nocera.

I might have a little more patience if Nocera was a random blogger/pundit, but, I expect more out of the NYT. Yes, opinion, but balance and nuance is also important.


this was my reaction after reading this article as well.


If you invented it, you should be allowed to patent it. Especially, if it as ground breaking as flight would've been. I see no greed there. By that logic, the writer should head to North Korea and lead the life of a Comrade since the same could be said about capitalism too.


Yeah but the Wrights invented a method to solve the lateral instability problem. They shouldn't be able to patent all solutions to a problem, just the solution they invented, surely?


Thing is, as the courts and the USPTO found time and again, pretty much all subsequent solutions to that problem were non-significant variations of the Wrights' patent. Even Curtiss' own aileron patent was invalidated because the Wright patent was prior art.


Which is a shame because I don't see ailerons as a non-significant variation? Wing warping is as it says, which is pretty scary and went out fashion pretty quickly because of high rates of structural failure. Ailerons took its place because of this.

When you're yay high in the sky, which sounds safer? The difference is pretty significant.

I'm not saying what you say isn't true but it is pretty bizarre. That said the Wright Bros patent covered a wide area.


But how do they benefit from the fact that they realized lateral instability is a problem that needs solving to achieve stable flight ?


My non-informed opinion is that this is a basic science vs invention problem.

The Wright brothers were both inventors designing an invention (an airplane) and private-sector researchers investigating the basic science of flight. Their discovery of the problem of lateral instability and its consequences for flight was a matter of basic science; for it they deserved recognition from their peers and scientific acclaim. Their invention of a method for stabilizing flight deserved a patent.


By preventing people from simply copying their solution with a patent on their method, which puts up a nice big barrier to entry to everyone except innovators such as Curtiss.




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