Woz: Microsoft co-founder is a "patent troll"

Call it the war of co-founders of two of today's technology giants, if you will between Steve Wozniak, Apple's colourful and often quirky co-founder, and Paul Allen, Bill Gates' BASIC-coding roommate at Harvard. Wozniak has admitted publicly in multiple sources, including his own autobiography "iWoz," that he had (according to himself) strong ethical principles he inherited from his parents, and tended to avoid the business side of things - he was best with engineering and coming up with new ideas. He left the businessman trickery to his old friend, Steve Jobs.

So it's no surprise that Wozniak came out blasting Allen for being a "patent troll," and criticizing the United States Patent and Trademark Office for harbouring such abuses of innovation at his keynote speech at the Embedded System Conference Silicon Valley taking place this week at San Jose, California. Wozniak's hatred of patent trolls is personal, and surprisingly, it has little to do with today's war of brands between Microsoft and Apple.

As The Register reports, Wozniak had a personal story to share from his early days of conceiving the Apple II which illustrated what he saw large companies do: assemble teams of "patent-seeking" engineers, make them come up with an idea that they cannot come up for the time being, then get a patent assigned to their idea. They would then wait until someone else comes up with a working implementation of their idea, and the company would then demand royalties for being the "inventors" of the idea, regardless of a working implementation. This happened to Wozniak when he came up with a working implementation to output characters to a television set on the Apple II:

And then we find out RCA has a patent on a character generator for any raster-scanned setup. And they patented it at a time when nobody could have envisioned it really being used or anything [...] and they got five bucks for each Apple II, based on this little idea that's not even an idea. Y'know: store the bits, store the bits, then pop in a character on your TV.
 
I don't know any other way you could do it – anybody would have come up with that with the same approach.

Wozniak criticized the American patent system for allowing patent trolls to hoard patents and sit on ideas that "any fifth-grader could come up with the same approach." And so for Paul Allen, who is currently suing a number of companies over patents he purchased, Wozniak's response to his actions was simple.

The other night Paul Allen was speaking at the Computer History Museum and I had four tickets. And I decided at the last minute not to go, because I remembered he's suing all these companies like Apple and Google – but he's not suing Microsoft – because he bought all these patents. [...]
 
So I had dinner with friends rather than go see Paul Allen.
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A couple of points:

First, an idea must be novel, non-obvious and advances the state of the art to be patentable. IMO, 99% of the patents fail one or more of these criteria.

Second, it was many years before software was allowed to be patented. In fact, it was many years before software could even be copyrighted - which was allowed before it could be patented. Initially, software was defined to consist of "mathematical algorithms" (defined to be a set of well-defined instructions for calculating a function). As such they were not allowed to be patented - how many mathematical functions have been patented?

Going back to the 50s, early software was given away free (not quite - its cost was buried in the price of the mainframe H/W - however, field employees of the mainframe companies often wrote S/W apps for the customers at no charge and typically made it available to other "customers" for free). In a nutshell, allowing S/W patents was akin to closing the barn door well after the horses were gone. Allowing S/W to be copyrighted was as far as it should have gone - just like writing a book (or a series of books - e.g., Dune, Foundation, etc.). It becomes ridiculous when a lawsuit is filed over patent infringement because a subroutine (probably lifted from some early piece of published code - Unix, Multics, etc.) is the same in someone else's "patented" code. As was pointed out before, the patent system as far as S/W if totally a mess and should be scrapped. It is as ridiculous as selling "carbon credits" - makes money for seller without the seller doing any real useful work.

I should definately start to patent generalistic ideas and make some money out of it.

You know like "The ability to talk to someone on another planet" or "The ability to output 4D on a screen".

Woz complained that companies "assemble teams of "patent-seeking" engineers, make them come up with an idea that they cannot come up for the time being [eh???], then get a patent assigned to their idea. They would then wait until someone else comes up with a working implementation of their idea, and the company would then demand royalties for being the "inventors" of the idea, regardless of a working implementation."

Patents that can't be implemented aren't valid. The law is not blind to this problem.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sufficiency_of_disclosure
Of course, there is often scope for argument on the facts of a given case...

gb8080 said,

Patents that can't be implemented aren't valid. The law is not blind to this problem.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sufficiency_of_disclosure
Of course, there is often scope for argument on the facts of a given case...

In the "predictable arts", such as mechanical inventions and software inventions, very little description is required. A mere flow chart of a piece of software, for example, is adequate. Source code is not normally required. In the “unpredictable arts”, such as chemistry and pharmaceuticals, a very complete description is required.

In a 2005 U.S. court case, several of Jerome H. Lemelson patents covering bar code readers were held to be invalid because the specification was not complete enough for a person of ordinary skill in the art of electrical engineering to have made and used the claimed invention at the time the patent was filed (1954) without undue experimentation. In this case the court held that a person of ordinary skill in the art was a degreed electrical engineer with two years of experience as of the filing date of the original patent application, 1954. One of the challenges of this court case, which was decided in 2005, was to find experts on the state of the art who were alive in 1954.

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

Let's see Paul Allen's card.

Look at that subtle off-white coloring. The tasteful thickness of it. Oh my God, it even has a watermark!

He needs to call out his Patent Troll best friend named Steve Jobs too:

Quote:

" In 2003, after I unveiled a prototype Linux desktop called Project Looking Glass, Steve called my office to let me know the graphical effects were “stepping all over Apple's IP.” (IP = Intellectual Property = patents, trademarks and copyrights.) If we moved forward to commercialize it, “I'll just sue you.”

My response was simple. “Steve, I was just watching your last presentation, and Keynote looks identical to Concurrence - do you own that IP?” Concurrence was a presentation product built by Lighthouse Design, a company I'd help to found and which Sun acquired in 1996. Lighthouse built applications for NeXTSTEP, the Unix based operating system whose core would become the foundation for all Mac products after Apple acquired NeXT in 1996. Steve had used Concurrence for years, and as Apple built their own presentation tool, it was obvious where they'd found inspiration. “And last I checked, MacOS is now built on Unix. I think Sun has a few OS patents, too.” Steve was silent."

http://jonathanischwartz.wordp...s-copy-great-artists-steal/

"Wozniak has admitted publicly in multiple sources, including his own autobiography "iWoz," that he had (according to himself) strong ethical principles"

Strong ethical principals? He was a long distance stealer!

Funny how Woz doesn't call out Apple...
But anyway, I'm glad he's making an issue out of it. It's a very disgusting thing that smothers innovation rather than help it like it's supposed to. I hope more people vocalize this problem and push for a change.

Trueblue711 said,
Funny how Woz doesn't call out Apple...
But anyway, I'm glad he's making an issue out of it. It's a very disgusting thing that smothers innovation rather than help it like it's supposed to. I hope more people vocalize this problem and push for a change.

Indeed.

GS:mac

In the exact same situation, he would do the same thing, and hes a liar if he denies it.

People absolutely take advantage of it, but business is business. All the companies do it to some degree, you have to stay competitive and play the same game. The problem is with the patent system, not the people (ab)using it.

homeboyrocketshoulders said,
In the exact same situation, he would do the same thing, and hes a liar if he denies it.

People absolutely take advantage of it, but business is business. All the companies do it to some degree, you have to stay competitive and play the same game. The problem is with the patent system, not the people (ab)using it.


Way to block change!

GS:mac

yardman said,
WOZ is an *******....if it was his patents he would do the samething.....

Way to reveal you use double-standards...
Really, if he backs that idea, and I believe he does, then he would be too ****ed off about himself to be abusing the system himself.
I'm feeling him 100% and even if I was a multiple patent holder I wouldn't troll the system as much as it's common nowadays...

Cheers on you, Woz.

GS:mac

And I agree with Woz... Allen has started trolling patents, and the system is messed up ever since the first Xerox patents in 1988 that were specific to software.

Sadly though, Apple is becoming something Woz doesn't like, as they are not only trolling to retain product dominance, not to defend legitimate patents.

thenetavenger said,
And I agree with Woz... Allen has started trolling patents, and the system is messed up ever since the first Xerox patents in 1988 that were specific to software.

Sadly though, Apple is becoming something Woz doesn't like, as they are not only trolling to retain product dominance, not to defend legitimate patents.

Haha. This is funny coming from Apple.

Basically, what Wozniak is saying that an idea has to be both *useful* and actually *in use* to be patentable. However, the length of time it takes for a patent (which is protection FOR that idea) to get published would make such a patenting system worse than useless, as the idea would be pilferable that entire time from when it was recognized to when the patent is issued. Basically, the government takes way too long for such a system to work to the benefit of anyone but patent/idea thieves.

PGHammer said,
Basically, what Wozniak is saying that an idea has to be both *useful* and actually *in use* to be patentable. However, the length of time it takes for a patent (which is protection FOR that idea) to get published would make such a patenting system worse than useless, as the idea would be pilferable that entire time from when it was recognized to when the patent is issued. Basically, the government takes way too long for such a system to work to the benefit of anyone but patent/idea thieves.

Just because I have an idea but can't create it doesn't mean that someone else is somehow incapable of coming up with the same idea and actually make it happen, in that situation I have no real claim that I "created" anything, it was just an idea, the other person that made the idea happen has the rights to it, since he did make it actually work

z0phi3l said,

Just because I have an idea but can't create it doesn't mean that someone else is somehow incapable of coming up with the same idea and actually make it happen, in that situation I have no real claim that I "created" anything, it was just an idea, the other person that made the idea happen has the rights to it, since he did make it actually work

One of the reason for patent rights is that big corporations with a lot of money can steal ideas from small inventors. A lot of inventors have private meetings with a corporation, they sign a contract, but later the corporation renigs on the agreement by using some type of loophole or other, and the inventor doesn't have enough money to take it to court. So small inventors get screwed.

They'd get screwed even more if the patent system were changed.

I don't think people are thinking this through, personally.

PGHammer said,
Basically, what Wozniak is saying that an idea has to be both *useful* and actually *in use* to be patentable. However, the length of time it takes for a patent (which is protection FOR that idea) to get published would make such a patenting system worse than useless, as the idea would be pilferable that entire time from when it was recognized to when the patent is issued. Basically, the government takes way too long for such a system to work to the benefit of anyone but patent/idea thieves.
If Woz is saying that, then he's an idiot.

Patented technologies don't have to be *in-use* because *in-use* means utilized in current products, and that is not possible without the patent owner's permission as long as the patented technology has not become prior art. Besides, there are different kinds of patents. I am not going to get into those here.

I completely agree that the current system stalls innovation. It is evident from the number of battery patents that have been trolled by Oil companies. And I can't think of a better solution that doesn't adversely affect small-scale inventors.

Edited by Jebadiah, May 6 2011, 5:36am :

z0phi3l said,

Just because I have an idea but can't create it doesn't mean that someone else is somehow incapable of coming up with the same idea and actually make it happen, in that situation I have no real claim that I "created" anything, it was just an idea, the other person that made the idea happen has the rights to it, since he did make it actually work

True but I think the problem is what happens to the little guy that has the idea but no resources to throw R&D money at implementation? Now he could search for investors who may want in on the patent. I think the Patent Office is trying to create a situation where anyone with an idea can benefit from that idea (particularly the little business guy that has not way into the market), however, I think it would be a good idea to find a way for the person with the idea to share some portion of the profit with the person or organization that created the product.

Of course this idea of mine is frought with problems but few thigns in life are perfect.

Patenting an idea that is not implemented (but is on its way to) yet is not the problem. It is patenting an idea that you don't plan to implement ever. There's should be a time limit in which you need to show a working implementation for the patent to remain valid.

Also some patents are way to general. Things obvious that anyone could have come up with but did not because it was impossible to implement it because of a technological barrier should not be "patentable".

Patent like "Ability to share photos remotely using a wire" should not be patentable at all. You see things like that in science fiction and dystopian movies since the beginning of 1900. It has just be implemented because of a technological barrier.

Patenting ideas is great. But you should need to be able to show a working implementatiob in a given timeframe for the patent to remain valid.

z0phi3l said,

Just because I have an idea but can't create it doesn't mean that someone else is somehow incapable of coming up with the same idea and actually make it happen, in that situation I have no real claim that I "created" anything, it was just an idea, the other person that made the idea happen has the rights to it, since he did make it actually work

The same situation applies for Mark Zuckerberg and Winklevoss twins's dispute over Facebook