Subject: Re: patent trolls and X-licensors
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Thu, 08 Jun 2006 20:17:14 +0900

>>>>> "Ben" == Ben Tilly <> writes:

    Ben> It is not beneath me.  I post on public lists expecting
    Ben> people to be able to understand that I have different degrees
    Ben> of evidence for different opinions, and some opinions I have
    Ben> less objective evidence for than others.

Expect away.  Also expect to be misunderstood.

    Ben> Here is the problem.  There are a lot of good ideas in the
    Ben> wavelet world that get into one or two products (if that) and
    Ben> that is it.

What makes you think they'd necessarily get propagated if they weren't
patented?  I see a dozen good ideas a week on the XEmacs lists; you
can look 'em up in the archives, but you won't find them in the code.

    Ben> People don't put them into standards.

    Ben> They can't get implemented in free software.

That's a definitional problem.

    Ben> And the result is that the ideas are *only* taken advantage
    Ben> of in specialized products that really need what wavelets
    Ben> provide.

Really?  I believe you that they only get used in such specialized
products; it's entirely unclear to me that the blame can be entirely
laid at the door of patented wavelet technology.

    Ben> However those same ideas are not finding their way as quickly
    Ben> into, say, digital photography.  Whenever I watch a slow jpg
    Ben> fill in on a web page I can't help but think that I saw
    Ben> software in 1996 that looked better at low bit rates and
    Ben> whose quality filled in a lot faster as you downloaded data.
    Ben> That is sad to me.

But MP3s are everywhere, despite the encoders being patented, and the
patents being agressively enforced AFAIK.

Nor did the Unisys patent really put a dent in the market for GIF.

And surely there is unpatented undergrad textbook wavelet stuff that
would beat the pants off interlaced JPEG, and plenty of naive (or
rebellious) undergrads to implement it?

Or maybe you're just getting elderly and misremembering the good old
days?  ;-)

    Ben> The famous example [of an innovation that the organization
    Ben> was unable to exploit] that people like to offer is Xerox and
    Ben> the GUI.  But it is not isolated.

    >> Emacs and GNU comes to mind. :-)

    Ben> You wouldn't be biased, would you? :-)

I am, but (at least until quite recently) in the direction opposite to
the one you imply.  Sad, isn't it?

    Ben> However I'll note that I have yet to hear of a real case of
    Ben> someone who needed to solve a technical problem choosing to
    Ben> solve it by doing a patent search looking for a previous
    Ben> solution.

Don't you think that's the saddest thing you've written today?

    Ben> I know that I could tell you all of the potentially
    Ben> patentable ideas that my employers business has, and if you
    Ben> implemented all of them and tried to compete with us head on
    Ben> you'd lose money hand over fist for a very long time.

Yeah, but what if I hired a real programmer to do the implementation,
instead of doing it my own-wannabe-self?  :-) Specifically, suppose I
hired *you*?  Don't say "you can't"; there are plenty of hackers for
sale, even if you aren't.  And don't say "I signed an NDA and a
no-competition agreement"; doesn't that have just as strong chilling
effect as a patent (in terms of diffusion of innovation from the kinds
of organization we're discussing)?

    Ben> Basic science historically has a lot more value in the long
    Ben> run than the short run.  When we try to make the path to
    Ben> value more straightforward we run a big risk of improving
    Ben> short term gains at the cost of long term gains.  That's not
    Ben> a win.

Have you forgotten the GNU Manifesto?  We don't hack for money.  The
immediate effect of improving appropriability of short-term gains is
not going to be on basic researchers.

Granted, if we told all basic researchers that they need to get
patents to fund themselves, there'd be a problem.  I certainly hope
you understand that that is nothing I want any part of!

    Ben> [Wavelet applications to OCR] ties back to my impression that
    Ben> patents have slowed research and adoption of wavelets.

Well, wavelets might have enough hack value to get somebody to *do*
something in open source if that were legal.  But the problem I had
with gocr, for example, was that it was just plain a low-quality,
badly-designed application.  It wasn't hackable without an inordinate
amount of effort.  I misdoubt that its problems were due to lack of
availability of free licenses to wavelet patents.

    Ben> Did you try  Never tried it,
    Ben> but I just looked for open source OCR and that is what I
    Ben> found.

I haven't tried the OCR yet, but that's not for want of trying to
build the software.  ;-)  Only once, but hey, why break my head over
it?  I've got what I need, and I pay my dues elsewhere.  Eventually it
will get into DarwinPorts or I'll move my scanner where the USB cable
can get to the Linux box and I'll try again.  In the meantime, I use
the free as in free beer products.  I don't even have to build those. :-)

Graduate School of Systems and Information Engineering   University of Tsukuba        Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
        Economics of Information Communication and Computation Systems
          Experimental Economics, Microeconomic Theory, Game Theory