Thursday, March 10, 2011

Comments re "The Noisy Channel: A Practical Rant About Software Patents"

The Noisy Channel: A Practical Rant About Software Patents - [My comments cross-posted here]

Daniel, nice writeup.

I worked for a BigCo and filed many patents. It was a mixed bag. The time horizon is so long that even after I’ve been gone for 3.5 years many of them are still lost in the USPTO. Average time for me to see granted patents was 5+ years.

Here are my biased opinions:

1) Patents really matter for BigCos operating on a long time horizon. It’s a strategic investment.

2) Patents are nearly worthless for a Startup or SmallCo. The time horizon is way past your foreseeable future, and thus the whole effort is akin to planning for an alternate reality different than the current business context. Throwing coins in a fountain for good luck is about as relevant. You simply are better off getting a filing date on a provisional design writeup and hiring an engineer with the money you’d spend on Patent lawyers.

3) As an Acquiring company looking at a company to acquire, Provisional or Pending Patents are a liability not an asset. They take time and resources to push to completion for a strategy of deterrence.

4) Patents are mostly ignored in the professional literature. Take Sentiment Analysis as one example. Sentiment Analysis exploded in 2001 w.r.t. Academic publishing, yet there are more than a few older patents discussing good technical work on Sentiment Analysis. I’ve NEVER seen an algorithm in a patent cited in a paper as previous work. And I have seen academic papers with algorithms already 90% covered by an older patent… and the papers are cited as ‘novel work’.

5) Finding relevant patents is ludicrously hard. It might be the most challenging problem in IR w.r.t. a corpus IMO. Different words mean the same thing and vise versa due to the pseudo-ability in a Patent to redefine a word away from the obvious meaning. With two different lawyers rendering the same technical design into a writeup and claims results in wildly different work product.

6) I’ve seen some doosey granted Patents. Things that appear to either be implementations of very old CS ideas into new domains.. or worse stuff that would be a class project as an undergrad.

It’s just plain ugly in this realm.

Posted via email from aicoder - nealrichter's blog


Daniel Tunkelang said...

Thanks for the commentary -- I generally share your opinions. Only question is whether patents affect valuation for a startup. I'm skeptical when I'm making that valuation, but I'd like to see a poll of folks who actually make valuation decisions.

Neal said...


"Why software startups decide to patent ... or not" by Pamela Samuelson