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The Twenty-Year Web Cache

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Patent Monopolies

Patent Monopolies

You’ve felt the frustration many times. As you write a comment on an interesting story, the web server responds with the message that the comment “may take a while to appear on the page”.

This, the obligatory wait before your ideas are visible for other people to comment, elaborate, and improve on, is due to a mechanism known as caching. In order to increase capacity on a web server, a separate cache machine can be placed between the web server and you, the user. Serving a web page is a fairly expensive mechanism, since it needs to be constructed from all stories and comments on the blog, so the cache machine takes a “last known version” of the web page and gives the exact same page to everybody who asks for it for a few minutes. After those few minutes, it re-asks the real web server if the web page in question has changed: for example, if it has had your freshly written comment added to it, which it has.

Therefore, the web server knows of your comment immediately, but the cache server does not. As a result, other people won’t see it until the cache server refreshes the web page from the server, pretty much like you can hit refresh in your web browser.

This blog, Falkvinge &Co. on Infopolicy, has three layers of cache servers. Ideally, comments appear immediately, as the cache servers are told to go refresh the page when a new comment is entered. When something technical glitches, and that message doesn’t get through, it takes several minutes.

Anywhere it takes several minutes for a comment to appear, the discussion slows down immensely. Ideas are not built on, thoughts are not bounced, concepts are not tested against the public at nearly the same rate as if it is published immediately.

We’ve all felt this. The frustration, the… syrupy slowdown of ideas, the lid on creativity, as ideas are delayed by several minutes.

You can observe the same phenomenon on moderated blogs, but on a much tougher scale. There, it can take hours for people to be able to build on and improve upon ideas, as the bottleneck is that much thinner. If somebody needs to manually approve a comment in a particular location, that’s basically a guarantee that there will not be a meaningful improvement of ideas in that location.

Now, imagine a twenty-year web cache server. If you come up with a good idea, people won’t be able to improve on your ideas and take them to the next level for twenty years. Another twenty for a total of forty years before you could respond in turn. You suffer. They suffer. The exchange of ideas as a whole doesn’t just suffer, it crawls to a near-stop, its velocity measurable only by laser precision measurements.

If five minutes of wait time kills the rate of ideas as much as it really and actually does in all our experience, what would a timescale of decades do?

So imagine that your ideas weren’t improvable by others for twenty years, and also, that you couldn’t build on the ideas of others for the same period of twenty years.

Welcome to the patent system.

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About The Author: Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. He has a tech entrepreneur background and loves whisky.

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23

  1. 1
    Leo Wandersleb

    i’m with you in the struggle against patents of all form but sorry, this blog post could use some improvement. the patent system does not block new patents. those who make their money within this system can crunch out patents improving on top of other patents at any rate. approval takes a year maybe. people wanting to use those patents can do so immediately if the patent owner grants them the right to do so.

    the patents system grants the patent owner to generally forbid usage of the technology. this is insane and non-innovative.

    the patent system makes use of ideas expensive so people that actually could implement ideas big style are decelerated.

    the US patent system grants the patent owner double the compensation if somebody uses his patent knowingly than not knowing. this leads to better not ask at the patent office for solutions.

    • 1.1

      The key part of your comment is

      if the patent owner grants them the right to do so.

      It is not in the public interest to give anybody the power to forbid others to improve on practically every piece of existing technology younger than 20 years.

      • 1.1.1
        Leo Wandersleb

        The key part of my comment is

        “patent evolution is not bound by iterations of 20 years”

        I agree with you that it is against the public interest to hinder or even forbid the *use* of patents younger than 20 years.

        The patent lobby sees it as a benefit to grant the patent holder to fully control the use of his patents. They claim that this power is what drives people to register patents and innovate in the first place. So their point of view is that the given system is in the public interest by driving innovation. So after all we have a different POV than that patent lobby and your post adds little ammunition against the patent lobby.

        (If there is no way to abandon the patent system as a whole I vote to fund inventors from taxes and make the use of patents completely royalty free. The users of patented ideas would need some incentive to claim, proof and quantify their use of patents in order to quantify the distribution among patent owners.)

      • 1.1.2
        Scary Devil Monastery

        “The users of patented ideas would need some incentive to claim, proof and quantify their use of patents in order to quantify the distribution among patent owners”

        I’m still stuck on the premise that patents should be necessary at all for many types of technology. Today I can install a computer containing every piece of software I could conceivably need just by installing Debian or Ubuntu – for free.

        And it’s for free because several thousand hobbyists spent their own free time polishing and improving on existing solutions and – by way of the internet – had the option of spreading those improvements around the world. Those who package said solutions and sell services or hardware catering to the needs of the users of these products are doing relatively well for themselves.

        And you could as easily implement this for ordinary industry. If there were no patents Volvo could still sell cars – most likely better cars than they do today. The prime criteria for choosing one brand over another would become a direct choice of price, quality, and the consumers own desired solution as to what type of technology he would like to be driving.

        However, what a patentless world would introduce for industry is, in effect, a marketplace where real competition would exist. Something every major company on this planet is deathly afraid of..
        A big corporation turns about slowly and is usually highly inflexible in adapting to market circumstances compared to a smaller one. Their only real advantage lies in possessing a more extensive logistical infrastructure and a hoard of patents. Introducing true competition in the mix would set many major actors into frenzied desperation as you’d have to start investing heavily in innovation and design rather than in mere maintenance.

        From a marketplace perspective, patents are all evil. It’s a way to limit the choices given the consumer before the products even hit the market..

        And they aren’t even necessary. What you really need is a way to manufacture and ship products of a desireable quality. A brand name people trust enough to spend more money on than that of the cheap low-quality ripoff. But we’ve bought into patents as a necessity simply because we got saddled with them in a time where there actually was such a thing as small inventors requiring protection – something which today usually isn’t the case and even if it were there is no way in hell a small inventor can win a significant patent case against a major player in court anyway.

        Meaning that not only are patents stifling, the entire patent system is also rigged by default so as to give every benefit to those entities the system was initially designed to defend against.

  2. 2
    Jens

    Why not just present the previously comment as the last comment, and thus effectively bypassing the cache layers? Should be fairly simple and trick 99% of the users who are commenting :-)

    An idea,
    Jens

  3. 4

    Things are going from bad to worse here in the United States of America. Imminent HR 1249 (S 23), as I understand it, would change American patent law, giving monopoly privilege to the first-to-file rather than the first-to-invent, as is the case elsewhere. If you believe, as I do, that the world of ideas (what Karl Popper calls World 3, the world of objective knowledge) should be free, how then could one set free one’s own original ideas any more, to be built upon and to be tested? For some ideas the laboratories are markets.

  4. 5
    Sean

    The patent system is an unfortunate necessity (it keeps the small players alive in the market because it keeps the big players from reproducing the product faster and better and just displacing the small players at every turn), but 20 years is far too long. When you look at a typical idea->product lifecycle, five to seven, maybe either years is probably a much saner number.

    The other flaw in the patent system is simply one of its evolved nature – patents are awarded for incremental improvements so everything gets nowhere. Patents make more sense for significantly complex and unique inventions, as opposed to ones where you changed the angle of a screw.

    • 5.1

      One would think that the small players need to be protected from the big players “stealing” their ideas, and producing them cheaper. In reality, that doesn’t usually happen. As a player gets bigger, they often get really, really slow and stupid.

      Case in point: the record companies. If you’re reading the Pirate Party founder’s website, I probably don’t have to explain to you how these gigantic companies are slow and stupid.

      And besides, in the rare case that a bloated bureaucratic corporation does manage to conjure some sort of agility and foresight out of its own festering mass, and capitalizes on the idea of a poor, starving inventor, this is:

      A) From a compassionate perspective, a problem better solved by decentralizing power rather than telling human beings that they can’t do something which they’re physically capable of
      B) From an inhumanly-douchebaggy-but-realistic perspective, it’s still a net win for society because now that great new invention gets out there

    • 5.2
      Scary Devil Monastery

      See my reply above. The patent system is rigged by default. Minor players have little to no chance of making a case against a major player as a patent suit costs a great deal of money.

      What usually happens is that any major actor simply purchases the patent for less than it would cost them to duke it out in court and then use the patent to suppress competitors instead.

      A solution which is pure death for any minor inventor who’d like to use his patent as well as for any pretense of real market rules.
      No great solution exists but the very existence of patents can grant absolute market monopoly for years to a corporation which will then not have to innovate again within the next decade. That’s basically a failed proposition.

      And one which is likely to get ever more underscored as time passes. Today the Open Source movement is successfully competing with all major software vendors. Tomorrow the same could very well hold for industrial products.

      So, not only do patents not work to the desired effect (rather effectively, the opposite), Not only do they harm the very idea of market economy. The very reasons for patents existing in the first place are just about falling apart at the seams.

  5. 6

    A correction to my post –

    According to a post by “Corporate Patent Counsel” based on an email conversation with participants Richard Epstein and Adam Mossoff, the US hasn’t had a system based on first-to-invent, rather it’s been “first-to-invent, provided the inventor filed a patent application within one year of the issuance of a patent to another.”

    http://www.fedsocblog.com/blog/re_exchange_on_patent_reform1/

  6. 7
    Erik

    Rick,

    Varför ändrar du URLerna på alla gamla inlägg i din feed hela tiden? Det gör att alla gamla inlägg plötsligt dyker upp som nya inlägg lite då och då, så jag får se samma inlägg massor av gånger och det är svårt att veta vad som är nytt på riktigt.

    • 7.1

      Oh, so THAT’S what’s been going on. I’ve noticed my feeds repeating posts (and have even turned off my Twitter autopost to mitigate the damages), but haven’t gotten to a point where I could realize what’s going on.

      It would appear that some of the writers on falkvinge.net are changing the permalinks, then. I’ll bring it up in our discussions. Thanks, I’m not sure you did it on purpose, but your debugging right here and now was invaluable.

      Cheers,
      Rick

  7. [...] anrichten können, hat Rick Falkvinge recht gut anhand eines Vergleichs mit Diskussionen im Web verglichen. Wenn wir gesellschaftliche Innovationsprozesse mit Diskussionen vergleichen, sind Patente quasi [...]

  8. 8
    Jose_X

    @Leo Wandersleb, patent law does have the insane problem described in the article to the degree you want to build the actual invention or any refinement of it. As you stated, the law does allow you the ability to describe how that “conversation” might be evolved, but does give the patent holder the legal power to deny you from actually carrying out such conversation. And, as concerns the pure pursuit of progress, carrying out a conversation is in practice an important part in trying to figure out how that conversation might evolve and keep evolving.

    Contrary to the full power enabled in the law, in practice, we see that the monopolies are often times used as leverage in order to exact a tax. In some cases, the patents are liberally licensed. Regardless, there is in fact a fair amount of monopoly blocking just as the law allows.

    Fortunately for society but to the detriment of those forgoing patents, there are many people who shun the patent system altogether for ethical rasons. And except for very large firms for whom patent costs are small, many fail to seek patents on most of their ideas which might be patentable.

    I wrote this http://tofreeornottofree.com/SCOTUS_Amicus_Curiae_Brief__i4i_Microsoft_2010/index.html at the end of last year.

    The main theme is that inventions which at all come close to the “cheapness” of having word conversations should be immune from patents (ie, process patents in areas that are cheap to develop (eg, software) clearly hurt progress and the liberties of a great many). The patent system will potentially block many people in areas that are cheap to develop because many will otherwise participate in those areas and patents have a **very** low inventiveness standard (“non-obvious to a PHOSITA”).

    An important other exception mentioned is that we should never allow small commercialization activity to be hampered by patents. Patents (assuming these were moderate in measure) are to protect against exploitation where the “small inventor” is cut out of the picture or at least gain very large advantages. No such case involves attacking small commercial activity that avoids the wide market. The incentives to “go big” and develop expensive efficiencies of scale (which include a lower price point, superior product attributes, etc) are still there.

    Another important fair use case would be to allow at least limited continued development when independent re-invention occurs and is brought to the attention of that inventor. [Techdirt, wrote how it was pointed out that changing over to first-to-file enlarges the opportunity to argue patents should have exceptions for independent invention.]

    The Constitution presumably allows patents but on the condition these promote the progress. I think the Fair Use cases mentioned would be needed as a minimum to keep the hope alive for those that claim patents promote the progress.

    Also, inventions like specific software are speech and the SCOTUS has ruled that speech is protected against monopolies on their ideas.

  9. 9
    Jose_X

    Jose_X >> An important other exception mentioned is that we should never allow small commercialization activity to be hampered by patents.

    I should add, there is a large cost to the very small firms which are attacked. So it’s not only true that these small firms (and individuals) likely don’t hurt the primary market, but it would be rather unjust to them to potentially be bombarded with many patent threats (from the many “non-obvious to a PHOSITA” patents in existence). Small firms cannot afford justice in today’s costly legal patent system even against a single patent attack (because of the high cost legal bar a successful defense must clear, upheld by SCOTUS in that Microsoft/i4i case).

  10. 10
    Jose_X

    .. and adjusting the law to make low-scale commercial activity immune should be noncontroversial even among patent supporters because in practice many who practice this small-scale activity allegedly are not sued, as they are “too small to go after”.

  11. [...] a gente à procura do Santo Graal do crescimento, pareceu-me apropriado deixar-vos o link para um pequeno e esclarecedor texto escrito pelo fundador do Partido Pirata sueco a explicar os efeitos que as patentes e os direitos [...]

  12. [...] freedom of information; ideas need to be able to flow back and forth and be built upon without absurd and pointless roadblocks. The second is one that’s oft neglected: freedom of people to form ideas and communicate [...]

  13. 11

    I disagree with this post because it relies on the faulty premise that ideas are somehow stifled by the patent system. In fact, this is not the case, due to the publication requirement, which mandates publication of the contents of patent applications. Because of this requirement, members of the public have access to all of the ideas underlying a patent or patent application; they are only prevented from using the specific technology as implemented. And, if they are creative enough, they can find a way around such limitations and use the published ideas as springboards for their own inventions.
    http://www.generalpatent.com/blog/

    • 11.1

      Dear Patent Litigation,

      this post … relies on the faulty premise that ideas are somehow stifled by the patent system

      This premise has been proven over and over and over again. New ideas are not just stifled, it is the very function of patents to ban innovation.

      For more, see Ten Myths About Patents.

      Cheers,
      Rick

  14. 12

    Patents are important so that companies can protect their intellectual property. If patents were not allowed you would have countless companies that would piggy back every good idea and try to use it as their own. The market would become very diluted this way. People should be rewarded for their creativity, not punished.

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