Economist Assumes That The Problem Is 'Thieves' Rather Than Bad Patent Laws

from the wow dept

cryptozoologist points us to one of the most ridiculous analyses of the current patent situation by economist, and former Ross Perot running mate, Pat Choate, who doesn’t seem to have a clue how innovation actually works, in claiming that patent infringement is usually “patent theft” by big companies. Independent invention? Overly broad patents? Patent thickets stifling innovation and research? Not even possible. It’s all “theft.”


America’s largest big tech corporations are now using a business technique called “efficient infringement,” which means that they calculate the benefits of stealing someone else’s patented technology against the possibility of getting caught, tried in court and being forced to pay damages and penalties. If the benefits exceed the costs, they steal.

What makes patent theft so attractive is that infringement is not a criminal act and those found guilty face no jail time. Paying up is the worst that can happen to the infringer.

Of course, someone actually knowledgeable about patents would know the difference between infringement and theft. They would also know that it’s quite rare for there to be a case of a company actually copying an idea from someone else. It’s almost always independent invention — and many of the lawsuits that he’s so keen on later in the article are cases where an overly broad patent is brought up in a lawsuit about an innovation the original patent had nothing to do with.

This is a problem that happens all too often in these discussions. Folks who don’t know much about how innovation really occurs in the tech world, and who falsely conflate concepts in tangible property with a completely different government-granted monopoly right — automatically assume that infringement is the equivalent of “stealing.” Are there cases where big companies “copy” an idea from a small company? Yes, absolutely. But it’s a lot more rare than many make it out to be. The really innovative ideas? Those are the ones that big companies don’t even realize are big ideas until it’s too late.

A column like Choate’s is dangerous in the amount of misinformation that it puts forth, backed up with the veneer of truth without any basis in fact.

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Comments on “Economist Assumes That The Problem Is 'Thieves' Rather Than Bad Patent Laws”

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59 Comments

little mikee at it again

This is a problem that happens all too often in these discussions. Folks who don’t know much about how innovation really occurs in the tech world, and who falsely conflate concepts in tangible property with a completely different government-granted monopoly right — automatically assume that infringement is the equivalent of “stealing.”

Isn’t this EXACTLY the opposite of what you do to further your crybaby agenda?

You RARELY if EVER offer actual credible proof, just latch onto some idiot’s blog post spitting out numbers that fit your agenda while the majority of the world sees things as they really are

Richardsays:

Re: little mikee at it again

crybaby agenda?

When once a comment includes this kind of phrase then the one can deduce the attitude of the commenter is not receptive to rational argument. The rest of it is likely to be entirely predictable and of little value.

If you want to be taken seriously then it would be a good idea to refrain from name calling.

DSsays:

Re: little mikee at it again

I agree. Enough with the “Crybaby agenda”.

People invent things.

Sometimes people invent things that are similar, without knowledge of either invention.

Possession of one idea does not instantaneously mean possession of any and all similar works, or works inspired by the original idea.

I’m with you. Enough with the crybabies.

Oh wait…

Dementiasays:

Re: little mikee at it again

If Mike were really trying to forward his “crybaby agenda” you have to wonder why he would allow posts like yours from someone who is so obviously set against his viewpoint. The simple fact that he allows your posts to remain shows that he values a discussion that involves all the viewpoints, including the irrational ones such as yours.

John Doesays:

Who would innovate if you checked patents first?

If you did a patent search before building your product, you would never build a product. There is almost no way to create a new product or website without infringing on many patents as almost anything that can be done has one or more patents. So it is best not to go looking for patents and just do it. Then hope to make enough money that you can pay off the patent holders when they show up.

Ima Fishsays:

The really sad part is, even if Pat Choate is absolutely correct, that companies are “stealing” patents after conducting a cost benefit analysis, he’s still wrong.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing that. Companies make decisions based upon cost benefit analyses all the fricken time

This guy is a fricken retard. Even when we assume he’s right, he’s still wrong.

Ima Fishsays:

Re:

Get off the infringement != theft bandwagon

It’s not merely pedantic to point out that infringement is completely different from theft. It’s absolutely correct. Even our highest court agrees that infringement is not theft. Dowling V. United States, 473 U.S. 207 (1985) Heck, why not call infringement “rape” or “murder”, it makes about as much sense. To constantly refer to infringement as being even remotely synonymous with theft is simply retarded.

Efficient infringement happens way too often.

How often is “too often”? What criteria are you using to set your high and low tolerances? Why is a cost/benefit analysis a bad method for determining a business course of action? Would you prefer taro cards? An Ouija board?

naschsays:

Re: Re:

The problem is when companies make a cost/benefit analysis about whether to break the law. If they believe it’s a bad law, and they are up front about breaking it, no problem. Corporate civil disobedience. However, they will always lie and say they believe they are not breaking any laws. That I have a problem with.

With that said, I would guess that is a minority case in patent infringement, but in general I’m certain companies make decisions about whether to break the law and hide it every day, if not every minute or every second. That doesn’t mean it’s OK though.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

You’re right – in court you have to be precise with your language. In a public forum, not so much. Generally, everybody knows that people who pirate moves aren’t eye-patch wearing parrot lovers. Identity thieves aren’t leaving people without an identity.

It’s counter productive and boring (IMHO) to argue language. In a public forum, words like theft are defined by their usage. At one point it would have been ridiculous to conflate infringement and theft. That’s changing and fighting that change is tilting at windmills (c.f. “beg the question”).

Re: Re: Re:

“It’s counter productive and boring (IMHO) to argue language.”

I disagree. We don’t just speak in language, we THINK in language as well. One of the wonderful things about language is that there is usually a very defined right and wrong when it comes to definitions and usage. The color and implications of certain words affect us not only consciously but subconciously as well. That’s one of the reasons you hear key phrases repeated over and over again in talking points, particularly on the political stage.

In the strictest definition of the word, Obama Healthcare doesn’t equate to socialism. But you get a bunch of people repeating that heavily loaded word over and over again, and half the population begins repeating it for them. Next thing you know, you’ve got people running around saying that it’s socialism, when those people have NO idea what they’re talking about. They just heard someone else say it, and they’re repeating it.

If you think that isn’t EXACTLY what is going on with words like “theft”, “piracy”, etc., I think you’ve got your head in the sand….

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I just get frustrated when I see an interesting article and the discussion gets hung up on verbage. I would like to see more discussion of the actual underlying ideas and less discussion of nomenclature.

When the author conflated theft and infringement, he didn’t really confuse anybody. Yeah, you might not like his choice of words, but put that aside. I’d love some rational discussion around the meaning of the article rather than the article’s composition.

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Yeah, you might not like his choice of words, but put that aside. I’d love some rational discussion around the meaning of the article rather than the article’s composition.”

Fair enough, but when you consider the broader consequences of the word choice, as well as the possible motive for those choices, I think that has everything to do with the rest of the article. Why do you think we have such a problem with the word choice? It’s because to us, it’s clear what is being attempted.

Most of us know what he means, I think. But he’s still wrong. And there are probably enough infrequent visitors here that I’d hate for them to have one more misguided soldier running around talking about theft this and piracy that, a la political issues….

I dunno, maybe I’m more inclined to weight the value of words heavily because I’m a writer. I just know how this whole repitition of loaded words thing works these days, and it pisses me off. Why can’t he just use the proper word? I don’t get it….

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

When the author conflated theft and infringement, he didn’t really confuse anybody.

To the contrary, I’ve seen many people claim things like “copyright infringement is exactly the same as going into a store and stealing things”. It isn’t, and people who claim that it is are being dishonest.

Yeah, you might not like his choice of words, but put that aside.

Words are important: they determine whether or not you’re speaking the truth. I, for one, am not willing to put the truth aside, although I’m sure many in the copyright industry would like for us to do so.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Next thing you know, you’ve got people running around saying that it’s socialism”

Yep. The meaning of “socialism” is changing. It’s interesting, somewhat disturbing, but ultimately not surprising to me. That said, it doesn’t change the costs or benefits of Obama Healthcare. When people complain that it’s socialist, I understand what they are saying.

Judging from the title Mike gave this article, I don’t think the point was that somebody writing informally used the word “theft” when he really should have used “infringe”. It was that an economist is arguing that the punishment for infringement doesn’t fit the crime. I think you and I arguing over word choice is off topic.

Anonymoussays:

Baby Rape

Yep. The meaning of “socialism” is changing.

The meaning of “baby rape” is changing too. The way I see it, an author’s creative works are his/her “babies”. When someone infringes the copyright on those works, they are violating those works in the worse way. Thus, copyright infringement equals baby rape, pure and simple, and copyright infringers are “baby rapers”.

I think you and I arguing over word choice is off topic.

And if of you baby rapers around here disagree with me, you’re off topic so STFU!

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Baby Rape

The meaning of baby rape is not changing.

Sure it is. I see an example right up above.

Dark Helmet pointed out a specific way that the word “socialist” is being used now.

And the AC above pointed out a specific way that the term “baby rape” is being used now.

It’s easy to find examples in the recent news that back Helmet’s assertion.

It’s easy to find a recent example for “baby rape” right up above.

You’re just being hyperbolic.

Kind of like those calling patent infringement “theft”, eh? Well join the club!

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re:

Just because a bunch of idiots say orange and blue are the same color does not mean I have to accept it. Even if a whole bunch of idiots make that assertion, that does not make it so. Hell, if the general (manufactured) opinion is that orange and blue are the same, I still don’t have to accept it.

Anyways, all you pedants should shut the hell up! I say the sky is orange! It’s the same thing as blue, so who cares?!

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

What are you arguing for? Common English to be static and strictly defined?

The orange == blue example is absurd. A much more apt example would be violet == purple. To many, they are similar and you would be forgiven for saying a violet fabric is purple. To a designer or visual artist, they could be very different and confusing the two would be idiotic.

When it comes to infringement and theft, I guess you are in the lawyer camp and I’m in the layperson camp.

naschsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

I think orange and blue is a better analogy actually. Orange and blue are quite different, while purple and violet are not the same but very, very similar. Meanwhile, there are deep and important differences between theft and patent infringement. In fact they actually have very little in common.

Where the analogy differs is that orange and blue are not only different, but obviously different (which is the whole point of an analogy). Theft and infringement, if you just use the words without thinking about them much, might seem to be the same. If you compare them to violet and purple, you’re implying that the two are very similar and it’s possibly OK to use the terms interchangeably. I guess maybe you think that is the case, and that is why you chose that analogy and rejected the orange/blue one.

However, others of us will continue to point out when words are used incorrectly, because it’s impossible to have a reasonable discussion about something unless we understand the words we’re using.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

In a way, you’re making the exact same point I was trying to make. To a small subset of the population and in certain venues, it’s very important to distinguish theft/purple and infringement/violet. To everybody else, it’s not an interesting distinction. You wish it would be orange/blue to the rest of the world, but it simply isn’t.

If I warn my kids about the risks of stealing music online, they know exactly what I’m talking about.

It is only possible to have a reasonable discussion with those who are reasonable. Too many people in this forum get tied up in analyzing how something is said rather than what is said. It’s counter productive and a sad waste of the combined insight of all the readers who visit this blog.

dorpsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

If I warn my kids about the risks of stealing music online, they know exactly what I’m talking about.

They know what action you do not want them to perform (go online, download, etc.) it does not mean that they understand what is actually right/wrong. This looseness with language is what leads to another generation of morons that cannot even figure out what IP stands for. So, thank you for brining up your kids to be fearful of something they do not understand just because you were too lazy to use proper words to describe concepts.

Stevensays:

Re:

“BTW, he’s right. Efficient infringement happens way too often.”

So… how often does it happen? By your assertion that it happens way too often I would hope you would have some idea how often it happens, and have some threshold of what is too often. However, I doubt this is the case.

Does it happen? probably, but I would challenge anybody to show a single case where an idea was copied from a patent. Just one. I strongly doubt it exists as patents are written to be as broad and worthless (from a disclosure perspective) as possible.

Anonymoussays:

Got to spend some to make some

Patent problems are not the result of “thieves” but they exist as a result of several decades of careful (non)-work by people who don’t desire to work.

Today, they have a bank account to spend on politicians that they didn’t have to work to accumulate.

As long as the politicians get the money, all is good, no?

Anonymoussays:

Got to spend some to make some

Patent problems are not the result of “thieves” but they exist as a result of several decades of careful (non)-work by people who don’t desire to work.

Today, they have a bank account to spend on politicians that they didn’t have to work to accumulate.

As long as the politicians get paid to write the laws, all is good, no?

Anonymoussays:

So much effort goes into expressing righteous indignation over one’s use of the word “theft” in its colloquial sense that the actions of the “thief” are largely unexamined.

Query: When was the last time a bank, any bank for that matter, extolled in its annual report the amount of its monies on hand devoted to the conduct of R&D to design and develop new methods and machines to facilitate and improve the scanning of checks? I have seen many banks over the years use trademark law for their benefit. Not once, however, have I seen such an institution wax poetic about a new invention created by its R&D Department. I wonder why?

It is Patent Piracy and the Piracy Coalition / Re: Piracy

Actually there are two Piracy Coalitions,

1) The worst is the Coalition for Patent Piracy & Fairness

2) The other, marginally less disreputable is the Coalition for 21st Century Patent Deform & HARMonization.

Both are trying to socialize inventor work for their own profit. The first group has Mike Masnick’s mindset, and wants to destroy the patent system outright. The second group wants to turn the system into a kings sport while preserving the value of their own patents.

Ronald J. Riley,

Speaking only on my own behalf.
President – http://www.PIAUSA.org – RJR at PIAUSA.org
Executive Director – http://www.InventorEd.org – RJR at InvEd.org
Senior Fellow – http://www.PatentPolicy.org
President – Alliance for American Innovation
Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
Washington, DC
Direct (810) 597-0194 – (202) 318-1595 – 9 am to 8 pm EST.

Anonymoussays:

patents = justification for price gouging

so some 3rd world country makes a pair of identical levis jeans and sells them for 10$ at a profit and levis gets up set and so do the rest of you.

YA know some counterfeiting would actually benefit mankind
which leads to wonder why we penalize some aspects of it.
genaric drugs should wait maybe 3-4 years and no more to allow massive research recouped , while i dont always agree with that its at least palpable to many. THE cheap jeans being identical are a savings for mankind from the get go big time. THE ONLY TIME it should be flogged to death and stopped is if the quality is less. but how would you legislate somehting intelligent?

Darrylsays:

Infringement Vs Theft

Infingement is a breaking of a law or a rule, that infringement might be breaking the speed limit, or theft or murder. If you kill someone you both infringe the law against murder, and commit the act of murder.

If you use someone elses idea, or inventions, or patents, you infringe the patent laws, and steal the invention.

So the infringement you make in the breaking of the patent by commiting THEFT. Got it ??

_____________-

“by John Doe
If you did a patent search before building your product, you would never build a product. There is almost no way to create a new product or website without infringing on many patents as almost anything that can be done has one or more patents.”

Ah yes, the good old argument of “we are too stupid to come up with our own idea’s, and too stupid to do patent searches, we cant innovate and therefore we just take what we can for our own use”.

After all it’s easier than actually coming up with something better.

And as usual, im still waiting for the list of examples where software patents or patents in general have even stiffled innovation. As yet examples to support you’re claim seems as rare as FOSS innovation !!

Anonymoussays:

Re: Infringement Vs Theft

If you use someone elses idea, or inventions, or patents, you infringe the patent laws, and steal the invention.

The only one coming close to taking an idea away form anyone is the patent holder. So if someone’s committing theft, it’s the patent holder.

So the infringement you make in the breaking of the patent by commiting THEFT. Got it ??

And that’s a LIE. Got it?

And why is that copyright and patent supporters so often seem to be such big liars, anyway? I guess it must just be the type.

Mike Masnick's Incredible Arrogance

“Of course, someone actually knowledgeable about patents would know the difference between infringement and theft.”

I know for a fact that Pat Choate is very knowledgeable about patents. It is Mike Masnick who is not.

Patents can have very significant economic value. Misappropriating patents is no different than any other fraud which diverts income from the rightful owner to some crooked shyster.

Look at the scope of patent thievery, billions of dollars are being stolen and that theft greatly limits the ability of inventors to create jobs and prosperity for America.

Ronald J. Riley,

Speaking only on my own behalf.
President – http://www.PIAUSA.org – RJR at PIAUSA.org
Executive Director – http://www.InventorEd.org – RJR at InvEd.org
Senior Fellow – http://www.PatentPolicy.org
President – Alliance for American Innovation
Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
Washington, DC
Direct (810) 597-0194 – (202) 318-1595 – 9 am to 8 pm EST.

Daphisays:

opinions vs. real life

take a look at this very recent news report about “efficient infringement” here. Banks went to the extreme; as will most big companies, to protect their ability to take from small business.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/13/AR2008021303731.html?nav=emailpage

Big companies don’t create a lot of jobs or a lot of innovation. They do ply their big check books to warp the laws however.

And Anonymous Coward, perhaps you should try to suck it up enough to post your real name if you are going to blast Mr. Riley, who does post with his name and creds.

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