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Patents Businesses Apple

Apple Files Patent for Translucent Windows 845

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the nobody-does-it-better dept.
jpkunst writes "John Kheit at Mac Observer reports on US Patent Application No. 20040090467, published on May 13, 2004, in which Apple filed a patent application for 'Graduated visual and manipulative translucency for windows.'" Begin the hunt for prior art! It's a challenge to find a non-Apple translucent window that isn't just a snippet of desktop wallpaper pasted in the background.
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Apple Files Patent for Translucent Windows

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  • by Cyberllama (113628) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:28AM (#9160850)
    Or are we all going to change our stance because its Apple?

    It'll be interesting to see how the opinions on Slashdot differ from if any other company tried this sort of garbage.
  • I believe... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by slasher999 (513533) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:30AM (#9160864)
    OS/2 Warp 4 Betas offered translucent windows. The feature was removed from the final release for performance reasons. Hardware just wasn't quite there in '95 to support that feature. As least that's my recollection of it.
  • Enlightenment (Score:4, Insightful)

    by canolecaptain (410657) * on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:31AM (#9160873)
    I know that the enlightenment window manager had translucent windows in the late 90's. Anyone have a time stamped picture from way back then? Perhaps in the internet way back archives...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:33AM (#9160902)
    It's sad that the world's coming to all these patents but if Apple doesn't patent this some other company might. Given Apple's involment in the open source community with Darwin, http://www.opensource.apple.com/ , I would rather see them with a patent for this than some company based on patents only.
  • Winamp (Score:2, Insightful)

    by John.P.Jones (601028) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:40AM (#9160971)
    Winamp has had this for years.

    Applying more and more sophistocated graphical rendering techniques to graphical user interfaces should not be patentable. The reason they weren't used twenty years ago isn't that NO ONE thought of it, its because of performance advances since then.

    How unique is software in being incumbered by BOTH patents and copyright?

  • Uh, well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:41AM (#9160981)
    Last I checked the anger around here doesn't seem to be outrage at companies holding patents. It's outrage at companies using patents.

    Apple patents practically everything they work with but very, very, very rarely uses any of these patents. In fact if you look at their intellectual property actions, some of them are kind of morally dubious but they almost never involve patents. Even when they're making legal threats against things which actually violate patents they hold-- for example, Aqua skins for other OSes-- they tend to choose to base their legal complaints on means other than patents, other forms of intellectual property.

    Since history shows that Apple tends not to use patents they hold, I don't see any problem with them holding a bad patent. This is probably just the old "defensive patent" technique, where someone patents something just to make sure no one else can claim it was stolen, or to build up a "patent shield".

    Of course, it's very easy that someday all the big software companies could choose to start using their defensive patents offensively, and the patent shields would become a shieldwall blocking any small companies from entering the business. But at the moment that's just a hypothetical, and Apple has no more or fewer frivolous patents than any other large software company, pretty much. We don't get pissy at those other such companies, for example IBM. Therefore not getting pissy at Apple would appear to be the consistent thing to do?

    But the prior art search is still a good idea! It's good to have these things as clearly documented as possible in case spurious claims ever did wind up happening.
  • by segfault_0 (181690) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:41AM (#9160983)
    Nope its still bad.

    I can understand why though, without their GUI to set them apart what do they really have to offer? With Linux making some slight headway into the desktop market, and appearing to be ready to take up Microsoft slack if and when it appears, Apple will be hard pressed over the next few years to solidify their stance on such issues as much as possible.

    Not to mention that Microsoft will patent everything [eweek.com] if Apple doesn't. Are they competeing with software or patent portfolios... or is there a difference these days?
  • by fmorgan (235244) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:42AM (#9160993)
    Apple is a company owned by their shareholders; the same with Microsoft, IBM, etc. And their behavior isn't all that different, except one little detail: one of them is a monopoly.
    If some kind of behavior is legal (even if someone don't like it too much) for a smaller company, one that owns 90%+ of the market can't behave the same way.

    now for the "control both the hw and sw" myth... Apple just uses an older business model, where they assemble a machine and it's OS (hw is basically a PC's, with the difference of an IBM/Motorola RISC chip).

    But this is true, that Apple "is not your friend". The same with MS, and IBM and HP, Dell, Sun, etc. Companies are not "friends", they are businesses and they will choose one course of action over another to make $$ or, at most, sometimes to win some goodwill (and probably someone is measuring this in $$ terms).
  • by AndroidCat (229562) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:43AM (#9160995) Homepage
    Time dependent translucency?? Wow, hook a timer to ramp the window translucency up or down. That took about 10 seconds of work. If I control it by the phase of the Moon, can I patent that?
  • by Phanatic1a (413374) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:45AM (#9161005)
    This isn't simply "translucent windows." Hell, you can do that in WinXP and 2000 with third-party software. This is different:

    "Information-bearing windows whose contents remain unchanged for a predetermined period of time become translucent. The translucency can be graduated so that, over time, if the window's contents remain unchanged, the window becomes more translucent. In addition to visual translucency, windows according to the present invention also have a manipulative translucent quality. Upon reaching a certain level of visual translucency, user input in the region of the window is interpreted as an operation on the underlying objects rather than the contents of the overlaying window."

    If you're going to go looking for prior art, that's what you need to find: windows that become more translucent as more time passes where you're not doing anything to them, and that eventually become so translucent that when you go to click on them, you're instead able to click on desktop objects behind the window.

    While I don't think that this is particularly deserving of a patent, it is neat, and so far as I can tell, novel. It's not just "translucent windows."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:45AM (#9161008)
    It's sad that the world's coming to all these patents but if Apple doesn't patent this some other company might.

    No, that's a mistake a lot of people make. If Apple really did do it first then no one else can patent it anyway (prior art).

    The whole idea of patenting software (especially "look and feel" shit) is retarded.
  • MOD PARENT UP (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:45AM (#9161010)
    Yes, someone who RTFA!

    For crying out loud, they are attempting to patent a very particular behavior of a window. One that I have NEVER seen used in an OS or app before, so I doubt you will find prior art specific enough to invalidate the patent.

    This does do something interesting though... give people a peek into what is coming up in MacOS X 10.4
  • by polyp2000 (444682) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:47AM (#9161021) Homepage Journal
    worse even because they control both the hardware and software

    And you think that Microsoft dont control both the hardware and the software? (and that's not all else they control either!) Im amazed you are that shortsighted.
  • by voss (52565) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:48AM (#9161026)
    translucent windows. Its a system where windows become more translucent as time goes on, and you can actually work with the window underneath.

    This is not obvious, and simply having windows that are translucent probably not violate this patent.

    Translucency is simply a color modification is not patentable. What they are talking about is a process for adaptive translucent windows that alter not just appearance but condition as well.

    That being said...most software patents suck.
  • by gsfprez (27403) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:53AM (#9161064)
    Microsoft, IBM, and others have been stockpiling their software patents for years.. and now of late, it seems, that Apple has decided to join the fray.

    I just want to know when we're finally going to go nuclear (nuculer?) with the back and forth patent infringment suits - because that's when the shits really gonna hit the fan.

    And i wonder - has is not already begun? IBM, while clearly in the right wrt SCO and Linux begs the question... they "launched" a few tactical nukes in that little debate with their 8 or so patent infringment suits... while we cheer them on... should we not do so with a bit of trepidation?

    Software patents are screwy and stupid... and its not going to take much pushing and shoving for all hell to break loose...

    or is that for all lawyers to start raking in the dough as the cost of the judicial branch makes the US military budget look like a blip on the radar. We'll have to start cloning humans just to make enough lawyers.

    Do you think that it will be "Global Thermonuclear War", where one side who's far less defenseless as SCO will actually shoot back - and then everyone starts shooting at everyone with patent infringment suits? Or will it be more gradual?

    Either way... i think i should ditch this communications and networking gig, and go become a lawyer.... it soon may be the only actual viable non-outsourced job left in America by 2010.
  • by Dr. Evil (3501) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:53AM (#9161069)

    Those programs actually manipluate a data structure in the Win32 API which was designed for transparency. The prior art for those apps could go back to the creation of that aspect of the API.

  • by HedonismBot (742920) <(guiller) (at) (gmail.com)> on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:57AM (#9161090)
    are we all going to change our stance because its Apple?

    Well, yeah. It's called reputation and it doesn't appear out of thin air; a company needs a good PR team and competitive products to earn it.

    Don't worry though, the system is self-fixing - if they annoy their customers beyond a certain point [real.com] or start behaving like really bad kids [sco.com], you'll get more Apple-bashing than you can handle. After all, and IIRC that was what happened in the pre-Jobs-comeback era, when the Apple is dying trolls ran rampant.
  • by Raven42rac (448205) * on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:57AM (#9161095)
    I love Apple. But come the hell on, a patent on transparency? Why not a patent on the one-button mouse? Or little jewel looking buttons. Isn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery? I, for one, would think I was doing something right if someone emulated a design I made. This is not a fundamental part of the OS or anything, so I think it is a waste of time. If all these companies would stop worrying about patenting buttons or hyperlinks or transparent windows, the computing world would be a better place. This post was written on a 12" PB G4 1GHZ, so I am no Apple basher.
  • by sweet cunny muffin (771671) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:58AM (#9161102)
    READ THE FUCKING PATENT. It's not enough just to be translucent. It has to allow stuff like becoming transparent to user input over time as well.
  • by CarrionBird (589738) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:59AM (#9161111) Journal
    It's a small (but useful) addition to an existing concept. The code itself is protected by copyright, so the only use for getting a patent for this is to prevent anyone else from advancing thier UI.

    Patents are supposed to be for specific implementations, not conecpts. In software specific implementations (the code) are already covered by copyright and trade secrets. Here it is being used to say that noone but Patentholder may make something that does X. Only in computing do we allow such control of concepts.

    What if everything was done this way? "Sorry FooCo has a patent on cars with three doors, you can't put that rear door on your truck." "Sorry BarCorp has a patent on methods of displaying text on a screen, you'll have to stick with the teletype or license from them."

    This is why software patents just don't make sense.

  • by Sanity (1431) * on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:00AM (#9161114) Homepage Journal
    The existence of a patent can have a chilling effect on innovation, even if you don't use it (would you build your house on a remote-control landmine - even if the person that planted it promised they wouldn't press the button?).
  • by Xhad (746307) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:00AM (#9161120) Homepage Journal
    Isn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Isn't the purpose of a business to make money, not compliments?
  • by Roskolnikov (68772) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:07AM (#9161175)
    A long time ago in a galaxy far far away.................

    Apple had a relatively new look and feel in the personal
    computer arena.
    Microsoft said hey, we should license this.

    Apple said OK, license it for Windows 286 and/or 2.0 and
    continued to develop the interface.

    Apple continued to develop the interface while Microsoft
    continued to develop the interface to DOS.

    Apple made great strides in the gui department while Microsoft
    continued to develop a new version of Windows with these
    unlicensed enhancements.

    Apple cried foul, Microsoft released Windows 3.

    Apple sued.

    Why are the patenting this? its new and they would like to implement it in their products without concern or loss in R&D
    as it is quite clear that Microsoft has no problems rolling innovation into their products, problem is it isn't their innovation.

    JMHO and some will take this as flame bait but as long as the software model is 'we charge you to use this';
    for profit businesses need some form of remedy to protect themselves from the Microsofts of this planet.
  • Vitrite (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blunte (183182) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:08AM (#9161182)
    Here it is - Vitrite [insightbb.com]

    This isn't time-dependent, but it is very handy.
  • by AndyBusch (160585) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:15AM (#9161226)
    They even defend against that in the blurb. Eterm just pastes a relative bit of the desktop background in it. Move your "transparent" Eterm over another window, and what do you see? Your desktop background. Move a transparent OS X window over your browser window, and what do you see? Your browser.
  • by Hungus (585181) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:29AM (#9161286) Journal
    I can garauntee you that where lawyers are concerned the lawyers that could work on iTMS Europe are completely different from the ones that would file US Patents. Your's is a very common mistake for people to make when looking at things from the outside. A similar example would be along the lines of this:
    A trade show structure company has a stainless steel 100 ft tall load bearing structure it needs to weld. This project will take 300 man hours and the company is behind schedule. Since one man hour == one man hour and the IT department has finished their projects for the week lets move 8 of them to the stailess steel project for Thursday and Friday and they can do 128 Man hours of work on it right? Wrong, of course stainless steel welding takes special training and the mistakes the IT team would most likely make would put the project further behind. In the same way European Business and IP lawyers have very different training, experience and practices than US IP/Patent lawyers.
  • by Twirlip of the Mists (615030) <twirlipofthemists@yahoo.com> on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:32AM (#9161299)
    The existence of a patent can have a chilling effect on innovation

    That is the most specious argument I've ever heard.

    The possibility of acquiring a patent, and thereby a guaranteed source of revenue, is what spurs innovation.

    I know that this is going to piss a lot of people off, but I'm gonna say it anyway because I believe it's true: the people doing the innovating, software-wise, are the people who are doing it for profit. Yes, there are exceptions; there are amazing and wonderful innovations that have arisen from people who were doing it just for fun. We even have a name for this kind of thing: "serendipity."

    But for the most part, the profit motive is what drives innovation. Patents are essential to that process.

    This whole "Send out the dogs! Begin the search for prior art! Kill the pigs! Fly, my pretties, fly!" thing is sickening. It's disgustingly hostile to people who work for a living to make new things, and it arises from nothing more than a misguided meme that ownership is immoral and must be stopped. It really bugs me, ya know?
  • Enlightenment (Score:1, Insightful)

    by CaptainFrito (599630) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:34AM (#9161309)
    My version of Enlightenment has been doing this for years and years. The fact that Apple may apply this technique to specific items or exaggerate the time is not a "non-obvious teaching" and therefore is not patentable.

    To anyone with ordinary skill in the art, making a translucent window gradually opaque is obvious. Patents are not (well, at least, should not be) granted to the first person to say or do a thing, but to teach others something truly novel and useful, advancing the art in some profound way. This application does no such thing and should be severly narrowed to precisely what they are doing or rejected outright for obviousness (or even silliness).

  • by swb (14022) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:35AM (#9161317)
    ...so typical, it almost seems like a troll. I believe this is what the grandparent poster [slashdot.org] was looking for.

    but if Apple doesn't patent this some other company might. Given Apple's involment in the open source community with Darwin, http://www.opensource.apple.com/ , I would rather see them with a patent for this than some company based on patents only.

    This is the usual Apple apology. Apple is the "good" company, and otherwise "bad" behavior is OK for them to pursue, since an evil company [microsoft.com] might patent it first, and we all know that Apple never does anything evil. Oh, and they're involved in open source, too, which makes them even more of a "good" company, unlike some other evil [hp.com] companies [ibm.com] who aren't involved in supporting open source at all.

    It's all fairly typical of the excuse making by Apple followers who otherwise masquerade as FOSS zealots in other threads.
  • Re:Everquest (Score:2, Insightful)

    by heliosnorf (658772) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:38AM (#9161339)
    "I hate to offer this as prior art, but Everquest has had time-dependent transparency for over a year. I personally think it's a pain in the ass, but it works."

    However, Mac OS X has been out (with transparency) since the public beta in Sept. of 2000, which is more than four years ago (nearly five now).

    I do remember an extension for Mac OS 9 which made transparent windows however, and this was way back in 1995 or 1996 - something like that... Don't remember what it was called.
  • by LoadStar (532607) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:43AM (#9161379)
    READ THE FUCKING PATENT. It's not enough just to be translucent. It has to allow stuff like becoming transparent to user input over time as well.

    Nice. Someone who READ the patent instead of just commenting on the stupid summary. This is a VERY SPECIFIC method of USING translucent windows. Not just "a patent on translucent windows."

    This is essentially a patent on a context-sensitive user interface, where windows become more or less opaque based on how many windows are open and how many are layered, and whether or not the user interfaces with them. I imagine this would look very cool and be fairly usable.

  • by js3 (319268) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:43AM (#9161386)
    it's as dumb as patenting the fading of music as the next song is about to be played. In the process of setting the translucency of a window you will still move the translucency over a certain amount of time no matter how small that time is. Whether it is done automatically or by scrollbars THIS IS NOT SOMETHING THAT A COMPANY SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO PATENT.
  • by BasilBrush (643681) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:45AM (#9161401)
    But come the hell on, a patent on transparency?

    RTFP, it's only one click away. The patent isn't on transparency per se, but on a new for of GUI interaction which uses transparency. It does look original. I've certainly never seen any prior art for it.

  • by Erore (8382) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:48AM (#9161415)
    I'll preface this by saying I really know nothing much about patents or patent litigation.

    But, if company X really wanted to get a patent for defensive reasons, then why not get the patent through a shell company whose sole purpose is to hold patents neutrally.

    I mean, we could have a company called Openpatents. Apple, IBM, Sun, Microsoft, and so on could file for patents through this organization and the organization would be patent holders. The charter of the organization would be to make sure that the ideas of these patents remain open and freely available to everyone. They will "fight" against other companies that try to create infringing patents, but they don't care if anyone else uses the actuall techonology.

    So, a company like Apple, in the case of this translucent window thing could file for the patent through Openpatents. By doing so we would all know that they don't intend to be evil b*stards with th e patent, instead they just want to make sure they don't get screwed when Microsoft files the patent next year.

    If Apple files the patent through the regular process, then we know that they are reserving the right to sue people latter on who try to impinge upon the patent.

  • by sydb (176695) * <michael.wd21@co@uk> on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:51AM (#9161437)
    ownership is immoral and must be stopped

    Ownership of ideas relating to software is immoral and must be stopped.

    The major barrier to entry in the field of software development is inherently intellectual, not financial. I don't need to spend money on scarce resources like raw materials and factories to produce software; I need time, a computer, and a brain. Therefore the natural initial outlay for software development is much lower than for the production of tangible goods.

    This means that the development of software is not inherently restricted to those with money - rich people, and companies.

    This is good for society - a wealth of intellectual commons is created, because it can be done by just about anyone with the motivation, time and know-how.

    Patents in software place an artifical barrier on software development, raising the bar to those with the money to license patents - rich people, and companies. This restricts growth of the intellectual commons, and restricts how people with the motivation can spend their time.
  • by Jerf (17166) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:54AM (#9161451) Journal
    The possibility of acquiring a patent, and thereby a guaranteed source of revenue, is what spurs innovation.

    This is the theory.

    It is shockingly short of evidence that it actually motivates anyone in the software industry, if you discount mere assertion like your post.

    The software industry was thriving before patents were allowed, and there's no particular evidence they help any actual innovaters now, either, except again, mere assertion.

    And you still don't answer the possibility that it both spurs and retards innovation... and given the lack of evidence that patents have helped anyone in the software domain (where by the time you have the patent it's old news anyhow), whereas the evidence of patents being used to quench innovation lies in nearly every lawsuit ever filed w.r.t. software patents (the majority of the large cases have been submarine patents, or patents for which the justification for the lawsuit boggles the mind), the bulk of the evidence would seem to be on the "quench" side.

    (Like the one-click patent, when Amazon sued B&N: Did B&N still Amazon's code in the night? The systems are more likely night-and-day different, to the point that experience on one would only be marginally useful in understanding the other, yet since Amazon apparently patented an entire concept, B&N had to stop using their one-click implementation. Note, in passing, this is another failing of the patent system in the software domain: Patents are supposed to encourage alternate implementations of similar things, but that's not possible in patents. See here [jerf.org] for expansion on that point.)
  • by /dev/trash (182850) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:54AM (#9161456) Homepage Journal
    The horse is already out of the barn. Closing the door now, just looks silly.
  • by LMCBoy (185365) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @10:56AM (#9161461) Homepage Journal
    I for one have no objection to patents in general, but I do object to overly broad patent claims on software algorithms. Patent law is clear: you can't own an idea, only a specific implementation. Before the information age, this was a clear distinction. But with software, the difference is not clear at all. After all, any software implementation ultimately comes down to a series of ideas, expressed as computer code.

    For this reason, I believe it is inappropriate to allow patent claims on software; we should rely on Copyright law alone to protect those who innovate with software. These laws are sufficient to the task, and do not pose the risks of abuse that patent laws do.
  • WinAMP prior? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by NekoXP (67564) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @11:08AM (#9161537) Homepage
    I can do this in WinAMP - the window fades out when I don't use it for a couple of seconds.. .. when did they put that feature in?

    Neko
  • Hardly! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rspress (623984) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @11:32AM (#9161671) Homepage
    Apple must do this. If you look at the "new" features of longhorn, nearly every one has been done by Apple for years with OS X. Apple has been using translucent windows, expose window management, drop shadows for windows and auto discovery networking....all of which MS announced as breakthrough technologies that THEY are rolling out in Longhorn. These are just a few examples there are more.

    Apple has been bitten once my MS knocking off the GUI and other Mac elements. This time around it will not be so easy. Remember it is also up to Apple if they wish to enforce this patent, or with whom they wish to enforce it.
  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @11:35AM (#9161691) Journal
    This whole "Send out the dogs! Begin the search for prior art! Kill the pigs! Fly, my pretties, fly!" thing is sickening.

    No, it really isn't sickening, it's perfectly fair. If there is prior art, then they in NO WAY deserve the patent. If there is not, none will be found and they do deserve to get it. Really, what is the problem with that?
  • by kalidasa (577403) * on Saturday May 15, 2004 @11:42AM (#9161724) Journal
    Because Openpatents wouldn't have done the work. Sure, you could file for the patents on your own behalf and then *transfer* them to such an organization, but Openpatents wouldn't have standing to file the patent itself.
  • What the hell (Score:0, Insightful)

    by IshanCaspian (625325) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @11:51AM (#9161786) Homepage
    Modifying one variable with respect to another is one of the simplest trick in the programmer's book.

    Idle sensitivity and transparent windows have been around since the beginning of computing.

    Combining two totally obvious ideas in an obvious way does not warrant patenting. There are a million ideas like this one...should I be able to patent all of them?

    Rotating desktop background color with respect to time of month?
    Changing the size of a window with respect to free disk space?
    Activating a program when your computer is idle for a certain amount of time?
    Minimizing windows when they're not used for x minutes?

    The point of an invention is that they're supposed to have done some WORK. Merely choosing an independent and dependent variable is the legal equivalent of calling SHOTGUN!
  • by servoled (174239) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @11:52AM (#9161796)
    What Consitututes prior art?
    Prior art is any product, publication, of piece of information which has a provable existance date prior to the effective filing date of a patent application. This covers previous patents, journal aricles, magazine and newspaper articles, dated websites, movies, video games, comics, recorded speeches, commercial products, etc... Basically any bit of public knowledge that you can prove existed prior to the effective filing date of the application can be used as prior art. However, if you can't prove the date that it existed, it can not be used as prior art. This means that you talking to a bunch of coworkers about some idea Chili's happy hour doesn't count as prior art unless you can prove that what you talked about and when.
  • Re:Hardly! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rspress (623984) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @12:04PM (#9161879) Homepage
    XP came out in October of 2001, MacOS X came out in March 2001, seven months later and as you said it was not enabled out of the box but it was there...in OS X.

    With Microsofts recent trips to the patent office and its claims of breakthrough features in Longhorn, most of which sounds as if they were copied directly from OS X, I think Apple doing this is a good thing. After all they don't have to enforce them and it might give them a little leverage with Microsoft.
  • by Fnkmaster (89084) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @12:08PM (#9161903)
    Hmm, scarcity of resources is part of the equation, but it's not all of it. Computers are tools, like a machine shop or CAD design tool, and brains and skill are human resources.


    I should point out that the development of designs for many kinds of real-world products is not restricted inherently to those with lots of money either. If you have skills in mechanical engineering, designing a real-world patentable product is no harder than it is for a good software developer to code up any variety of software products - and they use the same tools you mention, brains and computers. A lot of people on Slashdot seem to think software development is inherently easier because they understand the process, and they don't understand other engineering processes. You don't need to actually manufacture anything to obtain a patent on a design for a physical product either (and yes, perhaps that should be a point up for debate too, but I'm talking about the way the system was designed from the outset).


    The real difference seems to be that other types of patents are usually subjected to greater scrutiny, AND critically that product development and release cycles outside of the software world are much, much longer (you can design products till the cows come home, but getting it to market and seeing if people want it takes much more time - getting software to market involves putting it up on your website, buying some ads, etc.). Software gets dumped on the market so fast due to the lack of need for machining, tooling, production line setup, and so on, that the industry is 10 steps ahead by the time a patent gets issued, and the ideas behind the patent were so broadly disseminated and used it's quite difficult to figure out who's ideas they even were in the first place. And if you could attribute ownership to them, what damage does it to the market to force lots of products already on the market off because Joe Schmoe happened to get his application to the patent office first (often seemingly patenting something he saw in some other software product or paper first).


    So instead of rewarding true innovation, software patents seem to reward patent squatters who track market trends, find a popular product that seems to be doing well, and then patent the innovations that product brought to bear whether or not they actually created that product. The creators, often as not, don't patent it themselves first because they don't perceive what they did as patentable. Then you get things like e-commerce or hyperlinks being issued patents that nobody knows about or takes seriously for years, such that an entire economy has been built around it which is put at risk, and many people's jobs and livelihoods can be ruined.


    Incidentally, I don't know if the solution is to get rid of them entirely. But clearly software patents are broken as they exist right now.

  • Like the virtual desktops right? Oh wait, you have to add those in to Mac OS and to Windows if you want them. Yet I'd wager they're the thing I love the absolute most about using X. They're just there, I can make as many as I want, and I don't have to run some crippled power toy version or some third party app to get them.

    Don't forget the awesome multiple mouse button support that everybody keeps stealing from Mac OS too. Why, without Mac OS we'd never have context menus so easily accessible by just a right mouse click. Oh, you can't just click a single button without holding it down for a second or two to get those in Mac OS? Crap, another feature that's up on my most used list that didn't come from Apple. Actually, you should be able to now, finally. Just buy a new mouse. And you might have to configure things. But with Job's fantasy that two buttons are too difficult to grasp (though I've provided support for people who fit that categorization) it certainly didn't originate at Apple.

    Wait, another great idea that came out of Apple, lets drag disks to the trash to eject them. I'm so happy that other GUIs have copied that too. Wait, they haven't because it's rediculously insane.

    See the trend here? Not all good ideas have come from Apple and not all of Apple's ideas are good. Sure, there's some stuff that's been moved from Mac OS into other GUIs, but Apple is by no means the pinnacle of GUI goodness. So no, it isn't really the trend and good ideas can come from anywhere, just like bad ideas. It's an evolution of systems where the best parts eventually end up everywhere, even if it's through some third party app.

    And who the hell cares about window transparency besides the cool factor it adds? Yes, I make my terminals transparent, but for the look. Has anybody ever implemented a transparent window that actually did something useful? Is this something that really needs to be covered by patent? If it's "stolen" will it devalue Mac OS so much? Seriously, please let me know what makes window transparency so useful apart from gratuitous glitter to sucker people in as a selling point.

    It's also an assinine point to argue that it isn't an intuitive idea to make a window transparent if you really think about it. Do you have opaque windows in your home? Where does the term originate?

  • by BillyBlaze (746775) <tomfelker@gmail.com> on Saturday May 15, 2004 @02:00PM (#9162482)
    All your talk about "intellectual commons" is summarily ignored. The idea is morally bankrupt, as has been discussed at exhaustive length elsewhere.

    So you're saying science, an intellectual commons if there ever was one, is wrong?

  • by sydb (176695) * <michael.wd21@co@uk> on Saturday May 15, 2004 @02:00PM (#9162483)
    Time costs money, either directly or through opportunity costs.

    Quite, but we all have some spare time, whereas many of us have no money.

    Who's going to pay your rent while you sit around all day and gaze at your navel?

    Make sensible comments, or don't comment.

    Your computer and related resources obviously cost money: at the lowest level, even electricity is not free.

    That's fine, I'm not arguing that software development has zero cost.

    And your "brain," i.e. your education, certainly cost you money. Have you paid off your student loans yet? If so, who gave you the money to do so? If not, where do you plan to get it?

    Yes, but nearly all inudstrial activities require some education, but software development is among the few that doesn't have significant recurring expenses (raw materials, etc).

    The barrier to entry in software, as in everything else, is financial. This will be true as long as time and effort have a dollar value associated with them.

    No, the financial barrier to entry in software is significantly lower than other industries. Why do you think countries like India are able to outcompete western programmers? They aren't rich countries, quite on the contrary, poverty is quite rife.

    Where does most useful software come from? Companies. Yes, a good deal of software, some of it quite useful, comes from hobbyists, for lack of a better term. But most of it comes from commercial development.

    In terms of quantity you may be correct, but tell me, so what? And how does this observation affect the extant restrictions? It does not.

    By the way, things that make software, that are not companies, are called "individuals" or "people". Not necessarily "hobbyists". You use deliberately prejudiced terms to create a derogatory tone, and pretend you don't know it.

    Troll of the mists.

  • by Ender Ryan (79406) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @02:49PM (#9162728) Journal
    The good news is that there's nothing stopping you, for sake of argument assumed to be a person of little means, from getting the money you need. All you have to do is find a rich person and convince him that you've got a good idea. Because the world is chock full of stupid rich people, you don't even have to necessarily have a good idea in order to pull this little trick.

    And the whole reason I should have to do that is, what now? So companies like Apple can monopolize things that other people have done before/could easily come up with themselves/is so fucking obvious the patent examiner should be shot...

  • by Pembers (250842) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @03:00PM (#9162773) Homepage

    An interesting idea, but how would you make sure that $evil_mega_corp couldn't buy Openpatents and then start suing the world and his dog for infringing on those patents that they'd donated in good faith?

    Another reply says you should just publish what you would otherwise patent defensively, because it still counts as prior art, and then no-one can patent it. But that assumes that the Patent Office actually searches for prior art before granting a patent. If they did that, or did it properly, Openpatents would be unnecessary.

  • by Wolfbone (668810) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @03:21PM (#9162882)
    "Time costs money, either directly or through opportunity costs. Who's going to pay your rent while you sit around all day and gaze at your navel? Your computer and related resources obviously cost money: at the lowest level, even electricity is not free. And your "brain," i.e. your education, certainly cost you money. Have you paid off your student loans yet? If so, who gave you the money to do so? If not, where do you plan to get it?"

    Ever heard of childhood? When I was a child my parents usually "paid the rent" and let me play on the computer instead of sending me up the chimneys or down the mines. Ever heard of leisure time - why can't I work in a bar _and_ write software whan I get home? Or temporary unemployment or disability or any number of reasons why you cannot blithely and naively equate time and money? Your flawed logic implies that everything worthwhile ever accomplished by any human being should be measured in dollars alone and that all intellectual works should be patentable too.

    "We can test this hypothesis. Look at the world around you. Where does most useful software come from? Companies"

    We can indeed - I for one have no non-free, commercial software and the fact that most people do is hardly a proof that it is necessarily so. Nor anyway does it support the argument for software patentability since most SMEs and independent software developers in Europe are themselves against it.

    "So no, the development of software isn't inherently restricted to those with money, but it is practically restricted to those with money."

    Nonsense. How is it that there are 1000 or more packages in the larger GNU/Linux distros? How many projects are there at savannah and sourceforge and in the wider free software community? Perhaps they should all be informed that they cannot hope to survive in your naive f: Omega -> $$ world.

    "All your talk about "intellectual commons" is summarily ignored. The idea is morally bankrupt, as has been discussed at exhaustive length elsewhere."

    Ignorance is a good summary of your position. To say that the idea of an intellectual commons is morally bankrupt would set every great thinker that has ever lived spinning in their grave. In fact it is your ideas that are morally bankrupt, and bankruptcy is an appropriate word since you seem unable to see the world in anything other than grossly distorted economic terms and in a way so naively simplistic it would embarass any true economist. These maybe your ideas but you share them only with a handful of corrupt, wilfully ignorant and intellectually crooked and evasive worms - those with vested interests in maintaining and promulgating the laughable mess that is the US patent system.

    You can "summarily ignore" the opposition to your benighted views all you like but to imply that the argument has been resolved in your favour after 'discussion at exhaustive length elsewhere' is risible. Perhaps you are one of those easily exhausted by the inconvenient truths and irreducible complexity and richness of the real world. Perhaps you cannot face any facts which do not suit the false simplicity of your blinkered dollar determinism.

  • by jeremyp (130771) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @05:22PM (#9163418) Homepage Journal

    Ownership of ideas relating to software is immoral and must be stopped.

    I think that depends on what you mean by "ideas". If you mean patenting translucent windows is immoral, then I agree with you. If you mean patenting this algorithm that took me two man years of effort and allows you to do translucent windows efficiently is immoral, then I disagree with you. Of course, I think it not unreasonable that any software patent shoud require the submission of the source code for publication in much the same way that if you patent a new fuel injection method, you'd be expected to submit engineering drawings (wouldn't you???)

    The major barrier to entry in the field of software development is inherently intellectual, not financial. I don't need to spend money on scarce resources like raw materials and factories to produce software; I need time, a computer, and a brain. Therefore the natural initial outlay for software development is much lower than for the production of tangible goods.

    Unfortunately, the said brains normally reside inside human bodies that require the usual food, drink, sex, computer games, pizza etc. These can usually only be obtained for money. To bring anything original to market in the software business today requires far more than one brain. Do not underestimate the cost of putting a packaged software product on the shelves.

    Software patents as currently implemented are restrictive which is ironic because the original point of patents was to prevent people from secretly hoarding their ideas. I think the patent law could be tweaked to make patents beneficial to the industry as a whole simply by making people publish their source code on successful application and having a shorter time limit of, say, three years.

  • by Wolfbone (668810) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @07:18PM (#9164042)
    "Well, let's look at the industry. For the 30 years before 1981, not a lot happened."

    By what measure? Are you trying to imply that there was little academic research? Is it instead the case that as you said - the industry was simply smaller then? Is it really likely that the I.T. industry would not have exploded anyway?

    "It's seems to me, anyway, that this is pretty good evidence for patents encouraging innovation."

    Of course it is not. It is mere correlation.

    "Impossible to tell, but there is certainly some evidence it wouldn't have been as big as it was."

    Where? - There is plenty of evidence to the contrary here [ffii.org]

    If you are right then perhaps you can explain why other creative industries have flourished without the need for patentability of their techniques, methods and ideas? The movie industry for example...

  • by dustmite (667870) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @09:15PM (#9164546)

    This is the usual Apple apology. Apple is the "good" company, and otherwise "bad" behavior is OK for them to pursue, since an evil company might patent it first, and we all know that Apple never does anything evil. Oh, and they're involved in open source, too, which makes them even more of a "good" company, unlike some other evil companies who aren't involved in supporting open source at all.

    I'm afraid I don't see the problem in this.

    Like people, companies are neither "good" nor "evil", but have bits of both. However some people have lots of good and a little evil, others have lots of evil and not so much good. Microsoft have done gazillions of "evil" things and very few good things. Apple however are mostly good. We accept companies that are mostly good, and even forgive them the occasional transgression.

    Is that so hard to understand?

    It's the same with people. If your girlfriend mostly pleases you, then you don't mind so much if she pisses you off once in a while - in fact you see it as normal in a relationship. But if she pisses you off very often, and is hardly ever nice, then you start to dislike her and after a while show her the door, and at this point every little annoying thing she does makes you angry, because she has no "goodwill capital" left to burn, and she doesn't deserve forgiveness because she hasn't tried to be nice.

    Sorry, but I don't see the problem with that, nor with that something similar should apply to how we perceive and tolerate companies in our lives.

  • by zephyr1256 (729696) on Sunday May 16, 2004 @01:02AM (#9165304)
    Lets make all software/algorithms open game

    Patents aren't needed for software, period. Software is already covered by copyrights. As for algorithms, they should be open game. It is stifling to innovation if I cannot use that algorithm to create new programs or properly build on it if I have to be beholden to some patent holder.

    Suppose I put...Suppose I invent

    You are using hyperbole here. Maybe 'truly innovative' was a little strong though(I didn't mean to imply that you were in no way building on the work of others), so I will say 'innovative and non-obvious'. Without these requirements patents would be valid merely for being first to do something and filing the application.

    If patents were removed from law today, capitalism as we know it would disintegrate.

    I think your doomsday scenarios are pure speculation. Sure there would be some significant changes due to the removal of the patent system. I don't think its clear what would happen. Companies would have to adjust to remain competitive in a freer market since they wouldn't have the crutch of patents to maintain profitability, but OTOH, we would lose the inefficiencies(such as patent related litigation) associated with a government mandated monopoly. It's an open question whether such inefficiencies are worthwhile. I actually do think they are worthwhile in some cases, if, as I said above they are applying only to traditional patent scope(ie, no patents on software/algorithms/business processes/or anything that could qualify as Free Speech), and only to innovative and non-obvious inventions with NO prior art.

    The only thing that would save the world's economic structure would be government intervention on a massive scale.

    More speculation...

    In other words, communism. But thats what you anti-patent types are shooting for, right?

    which I presume was used to setup your communism/anti-patent strawman.
  • by AvantLegion (595806) on Sunday May 16, 2004 @01:41AM (#9165425) Journal
    People are not afraid of Apple holding patents, because Apple doesn't have a track record of abusing them.

    You misunderstand what the "bad" behavior is. Holding the patent isn't it. It's what gets done with it.

  • by merdark (550117) on Sunday May 16, 2004 @08:13PM (#9170045)
    Typical of the slashdot crowd, moderating down comments that bring a little reality to fantasy land.

    What a bunch of children.

"'Tis true, 'tis pity, and pity 'tis 'tis true." -- Poloniouius, in Willie the Shake's _Hamlet, Prince of Darkness_

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