Foresight Nanotech Institute Logo
Image of nano

Archive for the 'Intellectual Property' Category

USPTO may have difficulty with nanotech patents

Posted by RichardTerra on February 5th, 2002

An article on the Small Times website ("U.S. patent examiners may not know enough about nanotech", by Doug Brown, 4 February 2002) describes some potential problems faced by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in evaluating what is expected to be a sharp increase in the number of nanotechnology-related patent applications. The article describes problems with both a lack of staff expertise in the relevant fields and the fact that there is no well-defined group or office within the USPTO that can develop the necessary deep expertise or consistency in examination policy. As the article notes, "With examiners ignorant of the scope of nanotechnology, companies would be faced with patents that are either rejected improperly because the examiner mistakenly concluded that the application is not new, or overly broad patents that would give a single company far too much control over a particular swath of a technological field. . . . Now, nanotechnology patents are scattered from technology center to technology center. As a result, patents live in isolation within different art units. The agency doesnít necessarily need to launch a nanotechnology center, . . . but it should put in place a system that funnels nanotechnology patents to specific people tutored in nanotechnology within the different technology centers. The nanotechnology specialists can communicate with one another, which would help ensure that only the right patents are granted for the right reason."

Note: Small Times has begun posting short notices on the latest micro- and nano-tech patents in a special section of their website.

CSM article considers issues in patents debate

Posted by RichardTerra on January 18th, 2002

An article in the Christian Science Monitor ("Whose idea is it, anyway?", by Ruth Walker, 17 January 2002) presents arguments from many sides of the issue that while patents have been essential to ensuring innovation, the U.S. may now be limiting innovation by putting too many new developments under patent protection.

Among those quoted in the article is Chris Peterson, Foresight Institute President, who "thinks the patent system has been overextended – not just in volume but in kinds of patents. . . . The US economy has prospered, she says, in part because of the strength of its property rights, including patent rights. ' We have deeply learned the lesson of private property … but we've gone too far. As far as I can see, the property rights model works with physical things, but not ideas. We're pretending they can't be shared.' "

The article also notes that "Patent skeptics, such as . . . Peterson, argue that to treat ideas like physical things – "rounding 'em up and branding 'em like cattle" – is to deny everyone the full benefits of an economy based on infinitely sharable ideas. The patent advocates counter that it is precisely because so many of today's new products are almost pure "idea," with little physicality, that robust patent law is necessary."

Book describes U.S. copyright law as “an oppressive obsession”

Posted by RichardTerra on January 8th, 2002

The New York Times has published a laudatory review of Lawrence Lessig's passionate new book, The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World in the 6 January 2002 issue. As the review notes, Lessig argues that America's concern with protecting intellectual property has become an oppressive obsession. "The distinctive feature of modern American copyright law," he writes, "is its almost limitless bloating." As Lessig sees it, a system originally designed to provide incentives for innovation has increasingly become a weapon for attacking cutting-edge creativity.

Cleaning up the patent system

Posted by RichardTerra on June 26th, 2001

An interesting article on dubious patents ("Owning the Future: Patent Pollution", by Seth Shulman) appears in the July/August 2001 issue of Technology Review Magazine.
Shulman points out, "as almost anyone in the intellectual-property game will tell you, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office continues to grant patents that are, well, patently invalid. I'm talking about patents for things that have either already been invented or are so straightforward and apparent they don't meet the patent's law requirements for being novel and nonobvious."
He continues, "For years, people have griped about these bogus patent claims . . . And the patent office has long promised to do better. But now two Web-based ventures, and BountyQuest, are taking their own steps to rein in bad patentsóeither by stopping them before they are granted or by knocking them out after the fact. What makes these startups really interesting is that they are attracting support across a broad spectrum of intellectual-property players — from patent system boosters to open-source programmers. In the polarized IP field, that is no small feat." is a partner with Foresight in the project, a joint venture that gives open-source and free-software developers the chance to 'defensively publish', and place their innovations in a searchable software database.

Bioscientists back an “open source” library

Posted by RichardTerra on April 13th, 2001

from the Straight-to-the-source dept.
Senior Associate John Gilmore calls our attention to an item on the movement to create an open public library of scientific papers that appeared on the New Scientist website.

A model archive, called "PubMed Central", was set up by Harold Varmus when he was director of the US National Institutes of Health. Major journals which already deposit their papers there include the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the British Medical Journal. Supporters of the idea urge other scientists to sign a petition calling for the library, and to boycott journals unwilling to participate in the scheme.

As of the end of March, more than 12,000 scientists from 120 countries have signed an open letter in support of the Public Library of Science initiative. As a result of this initiative, several scientific publishers have already decided to adopt the policy advocated in the open letter, and almost every publisher and scientific society is discussing it. You can find out more, and add your signature to the petition, at

Problems with patenting genes

Posted by RichardTerra on April 12th, 2001

from the 3-billion-years-of-prior-art dept.
A lengthy article on the serious problems with gene patents appears in the April 2001 issue of The Washington Monthly ("Gene Blues: Is the Patent Office prepared to deal with the genomic revolution?" by N. Thompson). Taking a look at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), the author notes:
A crucial issue of public policy has been put into a legal and scientific box. That may not be the PTO's fault, but it's everyone's problem. According to Arthur Caplan, who serves on the ethical advisory board to Celera, "We have this space-shuttle biotech. But its navigation system is Santa Maria level in terms of the ethics."

1-click patent suit: Barnes&Noble win a round

Posted by BryanBruns on February 14th, 2001

from the what's-obvious? dept.

A federal appeals court declared that "BN has mounted a substantial challenge to the validity of the patent in the suit." The case has been sent back for further proceedings. The Internet E-Newsarticle is discussed on Slashdot, where "Artagel" gave a link to the court decision. Cases like this are defining what can be turned into intellectual property.

Gilmore on nanotech & copy-protection

Posted by Christine Peterson on January 24th, 2001

from the what-do-you-mean-replication-is-illegal? dept.
Senior Associate John Gilmore of EFF has written this item on the problem of copy-protection including the connection to nanotech. John prefaced it with: "My latest missive about copy-protection. I tie in the big nanotech angle toward the end. I have to sneak them up to it because they think I'm crazy if I lead with it. Feel free to reproduce this. If you publish it far and wide, let me know so I can feed you corrections as they come in from the critics…" Sounds like John would appreciate feedback, so add your comments below.

Encouraging open IP

Posted by DaveKrieger on November 15th, 2000

from the sorry,-that-idea-is-taken dept.
ChrisPhoenix writes "In many technologies of nanotech, including software, patents are frequently used anticompetitively. One solution is to make ideas and technologies publicly available. Open Source is doing this for software. However, more is needed to prevent bad patents from being issued in the first place.

Foresight is thinking of working with and Santa Clara University Law School to provide a way to inexpensively publish open-sourced technologies where the patent office will see them, in order to clearly establish prior art.

We are also planning one or two IP conferences to be held early next year."
[Read More... for the details.]

Why genes in nature shouldn’t (or should) be patented

Posted by Christine Peterson on November 12th, 2000

from the I-own-the-code-that-makes-your-liver dept.
Confused about the rationale behind the patenting of genes found in nature? Find out by reading Technology Review's Sept/Oct 2000 story by Antonio Regalado The Great Gene Grab. An excerpt: "However, when it comes to human genes…legal precedent offers a way around that prohibition, namely that genes captured and identified in the lab arenít in their natural form…From the point of view of patent law, a gene is just another man-made chemical." Also of interest in that issue: The Case for Gene Patents by William A. Hazeltine, whose comments on atomic-scale engineering have been cited favorably here on nanodot, and Toward Sharing the Genome by Seth Shulman, author of the book Owning the Future.

Money for info on prior art to stop bad patents

Posted by Christine Peterson on November 2nd, 2000

from the reform-through-online-coordination dept.
Senior Associates Jeff Bezos and Tim O'Reilly, along with Charles Cella, have a new project: "BountyQuest is the world's first high-stakes knowledge marketplace, on a mission to strengthen the patent system. We pay large cash rewards to people who can help find evidence critical to issues of patent validity. BountyQuest revolutionizes information searches by connecting the experts who have the information with the people who need it through our "Broadcast Reward System·" Simply put, BountyQuest offers monetary rewards for hard-to-find information. We support an on-line community of scientists, engineers, and professional researchers who have valuable knowledge that can help their field, their industry, and the world community. BountyQuest's first mission is to reform the patent system by providing the prior art searches required to insure that only true innovators have patents." Thanks to Bennett Smith for this pointer.

Protecting ideas from being patented

Posted by Christine Peterson on November 2nd, 2000

from the stop-the-"Enclosure"-of-thought dept.
Foresight is looking at the question of how to make it easier to protect one's inventions from being patented. Such ideas must be publicly disclosed; see for one approach. Senior Associate (and computer security expert) Norm Hardy reports: "I wrote this note about two years ago. It is about just the subject that you raise. It is also an example of ideas that we wish to protect. Most of our ideas relate to software; however, I see no reason that protecting programming ideas and nanotech ideas differ in this regard. In addition to the ideas presented it seems feasible to pay AltaVista or Google to index the site or sites with the ideas. Google can even qualify searches by URL."

“Letter from 2020″: Logical conclusion of current IP trends

Posted by DaveKrieger on September 18th, 2000

from the garden-of-pure-ideology dept.
Found on Slashdot: A not-so-fantastic extrapolation of current IP trends called "Letter From 2020" by Mark Summerfield. "The saddest subversive I met claimed to be a programmer. He said that he was writing a program using Basic.NET. He must have been insane. Even if his program worked he wouldn't be allowed to run it. How could one person possibly check every possible patent infringement in a program they wrote? And even if he hadn't infringed he couldn't sell it without buying a compatibility license from Microsoft.NET and who could possibly afford that?"

Zero-cost online journals urged for 3rd world

Posted by Christine Peterson on September 5th, 2000

from the is-it-"property"-or-is-it-science?-let's-decide dept.
BillSpence writes " In light of MNT security issues and the need to include as much of the Human family in the discussion as possible, we intend to participate in this outstanding idea from Dan Agin, Editor/Publisher SCIENCE-WEEK. –Bill Spence, NanoTechnology Magazine
From Science Week:
A Call to Scientific Journals to Assist Developing Countries
The Email journal ScienceWeek is now offering free online subscriptions to residents of developing countries. For each new paid subscription, an equivalent free subscription is immediately provided to a developing country resident. Details and the definition of "developing country" can be found at ScienceWeek calls upon all science journals with online editions to join us in this effort to increase the dissemination of scientific information and improve science education in the developing world.

Israel upholds copyright on Dead Sea Scrolls

Posted by Christine Peterson on August 31st, 2000

from the it'll-be-the-Declaration-of-Independence-next dept.
From the SJ Mercury wire services: "Israel's Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that an Isreali scholar had a copyright on his recontruction of an important Dead Sea Scroll…". The messed-up "intellectual property" system will be debated at the Sept 8-10 Foresight Senior Associate Gathering in Palo Alto; join us.

Payment models for an Open Source world

Posted by RichardTerra on August 29th, 2000

from the pass-the-hat dept.

An interesting segment on National Public Radio's All Things Considered on 29 August 2000 describes some attempts by artists to use the Internet to sell their work directly to their audiences. Look for the segment on "The Street Performer Protocol", which compares some of these efforts to high-tech busking.

One of the challenges for applying open source concepts to IP areas other than software is: how do creative artists like writers and musicians make a living? While this piece doesn't directly address the issue of copyright, it does show that artists like author Stephen King are pushing the envelope a bit, and blazing the trail for others who want to offer ideas and creative works through advance subscription or auction. It's an idea that might catch on.

Envisioning “Intellectual Property” evolution

Posted by Christine Peterson on August 25th, 2000

from the if-this-continues dept.
from Future Presence newsletter published by The Arlington Institute, these comments on some useful fiction: Melancholy Elephants by Spider RobinsonExtend our computer technology out just a little. Add an ability to quickly search for copyright infringement in a new piece of art you are creating. What if you keep getting back the reply that your new piece music or short story was too close to a copyrighted piece? What if copyrights lasted forever? Could new art become a thing of the past? With our limited senses how many unique combinations of worthwhile art are there? Check out this short story to explore some of these questions.

Crackdown on Napster = problem for democracy?

Posted by Christine Peterson on August 18th, 2000

from the let's-not-worship-"IP" dept.
A really long article in The Atlantic thoroughly explains the Internet vs copyright issue, quoting Lawrence Lessig, a former Harvard Law professor now at Stanford: By granting a temporary monopoly on distribution to creators, the Founders hoped to stimulate the creation of new ideas. "The creator was rewarded for a little while, but then the idea passed into the commons, where people could do what they liked with it," Lessig says. Now, he says, the campaign against piracy is pushing toward "a massive increase in regulation over the distribution of culture, which is inconsistent with the conception of the commons that lies at the root of democracy." In the American tradition artists, writers, musicians, and audiences work together, creating the intellectual ferment that has helped this country adapt to change for more than two centuries. "People hear the cries of the industry about piracy, which are real and justifiable," Lessig says. "But they don't realize that simply giving the industry what it wants will have an impact on the entire public sphere." Thanks to slashdot for the pointer.

If knowledge is power, we’ll be weak

Posted by Christine Peterson on August 4th, 2000

from the better-buy-some-stock dept.
Senior Associate ChrisPhoenix looks at trends in data mining and analysis: "I got to thinking about Netscape's SmartDownload reporting on all the files we download (and their Search button does the same thing). ews/00/07/17/news10.html

I've been told that IBM's patent server keeps track of queries, and IBM uses that information (surely among the most valuable IP in the world). At least one company has told its employees not to use the server for this reason.

Now think of a transparent society… it's nice to be able to spy on the government spying on you, but that's really beside the point. The point is that the _data miners_ will be the ones with the real power. As more information is gathered, it will be harder to sort through, meaning that only those with access to huge bandwidth and crunch resources will be able to get anything useful from it. As sensors become cheaper, and fiber advances faster than CPUs, the gap will only widen. Read More for further thoughts.

Freenet: is it “the end of copyright”?

Posted by Christine Peterson on July 19th, 2000

from the DaveK-says-"info-wants-to-be-frictionless" dept.
Paul Hughes writes "For those of you who don't already know, FreeNet is a peer-to-peer network designed to allow the distribution of information over the Internet in an efficient manner, without fear of censorship. Freenet is completely decentralized, meaning that there is no person, computer, or organization in control of Freenet or essential to its operation. This means that Freenet cannot be attacked like centralized peer-to-peer systems such as Napster. Freenet also employs intelligent routing and caching, meaning that it learns to route requests more efficiently, automatically mirrors popular data, makes network flooding almost impossible, and moves data to where it is in greatest demand.

Brian Atkins (posting to the Extropians List) has pointed out a new article about FreeNet. It appears to be spreading across the net at lighting speed, with many believing it spells the end of copyright as we know it. What do you think?"