Back in the mid-90s as an engineer at a major global automotive supplier, I spent… 2

Back in the mid-90s as an engineer at a major global automotive supplier, I spent way too many hours analyzing and drafting software patents for slip control systems (anti-lock brakes, traction control and vehicle stability control).

At the time a factor of 10x for the time spent on the patent vs actual development was probably on the high side, we certainly wasted a lot of time on patents. 

I watch today's battles between Apple and the rest of the mobile industry with a mix of bemusement and anger. When I first went to work after getting my mechanical engineering degree, we didn't even really think about patents for the control software, just the hardware we were using.

Once we started making some market inroads with a new system we developed, we learned that our major competitor had a ton of software patents that they were threatening to use against us (sound familiar?). A significant chunk of the engineering effort over the next 12 months was spent going back and tweaking our control algorithms just enough to get around the patents without significantly impacting performance. 

Unlike the Apple vs et al situation today, we were fortunate enough to learn about the potential problems early enough that we could avoid any litigation. We ended up filing a ton of software patents of our own so we ended up in a mutually assured destruction scenario with the competition. Needless to say, none of this actually made the product better, it just made work for IP lawyers and increased the engineering cost of the system. 

Thus I've been a staunch opponent of software patents (and increasingly all patents) ever since. 

Reshared post from +Electronic Frontier Foundation

From Defend Innovation: "I'm a co-inventor on 7 patents, and know a bit about how silly software patents are. Most of them do not protect innovation. When it takes 10x longer to do the patent paperwork than to come up with the invention in the first place, how innovative is the thing you are patenting anyway?"  Join the movement to get software patents out of the way of innovation:

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Defend Innovation
The patent system is in crisis, and it endangers the future of software development in the United States. Let's create a system that defends innovation, instead of hindering it.

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2 thoughts on “Back in the mid-90s as an engineer at a major global automotive supplier, I spent…

  • Cheese Slap

    NPR ran a story a few months ago called "When patents attack".  In it, the US patent office freely admits that there are
    a) too many patents for the same thing and
    b) many patents are overly broad in their explanation

  • Mark Flanagan

    Patents were intended to provide a 'safe haven. For the little guy, so that they could safely develop new products without being immediately buried by the entrenched players. Now, the entrenched players use their large patent portfolios to keep the little guy from even getting started… And at about $250,000 per patent, the little guy doesn't normally have the resources to amass his own portfolio. End result us that patents are doing the exact opposite if the intent. (says the man with his name on a few patents himself)