Patently ridiculous

If anybody holds the patent on being a greedy, self-aggrandizing asshole, they should sue Paul Allen.


  1. 1

    Siberian Dog spews:

    I just sent in my first patent application, called Next Breath. I’m not taking out a patent on breathing, just on the concept of taking your next breath. I’m pretty sure no one has thought of patenting this idea before, so I should be able to get my patent. I’m not planning on charging much for all of you to use my idea, but a little from everyone should make me very wealthy, just like Paul Allen.

    Jesus Christ, doesn’t this guy have anything better to do with his time? Why doesn’t he just buy another team, or another politician?

  2. 2

    sparky spews:

    This is the man who invited half of Hollywood to party on his big yacht, in what appeared to be a plea for friendship. Not sure how that worked out.

  3. 3

    Sludge Puppy spews:

    I gotta trademark application on the alphabet so you’re next! Where’s my legal team? Gotta be here somewhere.

  4. 4

    MikeBoyScout spews:

    I’m giving the benefit of the doubt to our local bazillionaire.

    First, his attorneys will be able to bill for this.
    Second, the attorneys for the defendants will be tied up with this for some time, preventing them from doing other stupid and possibly harmful stuff.

    All good for the economy in a perverse way, but these are perverse times.

  5. 6

    notme spews:

    @4: I’m with you. Anything that keeps Google busy reduces the opportunities they have to collect and sell personal information in new and creative ways while their apologists make excuses and justify the behaviour of this very, very dangerous corporation.

  6. 7

    Alki Area spews:

    It sounds like a real story, but it isn’t. Patent ‘threats’ are the norm in the tech business. These are lawsuits filled with no intention of being successful, but with the idea that a “settlement” will be reached, most commonly a licensing deal. Everyone does this. Apple threatened HTC and other Android phone makers…Oracle (which owns Java now) is going after Google for Java infringement…Microsoft goes this to…so does Amazon, etc, etc. One of the oldest ones I remember was Apple going after Microsoft claiming they invented the GUI (graphical user interface) and Windows stole it from the Mac. Funny considering Apple stole it from Xerox Parc.

    No one ever expects to be actually GRANTED the full rights to these old often vaguely applicable patents, but they hope the lawsuit threat makes a calculation on the other party that settlement is cheaper than a legal fight. Sad but that’s the way business works now a days. There are entire companies that are just “patent trolls”, companies that just create nearly pointless patents over vague as possible “inventions” so they can threaten as many people as possible later.

  7. 8

    ArtFart spews:

    The author of the Forbes article has his facts just a little blurred. Allen did the heavy lifting of pounding DR-DOS into something that ran on IBM’s hardware after Gates and Ballmer signed a deal with Big Blue for something they didn’t yet have to sell. Furthermore, he did it while desperately ill fighting Hodgkin’s disease. That he took his shares and bailed not long after that may be testament to the other two guys having treated him a little like the hired help instead of a partner.

    A lot of what he’s done since then has been for his own sometimes off-center reasons. Why he’s chosen to pull the trigger on this particular issue might be to pre-empt Google, Facebook or Nathan Mhyrevold’s outfit from doing it first. We’ll just have to wait and see.

  8. 9

    Blue John spews:

    This is an example of how broken the patent system is.

    Many patents that should have been turned down for being obvious, have been granted patents. In 2000, British Telecom was granted a patent on the idea of hyperlinks (#4,873,662). In 2001, IBM was granted a patent claiming the idea of a browser bookmark (#6,195,707). Lockheed Martin was granted a patent in 2000 for the idea of changing the color of a hyperlink when it was clicked on(#6,154,752). These are not clever inventions; these are obvious applications of the technologies, especially since these patents were granted the dot com bubble when all were common knowledge to developers.

    Software patents are broad and vague. This is the nature of software and business patents. They apply the broad description of an idea, instead of being tied to some physical thing. In a mouse trap patent, it defined the trap in terms of wire and platform and spring allowing other methods to be created. After the precedent set in 1998, in the State Street Bank decision that decided that ideas could now be patented, if the mousetrap were software, it could be defined as “a device that incapacitates a mouse” thus blocking out all other ways that could trap or kill a mouse.

    Software is an industry that builds complex structures out of smaller, simpler pieces of code. In a software patent, if any part of the application is found to be in patent violation, the whole creation in violation

    A classic example is Kodak vs. Sun. Sun develop the Java language. Kodak found a small subset of the Java language infringed on a patent they held. It didn’t matter how much of the Java Programming language infringed on their patent, just that “one drop” of infringement existed. Kodak sued for damages of “$1. 06 billion in past royalties, which they calculate represents *half* of Sun’s operating profit from the sales of computer servers and storage equipment between January 1998 and June 2001. ” Sun eventually paid $92 million for an infringement in free software.

    Another example, while the algorithms used to create gif format files was under patent, any website that contained a gif image was in violation, because it was infringing on patented code. Software patents are uniquely difficult to search because there are so many levels at which a program can violate a patent: the line, the function, the library, the program that ties the library’s elements together— any of these could be infringing. Because the ability to search patents for infringement is very broken, developers just assume they are infringing something, somewhere and code blindly, hoping to stay under the radar until they are profitable enough to pay the royalties.

    A team of IBM patent lawyers went to Sun Microsystems Inc. in the 1980s and claimed that the then start-up was infringing on seven of its patents. After Sun engineers explained why they were not infringing, the IBM lawyers responded that with 10,000 patents, they would be sure to find some infringement somewhere. IBM said Sun could “make this easy and pay us $20 million. ” After some negotiation on the amount, Sun cut a check.

    See, it’s broken.

  9. 12

    Blue John spews:

    I’m just saying that Clothing and Cooking do not have patents and those industries are doing well. Software was the same way

  10. 15


    Maybe Allen’s nefarious plan is to abolish patents. Most megacorps use their portfolios defensively. For everyone but the patent trolls, going on the offense is MAD. By instigating a massive brawl, everyone loses. Well, the lawyers win.

    In the aftermath, whoever is left standing will demand that Congress eliminate patents for software. The reasoning being that they’re bad for industry, innovation, economic growth, etc. All the things we already know, but lobbying dollars prevent us from fixing.

    Sobering up, I accept that Allen just isn’t that clever. He was visited by the Gold Fairy, not the Brains Fairy.

  11. 16


    MikeBoyScout @ 4

    I’m giving the benefit of the doubt to our local bazillionaire.

    I am truly, immensely, fantastically grateful for KEXP. Allen’s cash helped. KEXP had the fortitude to continue their online stream while the music industry was bullying everyone else. KEXP is shining beacon of awesomeness in an otherwise bleak and depressing media landscape.

    But that doesn’t balance the scales.

    Suckered us into building him a stadium. Nickels bought him a trolley, we paid for it. There is no punishment too big or severe for the crime of Frank Gehry’s EMP. Ticketmaster. AOL.

    Money begats more money (the rich get richer). I’m trying to think of some other notables. Thinking, thinking, thinking… He bought a library for the UofW. What else?

    Here’s his wikipedia page.

    Okay. Fair’s fair. I forgot about the Cinerama. I watched the fully restored Lawrence of Arabia when the Cinerama reopened. It was awesome.

    In my defense, I didn’t realize at the time that I was buying Allen a stadium.

  12. 18


    Hi Blue John. Thanks. :)

    Speaking of Sun…

    James Gosling relates the number one theory for what cratered Sun: radioactive parts caused random errors in the UltraSparc II, costing Sun billions, depleting all their goodwill.

    At the mercy of suppliers.

    If you’re a Java dev in Seattle, we have the monthly meeting, and the bi-monthly Wing Ding study group. Pizza, beer, code, geek arguments. Good times.

  13. 19

    notme spews:

    Jason @ 13, 14, 15, 16 and 18: thanks for your opinions. And you can be just as happy with Google as you want to be. On the other hand, I believe their increasingly desparate search for a second product that actually makes money combined with the power they can leverage puts them in a special category of potentially dangerous corporations.

  14. 20


    notme @ 19

    Sorry. I was being coy instead of informative.

    Everything about everyone is continuously being recorded, aggregated, analyzed, data mined, etc. What you buy, where you go, everyone you know, etc.

    Two things that currently aren’t being aggregated (correlated), systematically, are voting and health records. Though I’m not optimistic.

    Thus far, Google’s just a bit player. Seisent (bought by LexisNexus), ChoicePoint, the credit card companies, the phone cos, etc.

    We have no privacy. We won’t get it back.

    Knowing that, accepting that, is the starting point for figuring out how to move forward.

  15. 21

    Blue John spews:

    My paranoid fear is the day corporations start cross referencing every employee with all the posts they make on every website in their off time.
    “I’m sorry Mr Smith, we have chosen to not renew your contract because 3 times in the last year, you posted comments that were pro union and six posts that were pro Obama and five that favored any sort of regulation of corporations, from your home computer to the Hannity forums. We don’t wish to employ anyone who thinks like that. “