On thought of 'peer review' I remember going to ATM Conference a few years ago
where at the end of a joint paper by three 'well-known' contributors a
'not-at-all-known' engineer from another company got up from the rear rows of the
audience and complained that his paper had been stolen and was being resubmitted.
When he was told there might have been a confusion, he pointed out that he
presented an exactly the same concept, in the same sequence, and with similar
examples a few months ago and was voted down unanimously by the 'gurus' on the
grounds that the idea wasn't good enough.
He demanded withdrawal of the paper, with a public apology. Despite protests, he
lodged his formal complaints. They budged, offering to include his name in the
author list. He wouldn't settle initially, but later he accepted after receiving
an apology. Later either his name was added to the author list or to the
acknowledgment section, I do not remember.
This kind of "peer review" is common. There is a common resistance by frequent
contributors to a newcomer's bold new ideas. Especially when it challenges other
technologies developed by established companies. And this is human nature. People
love credit, and sharing the glory is not part of usual human psychology.
Companies use patents to guard exactly that - if you don't think it's good
enough, don't worry, you do not have to use it. If you think otherwise, we're
willing to sell you results of our investment in R&D. Unfortunately, people don't
mind buying products for a price but they don't like buying a technology for a
price. They both cost money and are of value to the company that owns them.
As far as some patents being laughed out of lowliest of technical conferences, I
agree. By the same token, however, I find some technical contributions in
respected technical journals by "well-known" people that I can only laugh at. So
it goes both ways. (Can you ever imagine a famous person submitting a draft/paper
and not being accepted by the technical committee? For them, it's an honor to
have the paper.)
Although many times the stupidity of patents does surpass every limit, often it
helps a company secure a place for its own credibility. It also allows it time to
develop products. If a new technology is given to public for general education
the big companies will immediately copy it and come out with a new product. They
already have everything else. The startup company, however, has to build
everything else before it has a chance to put its own technology into its
Most startup companies take a third approach - they do not announce their product
or technology until they are done. Their websites have nothing more than
directions to their office. And they hope that no one will invent the method
before they are out with their products.
I think the policy of allowing patented ideas to appear in technical journals (on
way to standards development), with a permission to other companies to use the
technology on a non-discriminatory, open licensing terms is quite fair. Two
benefits are: companies get the credit they deserve, and they are able to swap
their patents for free with some other company for some other patents that they
would like to have. Patents are often used to cross-license technology, and are
as good as cash in that regard. This, I feel, is a fair way for a company to
benefit from the technology that they have developed.
Peer review may not do much to achieve the objective.
Patents that are technically stupid are of no use to anyone anyway. If patents
cover too broad an issue, they will anyway get challenged successfully.
Henning Schulzrinne wrote:
> In looking in multimedia-related patents, I'm also utterly amazed by the
> complete lack of citation of published technical articles or related
> work (RFCs, Internet drafts, etc.). The problem with many patents is
> that if submitted as a technical paper at even the lowliest conference,
> it would be laughed out of the program. Maybe we need a peer review
> (under suitable secrecy arrangements) of patent applications by real
> experts, not the one patent examiner that seems to have missed the
> existence of engineering libraries in his or her undergraduate
> Graham Klyne wrote:
> > As many of us are finding, it seems to become more and more difficult to
> > develop or implement a standard without tripping over somebody-or-other's
> > patent for some piece of technology that many of us would regard as fairly
> > obvious or lacking in novelty.
> > The recent announcement from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office about
> > overhauling their scrutiny of applications for online business patents
> > seems to imply a tacit acknowledgement that their is a problem with the
> > review process with respect to discovery or prior art or determination of
> > novelty in a claimed invention.
> > My thought is this: I'd like to see a presumption of lack of novelty if an
> > idea gets raised in a public forum, even if it happens _after_ a patent has
> > been applied for, unless it can be shown that the information came from
> > leakage of proprietary information.
> > Maybe such an approach might ameliorate the "gold rush" mentality to be the
> > first to slap a patent on an idea or technique that is coming to be
> > accepted art in the normal process of technology evolution.
> Henning Schulzrinne http://www.cs.columbia.edu/~hgs