Patent update for engineers

by Robin Harris on Wednesday, 16 May, 2007

Don’t read the “EMC has Ph.Ds?” series!
Or at the very least avoid reading the patents I reference. I may have already said too much.

Microsoft’s FUD-slinging on Linux shines some light on patents
Good article with some great quotes on Cnet (disclosure: I’m a paid blogger for Cnet sub ZDnet and this is probably the last time I’ll mention it). So you don’t have to read the article here are my favorite quotes:

“The fear of willfulness is so great that often firms instruct their engineers not to look at patents.”
–Matthew Schruers, senior counsel
Computing and Communications Industry Association

You reduce your legal liability by not reading patents, because if you can show you invented it independently it increases the strength of the “obviousness” defense.

Linus speaks

“There are several reasons why engineers should not read other people’s patents, only their own. And it’s not a ‘hide your head in the sand’ issue, it’s a very practical issue of it being a waste of time,” Torvalds said.

. . . And engineers aren’t likely to comprehend patents in the first place: “Unless you have a patent attorney at your side, patent language usually makes no sense.”

I thought it was just me
I’m not out of the woods yet, though. Linus’ last quote in the article is

“The bulk of all patents are crap,” he said. “Spending time reading them is stupid. It’s up to the patent owner to do so, and to enforce them.”

The whole EMC series, a waste. Boo-hoo.

But my many fans in Hopkinton would be devastated if I stopped now, so the show will go on.

Comments welcome, as always. Although I think Linus said it all.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard May 17, 2007 at 3:36 am

Yes, Linus said it all …. and its long overdue!
It will be very interesting to see what level of originality Microsoft is claiming in their patents… presumably they looked all the way back to Multics, Xerox and Apple.

The issue clearly rests with the Patent Office which is more motivated by fees than the originality of inventions. On the other hand, some of the blame rests with the engineers participating in this game.

How can “using the message fabric to maintain cache coherency” or “a pair of independent power busses” be patentable…. its a bad joke.

Marc Farley May 17, 2007 at 7:48 pm

Robin, please stop wasting everybody’s time with this patent BS, would you. BTW, didn’t this start as a rant about NDA’s? I was wondering if anything else had turned up on this topic?

Robin Harris May 17, 2007 at 8:50 pm


Actually, the NDA rant was a small part of a larger thread that some people picked up on.

The reason I’m looking at EMC’s patents is I’m trying to get a handle on what, if any, research priorities they have. I’d like to understand who their top researchers are, as well.

What prompted this was the realization that EMC is pretty much invisible in the world of storage research, unlike most of their competitors, larger and smaller.

Like it or not, I’m interested in this stuff, and in public methods of getting a handle on it.

Yes, I am preparing another post on the analyst profession, which I think will go on Storage Bits over at ZDnet.

And did you ever have any comment on my response to your post on RAID?


Marc Farley May 18, 2007 at 5:58 pm

I was joking a bit, picking up on Linus’ comment on the importance (or lack thereof) of reading patents. The analyst profession is a very interesting topic, but I’m not sure how much benefit you will personally get from an honest analysis of it.

For instance, you could look at EMC’s payment to IDS for a study on five nines. Obviously if EMC is paying for it, IDC is going to work to make sure the results fit EMC’s goals – because IDC wants to continue to get more of this good business. Its not clear to me that there is any benefit to you in trying to expose this kind of influence – you run the risk of alienating yourself from the flow of funds. And for what gain? For stating the obvious?

At a minimum, people in the analyst business are going to give a pass to companies that help them pay the rent. More likely, you have good reasons to analyze and promote your clients’ solutions.

As to RAID – I think we need to clarify terms here. Are you talking about RAID algorithms or about RAID disk subsystems. I never really thought you left the ball in my court, but maybe I didn’t understand. Nonetheless, I’m not sure what you expected.

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