Seven top U.S. companies defend the patent system
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April 3, 2014
Apple, Microsoft, IBM, GE, DuPont, Ford and Pfizer have all joined forces to endorse the basic soundness of the U.S. patent system as
it stands now. The overwhelming message is that patents are good for business and the average consumer.
The seven companies, which call themselves the Partnership for American Innovation, hopes to stem what their members see as overblown
negativity and hostility toward the patent system in Congress, the courts and especially in the media.
The group's charter members are Apple, Microsoft, IBM, GE, DuPont, Ford and Pfizer, and its senior advisor is Dave Kappos, the former
director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, who is now a partner with the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore.
The group expects additional members to be enlisting in the days ahead, according to a spokesperson. "We must move beyond rhetoric that
the system is broken and trolls are bringing businesses to a complete halt," Kappos said in a press release, "to a discussion of calibrated
improvements for what is actually the best patent system our country has."
The group's bottom-line message is astoundingly basic, and not tied to support for, or opposition to, any particular patent reform bill
now pending in Congress or to any one issue now being weighed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The group's members merely endorse three broad principles:
The American economy is best served by a strong patent system that protects high-quality innovation in all fields of technology;
It is critical to our global economy that IP is respected by all participants in the system;
The US Patent and Trademark Office must be properly funded to efficiently and effectively process patent applications and issue only
Though the formation of the group itself is tied to no topical hook, it does arrive tellingly just three days after oral arguments
in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International, a U.S. Supreme Court case that poses the fundamental question of whether computer-implemented
inventions like software are patentable at all.
In an interview with Kappos, the most specific information I could wheedle out of him was that the new group's members all apparently
agree that software is certainly patentable.
"How is it that cars can parallel park themselves today?," he asks, rhetorically. "Is it the sensors? Is it the cameras? No. Those existed
before. It's the software. Period."
"In the view of the partnership," he continues, "great innovation should be protected. Full stop. Software; firmware; biotech-related; physical
sciences; pharmaceuticals: Great innovation is great innovation, and needs to be strongly incentivized and protected."
In sharp contrast, in the Alice case, a number of younger Silicon Valley companies, including LinkedIn, Netflix and Twitter
urged the Court that "software patents do not serve the Constitutional purpose of the patent system." In their brief, authored by Stanford
Law School intellectual property scholar Mark Lemley, the companies argued: "We create innovative software because of our desire to delight
our customers and despite, not because of the patent system," he said.
"Innovation happens despite software patents, not because of them," he added. Today's formation of the Partnership, then, may reflect a frustration
comparable to that expressed in IBM's amicus brief in the CLS Bank case, which began with-- "Software is not a new technology. It has been around in various
forms for well over half a century. During that time it has become one of the fundamental building blocks of innovation and technological advancement,
and a critical part of our nation's economy. Software is the medium for innovation in every field, from automobile manufacturing to medicine. The
fact that the Court is now—in 2014—actively considering such a basic question as whether computer-implemented inventions such as software are
even eligible for patent protection is deeply troubling."
IBM's attorneys were led by Paul Clement of the Bancroft law firm. That this 'Group of 7' create such a new initiative is good
for the IT industry as a whole and the average consumer. We'll keep you posted on these and other new stories.
In other IT news
Scientists from University College in London and the University of Southern California have weighed into the ongoing 'is it quantum' theory / D-Wave debate with an
interesting approach, testing the device under a variety of noise conditions.
As their paper at Arxiv explains, the thermal environment of a D-Wave chip isn't directly accessible since the machine operates as a black box,
in that respect.
But an energy model is part of how problems are coded for the computer as a whole, and that gave the researchers, led by USC's Daniel Lidar, a knob they
were able to adjust in their tests.
The 'control knob' the researchers accessed is that the behavior of the D-Wave device has a controllable overall energy scale, acting as
an effective inverse temperature 'noise control knob.'
To be sure, reducing the energy scale amounts to increasing thermal excitations during the computation, and that's one of the main
issues of the puzzle.
Why would this matter, you may ask? Well, the D-Wave chip is chilled to 20 millikelvin to prevent thermal noise from overwhelming the
quantum effects the company says are the basis of its computations.
Therefore, the UCL / UC researchers reasoned, it should be possible from the input-output behavior of the device to predict the degree to
which the chip's “quantumness” varied at different energy scales.
That, they say, is exactly what they observed. As they write-- “At the largest energy scale available, the annealing process appears to
be dominated by coherent quantum effects, and thermal fluctuations are negligible. As the energy cale is decreased, thermal excitations
become more relevant, and for a sufficiently small energy scale, the system behaves more like a classical annealer based on incoherent Ising
For this research, Lidar's group tested groups of 40 qubits against three classical models, and one quantum model: “The classical models are
all found to disagree with the data, while the master equation agrees with the experiment without fine-tuning, and predicts mixed state entanglement
at intermediate evolution times”.
Is this the end of the debate? Of course not-- it's not even a final proof that D-Wave is quantum, inside the black box. But Scott
Aaronson says that this experiment does represent another addition to our knowledge of what's going on.
“I think the two sides are slowly converging on a real physical understanding of the current D-Wave devices – in particular, under what circumstances
the devices can produce 'signatures' of various kinds of quantum behavior and under what circumstances those signatures go away,” Aaronson said.
He added that more evidence for quantum behavior still doesn't demonstrate that D-Wave is “faster” than classical computing even on its
While “clear evidence of global quantum behavior” is a prerequisite of ultimately achieving a quantum speed-up in computing, that doesn't
yet guarantee that the speed up will ever be achieved.
“You can have global quantum behavior without a quantum speedup, but you can't have a quantum speedup without global quantum behavior,”
Aaronson said, also noting that observing quantum-like behavior in special instances doesn't predict the scaling behavior of the D-Wave
In other IT news
For the first time ever, Oracle has managed to sell more software than IBM in 2013, placing Oracle second only to Microsoft, according to market analyst
To be sure, Oracle made $29.6 billion last year, an increase of 3.4 percent over 2012 and pushing it from the world’s third largest
to second-largest software maker.
IBM, which had been world number two, fell one place to third – just behind Oracle on revenue of $29 billion, representing a growth of
just 1.3 percent.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Salesforce also chalked up a first, breaking into Gartner’s top 10 for the first time.
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