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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 high-quality patents.
  • 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 spins.”

    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 home turf.

    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 device.

    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 Gartner.

    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.

    Source: Apple.

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