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Nathan Myhrvold Live Q&A 51

Last week we announced that co-founder and CEO of Intellectual Ventures, Nathan Myhrvold, had agreed to do a live Q&A. Earlier today we posted a few of his answers, but now's your chance to hear it directly from him. Mr. Myhrvold will be answering your questions below until 12:30 PDT. Please keep it to one question per post so everyone gets a chance. Update: 04/03 19:41 GMT by S : 12:30pm PDT has come and gone, and Mr. Myhrvold has to move on. Thanks for the answers! Here's a link to his user page if you'd just like to read his responses.
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Nathan Myhrvold Live Q&A

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:00PM (#43350715)

    In your responses earlier today, you said, "The patent office has had funding issues. In recent years Congress has raided the patent office fees and taken them to spend elsewhere rather than let them be used to improve the patent office."

    How do you think additional funding could be best spent? A friend of mine is a patent lawyer for a private firm, and he tells me they have a massive advantage over the USPTO workers because they're highly specialized and they work for companies who can afford to hire talent. Would boosting USPTO salaries help? Do they need better infrastructure?

    • by NMyhrvold ( 2876713 ) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:04PM (#43350753)
      Short answer is hiring more patent examiners in topics that are overloaded. Longer answer is better IT infrastructure and other things. In Congress this issue is known as "fee diversion" - diverting patent fees from the patent office to other purposes
      • " better IT infrastructure and other things"

        I feel like "build more infrastructure" is the thing people (not necessarily you) say when then want to spend money but don't actually know what to spend it on.

        What specifically are you thinking of? Is the patent office still using slide rules? Are they having trouble buying Word for their computers? Do they need a couple million to build a custom workflow application? What kind of infrastructure are you thinking?
      • An even shorter answer is to stop awarding people exclusive government-enforced monopolies on abstract ideas.

  • by Joe U ( 443617 ) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:04PM (#43350749) Homepage Journal

    How did your dinosaur sound project turn out?

    • Re:Dinosaur Project (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NMyhrvold ( 2876713 ) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:07PM (#43350783)
      I think what you mean is that I wrote a paper many years ago (1997?) that showed through computer modeling that sauropod dinosaurs (i.e. apatosaurus) could whip their tails and crack them like bullwhips. The crack is actually a sonic boom! So they were the first creatures to break the sound barrier (not Chuck Yeager). The paper has been pretty widely accepted in the paleontology community. I have been meaning to build a physical model (not full scale) to test it empirically, but have been busy with other tihngs, including other dinosaur projects.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:06PM (#43350773)

    Mr. Myhrvold:

    I have some thoughts on your patent activities, but a) it's complex, and b) probably nothing you haven't heard before or that would suddenly make you repent and start your life over ;)

    So instead, I'd like to hear about cooking. I enjoy cooking, but I realize I'm a duffer, and keep finding small improvements from random sources (YouTube, relatives, friends, books) of the "why didn't I think of that?" variety. Is there any advice that you think the average non-cook should hear based on your non-conventional approach?

    • by NMyhrvold ( 2876713 ) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:14PM (#43350883)
      This isn't an easy question to answre quickly, but here goes... First, there are a lot of cool new books on scientifically inspired cooking besides my books. Science of Cooking (by cook's illustrated), and Cooknig for Geeks are two examples. Ideas in Food is acool blog and they also have books that are relevant. Second, buy a digital thermometer - they are like $20 for a cheap one and $70 for the best ones. You need to understand tempertaures. A digital scale is the second thing I recomment - it is much easier to weigh ingredients than using cups and spoons.
  • Would you rather fight 100 duck sized horses, or one horse-sized duck? And Why?
    • by NMyhrvold ( 2876713 ) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:10PM (#43350823)
      Well, it turns out that there were horse sized birds at many points in the past - particularly the elephant bird of madagascar, the moa of new zealand and the "terror birds" which lived in ancient south america. Also, ancient (several millions years ago) horses were pretty small - some probably did have goose-sized ponies.... They were mean, so I would much rather face duck sized horses.
  • Why you? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Beefpatrol ( 1080553 ) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:13PM (#43350871)
    Why do you think Slashdot chose you over other for a live Q&A?
  • Court education? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:13PM (#43350879)

    As patents become more complex and arcane (or at least about inventions that are more complex and more arcane), do you think we can expect the judicial system to accurately evaluate their validity? There have been cases recently where justices and jurors have clearly been in over their head with regard to understanding how patented software claims work, and software isn't getting any simpler. Hardware, too, is becoming difficult for hobbyists to comprehend, yet we expect a few weeks of testimony to make people competent to judge patent validity. If you don't think it's a problem at this point, do you think it will be in the future?

    • by NMyhrvold ( 2876713 ) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:19PM (#43350923)
      THis is a problem for our justice system in general, inculding patents. Even in criminal matters things like DNA testimony and other scientific evidence can be hard to understand. Patents is even worse because iti s about high tech areas. The way this is handled at present is via expert witnesses that try to explain the techology in terms that he judge and jury can relate to. It does not always work. Here is a odd but true thing - you cannot be a patent attorney without having an engineering or science degree, but that isn't applied to the judge or jury. So, I agree that this is a challenge. In some other areas of the law where things are complex - like taxes or bankruptcy there are special courts with judges that do have expertise in the area. That was disucssed during the recent patent reform debate in congress - but it did not make it in the bill.
  • update... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by darue ( 2699381 ) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:17PM (#43350911)
    any comment on developments regarding the geoengineering patent?
    • Re:update... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NMyhrvold ( 2876713 ) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:23PM (#43350979)
      We have several geoengineering ideas that we have invented and filed patents on. The patents are making their way through the system, and some have issued. However we only filed for the patents so that we *might* have some say in how this technology is used. THe big issue for geoengineering is that there is virtually no research funding. I would not want to deploy any system without doing lots of reseach, but so far this is not an area that has been funded by the government. Menawhile essentially zero progress has been made toward making sufficient cuts in CO2 emission. So current course and speed we will have a climate problem. Climate scientists differ as to whether that problem will be serious in 5 years, 20 or 100 years but it will occur. I think that society will procrastinate until things get bad, and at that point geoengineering will be the only way to prevent serious enviornmental damage. But we'll see...
      • by darue ( 2699381 )
        well, I like the many balloons idea in principle, as it would be simple to turn off should that seem advisable.
  • by Sparticus789 ( 2625955 ) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:18PM (#43350917) Journal

    What operating systems do you have installed on your personal computers?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by NMyhrvold ( 2876713 )
      Seriously?? Windows mostly! I started working on it in 1986 and didn't stop until I left MS in 1999. So I have some loyalty. That said, the HVAC system in my house runs on Linux system....
  • Future Tech? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:21PM (#43350953)

    Given how much you deal with new inventions, what tech do you see taking the world by storm in the next 5-10 years? Will wearable computing make as big of a mark as smartphones? How about autonomous cars?

  • by waddgodd ( 34934 ) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:22PM (#43350963) Homepage Journal

    Since you've lived in both the food world and the software patent world, can you draw any parallels between cooks and their recipes and software engineers and their code WRT IP law and tradition?

    • by NMyhrvold ( 2876713 ) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:29PM (#43351041)
      It turns out that copyright law covers code, but it does NOT cover a recipe! If you write a cookbook, the actual text is covered by copyright but the proportions of the ingredients and steps are not covered if you put them in different words. Patents do apply to food, but only for things that are really novel. Dippin' dots ice cream is covered by a patent. Kind of a sick story - the guy who invented it worked in a plant that froze bull semen in liquid nitrogen - it made little balls, so he tried ice cream. Turns out it tastes better....
      • If they were covered by patent, we would either a) have all went extinct of starvation b) learned how to eat grass.
      • Sorry, but the Dippin' Dots patent was struck down in 2007 because the courts considered the process "obvious".

      • So, in fact, he did not invent dippin' dots ice cream? He just shoved the wrong thing into his employer's industrial equipment? I love the U.S. patent system.
  • In an answer to a previous question, you expressed concern that inventors are not fairly paid for their work because most, if not all, of the profit from inventions goes to the companies that employ them. This concern seems to be valid insofar as most people who are skilled in science and technology work for companies or universities, which generally require employees to sign "assignment of invention" agreements. To the extent that IV is intended to free inventors from the need to "sign away" the economic
    • At IV the inventors get a profit share in patents they invent. Actually, in most universities that is true too. Typical university policy is that of the royalties the university gets, about 1/3 goes to the professor or grad students. In start ups the inventors typically have stock or options and thus have a stake in the company getting revenues. Independent inventors own their patents outright. I think that the more we can show that invention make money for the corporate or institutional owners the mo
      • At my university, one of my professors told me that they split patent royalties 50/50. But, in exchange for their half, the university would provide the legal resources to write and file the patent, and would defend it against challenges if necessary. I don't think you can buy legal help and insurance for such a bargain on the open market.

  • Have you reflected on what the IT industry would be like if companies in the '60s and '70s (IBM, GE, Bell Labs, Xerox Parc) had spent as much attention filing for and enforcing patents as is increasingly customary in the industry today? Xerox could've blocked Apple and Microsoft from implementing GUIs, GE and/or Bell Labs could've prevented anyone from implementing a hierarchical filesystem that treated all files as linear byte streams, etc.

  • any thoughts on how to make mobile info tech less addictive? We know it's constantly tickling the reward system, and people increasingly feel significant anxiety when separated from their devices. Do you see any reason at all to think we're not just inventing the ultimate conditioning tool? Particularly once we go to continuous input via say gGlass.
  • Giving it all up? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:26PM (#43351011)

    According to your wikipedia page you like nature photography. Have you ever considered embracing your inner Thoreau and giving it all up to live a simpler life in the woods?

    • According to your wikipedia page you like nature photography. Have you ever considered embracing your inner Thoreau and giving it all up to live a simpler life in the woods?

      To be fair, Walden Pond was a bare two miles out of Concord, Thoreau was supported by his family and friends, and made a trip into town about every other day,

  • by Halo1 ( 136547 ) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:26PM (#43351013)

    What would your opinion be on a system whereby patent applicants would have to pledge a certain amount of money (possibly via escrow) that is paid out to anyone (either the patent office or a third party) that finds prior art that invalidates the patent? The amount of money would rise as more and/or broader claims are added to the patent application.

    Right now, potential victims of invalid patents have to choose between ignoring the patent and hoping they'll never get sued/threatened, or preemptively have to spend (less than in case it would come to a court case) time and money on finding evidence to invalidate patents that should not be or have been granted in the first place. It's a lose/lose situation.

    • Right now, I could probably afford to patent a few things, but it's expensive for a lone inventor. Add more financial requirements and you're likely to eliminate individual inventors entirely.

  • Any possibility of a cookbook relating to the science behind baking? And if you're already working on one, any rough year for an ETA?
    • I would suggest looking into this book (really a textbook): "How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science" by Paula Figoni. It is designed for the baker, not the chemist, but it does explain how different ingredients react and uses 'experiments' where the student prepares food in a variety of ways with different ingrediants to see and taste the difference. I purchased it as a gift for my wife who is a bit of a geek herself and loves baking. She found it very good and informative and he

  • by Alain Williams ( 2972 ) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:31PM (#43351049) Homepage

    Why do I keep on misreading his company name as: Intellectual Vultures ?

  • I read your answer earlier but it left some unanswered parts. Are they a spin-off company? Did their employee have any previous relationship with IV? Did they approach you requesting that specific patent? How did they end up buying it?

    Any advice for those of us that are tired of trolling slashdot and want to take it to the next level by trolling patents?

  • How do you suggest an independent or freelance software developer would ensure that the code (s)he writes does not infringe on any patent? Or more generally: how do you see a solution for the legal uncertainty caused by software patents for software developers? (any software developers really, since it's not like large companies check for infringements -- after all, it opens them up to treble damages for willful infringement in case they considered a patent and wrongfully concluded it didn't apply).

    In case

  • What if SlashDot announced a mandatory "all hands meeting" to its readership? I think it would feel about the same as the response to this article.

  • One of the goals of your organization seems to be commoditization of innovation itself in order to free inventors from having to implement or otherwise directly participate in a complete commercial pipeline in order to monetize their inventions. In order for commodity markets to function well and on a large scale, however, there need to be well-understood ways to classify, quantify, and otherwise understand the commodity in question such that it is possible to price the commodity and thus increase accessib

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.