- Ivan GodardKeymasterJune 11, 2014 at 10:26 amPost count: 629
I posted the following in response to an entirely innocent post (#1127) by bhurt that offered some suggestions for improving the Mill. I repost it here to start a discussion:
In this and all other topics, please do not speculate or suggest ideas in the public forum. We have put and are putting a great deal of work into the Mill, and would like to see some tangible reward for our work. We may already have worked out something in great detail and are just about to file the patents on it, only to have an innocent well-intentioned suggestion give enough of the idea that a patent is no longer available, or could be attacked even if granted.
We do ask for help, but that doesn’t mean that we are looking for postings of ideas, it means that we are looking for real human beings, with expertise – or just thought-out ideas – in the subject, who will join our team, sign the necessary NDA and IP agreements to protect our and their work, and put significant time into the effort on a sweat-equity basis. Contact me directly (email@example.com) if that’s you.
So please, keep the discussion here only on material that has been part of our public disclosures, or material that has already been published by third parties. The latter is especially useful – a cite to an obscure decades-old paper may save us the cost of a pointless patent filing. Or ask questions about how XYZ from a talk works (but don’t suggest alternatives). Or talk about marketing or business matters – Mill Computing has a real technology, not just a business plan and an MBA as so many startups do, so we have nothing we need to protect about the business.
But please, nothing about anything that might be a patent someday; speculations and ideas can hurt us and don’t help you.
- Ivan GodardKeymasterJune 11, 2014 at 10:40 amPost count: 629
In response to the above, Larry Pfeffer sent me a personal email, relevant parts reproduce below. I will respond in a reply:
In forum post #1128 you wrote:
In this and all other topics, please do not speculate or suggest ideas in the public forum. … We may already have worked out something in great detail and are just about to file the patents on it, only to have an innocent well-intentioned suggestion give enough of the idea that a patent is no longer available, or could be attacked even if granted.
I suggest you re-post your message #1128 in such a way that all forum members see it. On the off chance you haven’t thought of these options to better protect your IP, you might want to:
2. Change the forums to be moderated. That’s clearly more work, and it requires moderators to know Millcomputing’s current and foreseen IP. (Admittedly, an ouch.)
I hope you won’t close the forums, but I’d rather see you keep ownership of your IP and bring it to market ASAP. I’ve done my best to write my forum posts such that they don’t poison any of your wells. I’m first inventor on a recent patent, through which I learned about some of the many things that can screw a patent application’s chances of being granted. And drafting a patent application to get through the USPTO is considerably easier than drafting a patent application and claims that can also stand up to concerted challenges by deep-pocketed opponents, e.g. Intel, IBM, Google….
- Ivan GodardKeymasterJune 11, 2014 at 11:21 amPost count: 629
Larry’s remarks are well taken in the present IP climate.
There are actually two different IP-related questions here. In the first, we risk having the patentability of our work being unintentionally poisoned by a poster here. We already know the idea involved, may have worked it out in detail and put a lot of effort into it, but an un-fleshed-out public sketch of the idea could prevent us getting a patent, or invalidate one later even if did get one. We lose, the poster gains nothing, and only our competitors benefit. IANAL, but I don’t think that Terms of Service protect us from this problem; publication is publication, and once published the idea is gone for international patents, although US patents give us a year’s grace.
Larry brings up the second question: what if the poster’s idea is new to us, and has enough merit that we would like to add it? We could put in Terms of Service that claim ownership of all posted ideas, and I suspect that most forum participants would consider them no more than the usual legal boilerplate cruft that grows kudzu all over everything these days. However, there’s a moral question here: if the idea is genuinely new to us, should the poster get some compensation for it? Even if he has waived ownership by virtue of signing in to the site? I have no problem with requiring IP assignment as a condition of employment; after all you are getting paid. But I’m not altogether comfortable with IP assignment as a condition of reading a site.
On the other hand, there is the big grey area between an idea that we already have in detail, and an idea that we have never seen before. Every company has horror stories about unreasonable, sometimes even psychotic, people who allege that the company has stolen their idea – and sue. In defense, many companies simply refuse to even look at ideas from outside the company. That too is not the kind of company outlook I am comfortable with – the world is too full of the fortresses of fear already.
It is difficult to find a line between the warm-fuzzy of an open source project (which would never get funded into reality) and the take-no-prisoners behavior of widespread legal practice and company policies. I think many company founders are worried about such issues – remember “Don’t be evil”? But Google is itself an example of how hard it is to retain moral focus through time and massive growth.
I invite discussion of this topic, and the wider topic of company moral behavior.
- pngParticipantJune 12, 2014 at 9:59 amPost count: 1
The work we’re doing is very likely to inspire inventive thinking by those who read about it.
We can’t stop people from posting their ideas elsewhere on the Internet.
We could drive them away from here, but who wins that way?
No, I agree with Larry that we should have a formal policy stating that ideas posted here, or sent privately to Mill, become Mill property. We should publish this in a way that protects us from lawsuits by people who believe we’ve stolen their ideas.
We might explain that private communications are better for protecting patent rights, but remember that the bare outline of an idea isn’t necessarily a bar to patentability. If an expression of the idea behind an invention doesn’t enable one of “ordinary skill in the art” to practice the invention– for example, by leaving critical details unspecified– then it doesn’t count as a publication of an invention.
Whether someone deserves compensation for posting an idea has to be entirely up to Mill and determined on a case-by-case basis. We mustn’t make any promises.
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.