23 October 2016

If the Patent Office is Correct, Google’s Seminal ‘PageRank’ Invention Would Be Unpatentable in Australia

SearchOn 4 September 1998 a company was founded in order to commercialise some ideas that were being developed by two PhD students at Stanford University.  The most important of those original ideas had resulted in the filing of a US provisional patent application on 10 January 1997, in the name of one of those two PhD students.  This was followed by a non-provisional application, filed on 9 January 1998, which went on to become US patent no. 6,285,999.  Ownership of the patent remained with Stanford, which licensed it exclusively to the students’ company in exchange for 1.8 million shares. 

In 2005, those shares were sold for US$336 million.

Today, a few hundred million dollars is small change to those former PhD students, and the company that they founded.  The inventor on the original patent application was Lawrence (‘Larry’) Page, and his fellow student/founder was Sergei Brin.  The invention was a computer-implemented method for determining the ‘importance’ of web pages, for ranking purposes, which became known as PageRank (a play on the inventor’s name, and the purpose of the invention).  And the little company they started was, of course, Google, Inc.

While the original PageRank application has spawned a number of further US patents, it was never filed anywhere else in the world.  There was therefore never any possibility of an Australian patent being granted.  It is nonetheless concerning that, if a recent decision by a Delegate of the Commissioner of Patents, Amadeus S.A.S [2016] APO 71, is correct, the invention that helped launch one of the biggest companies the world has ever seen would be ineligible for patenting in Australia.

13 October 2016

How a Little More Empathy, And a Little Less Ideology, Would Not Go Astray at Techrights

AngryLast week I wrote about quitting my job.  To say that I have been dumbfounded by the response would be an understatement. The article has been shared hundreds of times on LinkedIn, where it has also generated dozens of comments in addition to those contributed below the post itself.  I have received private messages, via phone, email, LinkedIn and Twitter, from all over the world.  I have endeavoured to respond to each and every one, even if it is only with a ‘thank you’, or a click of the ‘like’ icon, but the truth is that I have lost track.

So, firstly, a public ‘thank you’ to everyone, for your support, encouragement and thoughtful responses.

There is, however, one message that I have been receiving over and over again from IP lawyers and patent attorneys – particularly, but not exclusively, those working in the Australian profession – which is that my comments on the stresses of the job, the yoke of billable hours, the deadlines, the weight of bearing responsibility for protecting and preserving clients’ rights, and so forth, have resonated far and wide. As one correspondent wrote to me, I have (apparently) ‘generated quite a stir in the profession.’

If this is right, and if it is at all indicative of conditions across the profession, then I have only one reaction: WTF, people?!  Can it really be the case that dozens – if not hundreds – of people around Australia, and possibly thousands – if not tens of thousands – worldwide, are all suffering in silence in a job that breeds stress, anxiety and depression, largely through mechanisms that they themselves choose to perpetuate?  You would think that this might be something we would talk about, but apparently quite the opposite is the case.  More than one message I have received commented on the ongoing loss of collegiality in the profession as one cause of stress and disillusionment.  Sadly, having witnessed examples of aggressive professional behaviour first-hand, I can well believe this to be true.

Assuming this problem is real, I am not equipped to solve it, nor do I intend to try.  But before moving on to the topic adverted in the title of this article, there are just two things I want to say to all of the people who wrote to me about this issue, and the many more whom, I assume, have remained silent:
  1. please try to support and take care of each other – you are all in the same boat; and
  2. to anybody who needs help, please do not be afraid to seek it out, whether that be by talking to trusted colleagues, friends, family, or contacting any of the organisations that exist for this purpose (e.g., in Australia, beyondblue or Lifeline) – there is no shame in doing something that may make you happier and more productive, and possibly even save your relationships or your life.
OK, so having highlighted the need for some empathy and goodwill I can now move on to the main topic of this article – a person who apparently suffers from a deficit of both, Dr Roy Schestowitz.   Dr Schestowitz is a publisher, editor and author at the site techrights.org, where last week he chose to grossly misrepresent me and my article about my reasons for resigning in order serve his particularly strident form of anti-software-patent propaganda. 

01 October 2016

So I Quit My Job. Here’s Why.

ExitI quit my job at Watermark.  As of Friday, 7 October 2016, I will no longer be working as a patent attorney, at least for the immediately foreseeable future.  I have no new job to go to, and I genuinely have no idea what I am going to do next.  The first step will be to take a break, maybe do a little networking, and think about where I would like to go with my career. 

The decision to take this leap into the unknown has been surprisingly thrilling and liberating.  People keep telling me that I look like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders!  I recognise now that the main things that had been holding me back for some time were, firstly, concern for the clients I have worked with over many years (unquestionably a good reason) and, secondly, fear, particularly of the possible financial consequences (which I have come to realise was a pretty bad reason – indeed, little more than a poor excuse).

I have endeavoured to inform clients personally of my decision, and to assure them all that they remain in good hands with Watermark.  I joined Watermark when I entered the profession, and I stayed for nearly 14 years, which is far and away the longest I have worked for any one employer.  If I became good at my job, much of the credit must go to the many experienced, talented and supportive colleagues I worked with over the years.  That team is still there, and will continue to be there, for all of the firm’s clients, even as individual staff members come and go.

However, if you are a client who, for whatever reason, I have not contacted, and this is how you are finding out – I sincerely apologise!  It has just not been possible to contact personally every client I have worked with over the years and there will, inevitably, be some who will only discover that I am gone the next time (should there be one) they try to get in touch.

I am not off to work for another firm of patent and trade marks attorneys, nor do I have any plans to set up my own patent attorney practice.  For most practical purposes, therefore, I am ceasing work as a patent attorney, at least insofar as the title is conventionally applied to a provider of patent application drafting, filing, prosecution, challenging (e.g. opposition), validity, infringement and related services.  This is not to say that I will not maintain my Australian registration, or that I will never again engage in any of these tasks.  But... who knows?

So, why have I made this decision?

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