A new patent

My angel, JBQ, was awarded a patent recently. It was developed with two more french guys, all key engineers in the BeOS days, when trying to compress BeIA data to fit on the handicaped tablet/IA devices of 2001 (usually BeIA was forced to run on 8/16 MBs of RAM and 200 Mhz Cyrix MediaGX slow CPUs at a time when daddy BeOS required at least 32 MBs to run acceptably). Remember my remark yesterday about cellphones and memory: the less memory OEMs put on a machine, the more money they earn. Hence, that algorithm was bound to be born… And it was good enough to be submitted as a patent. My opinion on patents is here btw.

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JBQ wrote on June 18th, 2006 at 5:15 AM PST:

Actually, mathematics (and therefore computer science, which is a branch of mathematics, which include algorithmics) can’t be patented because they are abstract ideas, which have been ruled to not be patentable (since they have no usefulness on their own).

However, useful applications of abstract ideas are patentable, when the patent contains a full disclosure of all the non-trivial steps required for an actual implementation.

Whether an actual implementation (i.e. software) is patentable primarily depends on what the patent is about – if it relates to the use of a very specific language feature to achieve a goal, it is patentable (e.g. Duff’s device). If the process is fundamentally independent of any environment (e.g. LZW), a specific implementation on its own isn’t enough to patent the process as a whole.

alex wrote on June 18th, 2006 at 9:05 AM PST:

The patent system in computer science is like putting coca-cola on a power-on motherboard. Copyright and patent system are two incompatible system.

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Eugenia wrote on June 18th, 2006 at 9:13 AM PST:

I don’t see what copyrights have to do with patents. Patents do serve a purpose and they bolster research — that’s why most countries have such a system. The problem only exists if the patent clerks approve trivialities.

alex wrote on June 18th, 2006 at 9:27 AM PST:

The exclusion from the scope of patentability is one of the key problem in the patent system. The famous exclusion of computer program in the article 52c was a big problem because the European Patent office was still accepting patent covering computer program with ‘effect’. So very similar to the broken concept of “abstract idea”. A bunch of patents are using the “trick” of physical effect from a computer program to be accepted. The patent was designed for the physical world not for the non-physical world… the patent system is clearly broken and not applicable to computer science. This is just my point of view and sometimes shared in the industry when the system is only used in a defensive way.

alex wrote on June 18th, 2006 at 9:44 AM PST:

Bolster research ? Sorry for being sarcastic but the evolution (and sometimes… innovation) in operating system, user interface or simply science was not helped by the patent system. I would suggest to read this:

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Eugenia wrote on June 18th, 2006 at 10:04 AM PST:

Alex, first of all, it’s not clear at all that patents were created for the physical world. Secondly, if software engineering was “obvious”, then there would be no bugs. It takes some inventiveness to not only write a good piece of code, but also different people approach the same problem with different ways, and different levels of resulted quality code. In other words, if all software was obvious and hence not patentable, then all programmers would approach the same problem with the same solution — and with no bugs. But they don’t.

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Eugenia wrote on June 18th, 2006 at 10:34 AM PST:

I am sorry, but I don’t agree with that article. He claims a few things that are plain wrong:
1. That software is speech and therefore must be protected by the 1st amendment. This is not true, software is ENGINEERING. Good algorithms require lots of research and time. These engineers/companies who created some (valid) patents have to be paid. They didn’t wake up one day and the mailman delivered the solution to them. They had to sit down and innovate.
2. That patented software can’t be reused. Of course it can. For the right price! Again, someone paid for these algorithms to be created. This someone wants to have some sort of recognition and payment back from the others who are going to reuse his innovation that he PAID to create. Also, don’t forget that if someone doesn’t patent a good idea and delivers a product with this new idea, his competitor will copy him and will have it done better in 3 months time. Without the patent system there is no guarantee for the original innovator to have a chance in the market.

Patents are financial guarantees. While Free Software advocates don’t care about money, companies do. And this is a capitalistic world we are living in and therefore patents are useful.

I stand by my opinion that patents are as good as the clerks who approve them. 80% of the US patents are trivialities that they should have never being approved. That’s the core of the problem, not the patent system.

JBQ wrote on June 18th, 2006 at 10:45 AM PST:

Alex, I’m not totally sure in which world you live in, but in my world, flash chips, RAM chips, hard drives, processors, batteries, communication networks and time exist in the physical world, and software ideas that allow to save on any of those resources very much apply to the physical world. Quite a few of the software patents I can immediately think of, including some controversial ones, can be directly shown to save on at least one of those aspects; 6,883,087 directly saves storage space, and indirectly saves time (if the storage device is slow enough).

As for using patents in a defensive way, well, that’s the only way they can be used in the first place – in the US at least, a patent is a contract between an inventor and the public (represented by the government), where the inventor receives the right to prevent anyone from using the inventor’s idea for 20 years, and the public receives immediate full disclosure of that idea.

alex wrote on June 18th, 2006 at 12:21 PM PST:

Also, don’t forget that if someone doesn’t patent a good idea and delivers a product with this new idea, his competitor will copy him and will have it done better in 3 months time.

From uspto.gov, a utility patent is not covering an idea but a new and useful process :

Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof;

A computer program is protected as a literacy work (http://www.wipo.int/about-ip/en/copyright.html) so copyright. You are just protecting the expression of the work and this process is automatic when the work is original. You don’t have to do something…

For the reuse, I would invite you (when you are a free software author or company releasing free software) to contact a patent holder asking for a license compatible with a free software license. The only way is to get a fully paid up, royalty free and nonexclusive license from the patent holder quite difficult except a minority of patent holders understand the issue (like Raph Levien).

The patent system is one of the core problem when it tries to include the patentability of computer science, computer program (software), algorithms, business process or mathematics.

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