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UK: Software And Business Methods Not Patentable 274

Posted by timothy
from the ray-of-light-amidst-gloom dept.
horza writes: "The conclusion of the UK government consultation on whether software and business methods should be patentable, as they are in the US, are that software and business methods are not patentable. Britain will be pushing for the EU directive to match UK law."
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UK: Software And Business Methods Not Patentable

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  • Why is it always assumed slavery was the cause of the civil war? The Confederates thought they were fighting for states rights to govern themselves, not just slavery. Since they had an agriculture base, but no manufacturing, they were sorta doomed from the get-go. Glad they lost..I am a Catholic son of immigrants from a slavic country. Not a winning combo in many southerners opinion...
  • Your comments are right on because software is the expression of an idea.

    UML, flow-charts, etc, are considered easier to read by some people, but they are just expressions of the same thing. The CASE driven software development method is proof of this. (E.g., In the higher end tools you are programming by drawing diagrams!)

    It is not only a hard problem to draw the line between idea and solution in software: it is impossible. At last a first-world government is recognizing this at the expense of the entrenched business interests. I don't know how this happened, but I like it.


    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    ~~ the real world is much simpler ~~
  • When people speak of the 1-click patent, they may not completely grasp how generic and broad it is. It's not only about a method of buying something with a single click -- it's about obvious use of cookies and certain other techniques, for which prior art most certainly exists.

    Whenever such patents are issued, the public blames the very idea of patent, instead of the real target, obviously the patent office, a.k.a. the guys short of common sense.

    A so-called patent reform doesn't need to change the laws regarding patents. They're fine. The current concept of patents, when correctly applied, should bring all the benefits usually associated to it (that applies to software as well; for instance, look at the RSA patent.) The public must realize the ones to blame for the state of patents today are: those who approve applications that don't fit in the definition of patent, and judges who enforce them -- as I pointed out, people in desperate need of common sense.

    As a mind experiment, imagine a world stripped of all stupid patents (not restricted to software); would you still complain about the current patent law?
  • The UK has been an attractive location for high-tech development because of the pound's strength against the euro, and because of Britain's efficient network of rails supporting the industries that support high tech.

    Efficient network of rails? Uh, have you been abroad for the apt 60 years?

    Still, it's nice to see the UK serving as a role model for others, a role normally enjoyed by France.

    Cesse de fumer le crack.

  • How is locking people out of doing stuff (Ie patenting) protecting rights of the individual? Ok so maybe where back into + versus - Rights world again (freedom to versus freedom from), but the whole concept of patents has been perverted to buggery.
    Ok, so while I can understand a certain form of algorithmic inventiveness as been "invention" , the fact that almost all programmers are inventors of sorts virtually guarantees that prior art will almost always be there, even if it's just in a nutty little one off office app or even in some dudes head ("Hey wouldn't it be great if app x did function y").
    Business practicess should NEVER be patentable, because business tends to flow towards 'how do we get to point a from point b'. In this respect, if point c lies on that line , many businesses will *intuitively* flow though it. Patenting point c makes that transition from A to B non bee-line, and thus limits competition if only one business is allowed to follow that path.
    And to top it off, patents are a government thing. (You don't apply at the local 7-11 for one), thus it's govt limiting freedom to do things.
    Oh, and I must admit, that as a irish-catholic ex-pat I'm a bit of a Fenian at times (it's ugly and I'm working on stopping the attitude), but I gotta admit it, The UK govt's got it sorted here.
  • Does the ruling cover sorting algorithms (sp?). I would think that the inventor of faster sort deserves some sort of money for all the work he did to create it.

    As for your point "This would exclude any other individual or business from "thinking" the same way", it would make me look at the problem and do it differently, maybe even better.

    Ranting:
    We will are getting into way many problems if this rule keeps going on.

    Now if this ruling stays into effect, I have a funny feeling that a trade war will start. What's to stop anybody from stealing the code (software).

    ONEPOINT


    spambait e-mail
    my web site artistcorner.tv hip-hop news
    please help me make it better
  • If you look at Moore's Law why is this even surprizing? Without serveral business practices compounding exponentially why couldn't Moore simply rewrite his fabled law?

    --
  • Just because the control mechanism of a machine has moved from a purely physical implementation to an electronic one does not diminish the truth of its mechanical nature.

    Let me paraphrase this: The fact that something is not physical does not dimish its physical nature.

    My paraphrase sounds absurd, but that is exactly what the original sentence is saying.

    I have two topically random thoughts:
    1. Math is mechanical
    2. Algorithms are mechanical
    And it does not matter that they are mechanical.

    Maybe patents are okay for things you can hold, but they are not okay for things you can think.


    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    ~~ the real world is much simpler ~~
  • There are a number of reasons why people are opposed to software patents. For one, it increases the barrier to entry into the software market. Instead of just being able to hire a programmer to write a program, you may have to hire a dozen lawyers to go over intentionally vaguely worded patents to determine if you might have to try to license the technology from another company. Most patent offices no longer require a sample of the patented device, so determining if you've violated a patent in software is difficult to say the least.

    The second reason there's a lot of opposition to patents is the fact they last 21 years, and in the computer industry, the landscape can drastically change in 6 months. In that light, software patents that last 21 years seems like overkill. Even the timespan it takes to get a patent approved -- sometimes several years, makes software patents hard to defend.

    Another reason is a far more recent approach to patents -- that is the dishonesty some organizations have in suggesting something to a standards organization without disclosing that they have a patent that affects that same area. The most recent indication of this seems to be Rambus, Inc and the JEDEC forum, where Rambus didn't feel it was nessecary to inform participants of their pending patent on SDRAM, and DDR technologies.

    The most frustrating part, however, is the fact that patents aren't usually used to help independent inventors. In most cases, patents are obtained by big businesses to either cripple their competition, or to raise the barrier to entry to prevent new competitors. Just look at the Unisys and LZW patent to see how this can be abused. They didn't bother to mention the patent until after it gained wide use. To dispel some of the fears of using the technology, they said they wouldn't seek royalties from free products using the technology. Later, when the patent was geting close to expiration, they decided it was time to try and extort $5,000 payments from people unfortunate enough to have LZW compressed GIF files on their site. To make things worse, they were completely within their rights to do all of this.

  • "While its quite clear to you and I that algorithms are math, it just took one judge with no knowledge of math or computers to set a precedent."

    IANAJWNKOMOC, and it's not at all clear to me that algorithms are math. In fact, I'm taking the position that alogrithms are NOT math, they are processes. What, after all, is an algorithm? It is a set of operations through which some task is performed. That sure sounds like a process to me. (In my earlier post, I said programs are machines. I stand by both statements.)
  • Now only to get the United States to do the same. I think that will be very hard because of all the patents already out there well we will see.
  • by trims (10010) on Monday March 12, 2001 @04:33PM (#367771) Homepage

    I would argue that all software patents aren't evil, and should be allowed, as should business method patents.

    However, the problem lies in how the USPO (and similar institutions in other countries) seem to interpret an application for a patent on software/business method, and as to the defintion of what is patentable therein.

    I think the basic starting point on this issue is to agree that the subject of a patent is the implimentation, not the idea . Allowing people to patent (and therefore gain exclusive use) of ideas is generally grokked to be a Bad Thing. However, it seems to be a Good Thing to allow for time-limited exclusive use of certain implimentations of those ideas.

    The current problem with Business Method and Software patents in the US is that they've got it backwards - the USPO is now essentially granting patents on ideas. Go read bunch of the applications - its the idea they want exclusive use for, not the implimentation. The patent apps are so general that it can't even be hypothesized that the application is for an implimentation.

    Therefore, I think we should allow patents on Software and Business Methods, but require them to fit these criteria:

    1. For Software, only the code that impliments the idea is protectible.
    2. Packet design is protectible (as it is a concrete implimentation) provided it is part of the whole application. Likewise with APIs.
    3. Specifications are NOT patentable, as they are ideas, and not implimentations.
    4. Mathematical Algorithms are patentable. However, a patent on an algorithm must be obtained seperately. Thus, you cannot invent some neat new way to do Bubble Sort in C, and then claim ownership of all Bubble Sort algorithms. You can invent SuperDuperSort ( a/2 + b/2 +.. = z) and apply for a patent on the algorithm alone.
    5. Business Methods can only be allowed if they are specified in great detail (exactly how each step is to be completed, with what methods, etc.). Methods must be completely different than anything in use anywhere else in order to be granted. In my mind, the model should be similar to cooking recipes - you have a specified series of steps, each of which details what to do.
    6. The protection time should be much shorter than 20 years for Software/Business/Algorithms. The original time was long because there was a considerable setup delay, which doesn't apply in these cases. I would vote for a 3-5 year period.

    I think of software patents as essentially enhanced copyright - the author has come up with a neat way to code a particular problem, and no-one else can use that code segment (even translated into another programming language) until the patent expires. But that should be the limit on software patents.

    -Erik

  • The very existance of GNU and free software is a MONUMENT to the fallacy of your words. People will create even if they're not paid. There were writers before copyright law, musicians and artists too. Get over yourself.

    Anyone who thinks they need the support of armed police and federal agents, backing IP law, to make their living... then maybe you OUGHT to go broke. You exist at the expense of everyone else's freedom. You existance is too expensive.

  • Who is the other guy you pasted on?

    Rate me on Picture-rate.com [picture-rate.com]
  • (applause)

    Very good analogy. That could be a starting point for an entire thesis on the subject of software patents.


    I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.

  • See ghandi wasn't cool.
    Yeah, that really was Ghandi's problem. He really needed a mohawk, a leather jacket, a laser rifle, and some snappy catch-phrases. Like a brown Fonzie! (Ghanzie?) With a mohawk and a laser rifle. Man, that would have been cool.

    He also needed a sidekick, like a talking dog. I'm sure after fasting for a few months, he may have been halluncinating and imagined a dog talking to him... "Eat me, Ghandi. I'm so plump and delicious! Eat me, Ghandi!"... but it's just not the same.

    --

  • "The math is not patented ..., but the software based on that math is."

    Right. Math does not actually do anything; it's just a set of rules. When you create an algorithm, you are not making a mathematical expression, you are making a procedural one.

    So, as I see it, you cannot patent the concept of an integral, but you can patent a specific algorithm for calculating one.

    I maintain that an algorithm is precisely describes a specific process. Rewriting it in a different programming language is a trivial varition at best. On the other hand, I would maintain that changing the nesting order of loops could introduce enough novelty to be considered a different algorithm.

    As for whether you can write a noninfringing GIF decoder, let's just say I'm unconvinced that Unisys' patent covers every conceivable way of interpreting those bits. I believe that there may be devised other, legitimately separate, algorithms to accomplish the same task.
  • ...and, Americans' drive on the opisite side of the road to the British.
  • No it won't.

    Because if the UK company wants to _SELL_ anything in the US, it better comply with all the laws and regulations of the US.

    And if you need an example: It is legal to sell crack in the Netherlands but if a company from Amsterdam wants to sell it to US...
  • Well, at least we'll be able to see a nation with these practices in use. Then those of us in the States (or other countries) can see if it's actually any good.


    Why, we in the USA do it best already! Why would we care how others do it? Just like those Brits, they drive on the wrong side of the road already...

  • anyone who wants a patent will patent it in another country, thus still protecting themselves in as much geographical area as possible..
  • Yes! Finally, someone who sees that thought isn't a device to be patented! Copyrighted (as a written work, namely the code), yes, patented, no.

    Now, let's hope they swing the EU their way. From there, the pressure for the US to finally get a clue ought to increase.
    ----------
  • Couldn't UK businesses also file patents in the US that US companies would have to honor? That way, US companies would be limited by the US's stupid patent system while all the companies in the UK would have free reign.

    Such as the BT patent on hyperlinking [slashdot.org][1], for example? As the example shows, this has been going on for a long time.

    It can only be good for us. We can compete against US companies in our home market, and they can't compete against us in their home market. Software patents are a bad thing. They are bad for software companies. Getting rid of them is good for software companies. This is a great victory (for which we in the UK software industry have campaigned hard), and the sooner the US follows our example, the better... for the US.

    [1] yes, of course that patent should never have been granted... like all other software patents.

  • Packet design is protectible (as it is a concrete implimentation) provided it is part of the whole application. Likewise with APIs.
    That sounds really horrible to me, if I've read you correctly, i.e. that you mean APIs should be patentable per se. I think it's a really bad idea to allow patents on a method of communication. Then, your power to lock people into your system doesn't just stem from the programs you write, but from all the programs which anyone else writes to interact with your system. That could easily give you an unassailable lead and allow you to run a fat, bloated, consumer-unfriendly monopoly.
  • To quote from the conclusion: 19. The Government's conclusion is thus to reaffirm the principle that patents are for technological innovations. Software should not be patentable where there is no technological innovation, and technological innovations should not cease to be patentable merely because the innovation lies in software. So they are saying that if you can claim technological innovation then you can patent software. Damn.
  • Software is not math. Software is a machine.

    Math is a set of abstract concepts that people find useful to apply when we want to model or understand something. Some of math is purely theoretical; an abstract exercise in probing the limits of a set of constraints. Other math is more concrete, used to describe an object, property or process. In this sense, the math only has meaning in that a person can make a mental correlation between the math and the real phenomenon.

    By itself, Math is nothing. It's just a framework that people use for applying thought.

    Software, on the other hand, does something. Its express purpose is to cause a human-built machine to perform a well-defined task. Some of the tasks performed by software exist primarily in the virtual realm (e.g., a program that locates prime numbers), while others directly affect the physical world (e.g., machine control software), and some are in between (e.g., banking and e-commerce).

    In no case, however, is the software simply a set of abstract concepts intended to facilitate human navel-contemplation. Software explicitly describes a process that will take place on a machine under its control. Even an "abstract" algorithm assumes the existence of a defined set of machine instructions. Just because the control mechanism of a machine has moved from a purely physical implementation to an electronic one does not diminish the truth of its mechanical nature.

    We allow the patenting of physical machines and industrial processes. (Whether we should is a question I don't intend to address.) Why should logical ones not receive equal protection?
  • Because if the UK company wants to _SELL_ anything in the US, it better comply with all the laws and regulations of the US.

    As has been pointed out, that won't apply if someone from the US is browsing a website based in the UK and gets a product shipped out.

    It would apply if the UK company actually had a US branch. But by the time you are a multinational company, you probably have the resources to check out patents and stuff more easily.

  • but the fact remains that few would have qualms issuing the second patent.

    The hell it does-- plenty of people would have qualms, if the only innovation is that it's different from an existing "press two button" solution in that it's a wider button set on top of them. There'd have to be more genius behind it than that.
  • Software patents are abhorrent to me insofar as all patentable software is pure math

    Really? So, if I understand your argument correctly, it would be OK for me as the inventor to patent PGP implemented in an ASIC, but I couldn't receive a patent if I implemented PGP in software?

    This seems like an artificial dichotomy.

    Note: no, I am not claiming that I invented PGP. This is an example!

  • by horza (87255) on Monday March 12, 2001 @08:08PM (#367809) Homepage
    Software is not math. Software is a machine.

    I disagree totally. Software is a way of expressing ideas. Software is *not* a machine. The only discernable difference between software and natural language is that it is usually terser in syntax and effort has been made to make it unambigious (though not always true, eg C and /* which can mean start comment or divide by a number pointed to by a pointer). If it is deterministic (which usually follows from being unambiguous, ignoring hardware issues) and has a condition and branch instruction then it is as powerful as any language in existance.

    By itself, Math is nothing. It's just a framework that people use for applying thought.

    By itself, software is nothing. It's just a framework for people applying thought. Without a compiler (which depends on the compiler authors interpretation of how it should be converted to machine code) and a processor (with its own architecture and way of doing things) and supporting hardware infrastructure, software is just writing on a page.

    In no case, however, is the software simply a set of abstract concepts intended to facilitate human navel-contemplation

    With the Unlambda Functional Programming Language [eleves.ens.fr] I rest my case m'lud.

    Just because the control mechanism of a machine has moved from a purely physical implementation to an electronic one does not diminish the truth of its mechanical nature

    Surely a non-mechanical mechanical nature is a contradiction in terms?

    We allow the patenting of physical machines and industrial processes [...] Why should logical ones not receive equal protection?

    We don't. We patent a technological innovation which is implemented in a physical machine or an industrial process. You can still patent a technological innovation in the UK if it is implemented in software. It's not the software you are patenting though but the innovation itself.

    Can I conclude with the point that anyone who has studied computer science will have written software by hand on paper (in an exam) to express ideas to another human being (the examiner) who then understood that expression of ideas without a machine intermediary.

    Phillip.
  • 'ownership of firearms in the UK is not a crime'

    Certain classes of weapons are illegal - principally fully automatic weapons and handguns. The ownership of shotguns and rifles is perfectly legal although a permit is required. There is also an age limit - 14 for shotguns (up to 16 now?) and 18 for rifles.

    Nick

  • You can copyright your post. In most countries this is automatic. That does not stop me from quoting it within fair use, and it does not stop me from using the formula contained within the post. A patent would stop me from using that formula even if I invented it independently and could prove I never even read your post!


    "That old saw about the early bird just goes to show that the worm should have stayed in bed."
  • by nyet (19118) on Monday March 12, 2001 @08:25PM (#367813) Homepage
    "16. The Government does not, however, accept the view - asserted by some respondents - that Open Source software is threatened by the existing extent of patentability. This seems to fly in the face of the facts, notably that during the last decade Open Source software has flourished."

    Excuse me, but I find this blatantly stupid. I see NO positive causal link between the two - in the absence of proving no negative correlation, how can you POSSIBLY that OSS would have flourished LESS if patents simply didn't exist?

    This is like saying that seatbelts cause more fatal accidents. After all, there has been an increase in the number of seatbelts in the US. Similarly, the number of fatalities has increased as well.

    Who ever wrote this little piece of FUD needs a sharp thwack with a clue stick.
  • Not true. The software is not patentable but the technological innovation is. The criteria for the patent detailed here [patent.gov.uk] have not changed. It is saying that if the technological innovation must be implemented in software it should not be excluded. Very different from the software being patented. Personally I am very relieved, working for a small innovative software house, that the government has seen what has happened in the US and taken the best course of action. Now if only they will abolish the RIP bill...

    Phillip.
  • Somebody needs a lesson in causality. That statement is wrong in SO many ways, it makes my head hurt that people are buying it.

    First, prove a causal link. THEN prove that the link is positive and not negative. You will be hard pressed to prove the first, let alone the second.
  • So, by your argument, I should be able to labor for a year in my garage, write a really good book using some neat plot devices, and then prevent anybody else from using those plot devices for seventeen years?

    In fact you are. Is called copyright and it lasts a lot longer than 17 years....

  • In case you STILL haven't figured out how this statement is simply stupid, I have a few case studies for you to research.

    1) LZW
    2) RSA
    3) Frauenhofer

    Any of those sound familiar? If not, don't bother responding.
  • A project to implement a fully Quicktime compatible Linux movie player.

    A project to implement a royalty free, polished mp3 ripper.

    A maintained copy of the newest Linux Kernels with the real time patches applied.

    Anything Else? I know I'm forgeting some.

  • is it so much different than an invention that allows one-button starting of a car? Whether or not either patent would be valid is another story, but the fact remains that few would have qualms issuing the second patent. The difference is merely the distance between tangible space and electronic space.

    No, the difference is, we've woken up to the fact that the patent game is a net drag on the economy and we're saying enough is enough. We've been through the aguments before - if you don't understand by now how patents suck the life out of the development process then you never will.

    Can you give one example of a software patent that has tended to speed up progress in a given area instead of slowing it down? No, I didn't think so.
    --

  • In fact, you arent. Copyright does not prevent anyone using the same plot devices.

    For example, say I write a book about an asteroid knocking the moon out of orbit. If i patent that idea, nobody else can write a book about an asteroid knocking the moon out of orbit. If I copyright it, anyone can write their own book about it.
  • There are a number of reasons why people are opposed to software patents. For one, it increases the barrier to entry into the software market.

    Indeed, but that applies equally to the wooden widget market. Yet you don't see anyone here complaining about the barriers to entry to the wooden widget market due to patents.

    The second reason there's a lot of opposition to patents is the fact they last 21 years, and in the computer industry, the landscape can drastically change in 6 months. In that light, software patents that last 21 years seems like overkill.

    I agree with this one. All this argues for is a smaller time lapse for software patents with which, again, I agree 100%. But again the solution to patents that last too long is not no patents whatsoever, but rather shorter patents for software (in the same spirit, but in opposite effect to patents which are *extended* for drugs with long clinic trials).

    The most recent indication of this seems to be Rambus, Inc and the JEDEC forum, where Rambus didn't feel it was nessecary to inform participants of their pending patent on SDRAM, and DDR technologies.

    This is not-exclusive to software. In fact the patent you have in mind is a half about hardware, so once again, if anything this an argument against *all* patents, not simply software ones.

    The most frustrating part, however, is the fact that patents aren't usually used to help independent inventors. In most cases, patents are obtained by big businesses to either cripple their competition, or to raise the barrier to entry to prevent new competitors.

    Again I agree, and again this is not exclusive to software patents. Yet another case of a clear flaw in the patent system (like stupid patents) which is ascribed to *software* patents when in reality aflicts the entire patent system.

    I must be suicidal, defending patents in /. Already lost karma to some loser who called my previous reasoned posting flame-bait... Oh well is just stupid karma points....

  • Of course, it likely doesnt matter, since Unisys would sue you either way, and you'd stand a fair chance to end up in personal debt wether or not you were 'really' infringing the patent.

    Software patents mean handing loaded guns to corporations who are required by law to shoot you if it may be _profitable_, not legal or 'right'. You may or may not be lucky and have a court jump in and stop the bullet, but most developer would prefer not having to watch their back for every line of code they write.
  • Makes perfect sense. But based on the notion that patents should only be granted in the case of technological innovations, most of the patents granted shouldn't ever have been.

    And THAT is what's wrong with the US Patent Office.

    Too many patents and too many lawyers.

    (I wonder if Slashdot has a patent on Karma?)

    "Everything you know is wrong. (And stupid.)"
  • Couldn't UK businesses also file patents in the US that US companies would have to honor? That way, US companies would be limited by the US's stupid patent system while all the companies in the UK would have free reign.
  • the fact remains that few would have qualms issuing the second patent.

    To bad your argument relies on this.. because a patent on a "one button starting" of a car sounds even more ludicrous than One-Click ordering.

    Bottom line: the idea that anything at all is patentable is really a step backward. Time to ditch the whole system; it really is wholly broken.

    Patent battles very rarely end up with the "innovator" winning. The more we allow this "patenting solves all common-good problems" meme to flourish, the more we are hindering REAL progress.
  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Monday March 12, 2001 @05:16PM (#367836) Journal
    Why is this moderated troll? This isn't someone trolling, this is a VALID point.

    Because moderators are not employees of Slashdot. Moderators are selected pseudo-randomly, to moderate a few items, from registered users with some history and some positive "karma".

    They're SUPPOSED to moderate on the basis of the quality of the post but NOT on the basis of whether it agrees with their opinions. But some yeild to the temtation to moderate down postings with which they have an ideological disagreement.

    There's some feedback: Any registered user is encouraged to "meta-moderate". Click the link at the top of your page and you will be presented with ten moderations, which you can grade as agree/disagree/neutral. Do it daily for a couple weeks and you might get to meta-moderate the guy whose moderation you didn't like.

    Karma is essentailly (mods up) - (mods down + metamods disagree). If enough people ding a turkey moderator his karma will drop until he doesn't get to moderate any more.

    It's not perfect. For starters it doesn't undo the bogus moderation. But at least it's something. (And it can be very satisfying. B-) )
  • by nyet (19118) on Monday March 12, 2001 @08:52PM (#367839) Homepage
    The reward for coming up with a successful business practice is ... drum roll... success. If you are RELYING on the fact that you have an artificial monopoly in your particular business niche, it simply means you can't compete.
  • "Why is this moderated troll?"

    Because

    1) it is a troll.
    2) trolling is all this guy is good for. Look at his pathetic posting history.
  • No, we just went back to the proper Germanic spellings that you guys lost when the French kicked your sorry asses. British English is a bastardisation of a fine language with the awfulness of French. Don't be proud of it.

    -----------------------

  • Anyone who thinks they need the support of armed police and federal agents, backing IP law, to make their living... then maybe you OUGHT to go broke. You exist at the expense of everyone else's freedom. You existance is too expensive.

    Let's substitute some variables:

    Anyone who thinks they need the support of armed police and federal agents, backing [real estate, property, labor, finance] law, to make their living... then maybe you OUGHT to go broke. You exist at the expense of everyone else's freedom. You existance is too expensive.

    The only difference is that IP isn't physical. So what? It's still property. It still has value. Ultimately, all costs are labor costs if you think about it. Actually, money is becoming less and less physical all the time. Do you think we should throw out the SEC laws in the US just because they are enforced by Federal agents attempting to control bits of information?

    Given that, I fail to see how IP law threatens freedom any more than any other law. Certainly, IP law taken to extreme is a threat to liberty, but so is any law.

    At any rate, the Brittish experiment sounds exciting. It will give us an opportunity to see how things work under such a system. I'm less sanguine about them trying to push this through the EU, and the EU in general. Things like this--different nations doing things differently, are why One World government is wrong. One World govt. and economy is wrong for the same reason monoculture crops are wrong. One disease could kill the whole lot. Already the World economy causes problems, such as the US market having an impact overseas.

  • So someone patents a piece of software, or an algorithm, or the like. The math is not patented ("Math is nothing. It's just a framework that people use for applying thought."), but the software based on that math is. So if I use the same math to write a different piece of software, is it covered by the original patent in question? If unisys's lzw decoder is written in C, can I write a legal GIF decoder in PERL, C++, or Java?
  • Hardware patents are abhorrent to me insofar as all patentable hardware is pure physics (physical processess - object like paintings and sculptures are copyrightable expressions, but not patentable). To patent hareware is to grant a government-enforced monopoly on a set of physical operations to a person or group. Yes, that means if you perform or cause to be performed a set of physical operations that someone else has patented, and are discovered, men with guns will come and stop you. Only the patent holders (and licensees, if applicable) are allowed to do this application of physics; because it's a patent, it doesn't matter if you derived these physical operations independently or not. It's hard for me to articulate the degree to which I feel this represents an unconsionable hindrance in the advancement of human understanding. What does society gain by having the government say who may perform what physical operations by beaurocratic fiat?
  • I don't think YOU'RE getting the point.

    The GOVERNMENT is the entity responsible for protecting IP. By protecting IP, you are requiring MORE government intervention.

    If you don't need to protect IP, then the government isn't involved.

    Is this sinking in yet?
  • But, using XOR to draw to the screen (a very simple exclusive-or logical operation) is patented. That's like patenting using ADD instructions.

    No it's not. Using XOR to draw a cursor on the screen is patented. That is a very specific application of the XOR operation. If you told 10 people they had to draw a cursor on the screan, would they come up with using XOR? Probably not. Most will just draw the cursor with the foreground color. But the beauty of using XOR is that the cursor is drawn and is visible no matter where it is drawn, and it is easily erased with another XOR. It's an algorithm that solves a small problem well and probably would not be thought of by most who ar given the problem and haven't heard this before, like a retractable spindle for an earpiece on a cellular phone.

  • by alewando (854) on Monday March 12, 2001 @02:52PM (#367867)
    I'm happy to hear this news, but what's going to happen to the UK now?

    Corporations are still going to get their patents, whatever the government has to say about it. If the UK won't grant it, then they'll just take their business elsewhere. The UK has been an attractive location for high-tech development because of the pound's strength against the euro, and because of Britain's efficient network of rails supporting the industries that support high tech. But a shaky legal situation could undermine investor confidence and shatter these hard-won benefits.

    I can't emphasize it enough: you can't fight big business with government. Governments are just another type of business and know how to look after their own. Businesses have a stronger voice than citizens because of corporate finances, and mark my words, this isn't the last we'll hear about this issue. The UK doesn't have a constitution, so all it will take is another act of parliament tomorrow to turn the tables on intellectual property yet again.

    Still, it's nice to see the UK serving as a role model for others, a role normally enjoyed by France. With luck, business-model and software patents everywhere will be abolished.
  • You mean British companies can't patent obvious business ideas to act as leverage to crush compition...you mean they will ACTUALLY have to compete?! If the Britians can compete, we American businesses are DOOMED!

    -Henry
  • It's not legal to sell crack in the Netherlands you ignorant fuckwit.

    It is not even legal to sell Marijuana in the Netherlands.
  • You might have a point, if the USPO weren't so incredibly ... silly? about what they grant patents for. As it is, however, I think the only safe thing to do is deny software patents totally. This may be unfair to a few people, but better unfair to a few than unfair to all.

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • This is not insightful, it is just plain stupid.

    "how important is this realistically" ? Wtf this means ? UK is probably the most pro-american part of the EU. If UK refuses software patents, it can be a huge win for the EU. "how important is this realistically" ? Well, as important as it can be. America IP laws are fucked, probably definitely. The only hope is that EU and Japan stand against US, if we want our childs to *own* their thoughts.

    > thus still protecting themselves in as much geographical area as possible

    So what ? The only way to eradicate software patent is to make them uninforcable. *If* EU refuses software patents, than development companies may have an interest to be in EU to develop software. In this case, the US will have to relax the legislation to keep the software businesses aboard.

    Cheers,

    --fred
  • Anyway, you are describing entire physical systems, software isn't an entire physical system, so no, none of your options are software.

    So, if I implement my program on a hard disk, I can patent it by specifying a hard disk itself as part of the patent?

    So I file fifty patents, one with my pattern of light and dark spots on a plastic disk (CD), one with my pattern of charged areas on electromagnetic platters (HD), one with it on a electromagentically charged film (FD), one with it as a pattern of holes on IBM punch cards, etc. How is that objectively different (except in my personal expense) than patenting the software itself?

    Ultimately, any algorithm must be implemented as a pattern modifying a physical device to be useful outside of a person's head, and patents are all on physical devices made to specific patterns. So the only answer is that either all my examples are unpatentable, or that software can be patented.

    Steven E. Ehrbar
  • by Adam J. Richter (17693) on Monday March 12, 2001 @02:56PM (#367887)

    From the report:

    19. The Government's conclusion is thus to reaffirm the principle that patents are for technological innovations. Software should not be patentable where there is no technological innovation, and technological innovations should not cease to be patentable merely because the innovation lies in software.

  • Anyone who doesn't like software being patented, tell me where the line is between a patentable gizmo and software is in the following list:

    1. Multipart mechanical device that causes a sewing machine arm to move so that it creates a specific pattern of stitches.
    2. Single-part mechanical device that causes a sewing machine arm to move so that it creates a specific pattern of stitches.
    3. Metal sheet with holes that physically causes a sewing machine arm to move so that it creates a specific pattern of stitches.
    4. Cardboard sheet with holes that physically causes a sewing machine arm to move so that it creates a specific pattern of stitches.
    5. Cardboard sheet with holes that causes electrical contacts to meet in a certain pattern that causes a sewing machine arm to move so that it creates a specific pattern of stitches.
    6. Metal plate that causes electrical contacts to meet in a certain pattern that causes a sewing machine arm to move so that it creates a specific pattern of stitches.
    7. Magnetically charged metal plate that causes quantum forces to allow electrical connections to form a certain pattern that causes a sewing machine arm to move so that it creates a specific pattern of stitches.

    In short, when does the transition move from a patentable design for a control mechanism to unpatentable software?


    Steven E. Ehrbar

  • The bolding was unintentional, I was trying to insert a break. Unfortunately the usual vitriolic imbecilic childish response characteristic of slashdot is provoked. I don't bolding it improved my point but it didn't diminish it either. Grow up.
  • by Dancin_Santa (265275) <DancinSanta@gmail.com> on Monday March 12, 2001 @03:01PM (#367918) Journal
    The idea that software is not patentable at all is really a step backward. As much as we may bitch and moan about how stupid the One-Click patent may be, is it so much different than an invention that allows one-button starting of a car? Whether or not either patent would be valid is another story, but the fact remains that few would have qualms issuing the second patent. The difference is merely the distance between tangible space and electronic space.

    Now should patents be applied to software products? That is a different question. The One-Click patent should clearly explain the process involved in creating a working system (whether through actual source code or through a series of diagrams). In this way, the idea of a one-click system is still open for innovation by other developers who wish to seek new ways of improving on the idea. To prematurely close off a whole area of software by issuing a broad patent would be a bad thing.

    Dancin Santa
  • by UltraBot2K1 (320256) on Monday March 12, 2001 @03:02PM (#367920) Homepage Journal
    I'm afraid I must respectfully disagree with your opinion Mr. qpt.

    Software and business methods are nothing more than ideas and thoughts transcribed into digital or written form. There is nothing to patent. Do your propose that patents be issued on the paper or digital media that the ideas are stored upon? You see, that's precisely the problem. You're talking about an intangible object that spurred as a result of someone's synapses firing in a certain sequence to produce a thought. By your argument, one could propose that anyone else whose synapses fired in that same order, and thus, independantly achieved the same idea, is breaking the law. This is absolutely ludicrous.

    Using your proposed method, I think I'm going to patent the process of transcribing a sequence of 1's and 0's to a digital medium for the purposes of data archival and processing. I will then proceed to sue every software and hardware manufacturer in the world for violation of my patent.

    My point being, where is the line to be drawn? How can an intangible resource such as a thought or business model be "owned" by a single entity or group. This would exclude any other individual or business from "thinking" the same way. The mere idea is absurd. I think the Linux business model and the GPL is the future of software and intellectual property as we know it. Everything will eventually be make made freely available for non-commercial use, and companies will become profitable by providing support and services, not the software itself.

  • Others have to provide you with guns/explosives too. Unless you make them yourself.

    I can buy those frm someone who has made them. I don't have to force anyone to do it.

    - - - - -
  • Sorry, but it's not a bloody tough idea. The whole point of XOR is that you can XOR A and B to get C, then XOR C and B to get A.

    If you think about drawing, an obvious feature is being able to draw and then erase without looking up a saved image.

    Wow, what a stunning leap of logic it must have taken. That certainly deserves a patent. I mean, your average third-grader couldn't have done it. That certainly meets the standard for non-obvious and innovative.

    Sorry for the sarcasm, but using XOR to draw is a basic and obvious use. Maybe a programmer today, in our API-driven world wouldn't think of it, but when cycles counted, they sure would.
  • An armed populace is the ONLY way to be certain that your government won't take too many freedoms.

    Correction: An armed populace is the only way to be certain your government won't take away too many freedoms, if your populace are all dumb as posts. Likewise the only way for a schoolyard bully to get rich is to beat kids up and take their money. The smart ones figure out cleverer - and more effective - ways.

    My feeling is, if the people have sunk to the point where they are too moronic and ineffectual to keep hold of their freedom without resorting to the threat of pointing guns around, then they have lost any claim to said freedom.

  • 1-click shopping is blindingly obvious for a start. I implemented something exactly the same for a company I worked for before (AFAICR) Amazon implemented theirs (for digital works and not tangible goods, and from a prepaid account). And I didn't think I was doing anything new. For me it was a simple extension of the bar tab concept, and that has been around for hundreds of years.

    That's the point the USPO appears to have taken the view that using a specific type of tool to do something by itself makes it an "innovation".
    The Russian patent office also has a problem. With people using very obscure language to describe everyday ideas.
    The actual problem appears to be much the same, with patent examiners taking an approach of "If I don't understand it then it must be an innovation". The approach they should be taking is more "If I don't understand it, file it in the circular file".
  • by raju1kabir (251972) on Monday March 12, 2001 @11:06PM (#367938) Homepage
    The first official peice of legislation passed by the Nazi controlled Reichstag in 1933 was banning of personal firearms.

    As they always say, "At least with Hitler the trains ran on time."

    I can list a million and one things the Nazis did: They glorified white folk, they promoted classical music, they revalued the currency, they recalled some ambassadors, they beefed up the military, they changed the flag.

    Quick: Which one of these is the guaranteed first step down an inexorable path to tyranny?

    Answer: Whichever one you're arguing against at the moment. Because that's how the "The Nazis Did It" school of polemics works.

  • It is not whether the idea is stupid or not. It is about prior art. One-Click is exactly the same as going into a shop where they have your details from before and you being able to pay by credit card and them getting your delivery address from their database.
    I don't know whether there is a patent for the tangible space version, but it is clearly the same as the electronic version, and thus constitutes prior art.


    Since the method predates patents by thousands of years there is unlikely to be a valid patent. Even if there was one when patents were invented that would long ago have expired.
  • by rynoamy (125667) on Monday March 12, 2001 @03:09PM (#367946)
    Why should a company be motivated to research new business practises if it cannot profit from its own work? In todays fast moving, morphing world, business plans are what businesses live and die by - they are the modern rocket science, and many billions are spent daily on their research and practise.

    Okay, I am not an economist or an MBA (I'm a computer scientist and aspiring cognitive scientist), but I fail to see how development of new business methods qualifies as "research". It is innovation in a sense, to be sure, but on what basis should new businesses be allowed to be granted a 15-year (or whatever--is it that long for business method patents normally?) exclusive right to do business a certain way? Isn't allowing business method patents akin to granting the right to limited (in time) ownership of an idea?

    The whole point of patents was that it wasn't the idea per se that was being owned (hence, the reason for publication of the invention), but, rather, the physical realization of it, and the individual (and by logical extension corporation, which is a legal person in the U.S. at least) should thus have the right to grant (or deny) license for others to physically realize the same idea. It's supposed to encourage innovation and invention by enticing others to find better ways to physically realize the same idea, or else to come up with a better idea and, hence, approach to the relevant problem.

    It's never been clear to me that business method patents (and software patents) exactly capture this idea. (certainly not as implemented in the U.S. Patent office, but that's another rant for another time....).

  • That doesn't work. A copyright is for a specific expression of a thought.

    If you copyright "I love walking under the silver moon," that provides you no protection should I write "To me, the light of the moon makes walking a delight." If you paint a picture of a duck with a hat, I can paint a different picture of a duck with a hat, despite your copyright.

    Yet there are countless ways of paraphrasing the description of a process. A patent provides protection on the concept, not the words.

  • I must respectfully disagree. Business methods must live and die by execution, not concept. Business methods are not like cutting-edge drugs or hardware; they do not require multi-million dollar upfront investment in research and development in order to succeed. Unlike things like these goods, which require a great deal of basic and applied research, business methods are a dime a dozen. I can come up with 20 right here and now, if you want. I don't have to go to a lab, buy multi-million dollar equipment, and do lots of math to figure out if my results are real. This goes to the heart of a capitalistic system: if you allow people to sit around and patent every flakey idea that they have, you stifle innovation, rather than encourage it.

    I would argue that Britian is allowing more individual rights, rather than fewer, by allowing a darwinistic struggle for business survival rather than a patent-fest. In fact, this competition can only make business less complacent and staid!

  • I imagine the number of entirely daft patents that must engulf the US office is probably greater than the total number of UK applications!

    Maybe they need to install a paper burning heating system or such like.
  • If the UK won't grant it, then they'll just take their business elsewhere.

    You don't understand the concept. If these practices aren't patentable in the UK, then patents made elseware aren't enforcable to UK buisnesses either. So UK buisnesses (and any others that decide to re-locate to the UK) are free to use "one click shopping" or "floatable toolbars" in whatever they want, with no fear of repercussions. I would think this will be a big boon to buisness in the UK.
  • What society gains is clear in kind, although debatable in amount, or relative value. By limiting (for a period) who may perform these operations, society encourages the inventors to publicise them, so that everyone knows (in principle) that they exist, and could possibly be licensed, and so that after the patent period expires, everyone can use them. In addition, the prospect of a monopoly period encourages the sometimes laborious process of filling in all the details of the original idea and making it usable, which might otherwise not be worthwhile.

    This is the claimed benefit of patents, whether of mathematics or of a mechanical design or of a DNA sequence. It is basically a decision for politicians what the cost/benefit analysis is for patents in a particular domain, what the period should be, what the "obviousness" test should be, and so on. In this case, I think the UK has called it better than the US, but I don't really see how algorithm patents are different in kind to other patents.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2001 @03:19PM (#367975)
    No actually it does support the concept of no software patents. Think of it in legal speak and what is currently happening.

    A patent can be granted in the US if the process that is happening in software is an old process, but not in software. And a patent can be granted for "frivoulous" innovation because the line for innovation has not been clearly drawn.

    What this phrase is saying is that, software by default are not patentable. However, if you have something that is REALLY innovative then yes software can be patented. What this means is that before you can patent or receive a patent, you better have a DAMM good idea.

    To a degree the American system is worded like this, but the problem has been that the court system moved the line towards frivoulous patents. This is good because the UK patent system has drawn a line to the correct side.
  • As the other reply says, you can (and it's automatic usually) copyright your post.

    But your copyright won't hold up if it's the simplest possible expression of an idea.

    If you mean x times x = y, you write x^2=y. That's the obvious thing to write.

    So your copyright wouldn't forbid anyone else from using that, 'fair use' quoting or not.

    But, if you wrote x^7/x^5 = sqrt(y^2) or something, and then printed it up in nice calligraphy, your copyright would be much more enforcable because you didn't use the obvious and simplest expression, and you didn't express it in the obvious way (block characters, with a ballpoint, etc).

    The nice thing about copyrights is that they allow independant discovery. If you unintentionally reproduce 99% of _Lord_of_the_Rings_ the Tolkein estate can't force you to not print your version. If you can show that you came up with it independantly and it's not derived from any of their copyrighted properties.

    With a patent, that sort of thing would cover any use of elves and dwarves with sub-human sized protagonists in an apocalyptic story. And it wouldn't matter who came up with it first, or if both were independant. The patent would win out.

    Now, thankfully that's not a valid patent...

    But, using XOR to draw to the screen (a very simple exclusive-or logical operation) is patented. That's like patenting using ADD instructions.

  • "16. The Government does not, however, accept the view - asserted by some respondents - that Open Source software is threatened by the existing extent of patentability. This seems to fly in the face of the facts, notably that during the last decade Open Source software has flourished."

    Hey, they've got a point - software patents have been issued often enough in the 1990s, and OSS has boomed nonetheless, much more than in the 80s (then again, so did the entire industry).

    Someone quoted the latter half of this, but it's important that the first part is emphasized:
    "Software should not be patentable where there is no technological innovation, and technological innovations should not cease to be patentable merely because the innovation lies in software."

    Perhaps they're more receptive to claims that the patent is not innovative or original, but only actual cases can show this, not statements of principle.

    "However, the Government agrees with those respondents who said that at present the law is not clear enough, and that this is damaging. Clarification is needed."

    Thank you, few governmental actions bother me more than vague and poorly worded laws. Who knows if anything will come of this, but it's a bit reassuring.

    "The Government's conclusion is that those who favour some form of patentability for business methods have not provided the necessary evidence that it would be likely to increase innovation. Unless and until that evidence is available, ways of doing business should remain unpatentable."

    That's also reassuring, lawsuits about copying how a competitor operates is something I'd rather not see (or see more prevalent). It's what competition and capitalism is all about.

  • One-[Click/Push/etc] pattents shouldn't be valid.

    I don't care if it's ordering a book or starting a car, the innovation is in making a switch that allows a car to be started with a button push, or a key turn. Once that's done, the rest is just packaging. It's like saying that the idea of a blue car should be patentable...

    Patents should cover an actual invention, not just a sales-driven repackaging.

    And as for inventions, nothing should be patented if it's the only reasonable way to do something.

    Some poster mentioned patenting the formula for figuring out the area of a circle, mentioning that it encouraged other people to find a better formula. *WHAT*?

    There are many other ways to do this, such as use calculus, or statistic sampling of random points in a bounding area, but that's just insane.

    Patenting pi*r^2 shouldn't be possible. Nor should any similar patents be possible. I dunno what the formula for figuring out the 'volume' of a nine-dimensional 'sphere' is, but you can't patent it just because you thought of a use for nine-dimensional spheres...

    Now, if you come up with a good way to make hardware do the calculation, such as, implement 'this' design, with these shift registers, this floating point unit, etc. That would be patentable because it's merely an implementation of the idea.

    We're allowing people to patent whole areas, or whole inventions. (ie, using recording media to store video and sound.) Instead of specific implementations. (Use 1' tape wound between two spools. Encode a frame of video thusly, then store in this fashion.) That doesn't help innovation, it squashes it completely by preventing any improvements on the basic idea that another company could make.
  • by isaac_akira (88220) on Monday March 12, 2001 @03:22PM (#367981)
    In today's cut-throat economy, businesses need every competitive advantage they can muster.

    If their business method is so bad-assed that they want a patent, they shouldn't NEED a patent to help them out: They will dominate the market because customers like what they do. Business methods don't usually involve a lot of money to think up, just to implement. I could think up Amazon's business method (let people easily buy books online) while sitting on my couch, but it takes a hellava lot of money and effort to actually do it.
  • So people simply order the products from a company in the UK.

    Especially in the computer world where delivery time for a software product can be dependant on your bandwidth.

    So people will just start buying more on the internet from companies not in the USA.

    Now, that'd be ammusing. If the USA's protectionist trade policies, in the form of letting US companies patent air and other notable innovations, would end up hurting US commerce to the point where the companies themselves lobbied to get rid of software patents.
  • by Salsaman (141471) on Monday March 12, 2001 @03:50PM (#367985) Homepage
    Don't confuse patents with copyright. IANAL, but as I understand it, the law in this country (UK) says that if I write a program, (or indeed create any work- poem, essay, etc), then I automatically own the copyright.

    What I can't do is to patent that (intangible) idea. Thus another company could come along and create a program that did the same as mine, AS LONG AS THEY DON'T USE MY CODE DIRECTLY, i.e. it is a 'clean room' implementation, and it would be perfectly legal.

    IMO this is a good thing since it means that a) I have the advantage since I created the program first, and b) I and the other company must compete on the merits of our code.

    As another poster pointed out, this is precisely the opposite of what companies like Microsoft do.

  • "that Open Source software is threatened by the existing extent of patentability"
    The argument was NOT that patents HAD been used against free software but COULD be and WOULD be used by companies which ( which not who, not a natural being) are known to use whatever means they can.
    Therefore the use of the word threatened and not attacked
  • Where do you draw the line then? There are plenty of democratic countries - wouldn't businesses find them to be better environments if people couldn't freely speak out against such businesses or boycott them, etc.?

    The needs of real people are more important than the needs of companies. Many businesspeople, I find, have a strange habit of leaving their conscience at home when they go to work. They think that because it's a company doing things that they're not responsible. That their job precludes exercising their moral faculties. In short, they're terrible.

    If we stand against letting companies tell people how to run their own lives, and subverting their rights and governments, they'll crumble. They haven't got any more power than what we grant them, yet we keep thinking of them as invincible - that's where their power is deriving from.

    Say no more. The UK, while well known for doing stupid things (esp. wrt infringing on the freedoms of its citizens) has done a wise thing here. If I had a business, their attitude would appeal to me. The long term interests of society are worth more due diligence than the short term profits that I could make by attacking their soverignty. But businesspeople never realize this; they pollute, they help to corrupt and/or overthrow governments, they try to silence critics....

    There's more to life than money, my friend. What good is it, if the whole world has gone to hell as a direct result of your persuit of it?
  • God, and here was I, in my ignorance, unaware that gun ownership was a 'personal freedom'. I suppose you object to our rights to own plastic explosives / cocaine / child porn / slaves being trampled on too.

  • Unless software and business method patents are upheld, the future is filled with Microsofts. They operate by stealing the technology of other companies and then repackaging it as their own.

    So? Nothing is stopping us from taking it and making it free either. Stuff like this scares large companies sh*tless, which is why you will probably never see this become a reality in the US. This country is headed in the exact opposite direction. We want to put a price tag on everything.

    Oh no, I'm glad to see Britain making this move, but it's just not going to matter over here. Too much money saying otherwise. Of course, you never know what an economic crash can stir up.. ;*)

  • >Software and business methods represent the blood, sweat, and toil of hard-working individuals

    Whoa. Individuals don't get software patents, corporations do. No individual could afford the legal fees to fight off large corporations who want their patents. If nobody wants the patent, and it's useless, then an individual is allowed by the corporations to keep it ;)

    What we want in software is the same kind of competition and innovation we've seen in PC hardware.

    PC hardware has been open since Compaq reverse-engineered the IBM PC Bios. Although the CPU and OS remained proprietary (and those two companies got enormous profits from their proprietary products atop open hardware), open hardware gave us the PC revolution.

    Intel has been able to squelch competition for years: anybody who wants to make an Intel clone still has to pay royalties to Intel. That's why it's taken so long for competitors to beat intel at the PC CPU game.

    Furthermore, if hardware patents were being granted the way software patents are being granted, for example: the first "video card", patented, would have ended competition in video cards, and we'd be at the mercy of that vendors rate of innovation, like we are with Microsoft's dictated rate of innovation.

    Patents are not currently responsible for the lack of software competition (they've only been allowed since '98), but, they have the potential to replace closed-source proprietary standard lock-ins as the method to stop competition.

    For Open Source, we could win the battle but loose the war: rid ourselves of the closed source OS, only to have patents replace closed source as the means to stop competition.

    Lets give software competition a chance, and quit continuously locking one company into a monopoly position.

  • This is a sensible document and gets back to the basics of WHY we have patents. Patents are an unnatural mechanism designed to encourage investment in innovation. When that mechanism offers unfair competitive advantages for minimal investment then it is bad. Nobody believes that the one click invention would not have been invented without Amazon. A dozen companies would have come up with the same idea by now (and some have independently). So giving Amazon a 20 year monopoly on the idea unfairly enriches them and stifles innovation. In other words it has the opposite effect from that intended. Software engineers close to these issues know this. Companies out there are filing for patents on inventions they never intend to use, they are merely trying to set up road blocks for their competition. It is common practice to try and broaden the scope of a patent beyond the original invention to create as big a minefield as possible for companies who might infringe in future. Patents are no longer about protecting inventions, they have become a system of patronage to wield as a business weapon against unwary competitors. It is no accident that large corporations support them and independent operations do not. Does anyone really think that large corporations are more innovative than the thousands of individual developers out there? Of course not, but patents give them the legal clout they need to tax the rest of the industry and sustain their revenues. The letter posted was remarkably well informed for a government agency IMHO. Well done U.K.
  • In any industry where creating an invention or industrial process takes many years and billions of dollars, patents are a good idea, since they theoretically require the inventor to reveal their knowledge and license it for a reasonable fee, while maintaining economic incentive to develop such knowledge in the first place.

    Software and "business models" are not that kind of industry. Even putting aside the sheer obviousness of most such patents, it takes minutes to weeks to come up with the ideas, and a few to a few thousand programmer-hours to implement them.

    Also, it's not cost-effective to do a patent search whenever you need an algorithm. This means that

    • the whole point of patents isn't applicable, since the information isn't revealed effectively, anyway. (if you really need an algorithm and want to save yourself some trouble, you go out and buy a commercial library, for which the interests of the builder are protected by copyright law)
    • you have no way to find out what patents you're reinventing, as doing so would reduce your productivity by orders of magnitude

    As a result, the only thing software patents do is get in the way, and make any patented algorithm much less useful to the general public. Being patented is a blight on the widespread use of an algorithm; potential users avoid it because of the vast overhead and onerous legal entanglements the patent causes.

    And "business models" are a complete scam. How can you have a competitive market if the whole market is patented?

    Finally, as many have said, the presence of software patents hasn't kept the industry from being filled with Microsofts. Patents give big business an edge over potential competitors, not the other way around, since big businesses are the only entities who can afford to apply for such patents on a regular basis.

  • Wow, this article was great! It was nice to see a neutral observer critique the whole OSS / Proprietary Software debate. The courts brought up many new ideas that I tend to agree with, and challenged some of the precepts I most firmly believe in. I'm glad the UK court made this decision, and am doubly glad to see that did it with such dignified thought and contemplation.


    ---
  • by rynoamy (125667) on Monday March 12, 2001 @04:11PM (#368015)
    Now should patents be applied to software products? That is a different question. The One-Click patent should clearly explain the process involved in creating a working system (whether through actual source code or through a series of diagrams). In this way, the idea of a one-click system is still open for innovation by other developers who wish to seek new ways of improving on the idea. To prematurely close off a whole area of software by issuing a broad patent would be a bad thing.

    In once sense, what you're saying is right, since it strikes to the heart of what patents are for: the hard part is the research and development effort required to turn an idea into a working product, and it is this effort that is protected by the patent.

    But on the other hand, the problem with software patents is precisely the difficulty in drawing this distinction. It's not at all clear if an implementation is not just a detailed expression of an idea. Basically, if a patent contains a detailed explanation of something (say, my new-fangled B-crap-tree database file structure) through the use of diagrams, UML, or whatever, and no source code, than I've merely expressed the idea in detail and have not given the details of how I implemented it. But if it goes all the way to the level of source code, it's really too particular to be useful as a patent, because anyone can change the structure of their program and implement basically the same thing without stressing their R&D effort too much.

    I guess all this does is suggest that answering the question of what constitutes patentable software is an in principle hard question. The same is true of anything, but I think it's a particularly hard balance to strike with software, and hence the difficulty of writing regulations and standards that a government agency will have to abide by.

  • Hey, they've got a point - software patents have been issued often enough in the 1990s, and OSS has boomed nonetheless, much more than in the 80s (then again, so did the entire industry).

    Depends on how you look at it.

    It takes a couple of years to get a software patent and we have only recently started to see software patent enforcement.

    The GIF patent is the first one I recall in the 90s. Look at the Gimp (w32 1.2), it doesn't read or write GIF files. So it seems that software patents have affected OSS since the Gimp is one of the most successful examples of OSS development. If I want to create a GIF I have to use Photoshop or another software product that is either not-free or illegal, and technically the latter should not be an option.

    The 90's were also a time of extreme change in software development. It started out being a heavy C decade and now it is C++, Java, web scripting, etc. M$ started out as a relatively unimportant company and is now the big nasty (M$ was actually the good guy in the Word vs Wordperfect battle, IMHO.) There are more programmers now than ever before, churning out code faster than ever before.

    There was a lot of innovation in the 90's, and the companies that patented code are only just starting to try enforcing it. If we are lucky, the US will adopt a similar stance as the UK.
  • by isaac (2852) on Monday March 12, 2001 @03:50PM (#368017)
    Software patents are abhorrent to me insofar as all patentable software is pure math (algorithms - data like text and graphics are copyrightable expressions, but not patentable). To patent software is to grant a government-enforced monopoly on a set of mathematical operations to a person or group.

    Yes, that means if you perform or cause to be performed a set of mathematical operations that someone else has patented, and are discovered, men with guns will come and stop you. Only the patent holders (and licensees, if applicable) are allowed to do this math; because it's a patent, it doesn't matter if you derived these mathematical operations independently or not.

    It's hard for me to articulate the degree to which I feel this represents an unconsionable hindrance in the advancement of human understanding. What does society gain by having the government say who may perform what mathematical operations by beaurocratic fiat?

    -Isaac
  • In which case, I'd choose no government intervention. Granted, it may allow for such ridiculous patents as the Amazon ones, but it's better than a company not being able to protect their IP at all.

    I don't quite understand your reasoning here - if you don't want government intervention, then why do you think it's better for the government to protect business method "patents"? If you don't want government intervention, then you should be in favor of letting companies coming up with & executing business methods because it will make them money, not because the government will guarantee them some profit by coming up with the idea.

  • by 7-Vodka (195504) on Monday March 12, 2001 @04:20PM (#368021) Journal
    Those 2 patents (one click shop and a one click warm up device for the car) are VERY different!!

    One patents an implementation the other an idea. If you want to come up with your own device to start a car with a button you're free to do so. If you want to come up with your own way to make a site with '1 click shopping' you can't!! because they patented ALL the possible ways to do it (in effect).

    thats just wrong.

    "just connect this to..."
    BZZT.

  • God, and here was I, in my ignorance, unaware that gun ownership was a 'personal freedom'. I suppose you object to our rights to own plastic explosives / cocaine / child porn / slaves being trampled on too.

    Explosives, guns and cocaine, yes. Slaves and kiddie porn, no. People have no right to something someone else must provide (especially if they must provide it against their will) -- ruling out ownership of slaves, and making kids have sex in front of a camera.

    But people do have a right to own explosives, guns and cocaine.

    - - - - -
  • http://www.cs.iastate.edu/jva/jva-archive.shtml

    To quote the site:
    "On October 19, 1973, US Federal Judge Earl R. Larson signed his decision following a lengthy court trial which declared the ENIAC patent of Mauchly and Eckert invalid and named Atanasoff the inventor of the electronic digital computer -- the Atanasoff-Berry Computer or the ABC."

    Atanasoff had filed for the patent right before World War II, but Iowa State University forgot to submit it, so it never went through. ENIAC was basically modeled after one of the two guys came to ISU and copied down the stuff Atanasoff had in his computer.

    Computers wouldn't be cheap now and the Personal Computing craze would have been set back about a decade had that Judge not ruled as he did. It might not have happened at all in fact. Depends on how you look at it.

    I just find it funny how some of the biggest advancements in technology take place because of failed patenting efforts. Patenting the compuer sounds stupid now, but someone owns the patent on v.90, on USB, and other assorted items that I find ridiculous today.

    One-click shopping can be patented, but it's never One-click anyway. You always have to verify. So someone can come up with "Two-click" shopping and if there is a lawsuit because it resembles one click. They'll win, and two-click shopping will be widely used. I don't know what the big deal is about there actually being a patent on a widely used item.

Everyone can be taught to sculpt: Michelangelo would have had to be taught how not to. So it is with the great programmers.

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