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Patents Software

End Software Patents Project Comes Out Swinging 205

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the amicus-populorum dept.
Linux.com is reporting that the End Software Patents project is launching several new initiatives to help drive support for their cause. Among the new methods are a web site, a report on the state of patents in the US, and a scholarship contest promising to award $10,000 "for the best paper on the effects of the patentability of software and business methods under US law." "The project is being launched with initial funding of a quarter million dollars, supplied primarily by the Free Software Foundation (FSF). Under the directorship of Ben Klemens, a long-time advocate of software patent abolition best-known for the book Math You Can't Use: Patents, Copyright, and Software, the project is being supported by the FSF, the Public Patent Foundation, and the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC). One of ESP's goals is to enlist support from academics, software developers, legal experts, and business executives. Its initial supporters show that the project is already well on its way to building such a coalition."
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End Software Patents Project Comes Out Swinging

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  • by rumblin'rabbit (711865) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @09:54PM (#22613250) Journal
    Here's what the web site suggests for changing patent law.

    Patents should be allowed for: * 1) devices with mechanical components * 2) physical compounds that can be weighed on a scale. Patents should never be awarded to: * 1) Ideas * 2) processes, recipes, software programs
    This prohibits far more than software patents - some types of medical treatments, manufacturing processes, and so on. That might be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

    This confirms what I already suspected - it is brutally difficult to define a software patent. It's one of those problems that seems easy at the onset, but gets more and more complicated the more you think it through.
  • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Saturday March 01, 2008 @10:09PM (#22613340) Homepage Journal
    Here is an interesting post WRT programming languages:

    I was struck with how many of the good ideas in programming languages were discovered early on. The decade 1964-1974 seems to have been a "Golden Age": most of the good ideas of programming languages appeared then.
    http://lambda-the-ultimate.org/node/2059 [lambda-the-ultimate.org]
    Maybe we could start with the birth of, say, Unix and pick our way forward in time, cataloging the various ideas, a la Aristotle. I think a graph of the count of genuinely new discoveries per year would drop off at a brisk pace.
    But I don't think the USPTO can handle that sort of truth. Truth has deleterious effects on business models, you know.
  • by TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @10:33PM (#22613454) Journal
    The production of tangible objects is more open to variation, since you have a huge spectrum of techniques at your disposal. You can truly "think outside the box" to tools that others may have not even considered yet, and create true innovation. Not only that, but others can easily find other ways to do the same thing in a completely different way, and the two ideas can compete.

    Software is built from limited sets of CPU instructions. For 99% of the tasks that a computer has to do, there is one most efficient way to do it, and we can't afford to sell off those best practices to any one person or group. If software patents are to stay, their scope must apply only to extremely high-level, subjective concepts (e.g. GUIs), rather than lower level, under-the-hood concepts (e.g. linked lists).
  • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Saturday March 01, 2008 @10:44PM (#22613528) Homepage Journal
    We live in the only period of history where it is possible to get a patent on something you discovered without claiming you invented it. If I found a piece of farming equipment that did some novel thing and I went and applied for a patent on it, I would be asked to declare that I invented it and it is not the work of someone else - to satisfy the no-prior-art test. If, however, I am pulling apart a bacterium or some other living creature, the patent office will happily grand me a patent on its genes - they won't even ask me if I invented these genes because it is assumed that I am just patenting a discovery.

  • by LingNoi (1066278) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @10:48PM (#22613554)
    There's a 3D shader technique called Phong shading [wikimedia.org]. If Phong shading was patented then Blinn-Phong [wikimedia.org] would never have be discovered which is a change in math. Blinn-Phong is faster and provides more accurate results.

    All software is a form of math, one technique can have completely different looking math but produces the same results such as the prior example. You can not patent math because you didn't invent anything, you just discovered the formula which was already there.
  • by sumdumass (711423) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @10:52PM (#22613568) Journal
    I don't think it has to do with abstracts of truth and business models as much as it does a severely overloaded and inexperienced system that relies heavily on the applicant to find and odder prior art. Combine that with an vague and somewhat ambiguous court ruling that allowed software patents in the first place, and you can see the abuse isn't necessarily malice on the USPTO.

    We have to remember, it was a court ruling that added software patents to the system, not a well constructed law laying out definitions and boundaries. Our fearless (US) leaders decided it would be better to just create a court for disputes instead of defining some things that seriously seem to be out of whack. The result is the often trolled and abused system we take for granted today.

    The so called "good guys" spent too much time fighting the process in an attempt to get some sanity to the ordeal. Now it seems that they have to play catch up and suffer the role of quarterback and getting sacked in the game that shouldn't need to be played while they build up their defensive line. And seeing how no analogy would be complete without a referece to a car, they drove a red car to the game.
  • by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @10:53PM (#22613572)
    IMHO, what this guy has to say about programming languages is about as valid as my dad saying that no good music has been made since the 1960's.

    He's trapped in the past. I'm sure there'd be an argument for why programming innovations of the last 10 years aren't really interesting or aren't as important as his Golden Age, just as there are people who think you can mathematically prove that rock was perfected in 1968. At best, you can make it work with a very narrow definition of what qualifies, just as you can prove that modern music has little innovation if you decide that only Gregorian Chant really qualifies as music.

    Meanwhile, the world moves on and a generation of programming pioneers trades their vision for early admission to Future Fossil Fuels university.
  • by snl2587 (1177409) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @11:24PM (#22613694)

    What does this have to do with software patents, though? The problem isn't so much that ideas are patented (since one could send in source code of a program using the idea) but the insane crap that gets patented. Theoretically no patents are supposed to be awarded for obvious extensions of previous patents, but it seems more and more software patents are being awarded for things that are simply a different way of looking at things.

  • Re:FSF and RMS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @12:12AM (#22613832) Journal

    In fact, I'd go so far as to say that all of the major innovations in the field of computer software were created prior to the U.S. allowing patents, including:

    • Time sharing/process scheduling (late 1950s)
    • Symmetric multiprocessing (mid 1960s)
    • UNIX (late 1960s)
    • TCP/IP (early 1970s)
    • Paged memory management (early 1970s)
    • Non-linear video editing (early 1970s)
    • Ethernet (mid 1970s)
    • Modern graphical user interfaces (late 1970s)
    • Mice (late 1970s)

    When you get right down to it, my computer still basically works the same way as System 1.0 Mac, just with color graphics, a lot more general UI polish, and a lot more features. The basic overall feel, however, is still pretty much the same, only faster. Under the hood, most operating systems still work basically the same way as UNIX did in the 1970s. Computer hardware has gotten much faster and smaller, which has allowed lots of things to be possible that weren't feasible at the time, but even most of the things we think of as "new" like digital video editing date all the way back to the early 1970s, albeit on specialized computer hardware that would fill your entire garage. The only giant leaps since the 80s have been in hardware designs. and, to a limited degree, in the software necessary to support advancement in the hardware.

    Where, then, are the huge leaps that software patent proponents promised? Why did those leaps basically dry up as software patents became entrenched in the U.S.? Outside of a few specialized areas like computer graphics and voice recognition, the computer industry basically has been stagnant since software patents became legal. Worse, most of the "revolutionary" ideas since then have either been evolutionary dead ends like NUMA and ccNUMA or have taken absurdly long to catch on like touch screens, which first appeared commercially in the early 80s, but outside of POS systems and PDAs/smartphones, are still almost nonexistent in the marketplace.

    If you need proof that patents don't inherently result in increased innovation (at least in computers), the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Would the innovation slowdown have occurred in the same way if we didn't have patents? Maybe, but I can tell you that there is a lot less pure research being done in major tech companies now than at any time in the past couple of decades. If patents are supposed to encourage research spending, they are sure doing a lousy job of it.

  • by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:19AM (#22614034) Journal

    Take the ten thousand dollars, multiply it by ten thousand, and use that to fly congressmen and women and senators to luxury resorts; buy the kids and grandkids of same tuition to ivy league universities; get them jobs on the boards of major corporations that pay big money with little or no responsibility... etc. etc. etc. If that doesn't work use the remaining money to find the weaknesses of same and exploit them. Just like the people who are paid to advocate software patents to legislators. Then you will get rid of the software patents. You have to fight fire with fire.

    Nice polite little information campaigns and essay contests talking about giving it to the 'man' won't do squat. The only people who will listen to those are the people who already agree with you.

  • by coxapple (1249340) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:32AM (#22614086)
    Dear All, It is with amazement that I read of the polarized debate going on in the US. The present US software patenting system is broken and the proposal to abolish software patenting would throw the baby out with the bathwater. The whole of Europe uses a unified system that permits such patents but forces them to jump through rigorous test to cut the crap that is patented in the US and that clogs up the US patenting system and cause endless costs and angst in the software community. In Europe software is patentable only if it has technical effect, is non-obvious and doesn't simply automate a process (to describe some of the constituents) . See for a brilliant simple description : http://www.iusmentis.com/patents/software/epc/ [iusmentis.com] So, for example, a colleague (the inventor) and I patented and made work in principle a revolutionary new way to detect touch which is superior to methods existing, simple and cheap (which Tyco Electronics bought and called acoustic pulse recognition). The method could only be expressed and operated in software . If the software for making that technology work was not patentable, I would not have funded the project and taken the extensive grief over five years and the technology would not have been developed . Even though the returns were modest, such an outcome is necessary to undergo such sweat and tears. By contrast in the US, parties are roving the US patenting or buying up patents for software that covers obvious processes, where the application took five minutes and no risk capital was involved, and then suing people. US industry (especially the vulnerable smaller companies) runs scared of infringement because there is no way of checking all the software patenting filed or applied for effectively to check if you are infringing.. I appeal to your sanity. Just copy the European software patenting system lock stock and barrel and you will live happily ever after in this part of life! Graham Cox
  • Re:Obscurity (Score:4, Interesting)

    by asuffield (111848) <asuffield@suffields.me.uk> on Sunday March 02, 2008 @02:03AM (#22614172)

    The reason for posting the above link it not to boast, as the code and the concept are very trivial, it is there just to show that I'm not against Open Source or Free Software, but just to make a point that Free as in beer is free for you but not for the one who serves it to you.


    That's not true. Very frequently, the scenario operates like this:

    Person A has a need for a piece of software to do X.

    Person A creates a piece of software to do X.

    Person A is now in possession of a piece of software to do X, and has gained from it - he is "paid" by having something to do X, which he did not have before. He created it purely because he needed it. But he's still got that software. He doesn't need to bury it in a hole. So he releases it for other people to use, and in no way does this cost him anything.

    Person B has a need for a piece of software to do X and Y. He takes person A's software, and extends it to do Y as well.

    The cycle continues. Each person involved benefits from the existence of the software that they need, which would not otherwise exist. Since they all would have had to create the software anyway (since they needed it and it didn't exist), it costs them nothing to let other people use it. And all of them are better off because they have shared the work, rather than each one duplicating it themselves: giving it away has actually gained them something, it hasn't cost them something.

    Behind most successful free software projects is a cycle of individual need and gain like this one.
  • by dvice_null (981029) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @03:42AM (#22614416)
    > who the hell wants to spend their life researching or fund researching it if there is not money in it?

    Who the hell wants to spend their life on developing free open source software? That's right, lots of people. Some people actually can and will care more about the human kind than themselves. And some people might even want to find a cure for someone they know.

    Optimal solution would be that all countries would give money into same pool, where money would then be shared for research projects that would research new medicine and publish everything in public domain. This would mean two things:
    - cheaper medicine as anyone could manufacture them
    - faster research as all information would be public
    - Less money spend on medicine marketing

    So in short this would:
    - Take money from the super rich (owners of the med companies) to the poor (users of medicine).
    - Keep people more healthy (as med research speed would increase)
    - Take money from marketing to research (if same amount of money would be used)

    Obviously it would not be easy to establish such a contract, especially since a lot of (med company) money would be spend on lobbying people against it. But it is nice to dream.
  • by logixoul (1046000) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @03:57AM (#22614454)

    Having no software patents at all would still be a massive improvement over what we currently have. And we don't know how to build a better system.
    How about this -> http://yro.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=430698&cid=22190456 [slashdot.org]
  • Tell me... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by V!NCENT (1105021) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @10:00AM (#22615356)
    Is there any software invention, that is patented by it's creator, that has improved computing? Now make a list of what harm patents have already caused. Now give that list to the senator, see if he still thinks software patents are for the better.
  • by twitter (104583) * on Sunday March 02, 2008 @10:25AM (#22615494) Homepage Journal

    what this guy has to say about programming languages is about as valid as my dad saying that no good music has been made since the 1960's.

    That's got to be one of the worst analogies ever but I can make it better. A person who's completely ignorant of music history and guided only by some sort of reptilian imprinted taste might think that way about music. Bigotry and science are polar opposites so we should not be bound by these thoughts any more than we are bound by 1970 era machines but the old saw, "those who don't know Unix are doomed to reinvent it, poorly," is still true. For all that, music and software have on fundamental thing in common: both are particular expressions based on mathematical and machine rules.

    Software patents are more like business method or math patents (which don't exist outside of software yet!), they steal fundamental and common ideas and are discoveries at best. Like music, these methods are really just expressions of underlying natural patterns and are better covered by copyright. People can express the same things without stepping on each others toes with copyrights. Also like music the basic structures and techniques based on math have been understood for a long time, and have "golden ages" associated with them. Software patents take away the fundamentals and that's just wrong. Music patents, if they existed, would cover such basics as 4 4 tempo, syncopation or the use of strings to produce notes. When you get down to it, software patents are just a silly as that. As End Software Patents points out, programmers never asked for such things. Neither have musicians.

  • by Heddahenrik (902008) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @12:33PM (#22616140) Homepage
    Guess who will win :/

    http://economie.moldova.org/stiri/eng/39281/ [moldova.org] says
    "The U.S. legal system imposes a cost of $865 billion a year on the
      U.S. economy, or $9,800 a family"

    https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/print/us.html [cia.gov]
    says GDP (official exchange rate): $13.79 trillion (2007 est.)

    So about 6% of the USA's economy is flushed down the drain that is the US legal system.

    It would be interesting to see a chart of how the legal costs have been raising (or falling) over time. Maybe it's not so scary as many of us think, or maybe it's worse.
  • by 3seas (184403) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @12:46PM (#22616220) Journal
    .... software.

    A similar slashdot story was just the day before see: http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/02/29/0344258 [slashdot.org]

    Honestly, this call for papers and award is along the lines of asking for more on top of what we already have, proof that going against nature will bring you harm.
    i.e. step off the empire state building...you will fall and die. Drive a car into a solid wall @ 500 mph, you will die.

    Make software patentable and you will suffer the consequence of contradicting nature just the same.

    People are born everyday with a blank slate of knowledge, but do all these new people do things that kill themselves, so to find out it will kill them? NO!

    So how much do we need to harm ourselves with software patents before those making it possible to patent software and contradict nature, learn?

    see:Abstraction Physics [abstractionphysics.net] as the subject matter is fundamentally NOT about politics or economics, as organized crime has both a good economy and politics, but it doesn't make it honest and genuinely in touch with physical reality such that you can drive a car into a wall @ 500mph and live.

    This software patent matter is really getting to be stupid on stupid. Software classification is not a human choice, but a human mental characteristic, and even stupid proves it.

    Has anyone shown proof that driving a car into a wall @ 500mph will kill you, to those allowing software patents?
    If not, then why are they not finding out for themselves?
    If so then someone should point out that they should try 499mph to find out if it makes a difference. (re: all the abstract possibilities of proof for or against software patents) ....use this as an analogy to those wanting proof of software patent damage (uh, err maybe it won't be damaging this way.....)

    Its really amazing how much money is being spent on such distorted efforts rather than producing the proof that software is not of patentable qualities.

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