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Patents Microsoft Unix Linux

Microsoft Patents Sudo's Behavior 657

Posted by timothy
from the rusty-shotgun's-right-twice-a-day dept.
Foofoobar writes "Just when you thought all was safe on the crazy patent front, Microsoft has come out of the obvious patent closet to file patent number 7617530, which basically duplicates the functionality of 'sudo' which is found in all Linux systems. PJ over at groklaw has a wonderful writeup on the entire fiasco."
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Microsoft Patents Sudo's Behavior

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  • Penalties (Score:3, Interesting)

    by alain94040 (785132) * on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:38PM (#30065978) Homepage

    I don't condemn all software patents. Just because it's software doesn't mean that it can't be brilliant and stunningly innovative.

    But sudo with a GUI? A quick fix I'd suggest to get rid of those bogus patents is to have a rule that says that if a patent is proven obvious later on, then the company (Microsoft in that case) would lose all their patents for the year. That would make them think twice before filing junk...

    ---
    the Co-FoundersMeetup [meetup.com] in Mountain View is next week

    • Re:Penalties (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:44PM (#30066082) Journal

      It's US patent system's fault, not Microsoft. They have to file these to cover their own ass. And actually I haven't ever seen MS patent trolling, they've even gave their patents to organizations which purpose is to keep them open. Even the TomTom vs. Microsoft case was because TomTom attacked MS first and they had to counter.

      Patent system is the one to blame.

    • Just because it's software doesn't mean that it can't be brilliant and stunningly innovative.

      The suggested punishment might be a little extreme, but the idea is sound. We need some kind of penalty for companies filing junk patents for the electronic equivalent of exchanging oxygen for carbon dioxide across a thin, moist membrane.

    • Re:Penalties (Score:5, Informative)

      by Tim C (15259) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:06PM (#30066412)

      I don't condemn all software patents.

      I do. Copyright protects software, there's no need for patent protection.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by adamdoyle (1665063)
        copyright doesn't protect against duplicating functionality - only copying the exact binaries/source code. If I want to write my own sudo replica, copyright doesn't stop me... but a patent would.
        • Re:Penalties (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Toonol (1057698) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:34PM (#30066766)
          copyright doesn't protect against duplicating functionality - only copying the exact binaries/source code. If I want to write my own sudo replica, copyright doesn't stop me... but a patent would.

          That is one of those statements where both sides shout "EXACTLY", and then stare at each other.
        • Re:Penalties (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:42PM (#30066850)
          Do we actually want to prevent duplication of functionality?
          Also, isn't patent still supposed to allow duplicated functionality if the implementation is different enough?
        • I'm sorry, what? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by warrax_666 (144623) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:45PM (#30066880)

          copyright doesn't protect against duplicating functionality

          You say that like it's a bad thing.

          (Independent innovation can be affected by the patent system. That in itself is absurd.)

        • Re:Penalties (Score:5, Insightful)

          by daver00 (1336845) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @08:39PM (#30067958)

          I presented this argument to someone just the other day, but here it is again: Mathematicians develop insanely difficult and complex algorithms all the time, and must share their work in the public domain because you can't copyright or patent mathematics. Not a formula, I'm talking about full algorithms, logical procedures, proofs and so on. Algorithms which have changed the world by such orders of magnitude that no matter how novel and amazing some little piece of code looks to the programmer, compared to the work of mathematicians it is almost always will come up looking pretty much completely trivial.

          Imagine if someone had patented the fast fourier transform? Or any number of a virtually infinite set of unique and groundbreaking algorithms that have literally changed the course of science. Technology and science would be weaker for it, you might not even have a job with a computer in front of you.

          Now why is it that sequences of logical steps, algorithms, when developed by mathematicians are anybodies game, and yet when a programmer or a software company comes up with an algorithm, a sequence of logical steps no different to the ones in the field of mathematics, it is suddenly different and needs monopoly rights granted to the author? Do you honestly think that novel method 3.57a to make database requests in a unique way is as important to the world as something like the fft? Or the Kalman filter?

          Get over yourselves programmers, your code is not special, logic is logic, patenting a logical procedure is about as wrong as it gets in my books. If you develop code and it is useful, you are going to be the foremost expert in your new system. You will make money without a patent. The problem is this isn't about putting food on the table, this is about geeks who fancy themselves Knuth thinking they ought to be millionaires.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            I don't think its most coders that want patents. It's the PHBs.
    • Re:Penalties (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jocknerd (29758) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @07:19PM (#30067258)

      Math equations can be brilliant and stunningly innovative yet they can't be patented. Why should software be any different?

  • claims (Score:5, Informative)

    by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:39PM (#30065988) Journal

    As usual, you need to look at the claims of the patent. For example these points dont really cover sudo:

    1. One or more computer-readable media having computer-readable instructions therein that, when executed by a computing device, cause the computing device to present a user interface in response to a task being prohibited based on a user's current account not having a right to permit the task, the user interface comprising: information indicating the task and an entity that attempted the task; a selectable help graphic wherein responsive to receiving selection of the selectable help graphic, the computer-readable instructions further cause the computing device to present the information; identifiers, each of the identifiers identifying other accounts having a right to permit the task, wherein the identifiers presented are based on criteria comprising: frequency of use; association with the user; and indication of sufficient but not unlimited rights; one of the identifiers identifies a higher-rights account having a right to permit the task, wherein the one of the identifiers comprises: a graphic identifying the higher-rights accounts associated with the user; and a name of the higher-rights account; an authenticator region capable of receiving, from the user, an authenticator usable to authenticate the higher-rights account having the right to permit the task, wherein: the authenticator comprises a password, and the authenticator region comprises a data-entry field configured to receive the password.

    2. One or more computer-readable media having computer-readable instructions therein that, when executed by a computing device, cause the computing device to perform acts comprising: determining multiple accounts capable of permitting a task not permitted by an account of a current user wherein the determining is based on criteria comprising: frequency of use; association with the current user; and indication of sufficient but not unlimited rights; receiving indicators for the multiple accounts capable of permitting the task; presenting a graphical user interface, the graphical user interface having: multiple account regions, each account region identifying one of the multiple accounts capable of permitting the task; an authenticator region capable of receiving an authenticator for one of the multiple accounts capable of permitting the task; receiving, through the graphical user interface, the authenticator for one of the multiple accounts capable of permitting the task; and responsive to receiving the authenticator for one of the accounts capable of permitting the task, packaging, into a computer-readable package, the received authenticator and the account capable of permitting the task associated with the authenticator, the package effective to enable authentication of the account capable of permitting the task.

    3. The media of claim 2, where the each account region comprises a name identifying one of the multiple accounts capable of permitting the task.

    4. The media of claim 2, where the each account region comprises a graphic identifying one of the multiple accounts capable of permitting the task.

    5. The media of claim 2, further comprising permitting the task.

    6. The media of claim 2, further comprising authenticating the account capable of permitting the task and, responsive to authenticating the account capable of permitting the task, temporarily elevating rights of the current user to that of the account capable of permitting the task effective to permit the task.

    7. The media of claim 2, wherein rights of the account of the current user are limited by controlled-access software.

    8. The media of claim 7, wherein the task is prohibited by the controlled-access software prior to authentication of the account capable of permitting the task and wherein the controlled-access software refrains from prohibiting the task in response to authentication of the account capable of permitting the task.

    9. One or more computer-readable media having co

    • by PinkyDead (862370) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:45PM (#30066088) Journal

      ...because I couldn't bothered reading all that shit.

      • by nitehawk214 (222219) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:11PM (#30066494)

        I couldn't bothered reading all that shit.

        Oddly enough, that is exactly what the patent examiner said.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by plasmacutter (901737)

      The person analyzing this for groklaw is a lawyer well seasoned in tech and IP litigation, and disagrees with you.

      Funny how you also don't provide the analysis into common english.

      It's sudo with a gui, in other words: what macos does when you try to modify files in the system folder, or gksudo in linux.

      • The person analyzing this for groklaw is a lawyer well seasoned in tech and IP litigation, and disagrees with you.

        That's the argument politicians use for why they know better than I do what I want ;)

      • by sopssa (1498795) *

        Groklaw article is saying that Microsoft is filing this patent to collect a toll from Linux community for sudo. But there is no case, since if the patent would collide with sudo it would itself be invalid, because sudo has been around since like 1980.

        Again the claims do not fully overlap with sudo (or gui's that use it). Every claim has to collide for there to be a case.

      • by Sockatume (732728)

        I don't think that the following, the author's only analysis of the claims of the patent, is really an air-tight disassembly of its value:

        "Etc. blah, blah. Dude. It's sudo. With a gui. Sudo for Dummies. That's what it is. Software and patents need to get a divorce, before all the geeks in the world either stop coding in disgust or die laughing."

        • I don't think that the following, the author's only analysis of the claims of the patent, is really an air-tight disassembly of its value:

          "Etc. blah, blah. Dude. It's sudo. With a gui. Sudo for Dummies. That's what it is. Software and patents need to get a divorce, before all the geeks in the world either stop coding in disgust or die laughing."

          The whole point of a lawyer's interpretation of patents, contracts, or legal text is to make it understandable. That's exactly what is done.

          Going through line-by-line analysis will lose most of the readership and defeat the purpose.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jpmorgan (517966)
        Apparently the author at groklaw either doesn't understand patents, or doesn't understand the technology. Look at the very first claim:

        One or more computer-readable media having computer-readable instructions therein that, when executed by a computing device, cause the computing device to present a user interface in response to a task being prohibited based on a user's current account not having a right to permit the task, the user interface comprising: information indicating the task and an entity that attempted the task; a selectable help graphic wherein responsive to receiving selection of the selectable help graphic, the computer-readable instructions further cause the computing device to present the information; identifiers, each of the identifiers identifying other accounts having a right to permit the task, wherein the identifiers presented are based on criteria comprising: frequency of use; association with the user; and indication of sufficient but not unlimited rights; one of the identifiers identifies a higher-rights account having a right to permit the task, wherein the one of the identifiers comprises: a graphic identifying the higher-rights accounts associated with the user; and a name of the higher-rights account; an authenticator region capable of receiving, from the user, an authenticator usable to authenticate the higher-rights account having the right to permit the task, wherein: the authenticator comprises a password, and the authenticator region comprises a data-entry field configured to receive the password.

        Emphasis mine. Sudo does not do this. Thus, this patent does not cover sudo. Fini.

    • by rolfwind (528248) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:49PM (#30066148)

      The big industry writes them up just as protection from patent trolls and then collude to keep small competition out (ie Microsoft was threatening that Linux was stepping on its patents back in the day).

      Patents were made to spawn innovation - bypassing secretive guilds by incentivizing the opening of knowledge to public domain in exchange for a limited time monopoly. Projects and society are way too fluid now to keep many inane details secret anyway. There needs to be a study of which types of patents coming in provide useful knowledge to the People, and which majority are just wastes dumps of text - and amend the system accordingly.

      I would urge the USA to do this now, while it is the leading superpower in which others follow suit. It may have been to our advantage in the past, but not so in the future, imo.

    • Re:claims (Score:5, Informative)

      by Halo1 (136547) <jonas.maebeNO@SPAMelis.ugent.be> on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:52PM (#30066196) Homepage

      Remember that they all have to apply.

      No, they don't. Only one independent claim (i.e., 1, 2 or 9) has to apply (at least it's like that in Europe), or an independent claim along with some dependent claims if you want a stronger case because then the claims become more specific and hence hopefully more distant from the prior are (e.g., 2 and 3, or 2 and 7 and 8).

      This isn't exactly sudo.

      That's true. It's still a crappy patent application though, since it basically covers showing a password dialog box with eligible user accounts (along with some details about their associated privileges) when an operation requires elevated privileges.

      • Just like PolicyKit (Score:5, Informative)

        by Jeremy Visser (1205626) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @07:42PM (#30067486) Homepage

        That's true. It's still a crappy patent application though, since it basically covers showing a password dialog box with eligible user accounts (along with some details about their associated privileges) when an operation requires elevated privileges.

        Indeed. In fact, this patent reminds me more of PolicyKit (which is GUI-based) than sudo. See screenshot [wikipedia.org], which almost exactly matches how I visualised the patent after reading the initial claims.

    • Re:claims (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Adrian Lopez (2615) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:54PM (#30066240) Homepage

      Oh no, I've gone cross-eyed.

      According to patent law, the above example of murder-by-verbiage is supposed to help third-parties implement the invention described, but the language employed is clearly designed to accomplish the exact opposite. I think it's time to put the patent system out of its misery.

    • by jfengel (409917) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:59PM (#30066320) Homepage Journal

      In an attempt to patent a thing rather than the software itself, they say:

      One or more computer-readable media having computer-readable instructions therein that, when executed by a computing device, cause the computing device to perform acts comprising:

      In other words, it's not the operation itself, or the software, but the actual _disc_ that they're claiming. The medium, not the message, as it were. At least it's a physical thing.

      I don't know if "downloaded software" would violate the patent, or if they'd try to claim that having it on the server's discs would violate it. (Surely they wouldn't try to claim that your hard disc on which you've downloaded it would violate the patent, would they?)

      • by Theaetetus (590071) <theaetetus.slash ... m ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:45PM (#30066890) Homepage Journal

        In an attempt to patent a thing rather than the software itself, they say:

        One or more computer-readable media having computer-readable instructions therein that, when executed by a computing device, cause the computing device to perform acts comprising:

        In other words, it's not the operation itself, or the software, but the actual _disc_ that they're claiming. The medium, not the message, as it were. At least it's a physical thing.

        Yep... This makes it an "article of manufacture", rather than a "process". The whole Bilski thing up before the Supreme Court only applies to processes; an article of manufacture comprising computer-readable instructions isn't affected, under In Re Beauregard.

        I don't know if "downloaded software" would violate the patent, or if they'd try to claim that having it on the server's discs would violate it. (Surely they wouldn't try to claim that your hard disc on which you've downloaded it would violate the patent, would they?)

        Oh, yeah, they would. You download the software and save it to your hard drive... you just created a computer-readable media (the hard drive) having computer-readable instructions (the software) that, when executed, cause the computer to perform those acts. You're infringing by making and using the patented invention (you don't need to make all the parts of the invention - you don't need to have a hard drive fabrication lab... You just need to be the one to 'assemble' the invention).

        But don't worry, they wouldn't sue you. Instead, they'd go after the people who sold you the software, as it's a component of a patented article of manufacture with no noninfringing uses.

    • Re:claims (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wytcld (179112) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:06PM (#30066410) Homepage

      Where's your analysis of the degree to which this "isn't exactly sudo"? It's pretty damn close. If it comes down to the degree of "exactly," please provide some examples from patent case law that show that the degree of difference here is sufficient for the two programs not to be close enough to the same that sudo, had it been invented after this patent, wouldn't violate said patent.

      I'm nothing like a patent attorney. But my understanding is that if someone invents a special right-angle shovel, and patents it, you're going to be in trouble even if your shovel head is only at an 80 degree angle rather than 90 degrees. If not at 80, certainly at 89.

      Besides, this patent ends with language claiming that the method of implementation is only the preferred one, while the patent covers other methods of implementation of the same underlying concept. And in which sense is the underlying concept even a few degrees different from what sudo does? Your analysis?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Dachannien (617929)

        If it comes down to the degree of "exactly," please provide some examples from patent case law that show that the degree of difference here is sufficient for the two programs not to be close enough to the same that sudo, had it been invented after this patent, wouldn't violate said patent.

        That's not the way it works. The examiner has to make a prima facie case of unpatentability in order to reject a claim. If the examiner can't substantiate such a case, the application gets allowed, and the applicant gets a patent.

        Only when the examiner makes a prima facie case does the burden shift to the applicant to either successfully traverse the rejection (e.g., by properly indicating a flaw in the rejection, by citing case law applicable to the rejection, by providing evidence of unexpected results/

      • Re:claims (Score:4, Informative)

        by PhilHibbs (4537) <snarks@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @08:36PM (#30067928) Homepage Journal

        If you try to do something that you aren't allowed to, does sudo automatically pop up and ask you if you want to authenticate to an account that does have the privilidges that you need? That's what this patent is about.

    • Re:claims (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tomhudson (43916) <.barbara.hudson. ... bara-hudson.com.> on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:16PM (#30066582) Journal

      Adding a GUI is no more "creative" and "non-obvious" than adding "on the Internet".

      Then again, it might be non-obvious to Microsoft. Does anyone remember if Microsoft XENIX had a sudo equivalent? It would be nice to use something from them from a quarter-century ago as prior art.

    • Re:claims (Score:4, Informative)

      by TigerNut (718742) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:17PM (#30066596) Homepage Journal
      Remember that they all have to apply. This isn't exactly sudo.

      Not correct. Of the claims you listed, 1, 2, and 9 are independent claims and can stand alone. A competitive product that incorporated just the elements of, say, claim 9, would violate this patent. A prior art product that included the elements of claim 1 would invalidate claim 1 as an independent claim, but not necessarily the combinations of claim 1 and claim 13 or claim 1 and claim 14. Unless the dependent claims 13 and 14 were subsequently judged to be obvious in light of the earlier product that demonstrated claim 1.

      To an aggressive patent prosecutor, "exactly" has nothing to do with it. The approach is "We've got this patent, see? Pay us the money or we'll sue until you're out of business".

  • by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:42PM (#30066038)

    If I'm reading the patent right, they've actually applied for protection of the UAC popup system that appears in Vista and Win7. There's no unqualified patent on user account privilege escalation. Indeed, "su" would be explicitly outwith this patent's claims, as it's specifically about bringing up an interface to escalate when the system determines that escalation will be required, not about escalating manually before the task is attempted.

    Top marks to the Groklaw article for providing a thorough explanation for how they can't get a patent on something they're not trying to get a patent for.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MBCook (132727)
      So, like what OS X had a year or two before Vista?
    • by plasmacutter (901737) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:48PM (#30066126)

      If I'm reading the patent right, they've actually applied for protection of the UAC popup system that appears in Vista and Win7. There's no unqualified patent on user account privilege escalation. Indeed, "su" would be explicitly outwith this patent's claims, as it's specifically about bringing up an interface to escalate when the system determines that escalation will be required, not about escalating manually before the task is attempted.

      Top marks to the Groklaw article for providing a thorough explanation for how they can't get a patent on something they're not trying to get a patent for.

      macos x has been doing this since its inception.

      gksudo has been around for a long time as well.

      this is NOT new.

    • by Qzukk (229616) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:07PM (#30066422) Journal

      Yeah, going to have to agree here. Not only is it specifically an interface brought up after you've tried to do something you're not allowed to (which is what makes it "not sudo"), this interface will give you a list of users who ARE allowed to do it (rather than just the admin account), which is what separates it from all the other implementations of this kind of security that I know of (eg cash registers that stop and require manager intervention or Windows's earlier "You look like you're trying to install a program, would you like to be administrator?" popup).

  • by stakovahflow (1660677) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:44PM (#30066080)
    without "sudo". My thanks to Micro$oft for inventing that great program! --Stak
  • I know Slashdot loves to exaggerate things in headlines, but this is absurd. Microsoft has not patented sudo's behavior. At most, it has applied for a patent who's claims could be twisted to make it look like they're trying to patent sudo. Calm down, everybody, it's just an application, the patent hasn't been awarded and, if it's as ridiculous as the summary claims (and I have my doubts about that, too) it's unlikely to be granted.
    • by reebmmm (939463) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:05PM (#30066392)

      Not true. This is an ISSUED patent; see the patent number: 7,617,530. You can also check its status in public pair (http://portal.uspto.gov/external/portal/pair):
      10-21-2009 ISSUE.NTF Issue Notification 1
      10-01-2009 IFEE Issue Fee Payment (PTO-85B) 1
      10-01-2009 LET. Miscellaneous Incoming Letter 1
      10-01-2009 WFEE Fee Worksheet (PTO-875) 2
      10-01-2009 N417 EFS Acknowledgment Receipt 2
      08-24-2009 NOA Notice of Allowance and Fees Due (PTOL-85) 10

      I'll draw your attention to the first and last lines in the excerpt from the file wrapper.

      That said, the claims DO NOT cover sudo.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:50PM (#30066160)

    Patent Office: "Rejected."

    Microsoft: "sudo patent this obvious idea"

    Patent Office: "Okay."

    With apologies to xkcd [xkcd.com].

  • by BobMcD (601576) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:53PM (#30066226)

    MS: Grant me this patent.

    USPTO: No!

    MS: Sudo grant me this patent.

    USPTO: Okay...

  • by ericthughes (1015253) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:05PM (#30066384)

    when you attempt to mount a drive that is not defined in fstab. Ubuntu pops up a "enter your password" dialog. M$ maybe up to some dirty old tricks here...

  • by pandrijeczko (588093) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:07PM (#30066420)

    ...with Windows' lax control of permissions allowing just about anybody to run as a super user, surely they should have a patent for "sudon't" which would probably be infinitely more useful?

  • by 91degrees (207121) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:09PM (#30066458) Journal
    There are thousands of patents for devices that duplicate the functionality of another. Hell, the diesel engine has exactly the same function as a petrol engine, and much of the functionality of a Newcomen engine (pressure difference driving pistons to provide a motive force).

    The patent is on the process. Not the end result.

    Now the process is pretty much indistinguishable from sudo as well, but if you're going to criticise at least criticise for the right reasons.
  • I have prior work (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rkuris (541364) * <rkNO@SPAMunify.com> on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:10PM (#30066482) Homepage
    I am the original author of "priv", which came before sudo, and I didn't see any mention of it. This utility was published in Unix World back in 1987, and basically did the same thing. Does this mean "priv" is exempt from this patent?
  • Pseudocode (Score:4, Interesting)

    by failedlogic (627314) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:59PM (#30067064)

    I think a better solution would be for the patent to be described using pseudocode or some variation thereof. Since this is afterall a software patent, the application should be written in a form that is legible to others in the field. It would also lead to easier settlement of a dispute since previous art could more easily be compared with pseudocode.

  • by BitZtream (692029) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @07:29PM (#30067336)

    If you're going to claims something copies 'sudo' with 'Linux' please realize that sudo copies su which was around long before Linux.

    sudo has more features than su, yes. Everything that 'copies' sudo has more features as well.

    Although the patent in this case does not copy sudo, or gksudo or OSX. The patent covers something that detects an authorization (NOT AUTHENTICATION) failure and gives an opportunity to elevate privileges and continue rather than denying the request.

    su, sudo, gksudo and the OS X applet all require knowledge in advance that elevated privileges are required.

    Do I think the difference is worth patenting? No, its the next logical step. However, if you're going to rant and rave about what Microsoft is patenting, at least realize they aren't patenting a clone of something you've been using for years.

    You only make the rest of the OSS world look stupid to the powers that be when you rant and rave and you are completely ignorant of whats being done. We lose credibility and get written off as raving lunes when you respond like this. So please, shut the hell up.

  • by argent (18001) <peter@NOspam.slashdot.2006.taronga.com> on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @07:40PM (#30067470) Homepage Journal

    Dennis Ritchie patented the setuid bit in what was probably the first software patent ever, and released the patent to the public domain. I think that counts as a slam dunk prior art, no?

  • by Darkk (1296127) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @07:57PM (#30067592)

    The patent office needs to be revoked of sudo access.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @08:41PM (#30067962)

    There are multiple issues getting mixed up in the Groklaw article and the discussion on Slashdot.

    A patent application has three hoops to jump through to be patentable:

    35 U.S.C. 101 - the claims must be patentable subject matter. The question of "is software patentable" is what the Supreme Court is deciding in In Re Bilski. This is the largest issue most of the Slashdot community seems concerned about, and it's obviously a big issue right now. These claims, as written, may be patentable subject matter under current 101 criteria. This is why there were written with all the "computer readable media" language.

    35 U.S.C. 102 - the claims must be "novel" subject matter. This is what people object to when they yell "BUT I DID THIS BACK IN 1990!"

    35 U.S.C. 103 - the claims must be non-obvious subject matter. This is what most people appear to be objecting to in the present discussion....if sudo existed before this patent, then laying down Microsoft's GUI idea on top may be obvious. (This is NOT a Section 102 issue). This is the part where the patent office (and examiner) screwed up. Even if the examiner couldn't find a reference that taught exactly what Microsoft claimed, he/she should have at least rejected the now-issued claims as obvious. Maybe he did, but half-assed the rejection...who knows.

    The Groklaw article points out an "obvious" patent and yells that is shouldn't be patentable subject matter. Those are two separate issues. Yes, it's probably obvious. Depending on your view of software patents, it should or should not be patentable subject matter. That fact that it's an "obvious" idea will NOT in any way be affected by the Supreme Court's decision in Bilski (that case is about patentable subject matter under Section 101).

  • by Eric Smith (4379) <eric@brouha[ ]com ['ha.' in gap]> on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @10:31PM (#30068722) Homepage Journal
    Not a single claim of this patent would be applicable to sudo. The independent claims 1, 2, and 9 don't apply to sudo, because they describe significant behavior that is not part of sudo. By extension, none of the dependent claims can apply to sudo either.

    You can still argue over whether it meets the obviousness criterion, but trying to spin this a "Microsoft patents sudo" is deliberately spreading FUD.

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