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Microsoft Patents Sudo's Behavior 657

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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  • Re:Penalties (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sopssa ( 1498795 ) * <> 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.

  • Re:claims (Score:2, Insightful)

    by plasmacutter ( 901737 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:46PM (#30066106)

    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.

  • Re:Penalties (Score:4, Insightful)

    by alexborges ( 313924 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:49PM (#30066146)

    Patenting sudo is a slight legitimate error?

    Damn. I want some of that anti-guilt thing you are taking.

  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:49PM (#30066154)

    Perfectly good examples of prior art that the author of that article skipped in favour of a content-less rant.

  • by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:50PM (#30066156) Homepage
    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.
  • Re:claims (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jpmorgan ( 517966 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:53PM (#30066230) Homepage
    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.

  • 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?)

  • 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?

  • by sopssa ( 1498795 ) * <> on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:09PM (#30066454) Journal

    Same here, sudo as it is incredibly inconvenient. When you're performing tasks that require root on Linux, you usually have to type in many commands at once to establish that task.

    It's a lot more convenient to just su for root, do the thing and then su back, instead of writing the goddamn sudo all the time.

  • 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.
  • by jamstar7 ( 694492 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:12PM (#30066516)

    Thanks for telling us that those claims are too complicated for you to read. Please make sure to put that on your resume, because if I was a potential employer looking to hire you for anything even remotely technical, I'd want to know that you give up whenever a discussion gets remotely above the complexity of "M$ sux0rz."

    Since when do programmers need to be patent lawyers? Patents are written in fluent legalese, not plain $HUMANLANGUAGEOFYOURCHOICE.

  • Re:claims (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@b ... u d s o n . c om> 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.

  • macos x has been doing this since its inception.

    gksudo has been around for a long time as well.

    this is NOT new.

    You've said this in at least two different posts, yet failed to indicate what those do that this patent covers. For example, OSX doesn't present an interface with a "selectable help graphic", the selection of which causes display of other accounts that have a right to permit the task, based on frequency of use, association with the user, and an identified higher-rights account that can permit the task. And that's just three of the limitations of claim 1. I doubt gksudo does them either.

  • by 1729 ( 581437 ) <> on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:22PM (#30066652)

    Thanks for telling us that those claims are too complicated for you to read. Please make sure to put that on your resume, because if I was a potential employer looking to hire you for anything even remotely technical, I'd want to know that you give up whenever a discussion gets remotely above the complexity of "M$ sux0rz."

    That's not a technical description: it's legalese. I've done my share of technical writing, ranging from scientific journals articles to user and developer documentation, but I'd never be able to get away with producing such incomprehensible gibberish.

  • Re:Penalties (Score:3, Insightful)

    by adamdoyle ( 1665063 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:24PM (#30066664)
    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.
  • by marcansoft ( 727665 ) <(hector) (at) (> on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:24PM (#30066670) Homepage

    Wait, you su back? You do realize that that leaves your root session in the background and complete accessible, right? The proper way to "unsu" is to just exit the shell (exit, ^D, etc).

  • by spitzak ( 4019 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:34PM (#30066764) Homepage

    It is not uncommon to pop up the sudo dialog in response to a permission-denied error from exec(). Therefore this patent does describe already-existing art. You and a dozen other posters seem to think the error detection has to be in the same process that actually does the access violation.

  • 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:34PM (#30066768)

    That's not how patents work. It's no so much a question of which came first as it is of whether you can outspend Microsoft in court.

  • Re:Penalties (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JWW ( 79176 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:42PM (#30066838)

    If you have a copy of his source code and duplicate product in another language, you'll get your clock cleaned in court. To effectively copy the other guys software, the best defense would be to have no knowledge whatsoever of his code.

    Historically everyone in software has been copying everyone else all along. Things were fine before patents became all the rage. Imagine is Apple had patented the GUI in 1984. The windows GUI couldn't have been developed patent free until 1999. It's an absurd idea, no matter how much I currently dislike windows dominance. And, yes, I do realize Apple stole the GUI from Xerox...

  • 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 Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:46PM (#30066908)

    And actually I haven't ever seen MS patent trolling,

    Their shakedown of camera vendors and threats to OS implementors over the VFAT patents are a classic case of patent trolling.

    The technology covered by the patents no longer has any intrinsic value, because nobody uses OSes that don't support long filenames. The only reason to use the long/short filename conversion in VFAT is purely circular: to ensure compatibility with VFAT itself.

    Thus, these patents only remaining purpose in life is to create a barrier to entry in the markets that Microsoft operates in. The technology covered by them is is providing no end-user benefit, and consumers are paying royalties and getting nothing in return other than a less competitive market.

  • Whoop-de-fuck. How exactly is that novel or non-obvious?
  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:53PM (#30066994) Homepage Journal

    This patent was filed more than four years ago, in April of 2005. This filing predates Red Hat's announcement of PolicyKit by about a year. And PolicyKit probably wouldn't cover this even if it predated the Microsoft concept because it doesn't meet the "automatic" criteria, AFAIK.

    And for anyone thinking that this is a patent on sudo, it is not. It also is not a patent on Apple's AuthorizationExecuteWithPrivileges, though it is much closer to that. It differs from the Mac OS X design in that it:

    • Executes when the privilege violation occurs without requiring the app to be aware. This is, of course, a really dangerous idea for reasons I'll get into momentarily.
    • Displays a list of accounts with the appropriate privilege. This is arguably not that useful on most OSes, but it is important if you have a rights system that is way too complicated....

    It further differs from sudo in that it presents a GUI (in addition to the two ways above).

    Regarding launching a GUI window when a privilege violation occurs, this is precisely why Windows got the "Allow or Deny" reputation it got. You really don't want to authorize every little action. Further, when it comes to a typical desktop environment, a rights system should not be so complex that there are more than about two classes of users anyway---those who have the rights to modify system files and those who are limited to their own files. Therefore, something like sudo, PolicyKit, AuthorizationExecuteWithPrivileges, etc. is generally a much better design because it puts the application in control of the experience and allows you to run a series of actions with elevated privileges, forcing apps to be designed with proper privilege separation, and reserving elevated privileges for only the minimum portion of the code necessary. The Windows "automatically throw up a GUI when you get a permission denied" design has a significant risk of creating user indifference towards important security notifications, which results in a significantly less secure system in the long run.

    Also, I'm under the impression (based on the patent) that Windows is temporarily elevating the privileges of the application itself, which means that you now have a much larger chunk of code that must be checked for security holes, lest malicious individuals co-opt the application for nefarious purposes. Such a design also makes it very hard to adequately use code signing to ensure the authenticity of the code running with elevated privileges, thus allowing security holes in the app to readily be exploited and turned into the equivalent of root holes just by the user clicking "Allow".

    In short, it's a terrible security design filled with myriad fundamental design flaws, all codified in a patent filing for all to mock. I certainly won't lose sleep over this patent getting approved. No one should reasonably want to implement the sort of security architecture that would violate this patent.

  • Re:Penalties (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Kerrigann ( 1401847 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:53PM (#30066996)

    That sounds pretty ridiculous... what you would have created would most definitely be a derivative work, which would have copyright protection.

    If you clean-room reverse engineered the program down to the last pixel, wouldn't there be a copyright claim to the layout and specific appearance of the program?

    If the program looks different, is coded independently, but performs the same algorithms and functions, well that's called *interoperability*. If you don't understand why that's important, then we'll never ever agree.

    I'm talking about a specific steering wheel design, you're talking about *the entire idea of a steering wheel*.

    Somebody else came up with the idea of html, markup, tying a scripting language to said markup, asynchronous updates on the markup, and everything else we're using to communicate here, and there are probably patents covering most of it. Do you think that only very large companies with very large armies of lawyers should be writing web pages?

    I'll give you that there are probably a select few areas where some patentable idea could be expressed in software, but the barrier to entry is so low in software development, that they all would have been implemented anyway. Patents are not a land grab or a right, they were only supposed to be used to increase production and knowledge. They don't, they waste huge amounts of energy, which is why people around here get so frustrated (and make silly arguments).

    Of course, I'm not adding anything new and you probably knew all this, so I'll shut up now.

  • Re:Penalties (Score:5, Insightful)

    by damburger ( 981828 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @07:13PM (#30067196)
    I always thought a sudo-intellectual was someone who thinks they are smart enough to be given the root password...
  • 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?

  • by compro01 ( 777531 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @07:52PM (#30067552)

    Law is the programming language for the system of society. The problem is, rather than doing exactly what you told it to do, regardless of whether that's what you wanted it to do, the system makes every possible effort to interpret the code in such a way so that it doesn't have to do what you instructed it to do.

  • 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.

  • 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).

  • And? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @09:02PM (#30068112)

    If you wrap your program with a shell script roughly as

    if $exit_status = DIDNT_HAVE_PERMISSION do gksudo program; done

    It violates the patent?

    That's stupidity on so many levels

  • Re:Penalties (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ThatMegathronDude ( 1189203 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @09:12PM (#30068198)
    I don't think its most coders that want patents. It's the PHBs.
  • Re:claims (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gparent ( 1242548 ) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @12:24AM (#30069310)
    But that's not sudo doing that. Whatever pops up that box ends up using sudo to up your privileges, though.
  • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:12AM (#30069576) Journal

    Law is the programming language for the system of society.

    Well it's syntax is obscure and imprecise, it's practitioners are mostly B-Ark material, and people write horrible code with it.

  • You do something by barring software patents, Once that's done listen to the economists who have studied patents and encourage innovation by ending patents.


  • by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <> on Thursday November 12, 2009 @02:05AM (#30069838)

    before we scrap software patents, we need to provide developers with an alternative.

    There are alternatives such as trade secrets and first mover advantage []. Actually by scrapping patents you may encourage innovation, if a business wants to it's market share then it will innovate. As it is patents may discourage innovation []. Tell me, why should I spend millions of dollars to invent something if I can be slapped with a lawsuit claiming infringement? Because patents are issued companies have to horde them just to use for self protection. With a thousand patents if another business comes along and threatens a patent infringement lawsuit then one of those patents may save the business because of mutually assured destruction. This forces businesses to spend more on defense than on innovation.


  • Re:Penalties (Score:4, Insightful)

    by donaldm ( 919619 ) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @04:48AM (#30070376)

    There needs to be *something* which protects software developers from having their products ripped off and all their innovative functionality duplicated. Exactly how that *something* should work is best left to people far more expert in the field than me...but before we scrap software patents, we need to provide developers with an alternative.

    There are plenty of somethings that can protect software developers:

    1. Copyright
    2. Proprietary software. In other words don't publish your code.
    3. Licences such as GPL, LGPL, BSD (if you want to give it away), Creative Commons, ... etc

    I am sure this can easily be added to without resorting to stupid software patents, which IMHO don't contribute to innovation in developing software. The only people that stand to gain from software patents are the Lawyers and patent Trolls.

    Why am I so down on Software Patents? Well try to read one sometime, although be sure to have plenty of headache pills and a couple of belts of the hard stuff also helps. It is almost impossible for a professional person to understand the description let alone the Lawyer who wrote it. :)

  • Re:Penalties (Score:3, Insightful)

    by donaldm ( 919619 ) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @06:44AM (#30070834)

    I believe there is a place for software patents, but I also think software patents are vastly over-issued. For some reason patent officials seem to think "on a computer" is not obvious and deserves a patent.

    I respectively disagree. All software is based on "Numerical Analysis" which is a branch of mathematics which in itself can not or should I say "should not" be patentable.

    I also think that if Patents apply to compiled software, copyright should only apply to the source code. If we consider software a "work of art", then it should not be patentable at all.

    For source code it would be better under a License that is enforcible. You can take out a copyright on a suite of software which would effectively prevent people calling their functionally equivalent software the same as yours. Actually the best way to make money from software is to provide support and companies like Redhat and Novel are doing quite well even thought they provide the source for most of their products.

    All software can be considered not only part of mathematics but also a "work of art" especially if there is any graphical output which could be considered copyright and therefore not patentable. An excellent example are "fonts" which can only be protected under copyright but not under patent, however this still allows someone to bring out a font which is functionally equivalent to the copyright font as long as they call said font a different name unless there is an agreement with the copyright holder.

1 Angstrom: measure of computer anxiety = 1000 nail-bytes