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Google Accused of Trying To Patent Public Domain Technology (bleepingcomputer.com) 101

An anonymous reader shares a report: A Polish academic is accusing Google of trying to patent technology he invented and that he purposely released into the public domain so companies like Google couldn't trap it inside restrictive licenses. The technology's name is Asymmetric Numeral Systems (ANS), a family of entropy coding methods that Polish assistant professor Jarosaw (Jarek) Duda developed in the early 2000s, and which is now hot tech at companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook, mostly because it can improve data compression from 3 to 30 times. Duda says that Google is now trying to register a patent that includes most of the ANS basic principles. Ironically, most of the technology described in the patent, Duda said he explained to Google engineers in a Google Groups discussion from 2014. The researcher already filed a complaint, to which WIPO ISA responded by calling out Google for not coming up with "an inventive contribution over the prior art, because it is no more than a straightforward application of known coding algorithms." A Google spokesperson refused to comment, and the mystery remains surrounding Google's decision to patent something that's in the public domain since 2014.
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Google Accused of Trying To Patent Public Domain Technology

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  • by youngone ( 975102 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @03:50PM (#55176845)
    That's exactly what patents are for: To ensure huge corporations like Google keep tight hold on any new (or not so new) technologies.
    It almost makes no difference whether Prof Duda can prove he invented this, if Google have a mind to they have the money to keep any case he might bring in court for as long as they like.br. The system is set up that way.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      Also, releasing something into the public domain means abandoning all rights to it. So rather than ensuring Google can't patent it, he ensured that he has no standing to sue.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 11, 2017 @04:04PM (#55176947)

        He's not suing Google. He's bringing the prior art to the attention of WIPO.

        • He's not suing Google. He's bringing the prior art to the attention of WIPO.

          Quite right, I should have taken more care when I read TFA, but I think my point is still valid.
          If Google is challenged over this they have the money to resist for as long as they want, and the system is set up so they can.
          I guess if they decide there is no value in resisting, they won't.

      • Also, releasing something into the public domain means abandoning all rights to it. So rather than ensuring Google can't patent it, he ensured that he has no standing to sue.

        I release all my public code into the public domain and everyone can use it as they wish. A different story is people claiming that they are the original authors or trying to arbitrarily restrict their usage. As a public-domain enjoyer, you can only use whatever together with any other person; but you cannot convert what belongs to everyone and was created by someone else in your own.

        • Tell that to the Disney corporation. That company has made billions of dollars out of creating derivative works of existing public domain works - and boy does it cling to it's ownership of those derivatives. More-over the company that profited more than any other from the public domain - has spent the past 5 decades repeatedly buying extensions to copyright law in a desperate bid to avoid ever having to contribute anything back to that public domain.

          Your public domain code is open to same trap. If somebody

          • Your public domain code is open to same trap. If somebody uses it do build something else

            There are certainly lots of people with low-to-no self-respect or decency; perhaps just too shortsighted or dishonest-to-themselves to think that actions on these lines are acceptable. I prefer to not care about all that and to simply be reasonably diligent such that my work can be properly appraised by sensible and knowledgeable people (the aforementioned attitudes are usually common among people with low technical knowledge). There will always be undoubted ways to prove that I am the legitimate author and

            • No, you actually HAVE a defense in the judicial area if you use a license and assert copyright.
              If you explicitely put it "in the public domain" -you have no defense whatsoever. Even against straight up plagiarism your defenses are limited. Disney gets to claim THEY made "Snow white" - and all they have to do to get away with it is include "Based on the novel by Hans Christian Anderson" in fine print somewhere in the end credits.

              • Disney gets to claim THEY made "Snow white" - and all they have to do to get away with it is include "Based on the novel by Hans Christian Anderson" in fine print somewhere in the end credits.

                This is a too old example which isn't too compatible with the current situation, mainly when dealing with code and in internet; to not mention the fact the original author was dead long time ago. Additionally, if I was in a situation similar to that myself, I am not sure that I could feel like claiming a lot to Disney, because they did a relevant amount of work on top of the original story.

                Let's take as an example one of my public domain codes, a unit-parsing library. If a company develops a new tool and u

          • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )

            Tell that to the Disney corporation. That company has made billions of dollars out of creating derivative works of existing public domain works - and boy does it cling to it's ownership of those derivatives.

            Anyone is free to make shows out of any of the base stories, Cinderella, Snow White, etc, and many have. They know they don't have a leg to stand on suing you, unless you explicitly copy their creations (drawings, music, etc)

            What you think you're doing is not what you're actually doing- what you want to do means using a BSD or MIT license at the very least, or maybe even a copyleft license like the GPL.

            That's true for copyright more or less. For patents, the topic in the story up above, public domain is prior art, and prior art will nullify a patent. At worst, in a patent lawsuit, it becomes "we based our design/device on this information in the public domain, which is prior to plaint

      • by JesseMcDonald ( 536341 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @04:18PM (#55177045) Homepage

        Without a patent he can't (successfully) sue them for using it, no, but since he released it into the public domain we must assume that he didn't intend to do that anyway. He wanted people to use it. The fact that the technique was well-known before Google attempted to patent it does mean that their patent application is invalid due to prior art. You can't just patent a technique someone else invented, even if it is in the public domain.

      • Prior Art. (Score:5, Informative)

        by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @04:27PM (#55177101) Homepage

        Also, releasing something into the public domain means abandoning all rights to it. So rather than ensuring Google can't patent it,

        He did so by publishing it (look my other post with arxiv refs [slashdot.org]).
        These publications constitute prior art.
        Google CANNOT patent it be cause by now, 2017, this techniques have been known for 10 years.
        (Including successful implementation by Yann Collet's FSE and another one by one of the coders of the Farbrausch demo team).

        he ensured that he has no standing to sue.

        He can technically challenge the patent on ground of prior art.

        • by Agripa ( 139780 )

          These publications constitute prior art.

          The patent office is very selective about what publications they consider prior art; mostly they care about previous patents. I regularly find things which are currently patented despite having been published decades ago.

          He can technically challenge the patent on ground of prior art.

          There is a review process for this now however in practice only after it is granted because the patent office construes patents narrowly while the courts construe them broadly.

      • Releasing something into the public domain amounts to loudly asserting that nobody can now patent it. It means the idea is firmly established as prior art.

  • Patent trolls must die!!

  • This could also be a case where the employee, seeking to get rewarded for a patent, hid the prior art from Google.
    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @03:59PM (#55176923)

      This could also be a case where the employee, seeking to get rewarded for a patent, hid the prior art from Google.

      Unlikely. Most companies FORBID engineers from searching for prior art. That is done by the legal dept, not engineering.

      If you let engineers search for prior art, you open yourself up to lawsuits for intentional infringement. If you have an explicit policy against patent searches, you can always claim "Hey, we didn't know".

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Exactly, where I work we have similar clauses where engineers are not permitted to be looking through external bodies of work for the very real fear that they may inadvertently utilise an idea they come across. Once you see how someone else has solved a problem it is sometimes hard to see other solutions and of course legally it is a huge mine field.
      • by msauve ( 701917 )
        ...and the legal department is probably searching for prior art in patents.

        As the summary plainly says, it was "explained to Google engineers in a Google Groups discussion from 2014," so the engineers were already aware of the prior art. It's not engineers searching for prior art as part of the patent process, so there's nothing to FORBID. That knowledge is what may have been hidden.
      • How do you stop engineers from looking a prior art, ban them from the internet and put them in a box.

        Seriously it may sound good, in your policy but it makes no sense. Same thing with contract clauses that say you cannot use knowledge from this job in future work, are you meant to get a lobotomy when you leave.

        • How do you stop engineers from looking a prior art

          It doesn't matter. The reason for the policy is to be able to plausibly argue in court that any patent infringement was unintentional. Whether it actually was is irrelevant.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            You should reread your policy. I suspect it actually says you can't read patents... Not that you can't look at the rest of the world for solutions. This is because if you knowing infringe on a patent then rewards (damages) can be trippled. If you see a solution and copy it not knowing it is patented then it's simple infringement. If you know it is infringement then you will pay for intentionally being an arse.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 11, 2017 @03:54PM (#55176873)

    The dumb shits in the patent office will sleepwalk through the rubber stamping process as usual.

  • Sounds like he didn't actually register a patent, but simply declared that his idea was public domain. The article isn't clear on exactly how he did so. The patent office won't necessarily count that as prior art, unless it's formally published. To actually prevent a company from monopolizing the idea, the most effective strategy would be to actually patent it and put it under a copyleft patent license... that is, patentleft [wikipedia.org]. Of course the trouble with this is that patents are expensive.

    • by trg83 ( 555416 )
      If he truly discussed it in public, on a forum using timestamped messages, that should count as formally published in our increasingly informal society. Of course, there's probably some IP-catchall buried in the Google Groups ToS that claims ownership of all ideas written there.
      • by Midnight Thunder ( 17205 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @06:07PM (#55177641) Homepage Journal

        Additionally the person in question is from Poland. In Europe, for the most part, software and algorithms are not patentable, so this would have required an academic to register for a US patent. Registering an international patent is expensive and should not be the first motivation for an academic.

        The biggest issue here, IMO, is allowing software patents in the first place and while permitted being for such a long period. A software patent should be good for 5 years at the maximum, since I doubt most software patents took years, cost millions to come up with and implement.

        Wikipedia on European software patents: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    • ANS is published. (Score:5, Informative)

      by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @04:22PM (#55177077) Homepage

      Sounds like he didn't actually register a patent,

      No indeed, he didn't.

      but simply declared that his idea was public domain. The article isn't clear on exactly how he did so.

      Wut ? It's right there even in the TFS on /. : he published the stuff back in the 2000s.

      The patent office won't necessarily count that as prior art, unless it's formally published.

      If you google a bit around :
      - arXiv:0710.3861 [arxiv.org] - "Optimal encoding on discrete lattice with translational invariant constrains using statistical algorithms" first published in 2007 (that's the bat-shit crazy stuff that only a few mathematicians managed to understand but lay ground for the whole stuff)
      - arXiv:0902.0271 [arxiv.org] - "Asymmetric numeral systems" first published in 2009 (second paper, where he re-visited these concept, and which spawned, among other the FSE - Finite State Entropy - implementation of tANS that is used by Yann Collet's Zstd - recently moved to facebook).
      - arXiv:1311.2540 [arxiv.org] - "Asymmetric numeral systems: entropy coding combining speed of Huffman coding with compression rate of arithmetic coding" first published in 2013 and cites actual implementation such as ycollet's fse.

      All these papers (which also cite actual real-world implementations) all predate Google's patent filing.

      To actually prevent a company from monopolizing the idea, the most effective strategy would be to actually patent it and put it under a copyleft patent license... that is, patentleft [wikipedia.org].

      Or you know, just publish it.
      Like everybody else does in the academic world.
      Formal publication DOES COUNT as prior art in most sane parts of the world.

      That's also why Range-Coding, the predecessor of tANS and cousin of the patented arithmetic coding isn't patented itself: it was published.

      Disclaimer: I've worked on entropy encoders for the compression of genomic data as part of the PoSeNoGap project.

    • There are journals explicitly for publishing ideas so they can't be patented later. Paying a fortune to patent something you are then going to patentleft is stupid. Just publish it.

    • He's Polish. Poland is in Europe. You can't patent software in Europe. You also can't patent it elsewhere if it is already public domain.

  • First, be Evil (Score:2, Insightful)

    I'm pretty sure that's Google's motto.

    • The parent comment: " First, be Evil. I'm pretty sure that's Google's motto."

      Google is now often acting in a way that is, in some ways, bad for users. What underlies that? Very poor management.

      My guess is that Sergey Brin and Larry Page became overloaded running Google, now Alphabet Inc. Consider, for example, how you would feel about running a company with 72,053 employees [google.com]. Extremely overloaded?

      Now Pichai Sundararajan, also known as Sundar Pichai, is the CEO of Google. [wikipedia.org] He was originally from Tamil
  • Even if you want to just give it away, you better apply for that patent or this kind of thing is going to happen Skippy... Now, if you really want to defend this, it's going to cost you a pile of $$, just to give it away.
    • Or just publish. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @04:32PM (#55177123) Homepage

      Even if you want to just give it away, you better apply for that patent

      Or you know.
      Just publish it formally.
      Like he did [slashdot.org].

      That constitutes prior art and make Google's patent invalid.

      • That constitutes prior art and make Google's patent invalid.

        Which you now have to fight Google in court to prove if they got the patent that you should have applied for.

        I get that Google will not win, but it takes $$ and time to go to court and prove you invented this first.

        Which... If you read my original post, is what I'm saying. It very likely would have been cheaper to file the patent...

        • Which you now have to fight Google in court to prove if they got the patent that you should have applied for.

          *if* they get the patent...
          Which exactly why Jarek Duda is writing to the patent office to inform them of the prior art.
          Which is exactly what happened afterward.

          Citing TFS on /. :

          The researcher already filed a complaint, to which WIPO ISA responded by calling out Google for not coming up with "an inventive contribution over the prior art, because it is no more than a straightforward application of known coding algorithms.

          Prior Art won.
          Thanks to publications of Jarek Duda (see: arxiv), and provable discussion with Google (i.e.: disclosure) that predate the patent filing.

    • Even if you want to just give it away, you better apply for that patent or this kind of thing is going to happen Skippy... Now, if you really want to defend this, it's going to cost you a pile of $$, just to give it away.

      This is just a requirement for the US. Most other countries seem to be semi sane when it comes to the patentability of algorithms and mathematical formulas. After all, is a mathematical formula really an implementation?

      In the US system it is going to cost you $$ if the USPTO doesn't do its homework, as often fails to do when it comes to software related patents. It also goes against the principle of getting a patent, which is to encourage publishing of knowledge, in exchange for a temporary monopoly on the

      • Publishing in public really doesn't fix this problem. Google can still apply for and get a patent for it, rightly or wrongly.

        You can go back later and invalidate the patent, but that requires you take the issue to court, which requires you to hire a lawyer, pay filing fees and spend your time. It might have been cheaper to just get the patent up front when this is all said and done. Surely Google can afford to defend their patent if they decide it's worth it, but can you afford it if your idea is to just

        • Right or wrong, that's how this IP thing works.....

          Or the point "works in the USA". Outside of the US there isn't a culture of patenting everything under then sun, and as broadly possible. Also, by the time the researcher shared the knowledge he likely invalidated his own ability to patent it?

          • OK, that's how IP works in the USA.... But patents are almost like currency here, which makes some folks a pile of money at times. What's wrong with making money as long as it's legal? What's wrong with filing patents to make money? But having a patent is only part of this, you have to defend it.

            Consider what happened to the Wright brothers. Curtis openly violated their patents and dragged out the court cases for decades... The stress of it all likely killed one of the brothers. In the end, they mad

            • There are reasonable scenarios for patents, such as when millions were spent. I have issue with any patent that is sat on or simply used as a tool to stifle the competition, while doing nothing useful with said patent. This is too often then case with software patents.

              The flip side to the story you mentioned is that had the Wright brothers simply focused on making a better plane, then they may have been more than just inventors. In the end Curtis innovated, based on recommendations from Ford, and this led t

  • by MountainLogic ( 92466 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @04:11PM (#55176997) Homepage
    At large companies, there are:
    1) large incentives (several $K) to engineers to get a patent.
    2) Incentives to managers to have their teams to get patents
    3) Billable hours for outside patent council to file regardless of how questionable value that patent may be
    4) Pressure from the board to CxOs have more patents than IBM
    5) Easily fungible value as very, very few patents are ever licensed.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      At the USPTO, there are:
      1) incentives to grant patents regardless of merit as the fees associated determine their operating budget
      2) incentives to ignore prior art for as long as possible (ongoing maintenance fees)
      3) a complete lack of oversight and virtually no repercussions for improperly granting patents

      Fix those problems and you probably fix the existing problems at large companies as well...

  • by TechyImmigrant ( 175943 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @04:13PM (#55177009) Homepage Journal

    Big companies are not an individual who decides to file ANS patents.

    Big companies provide incentives for their employees to file patents and employees submit patent proposals to some review committee and the committee decides which ones to apply for, then a lawyer works with the employee to write the application.

    This whole process can happen without anyone involved knowing what the patent status of ANS is. In particular, big companies ask their employees not to search patents, because that creates triple damages risk where a plaintiff can show you 'knew' you were infringing because for example you downloaded the patent onto your computer and that was shown in discovery.

    The underlying reason for this behavior is the triple damages provisions for willful infringement.
     

  • And I don't mean countersuits in response to another company or individual suing them for patent infringement. I mean, has Google ever found someone violating one of their patents, and been the first to file an infringement lawsuit?

    There's plenty not to like and to worry about with Google. But by my recollection, acting like a patent troll isn't one of them. If Google is trying to get a patent for an already-existing invention, then it's far more likely they applied for it just in case the USPTO was s
  • by faragon ( 789704 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @04:19PM (#55177053) Homepage
    ... and investigate why the patent was filled. In my opinion.
  • Google is now evil.

  • because it can improve data compression from 3 to 30 times

    No, ANS improves processing performance by 3-30x. It provides the same compression ratio of Arithmetic Coding (the previous industry standard -- the 1977 IBM patent having long expired) but at nearly the same processing speed as Huffman Coding (from 1951).

  • by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @05:21PM (#55177407) Homepage

    Just to nitpick :
    tANS (table Assymetric Numeral Systems) such as the FSE (Finite State Entropy) implementation by Yann Collet, at the hearth of Zstd compressor (now Facebook's) are NOT 3-30x better than other modern post-Huffman entropy encoder, such as binary-arithmetic encoding or range-encoding.
    They are much *FASTER*. By lots.

    They all boil down to the same logic:
    do not use a fixed code-word book like Huffman (which is thus limited to integer number of bits).

    but try to get as close as Shanon's theory predict the necessary bits, by subdividing number space.

    range encoding [wikipedia.org] works by dividing an arbitrary big number (usually an extremely long binary number).
    For each symbol, you split this range in sub-ranges. More frequent symbol get a wider sub-range, more rarer symbol get a narrower one.
    You pick the sub-range corresponding to the next symbol in the text you need to encode.
    Then you keep the same work by subdividing *THAT* sub-range by the probabilities of symbol occuring in the position after that.
    - Encoding relies a lot on multiplications (there isn't such a thing as a direct multiplication in transistors. Instead you implement it in microcode by combining shifting and adding. modern CPU have big shift-adders units, so they can manage in chunks of 64bits - on modern Intel it's a few cycles delay, 1 more if you want the upper 64bits of a 128bits product).
    - Decoding relies on division (rules of three to "zoom" into the subranges), and division are fucking slow (again no such things as "division" with transistors. Instead you implement it in microcode, and most modern CPU tend to do it bit-by-bit meaning it's fucking slow. - on modern Intel it's dozens of cycles delay).
    This thing was published in 1979. (And thus isn't patentable)
    It's provable that it approaches arbitrarily close the Shanon limit. (all the symbols in the stream occupy a total of bits that is close the invert log2 of their respective frequencies).

    Arithmetic Coding [wikipedia.org] is a cousin technique patented more or less in the same era.
    In can be seen as a special sub-case of range-encoding where the range is [0;1] and you subdivide it in fraction.
    It's most often implemented as binary arithmetic encoding.
    Input symbol are converted into a bit stream.
    Then for each bit, the fraction is divided in two half. e.g.: if each bit has a 50:50 chance, the [0;1] is subdivided at 0.5
    You chose the range under or above this mid-point depending if the bit is 0 or 1 and move forward to the next bit and sudivide the fraction based on the next probability (e.g.: mid point at 0.25).
    Given that there are only 2 symbols, and therefore only a mid-point fraction to keep track of, its implementation is a little bit simpler to follow.
    But because this works on *every single bit* of the input stream, you can guess it's either slow (on CPU - hence CABAC versus CAVLC in H264 videos) or require high-frequency on hardware implementation.
    As it is basically a variation of Range Encoding it can achieve similar arbitrarily close to optimum encoding.

    Then come Mr. Duda with his ANS.
    They are basically range encoding turned on its head - to understand you must basically look at range encoding's bit the other way around.
    - Range encoding works by subdividing an arbitrarily big number. ANS work by build a progressively bigger number.
    - Range encoder usually works by writing out the most significant (high bits) away and then shift the working values. - ANS works by considering the least significant bit (the low part).

    And here comes the real magic :
    - With range-entropy: if you have 2 symbols with 50:50 chances, you subdivide the range in 2 halfs. With a different probability you still end up with 2 adjacent sub-ranges of different lenght.
    - With ANS, because you figuratively "reverse the bits" : if you have 2 symbols with 50:50 chance, you'll find them alternating in

  • by Anonymous Coward

    According to his LinkedIn profile he is no longer with Google https://www.linkedin.com/in/al... [linkedin.com]

  • USA has changed the law and now it is not first to invent, but it is first to file who gets the patent. So even if he can prove he invented it, he can not stop Google from patenting it. But when Google tries to enforce the patent, others can cite the prior art to get the patent invalidated. So the assistant prof has to wait for Google to sue someone, then he can step in and help the defendant with prior art.
  • The cake is a lie.

Staff meeting in the conference room in 3 minutes.

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