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NZ Draft Bill Rules Out Software Patents

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the plus-it's-beautiful-there dept.

Patents 194

Korgan writes "In what must be a first in the face of ACTA and US trade negotiations pressure, a Parliamentary select committee has released a draft bill that explicitly declares that software will no longer be patentable in New Zealand. FTA: 'Open source software champions have been influential in excluding software from the scope of patents in the new Patents Bill. Clause 15 of the draft Bill, as reported back from the Commerce Select Committee, lists a number of classes of invention which should not be patentable and includes the sub-clause "a computer program is not a patentable invention."'"

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Hello@! (0, Offtopic)

FunkyRider (1128099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31684684)

First post! From Auckland

Re:Hello@! (-1, Offtopic)

Petrushka (815171) | more than 4 years ago | (#31684772)

First post! From Auckland

First reply! From Wellington

... wait, that's the wrong way round

Re:Hello@! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685284)

First second reply! from oh STFU

Finally! (2, Funny)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31684716)

I say we patent this type of solution and then release it under a [insert name of least controversial open source license here] license so it can spread like Gonorrhea [slashdot.org] throughout other governments.

Re:Finally! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685676)

What might be a good abbreviation for a public license that spreads Gonorrhea? </subtlety>

Re:Finally! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685760)

I say we patent this type of solution and then release it under a [insert name of least controversial open source license here] license so it can spread like Gonorrhea throughout other governments.

In this case, only the GPL would be appropriate. The Gonorrhea Pubic License...

Re:Finally! (1)

dk90406 (797452) | more than 4 years ago | (#31686004)

It is a step, but not perfect. "Embedded software" will be patentable. So put your software in a dedicated device (e.g. iPhone or temperature regulator) an you can patent it. But generic computer programs cannot be patented.

Someone seeing sense at last i see (0, Troll)

cheezegeezer (1765936) | more than 4 years ago | (#31684728)

And about time too , But of course you know who will be getting their collective panties in a big mother of a bunch right about now of course the same ones that support jerks like the RIAA MPAA and this recent bunch of tossers .

Keep it up NZ at least someone has got the balls to face up to the red white and blue bully boys

starts and stripes more like scars and strife :-) .

Re:Someone seeing sense at last i see (5, Informative)

SimonTheSoundMan (1012395) | more than 4 years ago | (#31684810)

Software patents have never been allowed in Europe, and the UK like to make a big stand against such patents.

http://eupat.ffii.org/log/intro/ [ffii.org]

It's really only the Americas that have software patents.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_patent [wikipedia.org]

Re:Someone seeing sense at last i see (2, Interesting)

IBBoard (1128019) | more than 4 years ago | (#31684964)

Are you sure? I thought we had the stupid situation where companies were being granted patents in the UK in spite of the fact that Europe had banned them. IIRC one politician (who had obvious corporate connections) said it was only "right" and "fair" that they should be allowed more protection!

Maybe I'm just interpreting it wrong, but that is how I read it.

Re:Someone seeing sense at last i see (4, Informative)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 4 years ago | (#31684998)

That's how it is. The push to codify software patents has failed, however there hasn't been a successful counter-push to have software declared unpatentable. Right now it's a grey zone where software is patentable but the patents are theoretically unenforcable as they have no legal ground to stand on.

Re:Someone seeing sense at last i see (3, Interesting)

jcupitt65 (68879) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685260)

That's right, rather like domain squatting, people have been randomly patenting stuff in the hope that they might have something valuable once software patents are allowed in the UK.

Fortunately (from my point of view, anyway, as an independent developer) software patents in Europe have been knocked on the head and these things will remain worthless for a few more years at least.

Re:Someone seeing sense at last i see (1)

IBBoard (1128019) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685496)

So, a bit like the big Tech companies threaten, we're currently all at risk under some ominous black cloud, but that cloud might end up not really being problematic in the long term? Well done lawmakers!

Re:Someone seeing sense at last i see (1)

DJRumpy (1345787) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685324)

From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_patent [wikipedia.org]

"Europe
Main article: Software patents under the European Patent Convention
Within European Union member states, the EPO and other national patent offices have issued many patents for inventions involving software since the European Patent Convention (EPC) came into force in the late 1970s. Article 52 EPC excludes "programs for computers" from patentability (Art. 52(2)) to the extent that a patent application relates to a computer program "as such" (Art. 52(3)). This has been interpreted to mean that any invention which makes a non-obvious "technical contribution" or solves a "technical problem" in a non-obvious way is patentable even if that technical problem is solved by running a computer program.[12]
Computer-implemented inventions which only solve a business problem using a computer, rather than a technical problem, are considered unpatentable as lacking an inventive step (see T 258/03). Nevertheless, the fact that an invention is useful in business does not mean it is not patentable if it also solves a technical problem."

Re:Someone seeing sense at last i see (1)

Anders Andersson (863) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685348)

Software patents have never been allowed in Europe

But if New Zealand is joining us only now on that point, how is that a "first" in the face of ongoing ACTA negotiations? The European Union is involved in ACTA too, and I have seen no hint that software patentability (or even patents in general) would be an important factor in ACTA.

I mean, if customs officers can't tell the difference between a fake Rolex and a genuine one, how are they going to tell whether the software in a truckload of laptops is covered by a patent or not? Will they cross-check shipping manifests with the actual contents of individual executable binaries (possibly reverse-engineering them first)?

Re:Someone seeing sense at last i see (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685828)

They will just go by the accusation (with no proof) by a loud-mouthed competitor. Bonus points if the competitor has more money.

Re:Someone seeing sense at last i see (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685702)

OK, sorry to make you seem stupid, but it has to be said. The reality is actually the exact OPPOSITE of what you said. Software patents have never been allowed in the United States (Beauregard claims are NOT software claims as such). They are, however, perfectly legitimate in the EU. Oops!

Re:Someone seeing sense at last i see (1)

Captain Jack Taylor (976465) | more than 4 years ago | (#31686236)

Also Japan, which is why their system software market tanked in the 90s and they're mostly doing embedded and entertainment stuff.

Keep up the pressure. (4, Insightful)

BiggerIsBetter (682164) | more than 4 years ago | (#31684748)

It's still only a draft.

Bad wording? (1)

Shrike82 (1471633) | more than 4 years ago | (#31684774)

From TFA and TFS:

a computer program is not a patentable invention

OK, but what about a software concept? Can someone still patent "A method for preventing unauthorised access to files and system features through the use of a personal identification and verification system", as long as they don't have a single piece of software for this idea?

That imaginary patent was about password protection in case anyone missed it...

Re:Bad wording? (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#31684800)

Absolutely NOT. Software is copyrightable, not patentable.

Are you related to Bill Clinton, and learned to parse words to death?

Re:Bad wording? (1)

bunratty (545641) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685124)

You completely missed the point. Software isn't patentable. But isn't a clever and non-obvious algorithm an invention that could deserve patent protection?

No, it isn't. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685186)

No, it isn't. There's nothing about a non obvious algorithm that demands or deserves patent protection. How to implement that efficiently on an ISIC, YES, but as a mathematical statement (which its implementation in software IS), NO.

Re:Bad wording? (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685306)

You completely missed the point. Software isn't patentable. But isn't a clever and non-obvious algorithm an invention that could deserve patent protection?

You're arguing that an algorithm should be patentable when written in English but not when written in Python? Why would what language you express an algorithm in determine its patentability? Or are you under the mistaken impression that a software program isn't an algorithm?

Re:Bad wording? (1)

bunratty (545641) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685352)

No, my argument has absolutely nothing to do with what language an algorithm is expressed in. I disagree that software is an algorithm. Software implements an algorithm. The Bubblesort algorithm is an algorithm that exists independent of any language. That algorithm could be patented. If I write a program that implements Bubblesort, I can copyright it. What you are doing is like confusing the blueprint of a machine with the machine constructed from the blueprints.

Re:Bad wording? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685512)

No. Software is an algorithm. This is not a matter open to debate, unless you have recently had some very revolutionary papers published in the fields of math and computer science.

Re:Bad wording? (4, Informative)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685610)

In the period 1945-1980, it was generally believed that patent law did not pertain to software. However, it now appears that some people have received patents for algorithms of practical importance--e.g., Lempel-Ziv compression and RSA public key encryption--and are now legally preventing other programmers from using these algorithms.

This is a serious change from the previous policy under which the computer revolution became possible, and I fear this change will be harmful for society. It certainly would have had a profoundly negative effect on my own work: For example, I developed software called TeX that is now used to produce more than 90% of all books and journals in mathematics and physics and to produce hundreds of thousands of technical reports in all scientific disciplines. If software patents had been commonplace in 1980, I would not have been able to create such a system, nor would I probably have ever thought of doing it, nor can I imagine anyone else doing so. I am told that the courts are trying to make a distinction between mathematical algorithms and nonmathematical algorithms. To a computer scientist, this makes no sense, because every algorithm is as mathematical as anything could be. An algorithm is an abstract concept unrelated to physical laws of the universe.

Nor is it possible to distinguish between "numerical" and "nonnumerical" algorithms, as if numbers were somehow different from other kinds of precise information. All data are numbers, and all numbers are data. Mathematicians work much more with symbolic entities than with numbers.

Therefore the idea of passing laws that say some kinds of algorithms belong to mathematics and some do not strikes me as absurd as the 19th century attempts of the Indiana legislature to pass a law that the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter is exactly 3, not approximately 3.1416. It's like the medieval church ruling that the sun revolves about the earth. Man-made laws can be significantly helpful but not when they contradict fundamental truths.

--Donald Knuth

What I'm still not getting, is what could possibly make you think you know better than Donald Knuth...

Re:Bad wording? (0, Troll)

bunratty (545641) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685638)

It just isn't a good Slashdot discussion without the old appeal to authority fallacy.

Re:Bad wording? (1)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685766)

He makes mathematically sound arguments, and backs it up with common sense. I think the opinion of Donald Knuth, who has invented more patents than you could ever dream of, is very relevant.

Nice job dodging the question though, you would make a good politician.

Re:Bad wording? (0, Flamebait)

bunratty (545641) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685790)

The problem is I never said I know better than Knuth. That was your strawman.

Re:Bad wording? (1)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685836)

Knuth explains why patenting algorithms is a terrible idea. You continue to suggest that algorithms should be patentable.

You don't see any contradiction there?

Go on, don't be afraid. Tell us why you think Knuth is wrong. It should be funny.

Re:Bad wording? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685818)

What could possibly make you think Donald Knuth knows better than other human beings? he's a human, remember?

Re:Bad wording? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685930)

Luckily for us he backs up his opinions with reason so we are free to dissect any logical fallacies in what he's said. If you want to disagree with Knuth, you have the luxury of explaining in painful detail where exactly you think he went astray. Otherwise you're doing nothing more than screaming "nuh-uh!" at the top of your lungs.

Re:Bad wording? (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685612)

Software, reduced to it's most basic level, is nothing more than a series of zeros and ones. Numbers. Manipulating those numbers is what makes software work.

Now, what, exactly, is an algorithm? From the wikipedia: While there is no generally accepted formal definition of "algorithm," an informal definition could be "a process that performs some sequence of operations." For some people, a program is only an algorithm if it stops eventually. For others, a program is only an algorithm if it stops before a given number of calculation steps.

So - manipulating numbers, in some predefined sequence.

A child learning his multiplication tables is working with an algorithm - he is manipulating numbers in a predetermined, easily defined way, to get expected results. Nothing special about an algorithm, at all.

Again - parsing words in an attempt to profit off of the ignorant is a despicable act. Algorithms should NEVER have been considered for patenting. Create a machine which does algorithms in some new, unique, faster way, and you'll have a patentable product. Wihtout the physical machine to do the manipulations, you have nothing.

Re:Bad wording? (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 4 years ago | (#31686044)

Software, reduced to it's most basic level, is nothing more than a series of zeros and ones. Numbers. Manipulating those numbers is what makes software work.

A machine, reduced to it's most basic level, is nothing more than a collection of atoms. Particles. Manipulating those particles is what makes a machine work.

I'm not arguing for or against software patents here, I'm only pointing out that the "software is just an algorithm" argument isn't as perfect as a lot of people think it is.

Re:Bad wording? (1)

Znork (31774) | more than 4 years ago | (#31686074)

But isn't a clever and non-obvious algorithm an invention that could deserve patent protection?

Arguing about patents in terms of 'deserving' tends to distort reasoning; monopoly rights ignore the cost factor of the equation, ie, why should everyone else not 'deserve' to implement the same invention freely when they come up with it?

Now, if you think certain non-obvious algorithms 'deserve' some kind of reward, then go ahead and argue we should pay the inventors rewards out of public funding or something. Or even better, argue it creates socio-economic benefits, as that's usually a better foundation for public funding than 'deserving' as well.

Re:Bad wording? (0, Offtopic)

epine (68316) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685750)

This is OT as hell.

Are you related to Bill Clinton, and learned to parse words to death?

From [http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/26/opinion/26krugman.html Paul Krugman - Going to Extreme]

For today's G.O.P. is, fully and finally, the party of Ronald Reagan -- not Reagan the pragmatic politician, who could and did strike deals with Democrats, but Reagan the antigovernment fanatic, who warned that Medicare would destroy American freedom. It's a party that sees modest efforts to improve Americans' economic and health security not merely as unwise, but as monstrous. It's a party in which paranoid fantasies about the other side -- Obama is a socialist, Democrats have totalitarian ambitions -- are mainstream. And, as a result, it's a party that fundamentally doesn't accept anyone else's right to govern.

Bill is far from the first charismatic leader whose tallywhacker has gone walk about. What was underlying the whole charade was a dispute over Clinton's right to govern. He was elected by a majority decision, for better or worse, and the republicans failed to respect this.

What exactly is the correct way to parse a question that never should have been asked in the first place? The correct answer was "what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?"

"Mr Limbaugh, are you addicted to Hillbilly Heroin?" What's he supposed to say? Sure, he's a two-faced lout, just like Clinton, but it's still an ad hominem attack, and undeserving of a straight answer.

forged prescription:addiction::lucky blow job:adultery

Does that work? I guess it depends on your attitude toward natural pain relief over artificial pain relief.

On a technical note, this is the very first time Boomtango helped me to locate something I've recently read on the internet faster than I could have done it myself. And for this, all day my Firefox is an extra beat sluggish. For now, I'm sticking with it on potential.

reply to self (1)

epine (68316) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685770)

Broken URL syntax in the previous post brought to you by my favorite Fireflog plug-in Make Link. Which is why Boomtango has the slow horse in this race.

Re:Bad wording? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 4 years ago | (#31684858)

I imagine you could still patent the concept as long as it was implemented as firmware but I assume the patent could not be used to stop others implementing the concept in software.

Standard disclaimers - IANAL. I haven't RTFA.

Re:Bad wording? (2, Insightful)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685340)

I imagine you could still patent the concept as long as it was implemented as firmware but I assume the patent could not be used to stop others implementing the concept in software. Standard disclaimers - IANAL. I haven't RTFA.

You also apparently either don't understand what firmware is, or what software is. (Your software doesn't cease to be software if it's burned into non-reprogrammable memory. Not all software is firmware, but all firmware is software. It's just software recorded on non-erasable chip media. Heck, often these days it's erasable too. Not as easily as when it's saved on disk, but still... software doesn't cease being software merely because you change the media you save it on.)

Re:Bad wording? (1)

IBBoard (1128019) | more than 4 years ago | (#31684938)

That imaginary patent was about password protection in case anyone missed it...

And, as the title says, your patent is badly worded (in a good way for a company) since it also probably covers other methods of ID/verification (central logon via something Active Directory-esque, biometrics, etc)!

Re:Bad wording? (1)

Island Admin (1562905) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685564)

Or a security guard sitting behind a desk, checking your ID card before allowing you to access the filing cabinet, where the files are kept according to a particular system ..... :D

Re:Bad wording? (1)

mabinogi (74033) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685666)

you cannot patent concepts in the first place. You can patent inventions.
Whilst some companies like to act like they have a patent on a concept, what they really have is a patent on a specific implementation of that concept (which may or may have some overly broad language that got past the examiners).

Freelance Projects for PHP Developers (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31684778)

Freelance programmers and web designers. Get custom web design. Freelancers bid on outsourced projects. Outsourcing to India, Romania, Ukraine and many other countries. Outsource your project and let web developers bid on it.

Freelance Projects for PHP Developers [expert-columns.com]

That's a relief (1)

some_guy_88 (1306769) | more than 4 years ago | (#31684798)

I'm so used to loading slashdot and reading bad news. It's a breath of fresh air to read something like this. Good job everyone from New Zealand.

Hope some of that common sense washes over to Aussie shores

Re:That's a relief (2)

gnupun (752725) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685824)

I'm so used to loading slashdot and reading bad news. It's a breath of fresh air to read something like this. Good job everyone from New Zealand.

It is bad news. You've just been brainwashed by the thousands of stories in the media about how patents are bad that bad news looks good to you.

Patents allow inventors to earn a living. How is making money by creating valuable things bad?

Re:That's a relief (1)

VJ42 (860241) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685982)

Patents allow inventors to earn a living. How is making money by creating valuable things bad?

Patents in general are a good idea, however Software is already copyrightable; there's no need for it to be patentable as well. If I can code your idea better than you, then your patent is stifling innovation, not promoting it.

Re:That's a relief (1)

gnupun (752725) | more than 4 years ago | (#31686092)

Software is already copyrightable; there's no need for it to be patentable as well

People who say that usually don't understand the difference between copyright and patents. Copyright protection is weak because it protects only the exact representation of the product. Patents, however, are much broader and protect the entire concept behind the idea. Think of it this way: if you copyright a wooden handle hammer, I can defeat it with a metal handled hammer. But if you were to patent the concept of a hammer, it would be harder/impossible for copycats to eat your marketshare for hammers.

Re:That's a relief (1)

some_guy_88 (1306769) | more than 4 years ago | (#31686130)

You're clearly not a programmer.

I am - I make my living programming and yet I am against software patents.

Re:That's a relief (1)

gnupun (752725) | more than 4 years ago | (#31686258)

yet I am against software patents.

Is that because you'll never create anything worthy of a patent? Or because you like to undersell yourself and give the value of your efforts to your boss or your customers?

Re:That's a relief (1)

plankrwf (929870) | more than 4 years ago | (#31686224)

I didn't say what GP did, but I happen to agree with him (OK, GP COULD be a 'she', but this being ./ I am taking my chances that it is a 'he'). And I understand (or at least think I do ;-0) the difference between copyright and patent.
I agree that patents are 'broader'. Taking you example of a hammer: good thing you could defeat my copyrighted wooden handle hammer; how else would I get a metal handled one?
The fact that (for software) copyright is "less broad" than patents is (IMHO) a GOOD thing.
Ie: less is more.

I don't see it getting through... (1)

lightspeedius (263290) | more than 4 years ago | (#31684812)

I can't see it passing the second reading. It was probably just included in the draft to make the idea more public.

New Zealand takes one more step towards being a ba (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31684856)

Seriously, even if you are anti-patents, read their argument it is laughable.

Thumbs up for NZ common sense ! (1)

vikingpower (768921) | more than 4 years ago | (#31684930)

From the Draft Bill: "(...) as software patents can stifle innovation and competition, and can be granted for trivial or existing techniques. In general we accept this position." Why am I not living in NZ, yet ?

Re:Thumbs up for NZ common sense ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31684988)

Why am I not living in NZ, yet ?

Because we wouldn't take you unless you're talented or rich?

Re:Thumbs up for NZ common sense ! (2, Insightful)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685082)

Why am I not living in NZ, yet ?

Well, first you need a visa. Which probably requires a job or student-status. You haven't applied for that. I expect you'll also need a passport, which you still haven't applied for even though I've been reminding you for months. I mean, jeeze, you can get a passport photo at freakin' WALMART. So really it's just that you can't be bothered to start making progress on it.

Oh, and your mom called.

Re:Thumbs up for NZ common sense ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685744)

"Oh, and your mom called."

Tell her I say "Hi!" We partied hard the other weekend, until I ran out of blow. Man, she is a wild one.

Why Not? (1)

SlashBugs (1339813) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685012)

I've never really followed the arguments behind why everyone hates software patents. I'm not trolling here, please help me understand.

As I understand it, the idea behind a patent is to encourage an inventor to invest resources in R&D and then to share their new techniology with society, in return for a time-limited monopoly on exploiting that new technology. This is arguably a bit broken at the moment -- largely because patents seem to be overly broad and to last too long -- but the basic idea seems sound.

If I invent a new physical device -- an array of levers and cogs to build something, or a new chemical process to manufacture something -- I can patent it. I've put loads of time and effort into finding a new way to manipulate physical objects to either perform a new process on them, or to peform a new function. If it's useful and novel,.I can submit my plans and society grants me a patent.

However, if I invent a new algorithm or piece of software, society isn't willing to make the same deal with me. I see these as analogous to inventing a new machine part or a new device for someone's home. My invention is manipulating information instead of physical objects, but it's still useful and novel, and it's still improving a process or performing a new function. It's also still the result of considerable investment of time and resources.

I've seen the argument that information isn't patentable because it's easily copied; This doesn't work because it's the plans that are patented, and the blueprints for a machine part are as easiliy copied as a new algorithm or search routine. I've also seen the argument that patenting an algorithm harms companies that need to use that algorithm in their products, but I don't understand that either: obviously a really broad patent for e.g. "using subroutines" shouldn't be awarded any more than one for "using levers" in a physical device. However, a new technique for manipulating information with a specific and narrowly-defined purpose seems more analogous to patenting the coaxial escapement [wikipedia.org] , an innovative improvement to the efficiency of a machine part with wide application. That seems pretty reasonable to me. Finally, I've seen the argument that the field of software development moves too quickly for patents to have a net benefit effect; this may be true, but seems like an argument to shorten patent life rather than abolish them entirely. All the other arguments I've seen are basically along the lines that the system is poorly administered and should therefore be removed entirely; why not push for a better-administered system, instead of pushing the baby out with the bathwater?

So I don't really see many advantages to destroying the current system, but for improving it instead. Conversely, there do seem to be advatages to keeping software patents. For example, let's say that tonight a radical new process for handling search results comes to you in a dream. You could put in time and effort to research it, hone it, prove that it works, and prepare your product. In a world with a functioning software patent system, you can then sell your IP to Google and live out your days on a private island populated entirely by scantily-clad people of whatever gender floats your boat. Without patents, you could put in all that time and effort, but the only way you could benefit from it is by starting your own google competitor (good luck) and praying that no-one else ever works out or steals your algorithm to immediately copy it (again, good luck).

The software patent system may be in need of repair, but is it really worth throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Re:Why Not? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685078)

Because an algorithm/piece of software is essentially just a mathematical formula. And formulae are not patentable.

Re:Why Not? (1)

gnupun (752725) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685936)

Because an algorithm/piece of software is essentially just a mathematical formula. And formulae are not patentable.

Not always. Sometimes software is just connections from widget Foo to Bar and from Bar to FBar, just like many mechanical or electrical inventions. Just because such connections are represented in code that looks vaguely like mathematics does not make it a formula, let alone mathematics. Most software patents fall into this connection-based category and not the math category. Math category algorithms are created by smart PhDs with deep understanding of computers and math: eg: quicksort, bubblesort, etc.

Your garden variety software inventions has little to do with math. Rather it consists of "how to do X" by connecting existing widgets in interesting ways.

Re:Why Not? (1)

Pinky's Brain (1158667) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685086)

I complete agree in preserving the current system ... which in my neighbourhood means software is unpatentable.

Once patents stop being absolute monopolies and lasting 20 years we can start talking about extending it to algorithms,

Re:Why Not? (2, Interesting)

Becausegodhasmademe (861067) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685088)

Patents were not intended to provide protection to investors. The patent system was initially devised to spread scientific knowledge, allowing interested parties access to the technical information behind new innovations. Such a shame that they're main use now is to stifle the very thing they were intended to promote..!

Re:Why Not? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685116)

Because, some poor sucker programmer, living in his mom's basement, could come up with the same idea tomorrow, and find a way to make it work so much better.But the poor sod, who has no idea that the base for his work has a patent on it, will have his ass kicked for his hard work.

Patents STOP progress, and are rewarding the WRONG people.. They should be kept out of the incredibly fast paced world of computer software.

If you can't capitalize on your idea fast enough, tough freaking biscuits..

Copyright on the other hand is a useful protective tool. It stops people stealing your work byte for byte, note for note, word for word... But even that has been abused by insane time limits.

I am a programmer, and what I'd give to have free reign over my creative process... what I could accomplish without having to worry about the bullshit associated with software patents in the Divided States of Assholica. Seriously, please someone nuke those jerks, starting with their patent offices..

Re:Why Not? (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 4 years ago | (#31686144)

Because, some poor sucker programmer, living in his mom's basement, could come up with the same idea tomorrow, and find a way to make it work so much better.

Better enforcement of the non-obviousness requirement should help this situation. Just like a machine that an average car mechanic could invent shouldn't be patentable, software that an average programmer could come up with shouldn't be patentable, regardless of how one feels about software patents in general.

Re:Why Not? (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685130)

Because it's far too easy to accidentally create a program that infringes on a patent, most software are made up of basic building blocks that together make a unique product, so if anything should be patentable it should be the building blocks, and only the ones that are not trivial, but who gets to decide this? Which means that we end up in court, which costs a lot of money and opens up for trolls.

Copyright (a short, say 2-5 years depending on product) and trademark should be enough to discourage competition, if competition can make a program just like yours without copying you and still sell it at a lower cost then you are doing something wrong or your product just wasn't unique enough.

Re:Why Not? (2, Insightful)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685142)

Software (meaning the code) is copyrightable and should not be patentable.

Let me give you an oversimplified example:
* Take 100 programmers from this website (rookies, dinosaurs and everything in between)
* Assign them all the exact same task: write software to solve a specific business problem
* Require them all to work in isolation so there can be no sharing of ideas or solutions
* On your marks, get ready, go!

Chances are that most (if not all) will come up with a solution that addresses the specific problem that needed to be solved (as well as assorted other features and functionality because, hey, we are programmers). There is also a very good chance that more than one will come up with the same solution, or similar enough that it would "qualify" as a patent violation. So, who gets the patent?
* Is it the first person to finish, even if their solution is clumsy or inelegant or inefficient?
* Is it the best solution? Who judges this?
* What about the people who came up with the same (or similar) solutions independently?
* Should whomever gets the patent be able to sue the other 99 people for patent infringement just because they arrived at a similar or different business solution independently?

That's one of the basic problems with software patents. And that alone is enough to make me think software patents are just a bad idea.

Re:Why Not? (1)

bunratty (545641) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685190)

I think the real argument is that many patents for obvious algorithms have been granted. Even the simple GIF format, which wasn't particularly clever at all, got a patent. Open source advocates are against these kinds of patents because they can't distribute software freely if their software must use the patents, because there's no obvious way to pay royalties on the patents. I completely agree that these kinds of patents should be stopped. I disagree that the best solution is to abolish all patents on any algorithms, no matter how clever and useful. Someone who develops the ultimate AI algorithm will likely just keep it a secret instead of allowing the idea to spread if the algorithm cannot be patented.

Re:Why Not? (1)

jcupitt65 (68879) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685344)

Nitpick: the GIF patent wasn't on the format, but on LZW compression:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lempel%E2%80%93Ziv%E2%80%93Welch [wikipedia.org]

LZW was used in TIFF as well, for a while. When Unisys started moaning everyone switched to Deflate (zip) compression instead, which actually works better.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DEFLATE [wikipedia.org]

So in this case at least patents did encourage innovation, not because the holders had divulged their secrets (it was all published anyway), but by simply stopping everyone from using a certain simple algorithm. It generated pretty much no income for the patent holder, ironically. Anyway, a comically stupid piece of history.

Re:Why Not? (2, Interesting)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685390)

Even the simple GIF format, which wasn't particularly clever at all, got a patent.

No. Terry Welch's improvement on Abraham Lempel and Jacob Ziv's LZ78 algorithm was patented, making the LZW algorithm used for compressing the data in a GIF file a patented process. The GIF file format was never patented (I don't think that's even possible, but IANAL).

Re:Why Not? (4, Insightful)

Drishmung (458368) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685196)

I've never really followed the arguments behind why everyone hates software patents. I'm not trolling here, please help me understand. As I understand it, the idea behind a patent is to encourage an inventor to invest resources in R&D and then to share their new techniology with society, in return for a time-limited monopoly on exploiting that new technology. This is arguably a bit broken at the moment -- largely because patents seem to be overly broad and to last too long -- but the basic idea seems sound.

See http://redmonk.com/sogrady/2010/03/19/software-patents/ [redmonk.com]

The software patent system may be in need of repair, but is it really worth throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

It's too broken, too fundamentally broken, to fix.

Re:Why Not? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685242)

Let's do it just like any other invention patent.

To patent software you must provide the plans of this software (aka. source code), so that others can see if it is useful and novel.

Make it law and just watch how corporations stop filing patents in less time than you can say 'Patent'.

Re:Why Not? (3, Insightful)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685422)

Patenting an algorithm is not really like patenting an invention. It's more like patenting a mathematical law or a scientific discovery. If someone comes up with a new way to factor large numbers, they should get a Nobel Prize, not a market monopoly and a private island (unless you can buy a private island for cost of your Nobel Prize award).

Re:Why Not? (3, Interesting)

bit01 (644603) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685576)

If I invent a new physical device -- an array of levers and cogs to build something, or a new chemical process to manufacture something -- I can patent it.

I start a new hardware store in a growing town. It's a physical construction that nobody has done in that town before. Why can't I patent that idea and stop other people starting a competing hardware store when they see it's a success? Think carefully about your answer.

Personally, I am thoroughly sick of people who automatically assume that patents, a massive government interference in citizens minding their own business, will encourage innovation in every area of human endeavour when it's quite clear they don't. If they're going to argue for this government interference then they should at least have some scientific evidence that it is a net positive in any particular area. Not the usual childish handwaving about how an inventor won't invent without patents (history shows this is nonsense) and that patents have no harmful effect on society and the free exchange of ideas (also nonsense).

Conversely, there do seem to be advatages to keeping software patents.

A patent stops billions of people from using an idea that's probably going to be independently re-invented many times so that one (1) person can have additional incentive to invent something. Explain to me why this is a net positive? Particularly for software industry where the entry cost is so low? Keep in mind I'm well aware of patent proponents usual handwaving excuses.

Your example is just sad. The vast majority of inventors will never get that break and in addition they'll be held back by the patent portfolios of large companies. Patents are just a tool, large companies have more of them and patents in no way change the balance of power between corporations and individuals.

The software patent system may be in need of repair, but is it really worth throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

There is no baby. Your automatic assumption there must be without evidence is telling.

In addition to the above the patent system is based on very shaky intellectual foundations. They can't even objectively decide whether two shades of the color orange are the same or different, let alone whether two ideas are the same or different, a far more complex question and at the heart of deciding whether something is new.

---

Every new patent is a new law; another opportunity for a lawyer to make money at the expense of the wider community.

Re:Why Not? (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 4 years ago | (#31686220)

I start a new hardware store in a growing town. It's a physical construction that nobody has done in that town before. Why can't I patent that idea and stop other people starting a competing hardware store when they see it's a success?

If you invent some new construction material or method that has some improvement over what already exists and that an average architect or engineer would never come up with, then sure, I'd be fine with you getting a patent for it. If you're talking about a patent on the concept of "a store that sells building tools and materials", then the fact that commerce has existed for a few thousand years probably qualifies as prior art.

Sorry, but this one would be horrible even for BadAnalogyGuy.

Re:Why Not? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685696)

Because creating software is quick and easy compared to the material sciences, it's not like you need some extra ingenuity to prevent a stuck "if" statement or something... It just isn't worth it for society to grant you a 17 year monopoly on something that took you less than 5 months of simple work to create (_and_ on anything else like it, whether you created it or not - that's the real problem).

Moreover, most software will be created regardless of whether it is patentable or not (witness the non-US world without software patents - and the US without software patents in the past), so why distort the market? Don't fix what isn't broken.

>So I don't really see many advantages to destroying the current system

Well, you are in the US, so as long as we don't have to pay attention to your software patents, I say more power to you.

> a radical new process for handling search results comes to you in a dream. You could put in time and effort to research it, hone it, prove that it works, and prepare your product.
>In a world with a functioning software patent system, you can then sell your IP to Google

In a world with a functioning software patent system, Google sues you because in the process of creating your app you violated 2832 of their patents and you settle, getting nothing in return but your peace.

That's what the patent system is supposed to do, so that's "functioning".

>Without patents, you could put in all that time and effort, but the only way you could benefit from it is by starting your own google competitor

yes.

> and praying that no-one else ever works out or steals your algorithm to immediately copy it (again, good luck).

How would they do that when you secure your servers?

You put it like software is somehow hard to create or non-obvious. My experience in the last 10 years has been the opposite - software is painstakingly obvious, simple, easy to create, most of the time there is one and only one good way to write it, which by extension means if someone stranded on an island without internet creates a program to solve the same problem that yours solves he probably uses mostly the same (at least high-level) steps to do so and hence would automagically be violating your patent.

For contrast, try building a transistor from scratch. Good luck.

cheers,
        Danny

Re:Why Not? (1)

codegen (103601) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685922)

The major problem (as I see it) is the doctorine of sufficient change can't apply to software. In the case of your physical device (an array of levers and cogs), I can potentially come up with an alternate means of doing the same thing that is not covered by the patent. For example, when James Watt was improving the Steam Engine, the crank was patented by James Pickard, so he came up with planetary gears. Both were means of converting linear back and forth motion to rotary motion. It is a fundamental principle of patents that you don't get to patent the idea, you get to patent the implementation of the idea. That way there is an incentive to other inventors to improve the implementation of the idea and the idea does not stagnate. James Pickard did not get to patent converting linear motion to rotation, he got to patent a particular way of converting linear motion to rotation. The planetary gears or a rack and pinion set were not covered by his patent. Similarly the first fax machine patent didn't get to cover all means of transmitting an image over a wire, but a single implementation of transmitting an image over a wire, etc.

The problem is that software is infinitely expressible. There are any number of ways in which to accomplish the same goal. Consider the number of different sorting algorithms. For any patent on software to have any teeth, it has to cover all of the implementations. That is, it must cover the idea not the implementation. And if you look at the software patents, you see this is exactly the approach that they take. But that approach bars all other inventors from improving on the implementation.

For example, if someone patents network access to a database (such a patent does exist by the way) and only provide a very poor implementation such as transmitting string representations of SQL over the link, then another inventor(i.e. IBM) creates another implementations that provide client side tokenization, analysis and optimization of the queries (i.e. DRDA) infringes on the patent. Thus the entire purpose of the patent system which is to promote progress is defeated. The only reason the database patent didn't prevent IBM from developing DRDA was that the original 'inventors' never tried to enforce it until much later, and then only against small websites that had a database in them.

The other issue is that of obviousness. Patents are supposed to advance the state of the art. When confronted with a given problem in the software realm, there is usually a strait forward way for someone skilled in the state of the art to solve that problem. Thus any software patent has to advance the state of the art allowing one to solve such problems in a way not obvious to one skilled in the state of the art.The idea is not to reward the first person who stumbles upon the problem with a locked in monopoly on all solutions to the problem for the next 20 years. Most software patents that I have seen fall into this category, they are all a reward for the first person to encounter the problem and apply the current state of the art to find a solution. If the patent office was to actually hold software patents to innovations in the state of art of software, not just the obvious solution to a new problem, then you might have an argument.

Re:Why Not? (1)

eugene2k (1213062) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685964)

>why not push for a better-administered system
Because no one ever came up with the definition of what patentable matter is, such that it would exclude things like "using levers" without being vague about what is to be excluded and what isn't. And in software world R&D costs very little. There isn't one software patent out there where the developers have ever "put loads of time and effort into" coming up with an algorithm.

If you ever come up with a clear definition of which algorithms should be patentable and which should not, I'd be interested to know it. My personal efforts have been futile.

Innovation? (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685068)

I've been curious about the degree to which software patents help or hinder software / computer science innovation. (My money is on 'hinder'.)

However, some people measure innovation via the number of patents issued. NZ's bill might make their developers / computer scientists more productive, while ironically making it harder to convince people of that fact.

Re:Innovation? (1)

bunratty (545641) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685154)

I would say that software patents currently hinder innovation more than they promote it. But that shouldn't be an argument for abolishing software patents any more than Ralph Nader's campaign against unsafe cars was an argument for abolishing cars. Just as we made cars safer, couldn't we fix the patent system so it doesn't hinder innovation?

Re:Innovation? (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685476)

I would say that software patents currently hinder innovation more than they promote it. But that shouldn't be an argument for abolishing software patents any more than Ralph Nader's campaign against unsafe cars was an argument for abolishing cars. Just as we made cars safer, couldn't we fix the patent system so it doesn't hinder innovation?

Well, it's an argument for abolishing unsafe cars. It's only not an argument for abolishing all cars because there exist safe cars (at least relatively speaking). If your argument is we shouldn't abolish all software patents, just bad software patents, I would argue there's no distinction between the two. You can't fix the patent system so that it simultaneously allows software patents and doesn't hinder innovation, because there's no such thing as a software patent that doesn't. The car analogy doesn't work here because not all cars are bad cars, but all software patents are bad patents.

Re:Innovation? (1)

bunratty (545641) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685508)

Why do you say there's no such thing as a software patent that doesn't hinder innovation? Without patent protection, people tend to keep their innovations secret, thus preventing the spread of new ideas. That's the whole idea behind the patent system. Are you against all patents altogether? If not, what's so special about software patents that they always hinder innovation?

Why do you say there are? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685740)

Why do you say there are? Name me one patent that is software that was needed. There isn't one. Compression has a business need and that need will cause the software to solve that need to be created. After that, why not give it up? It solved YOUR need. See the BBC creating Dirac FREELY because they have a business need and licensing costs is high enough that starting from scratch is cheaper.

Re:Innovation? (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685832)

If your Apple, Adobe, MS or any of the big hardware/software players - help/hinder/slow software / computer science "innovation" can all be very helpful.
Say Adobe comes out with the next new 'font' thing and Apple and MS dont want to pay?
Say MS does not want to pay for some fancy digital optical storage format on its loss leader game units.
Say MS has a codec that ships with every fancy digital optical storage format?
Software patents are wonderful legal tools to tap into generational revenue streams or let you out flank a competitors lock in efforts.
Or swapped with friends and locked out via buy outs of start up competitors.
They can also totally lock out 'basement' backed 'Unix' funded per seat coding efforts.
Throw in the interests of the US gov, taxpayers, big media, military industrial lobby ect. you have a potent mix to ensure the US always wins.
NZ will be offered the 2nd world deal. Sign up and your artist/developers will be protected and can profit from world wide access to the US.
Make waves on the international stage by saying 'no' and NZ slides to 3rd world status.

Beauregard (5, Interesting)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685096)

In the US, software isn't patentable directly, either. If you claim "a program which causes a processor to perform the steps of...", then you get yourself a rejection under 35 USC 101, because a program isn't a process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter.

One way that lawyers get around this is by claiming "a computer-readable storage medium storing a program which, when executed, causes a processor to perform the steps of...." A computer-readable storage medium (e.g., a hard drive) is generally considered to be an article of manufacture. This almost got tested in court several years ago, in In re Beauregard, but the USPTO decided to withdraw its rejection and issue the patent before the court got a chance to weigh in on it, and nobody has brought up the topic in litigation since then.

Re:Beauregard (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685654)

This almost got tested in court several years ago, in In re Beauregard, but the USPTO decided to withdraw its rejection and issue the patent before the court got a chance to weigh in on it, and nobody has brought up the topic in litigation since then.

Behind the scenes the USPTO let the patent pass in exchange for getting the rights to monetize on Beauregard as an inspiration to the Na'vi from Avatar.

The Patent Troll Business Model is Subprime (1)

NZheretic (23872) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685122)

The 2000-2010 "Intellectual Property" boom is about to go the way of the "Subprime" Mortgage, Dot-Com vapor startup, Junk bond and Dutch Tulip futures. The Patent Troll Business Model is inherently flawed, and just like the aforementioned others, add nothing to a nations REAL economy.

Let the lawsuit mushroom clouds rise over the remains of USA's Tech industries [slashdot.org] the rest of the world will go their own free way.

Rules of patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685250)

There's two things that I don't get about patents at the moment. Firstly, the innovation behind a patent must be novel. From memory the test involves asking an expert in the field. It seems that most patents that make the news fail that test for a start. I guess it's arguable, the one-click patent being a good example. I'd argue that this is obvious, but I can see there is room for debate here.

The second thing, that I learned at University, and I can't remember the exact term, but the patent must be put to use by the owner of the patent, or else they lose it. This should make life difficult for patent trolls. I don't know how these shell companies created by Intellectual Ventures get around this rule? I guess that licensing the patent to someone else that makes use of it counts as use, but if everyone refuses to license it, and the company that owns the patent does not have the resources to actually produce something, then this should make being a patent troll really difficult.

Maybe the real problem with the patent system is that the rules are not being enforced in the right way?

Re:Rules of patents (1)

Pinky's Brain (1158667) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685644)

Lawyers are always trying to hollow out the non-obviousness test, TSM basically removes the expert opinion from obviousness. US supreme court bitch slapped the lower courts for going along with lawyers ... but they are already trying to find loopholes in the supreme court decision.

Re:Rules of patents (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685980)

Rules are not being enforced in the right way is a bit like the -No Income, No Job, (and) no Assets loanNo Income, No Job, (and) no Assets loan" math of the banking world.
As long as a MS can keep you buying the "shrink wrapped" innovation its win win win.
A win for the USA, a win for MS and a win for the lobby/lawyer/political side.
Does the US gov see "US software" as too big to fail?

Re:Rules of patents (1)

VJ42 (860241) | more than 4 years ago | (#31686018)

The second thing, that I learned at University, and I can't remember the exact term, but the patent must be put to use by the owner of the patent, or else they lose it.

IIRC That's trademarks, not patents.

Don't cheer yet (3, Interesting)

erroneus (253617) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685290)

This is a DRAFT of a bill. It's not even a bill yet. And while some are speculating that this is intended to get more public attention, I think it may be intended to get more private (funds) attention. With all the high pressure lobbying [read "involves a lot of money"] I imagine NZ's government may be feeling they aren't getting their share of attention from those in support of software patentability. The inclusion of this may only be there to rattle some cages.

Re:Don't cheer yet (0)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685926)

Thing about NZ is thats its small. Real small. So big money doesn't really happen there.

Slash-doppers (1, Insightful)

oleop (974651) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685296)

RIP for independent developers. Readers of this site are moslty overceffeinated IT monkeys. Without IP protection what are the chances for the small team or an individual to create their own company? Once invention (and many software enginners did created amazing inventions) can be freely copied by anyone (including Misrosoft, IBM or Baidu, or sorry, Baidu is from country where you can copy anything) - goodbye independent development. There is no reward for sleepless nigths (unless you are writing viruses and getting paid by criminals or NSA). Oh, yeah, you can get bonus - 1/100 of your boss if he's in good mood. Everyone coding will become slave of those holding money. Anyone can explain me WHY protecting new can opener is OK and new algorythm is not? Both require some knowledge and (to be desired by others) need to be better then existing ones - which means sofistincation and hard work of the creator. Socialists and likes - please see great "success" of late USSR and China until both got opened for foreign innovations. Both countries where stack with outdated technologies and where spending hughe money to COPY what West (in IT it meant - US, whether Old World likes it or not) had created. And all this despite huge intellectuall potential! The fact that you have stupid patents does not mean you do not want to protect those who have creative mind. Bad judge decisions does not mean you need to rely on stoning pepole. Economical recession does not mean you need thos leave in 1984.

Re:Slash-doppers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31685950)

Then you can rest easy - software continues to have IP protection in the NZ just like it already had - in the form of copyright. Nothing changed.

Draft only (2, Insightful)

IGnatius T Foobar (4328) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685548)

Draft bill. Not final. Not to worry. An army of lobbyists is already on a flight to NZ to "correct" the situation before it passes.

"first" in the face (1)

idji (984038) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685882)

or "fist" in the face?

Commentary from NZ-based law firm (1)

smeg (73312) | more than 4 years ago | (#31685970)

There is a brief commentary from Baldwins, a NZ-based law firm, at http://www.baldwins.com/select-committee-reports-on-new-patents-bill-in-new-zealand/ [baldwins.com]

The fact the Patent Office previously granted patents for non-meritorious inventions is not surprising. Historically examiners have only been able to rely on publications in New Zealand for novelty of the application. The Patent Office did not consider the ground of inventive step in examination. However, this is the case for all forms of technology in New Zealand, not just software, under the existing Act.

The previous version of the Bill addressed these failings by introducing absolute novelty, examination for inventive step and no longer giving applicants the benefit of the doubt. It is not clear why the Committee put in an exclusion of software or why the Committee treated software differently to other forms of technology. This is in clear conflict with the review performed earlier in 2005.

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