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Patent 5,893,120 Reduced To Pure Math

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the asking-to-be-reduced-to-bits-of-energy dept.

Google 323

An anonymous reader writes "US Patent #5,893,120 has been reduced to mathematical formulae as a demonstration of the oft-ignored fact that there is an equivalence relation between programs and mathematics. You may recognize Patent #5,893,210 as the one over which Google was ordered to pay $5M for infringing due to some code in Linux. It should be interesting to see how legal fiction will deal with this. Will Lambda calculus no longer be 'math'? Or will they just decide to fix the inconsistency and make mathematics patentable?"

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Haskell (1)

taktoa (1995544) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992126)

wins again!

This doesn't change anything (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992136)

Given enough equations, one could model the entire universe. I built a Torsen differential once in Pro/E which effectively reduced it to a list of equations.

Re:This doesn't change anything (4, Informative)

wagnerrp (1305589) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992204)

That's why patents used to require a physical demonstration. Ideas were all well and good, but until you demonstrated a physical device that acted like the patent claimed, you could not get it patented. This was intended to prevent fraudulent devices that looked good on paper but could never actually be manufactured, like perpetual motion machines. It could just as easily prevent software, algorithms and business methods.

Re:This doesn't change anything (2)

bunratty (545641) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992586)

You can reduce any algorithm to a physical device that implements the algorithm. So therefore all algorithms are patentable. See, I can play the silly argument game too!

Re:This doesn't change anything (3, Insightful)

dingen (958134) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992624)

The point is that only the device is patented, not the algorithm.

Re:This doesn't change anything (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992670)

"You can reduce any algorithm to a physical device that implements the algorithm."

O RLY? Here's my algorithm:

1. Build a device, call it Larry
2. Bend the universe as a demonstration of what Larry should do.
3. Sell this universe to another universe, also as a demonstration of what Larry should do.
4. Deposit proceeds into a my offshore account. Explain to Larry that this step is very important.
5. Make sure Larry knows that, for every 5th loop, he's to build a Larry clone which does this recursively, instead of just a normal iteration.
6. Set Larry to work.

not relevant if reducible to mathmatics. (3, Informative)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992140)

it doesn't matter if program is reducible to mathematics, only that a claim for a software patent might be valid if it contains "a mathematical formula [and] implements or applies the formula in a structure or process which, when considered as a whole, is performing a function which the patent laws were designed to protect" http://www.bitlaw.com/source/soft_pats/final.html [bitlaw.com]

Re:not relevant if reducible to mathmatics. (5, Interesting)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992172)

The problem is the definition of "implementation." If I patent, say, linear discriminant analysis, and implement it using C++, what did I get a patent on? A C++ implementation? My own personal implementation? No, in the current patent system, I get a patent on any implementation -- or in other words, a patent on the mathematics itself, to within a particular interpretation of the variables and results of the computation.

Re:not relevant if reducible to mathmatics. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992266)

That is not "the" problem. There are many, many problems with our current patent system.

The bottom line, however, is this: your technical mumbo-jumbo will not prevent rich people from using the patent system to prevent other people (rich or otherwise) from competing with them.

That is all.

Re:not relevant if reducible to mathmatics. (5, Interesting)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992320)

It is the central problem of allowing software patents. I think the parent has described why software patents are absurd as concisely as I have ever seen it done. In essence we're allowing the patenting of algorithms, which are at heart pure math. We are allowing the patenting of mathematics, because judges and juries are too fucking incompetent to understand the very basis of computational science. A fraud has been perpetrated on the legal systems of many countries, but rather than throw every single person who has sought a software patent in prison for fraud, we in fact reward them by permitting them to extort money. It's a travesty that very shortly is going to bring the entire industry to its knees. Once you start going after garbage-collected hash tables and refuse to recognize that such techniques are decades old, no one could hope to implement any kind of operating system or virtual machine or, fuck, most interpreters, without risking ending up having their asses sued off.

Re:not relevant if reducible to mathmatics. (2)

RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992564)

But mechanical patents fall into the same category. Aren't all mechanical patents at it's heart, physics, which is any number of different mathematical fields? What about chemical patents?

But you're right that the danger of software patents, and as I stated above, well, any sort of patent is that our system isn't designed to handle our modern, robust(well, relative compared to our patent law) field of science and math.

The problem is our patent system but the solution isn't to throw it out and go entirely with out some sort of protection of IP in the market place. Nor is it what we've got now. Science and technology have jumped way ahead of our patent system, and if we started to figure out what was fair, we're probably not going to find a really adequate solution, even if we include the possibility of just throwing the whole system out.

I think the least worst solution would have to incorporate the idea that innovations must be protected, but, those protections must be limited.

Last thing I'd want to do is come up with some whizbang unpatented compression technique, only to find out some MegaMondoCorp has turned it into a multi-billion dollar product leaving me in the dust. on the other hand, I don't want to be sued because my for loop looks too similar to some code sitting in some code base unused for 20 years.

Re:not relevant if reducible to mathmatics. (4, Insightful)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992710)

Last thing I'd want to do is come up with some whizbang unpatented compression technique, only to find out some MegaMondoCorp has turned it into a multi-billion dollar product leaving me in the dust. on the other hand, I don't want to be sued because my for loop looks too similar to some code sitting in some code base unused for 20 years.

so you want to both have your cake and eat it too?
to be protected yourself but have the ability to go after others?

as it stands it's impossible to tell with certainty if you've violated one of the millions of patents out there as the problem is functionally equivalent to the halting problem.

so you build your lovely wizzbang application and make a profit and someone can swoop in and take it all away over a patent you have not a chance in hell of finding.

Re:not relevant if reducible to mathmatics. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992690)

If I patent, say, linear discriminant analysis, and implement it using C++, what did I get a patent on?

IANAL, but as I understood it, you get a patent on "Running linear discriminant analysis on a machine" (i.e., a computer). If you can somehow run linear discriminant analysis without a computer, the patent doesn't apply (since you can't patent an idea or a mathematical equation).

Re:not relevant if reducible to mathmatics. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992370)

Fallacy of composition, people. Its like making the argument "This chair is of wood, which came from trees, and you can't patent a tree, therefore you can't patent this chair!". Just because all software is reducible to math doesn't mean you can't patent some of it. This is as likely to open the door to patenting mathematics as making chairs will open the door to patenting trees.

Re:not relevant if reducible to mathmatics. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992792)

"a mathematical formula [and] implements or applies the formula in a structure or process which, when considered as a whole, is performing a function which the patent laws were designed to protect"

Are the patent laws designed to protect functions that purely manipulate information? I think not, and that's exactly why Bilski was struck down, and exactly this patent which (incorrectly) cost Google money.

So? (5, Informative)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992148)

This point has been made repeatedly, but nobody cares. The eHarmony patent was shown to be nothing more than linear algebra with particular names assigned to each variable. People have been pointing out the relationship between software and lambda calculus since before most Slashdot users were in high school, but it has had practically no impact on the legality or public opinion of software patents.

Re:So? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992234)

Lambda calculus made no impact on patent case law, because it isn't fucking relevant. These "particular names" you brush aside so easily, are fucking relevant. Context is everything in a patent claim. If you do something else (e.g. your method is described by compeletely different "particular names") using the same mathematical functions, you don't infringe. So it's not so bad as you think it is. Trust me, IAAL.

Re:So? (2)

ATMAvatar (648864) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992374)

If changing variable names is all it takes to dodge a patent, that makes software patents pretty worthless. The names of variables are completely irrelevant to the actual execution of the program, so there's nothing stopping anyone from scrubbing their code with a refactoring tool to change those names. Having different names doesn't magically make your program do something else.

You cannot possibly be correct in your assertion.

Re:So? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992418)

Yes, you are correct - Mr. Anonymous lawyer (the GP) is confusing copyright and patent. Strange for an anonymous "lawyer" on slashdot, no?

Re:So? (2)

clang_jangle (975789) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992628)

While I'm inclined to share your skepticism, it's also a fact that there are a lot of incompetent lawyers out there whose advice isn't worth a thing. Having done business with quite a number of lawyers over the years, I can only assume there's more than one way to pass the bar exam.

Re:So? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992596)

If context is everything in a patent claim, and irrelevant in software design, it should be logical that software design and patent claims are completely incongruent. I think this is the major communication flub between Lawyers and Programmers causing this whole huge debacle.

ATMAvatar is right though, Like in mathmatics the particular names do not change the functionality of the program whatsoever. I knew one programmer who named all of his variables dickballs, tits etc as a manner of code obfuscation.

I would love to see a patent lawsuit on that beauty go down.

Re:So? (4, Insightful)

Tom (822) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992316)

Politics has been indisturbed by the facts of the real world for as long as history allows us to judge. All you have to do is look beyond the Solons, Washingtons or whatever your countrys famous politicians are - the day-to-day dealings of politics is a horrible mess and always has been, and things like truth, fact or evidence are way down the list of things to worry about.

The judicial branch is often quite a bit more pragmatic, but also caught up in its own world. The most important problem being that they try hard to be consistent, so change is hard to get. Once a higher court has decided on an interpretation of law, the lower courts usually don't disagree too much, and it requires a new case with new facts to get everyone to revisit the decision.

Which is cool because it means good decisions stand and aren't easily challenged just because you have a lot of money. The problem is that it takes considerable time to get rid of bad decisions. In the long run, the system works very well, but in the short run, it often fails when new facts, ideas, technologies, etc. are involved.

meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992164)

He should have used erlang.

A much needed example - hope there will be more. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992168)

This is just one great example, and shows how obviously stupid patents on software are (for the same reason as patents on mathematics). I applaud its creation very much, becausewWhile I am not directly affected by US law, the indirect effects are quite visible, and there is the threat of software patents coming into european laws, too. So this actually does a lot to help defend my freedoms and sanity in the field of my chosen profession, directly.

However, I think if you really want some political or judical effects, I figure that you'd need to start a collection of these, and spread the word that it exists quite far, so that there's an actual pressure from voters. US politics and law is otherwise quite, uh, unreceptive to what people say.

http://en.swpat.org/wiki/Software_is_math (4, Insightful)

ciaran_o_riordan (662132) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992200)

I've collected various examples of this argument here:

http://en.swpat.org/wiki/Software_is_math [swpat.org]

However, you have to remember that this is *not* the end of the discussion (or at best, this will result in this one patent getting invalidated or narrowed).

When faced with "software=math" arguments, judges still argue that *applications* of math to real world problems can be patentable.

What we need is legislation saying that writing, distributing, selling, and using software cannot constitute a patent violation.

Re:http://en.swpat.org/wiki/Software_is_math (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992232)

What we need is legislation saying that writing, distributing, selling, and using software cannot constitute a patent violation.

Not really. Many of us who spend millions on algorithm research would rather not have our competitor reverse-engineer our product.

yes, abolish software patents. (3, Insightful)

ciaran_o_riordan (662132) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992312)

If software developers are prohibited from decoding your video format, the result is incompatibility.

Some people would indeed love to have a monopoly, and would spend millions for it, but these monopolies are simply not in the public interest. They're impeding software development and blocking interoperability.

There are more reasons here:
http://en.swpat.org/wiki/Why_abolish_software_patents [swpat.org]

Re:http://en.swpat.org/wiki/Software_is_math (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992512)

Many of us...

Oh, spare us... even if you were responsible for "spend[ing] millions on algorithm research" you'd know that if all you had boiled down to mathematics you didn't have a product at all. Patentable inventions are (read: should be) the things that are unique and inventive implementations of physical and mathematical concepts*. I'm not going to address the OP but your argument was so weak that I couldn't resist responding to it.

* The fact that one plus one makes two is obvious and cannot be seen as inventive, but a design for a processor that adds could be seen as an invention. Similarly the knowledge that non-conductive materials can become conductive under certain conditions comes out of the maths (I imagine), but designing something that uses this knowledge for a purpose is different.

Personally, I'm not willing to decide where obvious facts of nature stop and inventiveness begins, so - again, if it was up to me - I'd give the benefit of the doubt and drop the idea of patents altogether. Patents do, allegedly, promote innovation, however, so I made the decision years ago just to steer clear of the whole mess as best I can and leave such things to people who have more... shall we say... flexible standards.

Not sure I understand this argument at all (2)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992298)

Sure, software is math. I'll accept the point as stated.

Likewise, books are language. Can books be copyrighted? No one owns language.

A power drill is metal and plastic. Can a power drill be patented, then?

Patents aren't limited to ideas that have never been remotely observed before in all of human existence. You patent innovations. Many innovations are incremental, probably even the vast majority of them. I don't see how saying "but that's just math" invalidates the significance of a particular innovation. There's a big difference between saying "you could probably do that with a computer" and actually doing it with a computer, which is what a software patent would cover.

Re:Not sure I understand this argument at all (1)

ciaran_o_riordan (662132) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992426)

I'm not a fan of software=math arguments, but an example of their value is in the US Supreme Court's "Flook" ruling:

http://en.swpat.org/wiki/Parker_v._Flook_(1978,_USA) [swpat.org]

That's the starting point I'd use if I had to argue based on software being math, but I'd rather not rely on that.

Being equal to math isn't the reason why software patents are a problem for society. Blocking software development, forcing incompatibility, stifling competition, and being incompatible with the development models (lots of individuals and SMEs write software) and certain popular distributions models (freeware, free software) are the reasons, and we should focus on them.

If we say software=math, the court could say that only some software is math, and then patent drafters just have to formulate their claims such that they fit the court's definition of non-just-math software. It's not a path to victory.

Re:Not sure I understand this argument at all (4, Insightful)

Draek (916851) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992430)

Sure, software is math. I'll accept the point as stated.

Likewise, books are language. Can books be copyrighted? No one owns language.

Wrong. Words, when put together, form sentences which form paragraphs which form stories, which in turn can be copyrighted. But stories are not paragraphs, paragraphs are not sentences, and sentences are not words so the fact that words cannot be copyrighted by itself is not relevant to stories.

Mathematical formulae however, when put together they're still formulae, merely a longer (and probably more descriptive) one, and mathematical formulae cannot be copyrighted or patented.

There's a big difference between saying "you could probably do that with a computer" and actually doing it with a computer, which is what a software patent would cover.

Except this isn't saying "you could probably do that with a computer", this is saying "you can do that with a computer like this". Allowing software patents but denying math is much like allowing copyright over hexadecimal numbers but disallowing it for decimals: there exist a way to transform one into the other that's formally proven to work for any and all elements of either set, so anything that works for members of one set *must* work for the other and to declare otherwise is to automatically fall into a contradiction. If you'd study Math or CS it'd be much clearer as to how and why, if you must know, but that's kind of outside the context of this post.

Re:Not sure I understand this argument at all (2)

Schadrach (1042952) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992726)

You actually brought up something I've wondered about: When Sony, or the DVD consortium, or whoever it is *this* time start crying about the release of their respective signing key and claiming copyright to the number, why not just start representing it in decimal, or as the multiple of two primes, or some other form that is clearly not subject to copyright/patent?

For exqample, the so called "09 F9" AACS key is 13,256,278,887,989,457,651,018,865,901,401,704,640, so that decimal number in and of itself is now copyrighted? Or patented?

Maybe we should make a website that generates sequential numbers from 1->arbitrarily large, discounting those that are known to be things like the CSS key. If any other number is used as a cryptographic key in a commercial product, they would clearly be violating our copyright on that particular arbitrarily large number, right?

Re:Not sure I understand this argument at all (4, Insightful)

Appolonius of Perge (961983) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992474)

Nobody is arguing against protecting a specific implementation of an algorithm (although copyright already provides this protection).

The problem is that when you patent an algorithm, you don't just patent that expression of that idea, like you do with a book or a power drill. You patent all the expressions of that idea. It would be like writing a book on some topic, and then owning the rights to all books on that topic until the patent runs out. You own a whole chunk of the language, every possible expression of you idea, not just the particular one you came up with.

Likewise, when you patent an algorithm, you have patented an entire (admittedly fairly confined) branch of mathematics, having to do with expressions of that algorithm. This is distasteful, and, as the current software patent climate has shown, has terrible chilling effects on the software industry as a whole.

Re:Not sure I understand this argument at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992498)

because it would kill the whole industry. Patents unlike copyrights are intended to promote and protect innovation, however they're being used as a weapon against anyone trying to produce, and fear monger people from ever joining the industry in the first place. Software patents don't cover actually doing it with a computer, they cover the idea of actually doing it with a computer and all kinds of implementations thereof.

It's killing the industry, and giving money to people who shouldn't get it.

Re:Not sure I understand this argument at all (5, Insightful)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992554)

Likewise, books are language. Can books be copyrighted? No one owns language.

There's a difference. Copyright covers only the specific expression. Patents cover the whole idea.
For example, the copyright on Harry Potter covers the story on Harry Potter, and derived works. A patent on Harry Potter OTOH could look like this:

Claims:
1. A story about a normal, underprivileged boy who turns out to be special.
2. As 1, where the specialty is that he actually is the son of a magician.
3. As 1, where the boy lives in England.
4. As 2, where the boy himself gets educated in magic. ...

You see, it would cover a lot of possible books, most of which would have very little relation to Harry Potter. Even worse, it would even apply to books of authors who never heard of Harry Potter (unlikely in case of Harry Potter, but the same would be true for quite obscure books as well). Or imagine that someone else had filed such a patent before, without actually writing such a book, then Harry Potter would not have been a success story, but a nightmare for J. K. Rowling.

Patents have to be much stricter in what they can be applied to because they are much broader in scope.

Re:Not sure I understand this argument at all (1)

Longjmp (632577) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992776)

The best comment I ever read about this issue.

Sorry, no mod points ;-)

Re:Not sure I understand this argument at all (1)

Nemyst (1383049) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992558)

You can derive mathematics in isolation. Case in point, many mathematic proofs and "discoveries" have been done independently and simultaneously (namely differential calculus with Newton and Leibniz).

You cannot, however, "derive" a book or end up with the exact same arrangement of words, apart from chance. Likewise, your drill will not have the same configuration, elements, inner workings, etc. It'll be different enough to be considered unique in its own right.

Re:Not sure I understand this argument at all (1)

Schadrach (1042952) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992644)

Your book example is a failure, because you switched which variety of IP you were talking about.

Software should fall under either copyright or patent, not both. Personally, I'd favor copyright despite it's ridiculously long terms, simply on the whole "pure math isn't patentable. software is an expression of math in a machine readable form, and nothing else; therefore, it should not be patentable."

Let me put it this way, if I added "in French" to something that was explicitly not patentable, it would not make it patentable. Adding "in machine language for some computer device" shouldn't either.

Re:Not sure I understand this argument at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992734)

Exactly.You got it in one. Software should not be patentable

Software is language. A creative work, like a book. You should be able to copyright it - and you can.
You can't patent a book, thats just stupid. So why can you patent software?

Wheel was patented too recently... (-1, Troll)

dotser (2096996) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992218)

Just look at that.... A round object intended to ease transportation [bit.ly]

Re:Wheel was patented too recently... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992242)

Parent NSFW, annoying too.

Re:Wheel was patented too recently... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992250)

You fucking piece of shit!

Re:Wheel was patented too recently... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992262)

Troll link, do not click.

Re:Wheel was patented too recently... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992342)

Giggity

Re:Wheel was patented too recently... (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992576)

I think I should get a patent on links to goatse pictures. I'm sure I could make billions from it. ;-)

irrelevant (1)

t2t10 (1909766) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992220)

Yes, the mathematical formula is not patentable, and you can compute with it all you like. But when you actually apply it to perform information retrieval in a physical computer, then the patent applies.

I'm not saying that the patent is valid (there is tons of prior art), or that such a distinction ought to be made. But it is certainly a distinction one can make.

And if people keep insisting that such a distinction is meaningless, it is more likely that the patentability exclusion for mathematical formulas/facts will get dropped than a lot of patents will become invalidated.

Re:irrelevant (1)

SpiralSpirit (874918) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992446)

The question is more-> if you have a patent that is a formula derived from "open-source" mathematics that anyone can use, how valid can any patent on it be? It's not a technique, per se. It's not new. It's a mathematical manipulation that a million people before you have thought of, learned, and used. Could engineers have patented the formulas used to create objects like engines, etc? How many automakers would we have now if the formulas used in the design of cars were patented by those making the cars? They're pure math, we know, but hey - they're being applied.

Re:irrelevant (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992642)

What should be patentable then? Nintendo's Wii controller? All the hardware used to make it already existed, the actual wiring should be fairly obvious once the purpose was described. I'm sure the technology for identifying a bright spot in an image is already well known.

The innovation was in putting this all together and combining it into a means of controlling video games.

This will ruin my day... (1)

Tasha26 (1613349) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992226)

Software patents are the kind of thing that make me sick in the stomach... what's the point of even going to university if the end result is discovering that your idea has already been patented ages ago.

Re:This will ruin my day... (3, Insightful)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992326)

what's the point of even going to university if the end result is discovering that your idea has already been patented ages ago.

Well, if your goal is to create innovative new work, I imagine the point of going to university is learning what has been done before.

On the other hand, if you enroll in an undergraduate program with an amazing, brilliant idea in your head, only to discover that it had already been patented ages ago, maybe it's a wake-up call that you aren't the most brilliant person ever born, after all, and that you still have some studying to do.

Re:This will ruin my day... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992440)

what's the point of even going to university if the end result is discovering that your idea has already been patented ages ago.

Well, if your goal is to create innovative new work, I imagine the point of going to university is learning what has been done before.

University is unable to do that. There has been waaaaayyyy too much created to learn it all in 4 or even 8 years of study.

On the other hand, if you enroll in an undergraduate program with an amazing, brilliant idea in your head, only to discover that it had already been patented ages ago, maybe it's a wake-up call that you aren't the most brilliant person ever born, after all, and that you still have some studying to do.

Just because it has been invented before doesn't mean one isn't brilliant. I would think someone who "invented" a transistor on their own and who has never read a scientific journal and has been completely cut off from modern civilization as being brilliant.

Then again, if you keep studying you start to think more and more like the status quo so that when someone who is truly innovative comes along, you can poo poo them for not thinking correctly - which is what happened to all of the greats.

Then there are folks who didn't study that much formally and have done tremendous things.

Formal education is an asset but it is also overrated. And for some subjects, I think formal education handicaps one's thinking - Business for one.

Re:This will ruin my day... (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992394)

Real engineers go to university too, you know, and the point in going is to learn the skills one needs to come up with one's own ideas and to articulate/instantiate them.

Baiting aside, the argument that software patents make a degree in the computer sciences worthless isn't why people are so up in arms about them. The problem is that comp. sci. can cover areas exempt from patents - like mathematics - and other areas that are subject to patent law. For my two penneth, legislators have drawn the line too far into the former's camp.

As compared to the Manhattan Project... (2)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992274)

I'm pretty sure that in the late 1930s, the process to make Little Boy and Fat Man would have been patentable under any purview that considered any kind of patents to be valid.

And, in the end, all they are is the bringing together of big lumps of elementary material, albeit highly refined from what is found in nature, to bring about a reaction that, itself (after decades of study), can now be reduced to a set of mathematical equations.

As for software patents, some wiener patented the use of XOR to draw a cursor... if that can stand, why not anything else, like one-click order taking?

I truly hope we have hit bottom of the patent well, but I'm sure there's an army of attorneys out there willing to dig with ever sharper tools.

Re:As compared to the Manhattan Project... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992346)

I look at it this way. Sure all the crap will be patented. But patents expire.

Lets get the stupid junk into the system. That way it does not pop up later.

And I wrote a system in 1997 that did exactly what that patent says. As I had a slow system with 'old' data. Remove old data and system performs again.

Re:As compared to the Manhattan Project... (1)

citizenr (871508) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992424)

I'm pretty sure that in the late 1930s, the process to make Little Boy and Fat Man would have been patentable under any purview that considered any kind of patents to be valid.

They were patented by Leo Szilard, US government stole/took over for free those patents and screwed the inventor.

Wheel was patented recently too... (-1, Troll)

slashser (2097052) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992332)

Here new EU patent: A round object intended to ease transportation under certain conditions [bit.ly] So hand your car to me please...

Re:Wheel was patented recently too... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992398)

DO NOT CLICK ON THE ABOVE LINK.....there isn't enough eye bleach to unsee that.

Re:Wheel was patented recently too... (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992520)

DO NOT CLICK ON THE ABOVE LINK.

No problem. I don't click links on /. that use URL shorteners.

This isn't Tweeter; we don't need shorteners. It would be nice if we could have Unicode though. Are you doing something about this, Taco?

Re:Wheel was patented recently too... (1)

jeremyp (130771) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992444)

You accidentally linked to one of your home movies. Is that you on the bed? It certainly looks like a huge asshole.

Math? (0)

ThreeGigs (239452) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992352)

Sorry, but I'm not familiar with "if" in math. What's the symbol for "if"? Or how about "next"? I'm sorry, but I don't see a pure mathematical formula in the article. I see programming code. I was really hoping to see just how something like the 120 patent looked in just math, but alas I don't see it.

Or am I missing something?

Re:Math? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992434)

Piecewise functions are analogous to "if", I think.

Re:Math? (1)

turkeyfish (950384) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992546)

Piecewise functions are a good example, but the concept can be applied to continuous functions as well. The issue is how the domain and range of the relations are defined.

Re:Math? (1)

Draek (916851) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992450)

Yeah, your Lambda Calculus classes at your friendly neighbor University.

Re:Math? (2)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992464)

Sorry, but I'm not familiar with "if" in math. What's the symbol for "if"?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help:Displaying_a_formula#Continuation_and_cases [wikipedia.org]

Re:Math? (1)

turkeyfish (950384) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992578)

Its typically presented as the implication symbol or rule in languages such as Mathematica (->), which can refer to a variety of functions, although is actually more general than the concept of function since they may be multivalued for a given element of the domain. You can think of it as a relation that will be true or false depending upon the elements that make up the input and their "relation" to the elements that make up the output. a -> b will be true if an element a or an element in a set a implies the element b or an element in the set b.

Re:Math? (1)

ThreeGigs (239452) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992614)

But that's the point. There aren't any "pure" formulae in the article. It's all pseudocode. Show me the _pure_mathematical_function_ that is patent 120. If someone doesn't understand English, they should still be able to look at a math function and understand it. The article fails that test, and as such I can't call it a math function.

Re:Math? (3, Informative)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992686)

Based on what is evidently your limited understanding of mathematics (you did not realize that iterations and conditions exist in math, for example), I would be inclined to speculate that if someone were to humor your request and show you a legitimate mathematical formula that was isomorphic to the patent, that you would not understand it, and proclaim it to be invalid presentation on that basis.

Re:Math? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992724)

Your reply reminds me of something my father, a man born in the early quarter of the 1900s who never graduated past the 9th grade, said about algebra when he glanced at my homework when I was in high school (paraphrasing): "that's not math! Math is numbers, not letters! You can't add and subtract letters!"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lambda_Calculus#Logic_and_predicates

Re:Math? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992490)

Sorry, but I'm not familiar with "if" in math. What's the symbol for "if"? Or how about "next"? I'm sorry, but I don't see a pure mathematical formula in the article. I see programming code. I was really hoping to see just how something like the 120 patent looked in just math, but alas I don't see it.

Or am I missing something?

You are missing something; it is important. There are several symbols for "if" in math: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Material_conditional

Re:Math? (1)

SpiralSpirit (874918) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992500)

there are lots of ifs in math and physics. They're just, you know, in your head. If you're calculating the axial deformation of a block of metal under load, you calculate the stress. IF the stress is greater than proportional limit, you have to use a stress-strain curve to find strain. If it's under the proportional limit, then you can use the load and modulus of elasticity to find it. but of course, if someone had made a program to do that hundreds of years ago, there would have been an entire generation of people who would have had to pay him not because he made up the math, but because his program meant he 'owned' the concept of the 'if', even though it was self evident to anyone who knows anything about it.

Re:Math? (1)

turkeyfish (950384) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992530)

Yes, you are missing something. Concepts such as "if" imply that the range of outcomes is different over different elements of the domain of the universe of all possible inputs. If statements are in essence equivalent to distinguishing between outcomes or range within or outside of a given portion of the entire universe of possible outcomes. Hence, an if statement will be true or false depending upon whether the elements within the domain of elements implied (or defined) by the statement fall within or outside of its range. See the definition of Cartesian product for an understanding of concepts of relation and implication. Keep in mind that the relations and implications need not necessarily be restricted to numbers, but any potential elements of a set, so long as the set is not "too large" as to lead to inherent contradictions (ie the set of all sets that do not contain themselves).

Re:Math? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992574)

Yes, you're missing something. Piecewise defined functions? Dirac delta and its derivatives and antiderivatives? Even in high-school algebra (which is apparently all you include as math), conditionals are not an issue.

Try writing 5 programs in your choice of functional language sometime. Maybe it'll help you realize the fundamental truth that computer science is mathematics.

Re:Math? (1)

beaker8000 (1815376) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992810)

Define a function:

f(x) = 1, x > 0, and 0 else.

there is an 'if' in there but its too obvious so its usually not written. Note, 'for all' does this too (and the 'for all' notation is everywhere in analysis). Define a new function, domain is the real line:

f(x) = 1, for all x belonging to the rationals, and 0 else.

As to 'next', for integer n, the next is n+1. Pretty common (see mathematical induction).

As to the concept of 'next' for irrational and rational numbers: 'next' doesn't exist.

Patent Office's new policy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992384)

It will be interesting to see what happens with the Patent Office's new policy regarding computer implemented functions. They appear to have increased the written description requirement. Previously only means-plus-function limitations that claimed software were required to disclose the algorithm. However, the latest policy is to require algorithms for all claimed software limitations unless it is so generic that any computer is already programmed to do it. That will likely make it much more difficult to obtain a software patent.

The thing is (1)

trifish (826353) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992390)

There is a very thin line between "a lot of mathematic formulas" and an algorithm. For example, the AES encryption algorithm can be written down as a very complex set of mathematical equations.

And it is, of course, patentable. Because, for the purposes of patents, there are no real differences between algorithm/method and technique/technology.

Re:The thing is (1)

SpiralSpirit (874918) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992480)

the question is: 1) specific implementation - because with the current system you don't have to have one, you own the concept of it. 2) were you using 'old' formulas to do something overall 'new'. In this case, the suing company didn't write the specific implementation, and didn't do anything 'new'. they just copyrighted a concept that was self evident, and done before many many times. It's only the broken patent system that allows something like that to exist.

This is absurd. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992412)

I fail to see the difference between mathematics and logic. Then again, I also fail to see how intellectual property is "property".

I say put up a bounty (1)

makubesu (1910402) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992428)

on a program that automatically reduces patents to math. Ah wait that was already patented...

A really simple argument: (1)

LeRandy (937290) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992442)

When you create software, what do you do?

Do you write software or do you make software?

I think that is the fundamental question that needs to be asked. If you make it, it should be patented. If you write it it should be copyrighted. The issue here is that the software industry (in part) wants to go double-dipping.

Re:A really simple argument: (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992460)

By the argument that if you make it, it should be patented, then sculptures and paintings should be patentable as well.

Re:A really simple argument: (1)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992746)

Sure. The first person who did something innovative with sculpture - like, say, creating a method and product where interlocking pieces of wood are created in sculpture by carving them out of a single piece - would be patentable. 3000 years ago.

Re:A really simple argument: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992592)

I write source code and sometimes I run make.

Re:A really simple argument: (1)

bunratty (545641) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992702)

When you write software, the particular implementation in source code is copyrightable. You may implement an idea in the public domain as source code and copyright the source code, and I cannot copy your source code and sell it. I can implement the same idea in my own source code and copyright my source code.

The method that an algorithm uses may be patentable. If I patent an algorithm I can require that you pay me a licensing fee to write and sell software that uses the algorithm.

The real problem with software patents is not the fundamental idea of software patents, but that the patent office grants patents on ideas that are obvious to many programmers. For an idea to be patentable, it should not be obvious to someone skilled in that technical area.

Has anybody asked why.... (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992478)

... the patent office has traditionally excluded mathematics from being patentable?

I mean, really, what is the reason behind it?

Because if, in fact, there is a legitimate answer to that question, then it *MUST* follow that any patent that can be shown to be isomorphic to a sequence of math operations should reasonably be rendered invalid on that basis, and no other.

Re:Has anybody asked why.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992580)

Not strictly true, at least they are close to the boundary between math and software very frequently. I deal with this constantly in my field, numerical algorithms are patented all the time. Even though it's the algorithm that's patented, the algorithm itself was always first developed mathematically by its very nature. The problems I deal with aren't discrete, so one can't see just by looking at the algorithm itself that it works, a lot of math goes behind my problems and the final algorithm implementation is really only 10% of the battle.

Given all that though, they are still patented all the time. Oil companies deal with this a lot, and even though the final implementation is the thing that is patented, if they happen to come up with something mathematically equivalent to the patented algorithm they still can get nailed.

I think this is a relatively recent thing though, as numerics at this level has only recently become widespread with cheaper hardware.

Re:Has anybody asked why.... (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992598)

If algorithms that are nothing more than mathematical operations should be patentable, then it must follow that the underlying reason behind why the patent office has traditionally not allowed mathematics to be patented is not a very good one.

Is that your assertion?

Equivalence relation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992482)

Just saying, if you're gonna make a claim about 'pure math,' at least use the phrase 'equivalence relation' correctly. The way it's stated above makes no sense. In the strictest sense, an equivalence relation is a set of ordered pairs that satisfies reflexivity, symmetry, and transitivity.

That's at least the strict set-theoretic way to define it, the more popular approach (but the same thing) is like this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equivalence_relation

So given two sets A and B, it makes no sense to say "There exists an equivalence relation between A and B." I challenge anybody to make that notion rigorous in a way that won't force it to apply to any two given sets.

Just sayin'.

But yeah, patent laws need to be revised to handle ideas better. With programming has come frozen ideas, that is an idea directly translated to a product, bypassing a physical implementation. Since the product comes so close to the idea, patents are now starting to come about that 'protect' abstract things such as concepts.. which I think is totally crazy.

I work in numerical PDEs, and I hear speakers all the time from oil companies who can't use a certain algorithm because the other oil company patented it. It's nuts, because usually the other solution is the numerical PDE equivalent of "1+1=2," it's the most obvious implementation that won't go haywire in floating-point arithmetic. What do the competing companies do? They hire people like me to come up with a different solution so that they can legally run it on their computers.

patenting math (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992496)

is this in the bailout for greece?

Everything is true, (1)

rrayst (857205) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992504)

if 5893120 == 5893210.

WAIT A MINUTE (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992540)

You just did 1+1 which is addition, which I should go get a patent on. PAY UP NAOS.

That's not what the patent is for though. (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992590)

This is a patent for a method of information storage and retrieval. The algorithm can be used for other purposes, although most of them are pretty abstract without violating the patent.

Elliptical curve cryptography is patentable even though the algorithms are well known for describing elliptic curves. Unless there's a mathematical notation to explain what a secret is, then this new application is patentable.

I recognize Patent #5,893,210 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992610)

Yeah, I recognize Patent #5,893,210 as being different from patent Patent #5,893,120. If you are going to throw a number around at least copy/paste it to not mistype it.

So? (1)

Kaz Kylheku (1484) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992612)

RSA crypto can be reduced to pure math. JPEG, MPEG 2 layer 3 audio encoding, ditto, etc.

Same patent? (1)

turkeyfish (950384) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992650)

Are we talking about the same patent or is there a misprint here? The two numbers are not the same.

Obviousness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992658)

It seems to me, after reading the patent, that there should be ways to prove that the algorithm is an obvious solution to the problem at hand, prior art or not. Just put 5 CS students in a room and ask them how to solve the problem he patent purports to solve, and observe that at least 2 or 3 of them will come up with the same solution as the patent.

Heck, the whole thing actually sounds like a good interview question for a junior programming position.

Not actually reduced to math (4, Informative)

Grond (15515) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992680)

I am an attorney & patent agent and I hold multiple degrees in mathematics and computer science, so I feel fairly competent to speak on this issue.

The claims require a physical implementation (e.g. "An information storage and retrieval system"). No amount of math will produce such a system out of the aether. Nor does thinking about the math or the formulas on pen & paper infringe the patent. The specification makes it clear that "information storage and retrieval system" refers to a computer system. Thus, the patent was not actually reduced to pure mathematics.

The nonpatentability of mathematics refers literally to patenting a formula or algorithm without any useful application, just as chemical elements cannot be patented but a mechanical device made entirely of a single element could be. A claim to a bare formula would be invalid for lack of utility as well as lack of patentable subject matter. Consequently, the Curry-Howard Correspondence has no effect on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions.

Re:Not actually reduced to math (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35992752)

That's a contradiction in terms. Either only a specific implementation is patented, or if all implementations are patented that means that the formula is patented too, whether you name it as such or not.

If you outlaw patents for math ... (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992780)

If you outlaw patents for math only outlaws will have patents for math. Oh, wait... it did not not come out right. OMG! The outlaws are already having patents for math!

Patent Law Explained (4, Informative)

xkr (786629) | more than 2 years ago | (#35992782)

All of patent law deals with interpretations, most of which are involve varying degrees of subtly.

The Federal Circuit Court has provided a great deal of well-written guidance. This particularly applies to what is and is not patentable.

The issue of what is and is not patentable is not black and white, such as, “mathematical formulas are not patentable,” or “software is patentable.”

A process that creates something useful and tangible is patentable, whether or not that process involves a calculation. What is not patentable is a “pure” formula that is not tied to something tangible. Data structures are tricky. The newer rules (yes, lots of mistakes were made in the past) are that generalized data structures, such as a table or a linked list, do not count as “tangible.” However, if those data structures are used (critically) to perform useful work, such as to refine steel or to serve up ads on websites, then the ENTIRE process is patentable. Subject, of course to all the other restrictions, such as non-obviousness.

These rules are not really new. They are the same rules that apply to mechanical inventions. For example, you cannot patent a “law of nature,” even it is something complex and nobody else knew about it. You can, however, patent a new device that takes advantage of this law of nature. For example, you cannot patent super-conductivity, but you can patent a useful device that uses super-conductivity.

Even mechanical inventions could be reduced to equations. CAD systems and hardware description languages are such examples. However, these “mathematical” representations have no bearing on the patentability.

Thus, the “deaf ears” referred to are those practitioners in the field who are following well-established law.

You don’t have to like current patent law. Many people don’t. European rules, for example, are different that ours. Note that not liking is distinct from not understanding.

- Registered Patent Agent

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