
Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented 

Wednesday, June 03 2009 @ 11:57 PM EDT

Donald Knuth, distinguished computer scientist, recipient of the Turing Award, creator of the TeX computer typesetting system, and author of The Art of Computer Programming, which some call the Bible of computer programming, has submitted a letter [PDF] to the European Patent Office for submission to the EPO's Enlarged Board of Appeal considering the question of software patents and whether they should be allowed in Europe. Here's his view:Basically I remain convinced that the patent policy most fair and most suitable for the world will regard mathematical ideas (such as algorithms) to be not subject to proprietary patent rights. He attaches a letter he wrote in 1994 to the US Patent and Trademark Office, explaining why software patents were  and would be  so damaging. How true his words proved to be. Here's a snippet: 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. Ah! But will the EPO listen?
Here's why it should, from the introduction to Wikipedia's article about Knuth:
Knuth has been called the "father" of the analysis of algorithms, contributing to the development of, and systematizing formal mathematical techniques for, the rigorous analysis of the computational complexity of algorithms, and in the process popularizing asymptotic notation.
In addition to fundamental contributions in several branches of theoretical computer science, Knuth is the creator of the TeX computer typesetting system, the related METAFONT font definition language and rendering system, and the Computer Modern family of typefaces.
A prolific writer and scholar, Knuth created the WEB/CWEB computer programming systems designed to encourage and facilitate literate programming, and designed the MMIX instruction set architecture. If he says algorithms are math, I'd say he should know. Now extrapolate. If they are math, are they patentable? Should they be? He says no, if you continue with the letter:
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. Manmade laws can be significantly helpful but not when they contradict fundamental truths.
Congress wisely decided long ago that mathematical things cannot be patented. Surely nobody could apply mathematics if it were necessary to pay a license fee whenever the theorem of Pythagoras is employed. The basic algorithmic ideas that people are now rushing to patent are so fundamental, the result threatens to be like what would happen if we allowed authors to have patents on individual words and concepts. Novelists or journalists would be unable to write stories unless their publishers had permission from the owners of the words. Algorithms are exactly as basic to software as words are to writers, because they are the fundamental building blocks needed to make interesting products.
If only they had listened to him then! And what a mess the US patent system has become, because they did not listen. Hopefully, Europe will not make the same mistake. You can find the other amicus briefs and letters submitted to the EPO here, and I'll be publishing several of them here on Groklaw in time, to show more reasons why software patents are viewed as so harmful by programmers, those most directly impacted by whatever decision the EPO's Enlarged Board of Appeal reaches.
Remember when patent attorney Gene Quinn wrote that software isn't math? I see absolutely no justification for all software to be considered unpatentable subject matter because it is simply not correct to say that software code is the equivalent of a mathematical equation or a mathematical algorithm. Employing the same logical structure is certainly wise, and complies with best practice standards for programming, but at the core computer software directs. The code is a series of instructions written using mathematical logic as its foundation. In the patent arena this does not and cannot mean that the patenting of software is the equivalent of patenting mathematics. It merely means that the instructions are written in a language and format that are heavily influenced by mathematics. Well, Knuth would know better than we would what an algorithm is, I think, but even if we accept what Quinn wrote, it doesn't actually help his argument. If software code is "a series of instructions" then it's like a manual, in which case it's deserving of copyright, like any book. Can you patent a manual? Is it an invention?
I will present both Knuth letters now in full, and we'll add another attachment, an interview with him on this same subject, as soon as we are able to finish transcribing it.
Here are both letters:
************************
Donald E. Knuth
Professor Emeritus of
The Art of Computer Programming
STANFORD UNIVERSITY Computer Science
[address, phone]
24 April 2009
Alison J. Brimelow
President, European Patent Office
80298 Munich, Germany
Dear Ms Brimelow,
A friend in Europe just told me that you are interested in "amicus curiae" letters to explain
why so many computer scientists around the world have long been alarmed about patent
trends, and that you hope to receive them by 30 April. I hope this letter reaches you in
time; I could not send it by FedEx, having no complete address.
Enclosed is a copy of a letter that I wrote to the US Patent Commissioner in 1994; I believe
it is self explanatory. Also enclosed is the transcript of a talk I gave at the Technical University of Munich in 2001, where I gave a somewhat more nuanced view of extremely unusual
cases in which algorithms or even mathematical constants might conceivably be patentable
in my view. [The latter remarks occur near the end of a rather long lecture; I have highlighted the relevant information, on page 324, for your convenience.]
Basically I remain convinced that the patent policy most fair and most suitable for the world
will regard mathematical ideas (such as algorithms) to be not subject to proprietary patent
rights. For example, it would be terrible if somebody were to have a patent on an integer,
like say 1009, so that nobody would be able to use that number "with further technical effect" without paying for a license. Although many software patents have unfortunately already been granted in the past, I hope that this practice will not continue in future. If Europe leads the way in this, I expect many Americans would want to emigrate so that they
could continue to innovate in peace.
Sincerely,
[signature]
Donald E Knuth
Professor of The Art of Computer Programming
**********************************
STANFORD UNIVERSITY
STANFORD, CALIFORNIA 943052140
DONALD E. KNUTH
Professor Emeritus of The Art of
Computer Programming
Department of Computer Science
[Telephone]
February 23, 1994
Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks
Box 4
Patent and Trademark Office
Washington, DC 20231
Dear Commissioner:
Along with many other computer scientists, I would like to ask you to reconsider the current
policy of giving patents for computational processes. I find a considerable anxiety throughout
the community of practicing computer scientists that decisions by the patent courts and the
Patent and Trademark Office are making life much more difficult for programmers.
In the period 19451980, 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
importancee.g., LempelZiv compression and RSA public key encryptionand are now legally
preventing other programmers from using those 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 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.
To Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks  February 23, 1994  Page 2
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. Manmade
laws can be significantly helpful but not when they contradict fundamental truths.
Congress wisely decided long ago that mathematical things cannot be patented. Surely nobody
could apply mathematics if it were necessary to pay a license fee whenever the theorem of
Pythagoras is employed. The basic algorithmic ideas that people are now rushing to patent are
so fundamental, the result threatens to be like what would happen if we allowed authors to have
patents on individual words and concepts. Novelists or journalists would be unable to write
stories unless their publishers had permission from the owners of the words. Algorithms are
exactly as basic to software as words are to writers, because they are the fundamental building
blocks needed to make interesting products. What would happen if individual lawyers could
patent their methods of defense, or if Supreme Court justices could patent their precedents?
I realize that the patent courts try their best to serve society when they formulate patent law.
The Patent Office has fulfilled this mission admirably with respect to aspects of technology
that involve concrete laws of physics rather than abstract laws of thought. I myself have a
few patents on hardware devices. But I strongly believe that the recent trend to patenting
algorithms is of benefit only to a very small number of attorneys and inventors, while it is
seriously harmful to the vast majority of people who want to do useful things with computers.
When I think of the computer programs I require daily to get my own work done, I cannot help
but realize that none of them would exist today if software patents had been prevalent in the
1960s and 1970s. Changing the rules now will have the effect of freezing progress at essentially
its current level. If present trends continue, the only recourse available to the majority of
America's brilliant software developers will be to give up software or to emigrate. The U.S.A.
will soon lose its dominant position.
Please do what you can to reverse this alarming trend. There are far better ways to protect
the intellectual property rights of software developers than to take away their right to use
fundamental building blocks.
Sincerely,
[signature]
Donald E Knuth
Professor


Authored by: TheBlueSkyRanger on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 12:03 AM EDT 
Dobre utka,
The Blue Sky Ranger[ Reply to This  # ]


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Dobre utka,
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We can only hope, but as we have seen with the
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You are being MICROattacked, from various angles, in a SOFT manner.[ Reply to This  # ]


Authored by: sef on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 12:32 AM EDT 
The problem with that position is: at which point does it
become
patentable?
Let's say that software isn't patentable. So, for example, a
program
that
allows you to add values, and search for them by a key, wouldn't
be
patentable.
But what if it were implemented in an FPGA?
What
if it were implemented in transistors?
(What I described is essentially
contentaccessible memory  which is
used in, among other things,
caches.)
[ Reply to This  # ]

 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  Authored by: PJ on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 12:36 AM EDT
 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  Authored by: iceworm on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 01:27 AM EDT
 When the software blows the fuse  Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 01:35 AM EDT
 At no point  Authored by: Winter on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 02:13 AM EDT
 When the algorithm is sufficiently novel to have the creator/author's name attached  Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 02:47 AM EDT
 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 02:50 AM EDT
 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  Authored by: Willu on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 03:01 AM EDT
 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  Authored by: wjaguar on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 04:19 AM EDT
 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 06:45 AM EDT
 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  Authored by: PJ on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 07:17 AM EDT
 PS.  Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 07:18 AM EDT
 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  Authored by: wjaguar on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 07:59 AM EDT
 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 10:17 AM EDT
 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  Authored by: joef on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 03:26 PM EDT
 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 04:34 PM EDT
 Amen  Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, June 05 2009 @ 12:20 AM EDT
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 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, June 07 2009 @ 06:26 PM EDT
 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  Authored by: tknarr on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 11:24 AM EDT
 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  Authored by: PolR on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 07:49 PM EDT
 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  Authored by: mattflaschen on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 10:29 PM EDT

Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 04:12 AM EDT 
the majority of America's brilliant software developers will [...]
give up software or [...] emigrate
Remind me, when did
that happen?
Knuth cried wolf 15 years ago, but the flock remained
unmolested. What credibility does he have now? [ Reply to This  # ]


Authored by: Tolerance on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 05:05 AM EDT 
I was one of those arguing with Gene Quinn that software, as an expression of
maths, ought not to be patentable. I was shocked to see he was, at the prompting
of an electrical engineer, promoting Dijkstra's ideas on care and elegance in
programming as illustrating why more than 'mere' maths is involved. So I've left
a post on his website at
<http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2008/12/15/computersoftwareisnotmath/id=1040/#
comment4827>. But it's awaiting moderation. It should, I believe, be seen,
so here it is:
"Dear Gene,
I've had occasion to revisit your blog on the question of "Computer
software is not math". You may recall that I felt it was.
What is prompting me to write this time is your invocation of the holy name
of Dijkstra. His comment is truly fascinating and I can see how you might feel
it support your case.
My own reaction is that none of it matters, and in particular not elegance,
since the end result is still isomorphic to a mathematical object, and as such
ought not to be patentable. Of course you are entitled to feel my reaction is
not decisive.
Dijkstra is a peculiar choice as an ideal to which programmers aspire, since
he did no programming in the modern sense, but created mathematical tools which
underly programming. Using his ideas on elegance or style to create a
distinction between software and math is quite odd. He handwrote all his
"EWD" monographs, unlike e.g. Knuth who invented TeX to assist. He did
not program himself after around 1960. Indeed, he did not own a computer, except
for a Mac later in life (which was not used for programming).
What ought to be relevant, despite this, is Dijkstra's own attitude to
commercial use of software, which a cursory search on Google will help with. He
was unimpressed with the idea that mathematics, and its expression in software,
should be commercialized. But he felt that arguing that point with those who
would profit was pointless. Humor, however, was both legitimate and effective.
So he created a fictional company (Mathematics, Inc) and a whole series of
parables to illustrate the folly of intellectual property  be it copyright,
trade secret, or patent  applied to mathematics or its expression in software.
Details can be found, with references, in the wikipedia entry on Dijkstra. I
quote:
"One of Dijkstra's sidelines was serving as Chairman of the Board of the
fictional Mathematics Inc., a company that he imagined having commercialized the
production of mathematical theorems in the same way that software companies had
commercialized the production of computer programs. He invented a number of
activities and challenges of Mathematics Inc. and documented them in several
papers in the EWD series. The imaginary company had produced a proof of the
Riemann Hypothesis but then had great difficulties collecting royalties from
mathematicians who had proved results assuming the Riemann Hypothesis. The proof
itself was a trade secret (EWD 475). Many of the company's proofs were rushed
out the door and then much of the company's effort had to be spent on
maintenance (EWD 539). A more successful effort was the Standard Proof for
Pythagoras' Theorem, that replaced the more than 100 incompatible existing
proofs (EWD427). Dijkstra described Mathematics Inc. as "the most exciting
and most miserable business ever conceived" (EWD475). He claimed that by
1974 his fictional company was the world's leading mathematical industry with
more than 75 percent of the world market (EWD443).
Having invented much of the technology of software, Dijkstra eschewed the use of
computers in his own work for many decades. Almost all EWDs appearing after 1972
were handwritten. When lecturing, he would write proofs in chalk on a
blackboard rather than using overhead foils, let alone Powerpoint slides. Even
after he succumbed to his UT colleagues’ encouragement and acquired a Macintosh
computer, he used it only for email and for browsing the World Wide Web"
"

Grumpy old man[ Reply to This  # ]


Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 05:31 AM EDT 
Why not just throw a computer program into the river.
If it sinks,
then it is innocent. If it floats, then it infringes some patents (and/or is
bloated).
That would be a much simpler way of testing whether a
program infringes any patents, and at least as scientific, accurate and
meaningful.
\Cyp[ Reply to This  # ]


Authored by: ile on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 06:35 AM EDT 
I am most taken by this part of the 1994 letter:
"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."
My personal copy of the Texbook is so used that I should start thinking of
buying a new one (although nowadays I do not really use plain TeX anymore,
more is the shame); I remember writing all the macros for my PhD thesis
myself, instead of relying on that TeX for sissies, LaTeX I think it was called
then :)
To the point: I do not think non physicists, mathematicians or computer
scientists realise how much of an impact TeX has had and has. To give a few
examples: For a very long time the American Physics Society journals refused
to accept manuscript submissions in anything but TeX (REVTeX in particular).
They finally started accepting MS Word submissions, but those are still the
minority.
Recently a friend of mine from the humanities started mentioning
bibliography handling with a commercial program. I then realised that
something like BibTeX, taken for granted by us, is awesome to many. Too bad
they always need a GUI...
Also recently I had to complain to an editor for the poor readability of a paper
I was supposed to referee: it had clearly been written in MS Word, and the
PDF I was sent was near impossible to read: all formulae and symbols were all
over the place, equation numbering was, simply put, a mess. This was sorted
out finally...when the editor had someone retype everything in TeX,
And a question for the cognoscenti here: what do you think of the
license/non license of TeX? As I understood it, Donald E Knuth allows anyone
to use and modify the program as long as it is not called TeX
(ref:http://www.ntg.nl/maps/05/34.pdf)
[ Reply to This  # ]


Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 07:16 AM EDT 
(Just for the avoidance of doubt  I am not in favour of software
patents  I just think that the "algorithms are mathematics" argument is
fragile, easily fudged around and only appeals to mathematicians and computer
scientists).
The trouble with such a philosophical argument against
patents is that it implies that the patent system has some sort of basis in
philosophy, morality or natural justice. It doesn't  its an artifice that is
supposed to promote innovation and industry, and if it demonstrably fails to do
that it has no legitimacy. Contrast with the copyright system which has at least
some sort of moral backbone. The only justification for the patent system is
that it promotes industry and advances human knowledge: thanks to the USA's
little experiment there is strong empirical evidence that software patents fail
spectacularly in this regard.
Even if you successfully argue that "software
is mathematics" then you still have to defend the notion that
applications of mathematics should not be patentable  when
applications of Physics, Chemistry or Biology clearly are.
If you
accept that patents, per se, are a good thing then why shouldn't (e.g.) public
key cryptography or wavelet image compression be patentable? You wouldn't be
patenting the pure mathematics that makes these possible  you'd be patenting
the (rather clever) "inventive step" of applying those bits of highly abstract
mathematics to a practical problem. Plus, the patent system would work as
intended, in that the inventor is free to publish and share their mathematical
insights without jeopardizing their business.
The "all algorithms are
mathematics" argument is a dubious one, too: while it is indisputable that any
computer program could, in theory, be described and analyzed mathematically, it
does not follow that all software could have been produced purely by
mathematical analysis. The "formal methods" school of software engineering aims
to do this  but the paradigm is far from universal. Now, Knuth is definitely a
mathematician, but the guy (whether he admits it or not) is also an artist: TeX
and Metafont are probably among the most mathematically rigorous bits of
software engineering around, but they also embody a large body of typographical
expertise and aesthetic sense. People use TeX because the output is beautiful!
If algorithms are mathematics then you need to explain why other things are
not mathematics  tricky when some would argue that mathematics is what
makes the entire universe tick. In this day and age when anything from a new
aircraft to an iPod case is quite likely to have started out as a software
simulation  i.e. a mathematical description of all the key properties
and parameters of the invention  I'd wager that your typical aircraft
engine or electric motor is far more the product of mathematical analyisis than
the average bit of application software.
Its certainly nonsense to exclude
computer programs from patents without also excluding huge swathes of
electronics  aside from a few exceptions which rely on wacky nonlinear
behavior of specific components (e.g. guitar amps) your typical electronic
circuit is just a giant differential equation.
The only real distinction
between an algorithm and a physical invention is that the physical invention can
only be "modelled" mathematically (and hence, approximately) whereas for the
algorithm "the map is the territory" (or "the model is the invention"). That's
getting into deep philosophy  but ultimately all it leads to is the old
"computer implemented invention" fudge in which the algorithm may not be
patented but the act of doing anything useful with it is.
I think the best
arguments against software patents are the practical ones: namely the proven
inability of the US patent system to distinguish between "obvious" and "non
obvious" inventions, overbroad patents and the expense of patent litigation.
Estimates of the cost of software patents to US industry  and the existing
monopoly problems in the software industry would also be good
evidence.
Actually, I doubt that these problems are unique to software  its
just that the software industry has a business model based on negligible
marginal costs, hugely complex multifunctional products and a big problem with
monopolistic lockins which make it a bit of a miner's canary.
[ Reply to This  # ]


Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 09:31 AM EDT 
First off, PJ: please delete this or move it to a different topic if you feel it
is inappropriate and accept my apologies.
For the sake of starting a discussion I've repeatedly wanted to see on Groklaw,
here are some of my own should/shouldn't items. At the heart of all of them is
a phrase I noticed from the Dennis Ritchie post linked to in a comment above:
“…their product is valuable and worth protecting…” Nothing about innovation!
Just a shift in patents from being a method of publishing innovation (and
helping out the innovator) to protecting products (and hammering the
competition).
Cannot patent living organisms or portions thereof. Can patent processes using
living organisms or portions thereof (e.g. can patent a process for making beer
with a genetically modified yeast, but not the yeast itself). Can patent
devices or materials which affect living organisms (e.g. pharmaceuticals) so
long as the material is not directly derived from a living organism (e.g.
digitalis from foxglove).
Cannot patent items or materials whose application cannot be controlled (e.g.
subject to natural forces such as wind such as seeds (an organism, see above)
which grow into plants which spread their DNA via pollen).
Cannot patent mathematical algorithms or other instruction sets (e.g. computer
programs, business processes, etc.) even when those algorithms or instructions
sets employ mechanical or electronic devices. Can patent the devices
themselves if they are sufficiently innovative (e.g. you can patent a computer
but not the software to run on it.)
Cannot patent mixandmatch combinations of existing devices or materials unless
the result is sufficiently and reproducibly innovative (e.g. can’t take
offtheshelf computer parts and build a computer unless that combination is
truly innovative and nonobvious “to those skilled in the art”; even then, must
be TRULY innovative and, see below)
Patents MUST be accompanied by clear, specific outlines, diagrams, etc. (not
broad or vague descriptions) such that “ANYONE learned in the art can reproduce
the patented item.” The corollary is that this allows anyone learned in the art
to further innovate either around the patent or incorporating it. Thus, if
computer program (software) patents are permitted the source code MUST be
revealed as the source code is the “diagram or working model” required in a
patent. Vagueness and obfuscation alone should be grounds to deny a patent.
I know this list itself is incomplete and perhaps a bit vague <grin>, but
I only want it to be a starting point.
msfisher @ work so not logged in
[ Reply to This  # ]


Authored by: darkonc on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 09:37 AM EDT 
patent attorney Gene Quinn wrote:
The code is a series of
instructions written using mathematical logic as its
foundation.
From Kdict:
algorithm algorithm n.
a precise rule (or set of rules) specifying how to solve some
problem; a set
of procedures guaranteed to find the solution
to a problem.
So,
he has effectively defined code as an algorithm ... but "written using
mathematical logic as its foundation"
now, SLAPP me silly if I'm wrong, but
isn't his description of code as an algorithm founded on math the same as saying
that code is a mathematical algorithm?  Powerful, committed
communication. Touching the jewel within each person and bringing it to life.. [ Reply to This  # ]


Authored by: leopardi on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 10:16 AM EDT 
The problem is that mathematical algorithms, even though
they should
not be patentable, often have US
patents attached to them.
Some
examples include computer arithmetic on finite fields
and elliptic
curves, and the Fast
Fourier
Transform:
Some of these algorithms are described as if
implemented
on specialized hardware, but all of them can be
implemented on
general purpose computers, in principle.
The fact that such patents
remain 'on the books' seems to
have to do with the
effo
rt
involved in having each such
patent invalidated, one at a time, even if
all such
patents are invalid in principle.
One reform solution for new
patents could be to assume
that all
mathematical algorithms within patents are within
prior art.
[ Reply to This  # ]


Authored by: RealProgrammer on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 11:37 AM EDT 
Employing the same logical structure is certainly wise, and complies
with best practice standards for programming, but at the core computer software
directs. The code is a series of instructions written using mathematical logic
as its foundation.
Quinn says algorithms are not math, and then
says what programs do. But programs are not algorithms, just
implementations of (one or more of) them, as he says, using mathematical logic
(algorithms) as their foundation.
He is arguing that the code is a
machine, and machines are patentable, and the principles on which the machine is
based are patentable.
But code is not a machine, it is the instructions
to a machine. And since code is not an algorithm, merely an instantiation of
algorithms, the algorithm is one step further back from directing
anything.
By analogy, he is saying that one can patent the kind of bait
that is best used in a mousetrap, or where best to place the
trap.  (I'm not a lawyer, but I know right from wrong) [ Reply to This  # ]

 Quinn's Error  Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 01:16 PM EDT
 Quinn's Error  Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 01:17 PM EDT
 Quinn's Error  Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 04:05 PM EDT

Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 12:15 PM EDT 
Far be it for me to contradict Kunth.
However one asks a question, I have a machine I patented, and because of the
unique cams in it I have have a patent on that invention, then I improve my
invention with a generic microprocessor and replace my unique cams with unique
code, should I then lose my patent because I have replaced one control mechanism
with another?
The obvious answer was no.
This is the toe in the door that permitted software patents.
As Knuth observed, all software programs are algorithms and the nature of the
beast does not really allow you to distinguish that this one is a thing and that
one is an idea.
So far many rulings have all been in favor of calling a program a thing, not an
idea.
I would so very, very much love to see the "vfat" file patent
invalidated. All it is, are a set of rules specifying how data is to be written
on a block file system so another device can read that data. Suing Tom Tom for
that is an extreme of hubris.
[ Reply to This  # ]

 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  except when...  Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 12:54 PM EDT
 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  except when...  Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 01:15 PM EDT
 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  except when...  Authored by: Ian Al on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 01:19 PM EDT
 Your cams shouldn't be patentable  Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 02:51 PM EDT
 Not the obvious answer  Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 03:05 PM EDT
 Donald Knuth: Mathematical Ideas, or Algorithms, Should Not Be Patented  except when...  Authored by: Wol on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 07:15 PM EDT

Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 02:50 PM EDT 
I sense a tautology here. [ Reply to This  # ]


Authored by: Willu on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 06:52 PM EDT 
Imagine ACME Corp has a patent on bird catchers. This bird catcher is a
complicated and
clever design (involving large rubber bands, roller skates and
a small but
powerful explosive
device). It is clearly original and advances
the state of the art.
Dastardly Apex Corp has decided to make a similar
bird catcher, but they
know about ACME's patent. Rather than build the
device
itself, they build a kit. This kit contains only standard parts, none of
which
are individually patented. They also include a
set of instructions on how to
piece the parts together to get a bird
catcher similar to ACME's.
Is
there any case law where someone has tried this, or something similar
involving
kits,
and been sued for
patent infringement? What was the result? (I would
expect that they would have been found to have infringed the patent, but I'm
not sure.)
What about if Apex corp. includes a few extra pieces in the
kit? What if
Apex simply has a parts list and instructions, and sends the
buyer to the
hardware store to buy the parts themselves? What if you not only
have to go
to the hardware store yourself, but the set of
instructions is just
ACME's patent disclosure (which was clearly written  I
know, this is
unrealistic, but hypothetically
speaking...)?
It seems to me that
programs are more like construction instructions
than a device. The computer
is like a collection of 'computation parts' to
be put together in some form.
Patenting a program is like the later case
above where the parts are purchased
separately to the
instructions. If you have a device that incorporates a
program with other
noncomputational parts (e.g. sensors and effectors) then
that is like a kit
that comes partially
constructed, and with instructions for
the computations involved to make it
work.
Be well...
[ Reply to This  # ]


Authored by: gfim on Thursday, June 04 2009 @ 09:32 PM EDT 
From Quinn's blog:Those who are not
familiar with patent law should not comment on patent law as if they are
experts, announcing ridiculous propositions that they don’t understand. It is
silly for the many commentators and journalists out there to think that they can
read a little about patent law and become conversant in the intricacies, offer
opinions and suggestions and portray themselves as experts. I would
ask Mr. Quinn to apply the same maxim to his own comments on computing and
maths.
 Graham [ Reply to This  # ]




