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I certainly do care! Thank you. I'm glad I was able present the other side in a (hopefully) non-combative way. Each side really is just a point of view. It always boils down to a question of the merits of the underlying philosophies: does allowing X foster goal Y. Or perhaps more precisely: does allowing/preventing X foster goal Y enough. It's a judgment call, and everyone will have different personalities and experiences influencing their decision.
And yes, patent laws vary by country. What's allowed in one country may not be in another and vice versa. There are international treaties and/or trade agreements that specify minimum standards of protection for IP rights. I think the World Intellectual Property Organization is either involved in this or submits suggestions for treaties... not sure. Anyway, the benefit for joining these organizations is that foreign countries will recognize and enforce domestically-granted patents/copyrights/trademarks (thereby protecting the rights of the domestic inventor in the international market), but also carries the baggage of having to enforce foreign inventors' rights as well. If a country doesn't sign the treaty, they don't have to recognize another country's IP rights at all (and relinquish international market protection for domestic inventors).
To further flush out my thoughts and relate back to your original point... Patent laws in a country typically (though not always) reflect the consensus of the public on the issue. If the laws remain unchanged for a while, the concepts articulated in the laws begin to seep into "public consciousness" for lack of a better term. I'd liken it to patriotism... just the ingrained belief that "this is the way it should be." So I certainly agree: citizens of different countries can very well disagree on the most fundamental levels of an issue like patents because both countries have historically viewed them differently. I'm sure those differences play a role in the debate.
That is the intent, but for most Software patents, the idea will be obsolete long before the patent expires, so the public doesn't benefit.
But the public does benefit. The public has access to the information. The public can tinker with and improve the idea. In the worst case, the patent owner withholds licensing for the entire length of the patent term. However, the public still benefits, because the inventor disclosed the information (as opposed to keeping it secret and "taking it to the grave"). The invention eventually becomes part of the public domain no matter what. In the non-worst-case scenario, cross-licensing occurs and the idea is continually improved or refined.
I think the big sticking point in this issue is the idea of obsolescence. One side equates usefulness of an idea with its immediate practicality or market viability. The other side takes the approach that information, in and of itself, is valuable. The information may inspire someone else years down the road to pursue a unique path of refinement, cause an oldie-but-goodie idea to apply in a new environment, or may simply spark the creative genius needed to innovate something completely new. I'm not the most creative person in the world, but I have seen the effect of exposing creative people to a pool of ideas--even old ones. It's rather impressive what their minds come up with. At least, that's where I'm coming from when I say the public is benefited even in the worst case scenario above. Will all patents have an impact on future inventors? I seriously doubt it, but I'd rather have the ideas be there, cataloged, ready for review on the chance that it can spark an improvement. It certainly won't spark improvement if the idea is never disclosed.
The point you raise is not a problem with patents specifically, but with the field of law in general. Anyone with money can hire a lawyer to research an issue and craft a way to contest another party's activities. It could be patents, copyright, trademarks, contracting, business practice... any field of law essentially. While this is theoretically possible, I do not believe it's practical. It's not a sustainable business model to litigate competitors into oblivion; the financial costs are high without much to show for it. I won't go so far as to say it would never happen, but businesses want to maximize profit. It may very well be that a licensing deal would be far more attractive than litigation. If the inventor decides to prevent absolutely everyone from using the idea, the inventor has "put all his eggs in one basket". The profit for the idea is a gamble on the inventor's ability to market a product people want to buy. Licensing to others ensures greater variation in the delivery of the idea that will cater to a wider range of consumers. Even though the inventor isn't getting the maximum profit he/she could get had they come up with the product delivery that a licensee created, the inventor is getting something from a consumer that would otherwise not have purchased a product. The inventor has X years in which to accumulate the reward for innovation. It's up to the inventor to decide the best way to maximize it: litigation or licensing.
Last edited by Dark_Helmet; 02-26-2007 at 11:17 AM.
I'll admit, the claims certainly seem to cover the concept of a doubly linked list. Or at least, the form of a doubly-linked list. The gist of the patent for anyone that doesn't/can't fight through the legalese is this:
A list of items in the computer is maintained by two (or more) pointers. Where one pointer represents the primary order of the items, and a second pointer that represents the auxiliary order of the items. A good example would be maintaining a list with the primary pointers sorting the list by alphabetical order of a person's last name, and the auxiliary pointers sorting the list by alphabetical order of a person's first name.
The purpose of maintaining the list in this way is to prevent the overhead of re-sorting a singly-linked list. Rather than re-sort based on first name to search for a few operations, and then re-sort by last name to continue with others, this method uses extra memory (in the form of the auxiliary pointer) to preserve sorting order by both first and last name.
And conceptually, that would include a doubly-linked list where the second pointer is used to traverse the list in reverse order.
Just to be clear, I'm using the first name and last name sorting as an example; it's not a restriction of the patent claims.
To be absolutely sure of what the patent's boundaries are, I'd need to look at the prior patent citations provided. More specifically, patent #5263160 which, according to Google, covers doubly linked-lists. There may be a subtle distinction in terminology of the claims that significantly alter the patent's scope.
I also wanted to point out the application date of this patent: 09/26/2002
and the issuance date: 04/11/2006
For something that appears to be as "simple" as a form of doubly-linked list, it took almost four year to get through the patent office. Certainly not the speediest of institutions.
Last edited by Dark_Helmet; 02-28-2007 at 10:57 AM.
It's been issued/approved. The issue date is when the patent takes force. So this LSI patent has been enforceable since 04/11/2006--almost a full year.
This is assuming the fields on the left are accurate, and a search on the USPTO site I linked to earlier pulls up the same essentially the same document (minus the drawings). It takes a little searching to find the same dates in the patent, but they are there.
I haven't diff'ed the claims between Google's version and the USPTO's, but they appear very similar, if not identical--thinking that maybe Google's claims came from an initial/unamended application.
The text of claim 1 is identical in both Google's and the USPTO's version. So it's likely the rest of the claims are identical, and that Google's copy is accurate regarding the final language of the issued patent.
I still haven't worked through the other cited, doubly-linked list patent to determine the difference. I plan to post my interpretation once I sit down and work through the language (not that my interpretation is necessarily authoritative).
Last edited by Dark_Helmet; 02-28-2007 at 03:56 PM.
Maybe double linked lists are OK because the extra pointer doesn't represent a different type of sort, just the reverse order of the original sort. But if you have a table, such as in a spread sheet or checkbook entries, it would be illegal to have pointers sorting by more than one field.
Maybe double linked lists are OK because the extra pointer doesn't represent a different type of sort, just the reverse order of the original sort.
I wouldn't think so. The way the claims are worded, there is no specific restriction on what classifies as a meaningful arrangement/sequence of data, and I would have been surprised to see such a restriction. A reversed version of a sort is just as meaningful as the non-reversed sort.
Originally Posted by jschiwal
But if you have a table, such as in a spread sheet or checkbook entries, it would be illegal to have pointers sorting by more than one field.
I am not a lawyer. My posts (all future and prior) express my opinion--not legal advice. And in case you wonder why law students say that, it's because we're told not to give advice, or at least to make it clear that the information given does not amount to legal advice, or risk being denied admission to the bar.
I don't know. It depends on a couple of things: how the table is implemented and/or how the spreadsheet/checkbook is implemented. I'm not familiar with database internals, but I imagine it's more complex than a double-, triple, quadruple-, or moreple-linked list. In fact, my (uneducated) guess would be the database uses an entirely different structure altogether. An application can sort the data multiple ways without resorting to the method described in the patent.
For instance, assuming you haven't written the underlying application, you can construct a sequence of data that models the patented idea. You'd be fine so long as the application does not implement it as it's modeled. Behind the scenes, it might break the data into two (or more) separate lists--searching the appropriate list for the operation performed.
Where it might get dangerous is taking that modeled data as input to another application that would use the data as-is (i.e. as a doubly-sorted list).
I apologize for not posting an analysis/opinion of the prior patents. I've been swamped as of late (16 credit hours, working 10 hours per week, extra-curricular stuff, and trying to keep the girlfriend happy). I intend to look over the stuff and post my impression of it--good or bad--when I have some more time.
Last edited by Dark_Helmet; 03-02-2007 at 09:28 PM.
Ofcourse I agree with rights to patent and protect software. Strong patents were the ignition that sparked the humongous technological advance in early 18th century Britain and encouraged entrepreneurship and continue to be driving force for innovation today.
Opensource proved that unpatented free software can theorethically yield higher profit, which is strange. There is nothing immoral about patenting software. It's just stupid.
I'm a fan of the Creative Commons license. It's a smart one.
You own the rights to the original creation of a product/idea. No one can come in and claim that they own any part of what you created. But they can still create a deriative from yours, as long as they mention you. And in most CCL, there's a bit added that say you have to allow the same to others. That to me is an ideal license.
Unlike the GPL, you own the idea, but like the GPL, people are free to modify it if they'd like.
Under the GPL, you still own your code. It's not like the FSF automatically takes ownership of anything GPL'ed. You own the code, but you license it in such a way that others can modify it, and take ownership without taking it from you. A license is issued by the owner of code to it's users. If you didn't own your GPL'ed code, you wouldn't be licensing it out.
If I write some code that another project uses, they may distribute my code, but it's still mine. What's the difference? I can choose to rerelease that code under a non-GPL license at a later date, and they cannot.
Now that someone has patented the Tarzan yell, does that mean that Carol Burnette will never be able to go on tour. Although she doesn't pound her chest when she yells, maybe her yell wouldn't be illegal.