[OT] Free software versus software idea patents

harrismh777 harrismh777 at charter.net
Tue Apr 12 04:15:51 EDT 2011

geremy condra wrote:
>>     Software is another sort of animal entirely. Because software is not just
>> >  based on mathematics--- IT IS mathematics.

> I am extremely skeptical of this argument.

      ... as are a great number of other people; corporations, lawyers, 
venture capitalists, SPAM SPAM SPAM...

     That is what made the last Supreme Court decision (from this 
argument in part) so important... because for the first time the U.S. 
Supreme Court is beginning to buy it ...  in part.

     See Groklaw here if you're not familiar with the issue:


     In this case, the court left software patents intact for the 
moment, but they slammed the door shut on Bilski... and the interesting 
thing here is that what Bilski was claiming to have invented is similar 
is most respects to all other "software idea patents," and for similar 
mathematical reasoning. It was a slam dunk, by the way...  here is a 
block quote from Groklaw you might find interesting:

===== block quote =====
If you are a lawyer wondering why some argue that software is 
mathematics, and hence ineligible for patent protection, or are just 
interested to know why software developers, particularly those who 
develop Free and Open Source software, almost to a man oppose software 
patents, you might enjoy reading Groklaw's An Explanation of Computation 
Theory for Lawyers, as well as the amicus briefs and articles marked 
with the discreet red stars [*], below. Donald Knuth, called the 
"father" of the analysis of algorithms, stated: "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." Also, there is a 30-minute movie, 
Patent Absurdity: How software patents broke the system, which explains 
it well.
=====/block quote=====

> it isn't clear to me that software and
> computation are synonymous. Lambda calculus only models computation,
> and software has real properties in implementation that are strictly
> dependent on the physical world

     (see above)

> I think it's quite reasonable to
> contend that the existence of lambda calculus no more rules out the
> applicability of patents to software (which I detest) than it rules
> out the applicability of patents to hardware (which I find only
> slightly less ridiculous) or other meatspace inventions.

     The difference is that while hardware may be "described" by 
mathematics (all of it is, actually) software IS the description. You 
know this to be true, because you prove it everyday... yourself. How 
many times have you had a problem, and rather than sit down with your 
pad of paper and a slide rule (or your TI-89 Platinum) YOU solved the 
problem right there on the screen... er, I mean... the machine solved 
the problem for you, uh, after you wrote out the symbols ... ???   We 
don't think out our problems on paper much these days... we just enter 
them into the 'ol terminal and play with it there...   frankly, that is 
what appeals to me with languages like Python, Haskell, and Erlang... 
they are my research engines ...  they take the place of paper and 
pencil and slide rule and calculator (and counting on ones fingers) ... 
but its still little 'ol me doing the thinking...  the days of doing 
multiple differential equations on a black-board (or white board) are 
long gone for most of us.

     The handwriting is on the wall (not so much wishful thinking as 
just noting that everyone including Supreme Court justices are beginning 
to get it). It is equally important that *all* software engineers and 
FOSS developers *get it!*  We need everyone on board with this... 
really... the time is critical for everyone to understand this... what 
is actually at stake is freedom... what we need to focus on is ending 
software patents forever... now.

kind regards,
m harris

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