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Re: Patent and software ...

From: Mike Meyer
Subject: Re: Patent and software ...
Date: Mon, 12 Mar 2001 22:10:21 -0600

Terry Lambert <> types:
> > if a mere idea can be patented, then companies can patent all the
> > unimaginable ideas and wait until have been developped by anyone else to
> > have a operating monopoly or to cash rights.
> > 
> > Is that true ?
> No.  First, you have to have the idea; then you have to apply
> it to a process.  Patent law was recently reformed in the U.S.
> to bring it into conformance with the World Intellectual Property
> Organization.  U.S. patents are now 20 years from filing date.
> Before this change, it was 17 years from date of issue.  This
> let you apply for a patent, and not start the clock on it until
> someone tried to use your idea for something useful (usually,
> when you couldn't figure out a use for it yourself).  This was
> called a "submerged patent".

I thought it was submarine, but it's the same idea - you get torpedoed
by something you couldn't know was there.

The most blatant example of this was the Selden patent on the
automobile, which was filed in 1879 (before anyone ever built a
working automobile) and issued in 1895 - after the industry was going
pretty well, but before Selden built a working car. The industry was
so put out by it they formed an association for patent sharing. Any
member of the association could use any feature introduced by another
member, patents or no, in the model year following the
introduction. The only major manufacturer who didn't join the
association was Ford, who never patented anything, and ignored
everyone else's patents anyway.

The result of this blatant neglect of intellectual property laws was
the world strongest automobile industry, turning out some of the best
cars in the world.

> If you want help, you should look to the third most cited author
> in all of Computer Science, Jeffrey Ullman, instead of reading
> Stallman or other fringe commentators with their own agenda to
> sell you; here is his 2000 Knuth Prize Lecture, entitled "Ordinary
> Skill in the Art":
> It discusses in detail the qualifications for patents on software,
> what's right, and what's wrong with the current state of affairs.

Thanks for the pointer.

Mike Meyer <>            
Independent WWW/Perforce/FreeBSD/Unix consultant, email for more information.

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