Crazy Idea Of The Month: Allowing Patents On Mathematics

from the aren't-things-bad-enough? dept

It would be something of an understatement to say that people have strong opinions about patents. But as Techdirt has reported, there's a growing consensus that software patents in particular aren't working -- James Bessen and Michael J. Meurer have written an entire book, "Patent Failure", about how bad things are there, and why it's happening in this area rather than elsewhere.

One of the key problems is that software patents are essentially patents on mathematical algorithms -- sets of instructions for carrying out a calculation. Since it has long been a principle that you can't patent mathematical formulae or laws of nature, there is a tension there: if software is just mathematics, why should you be able to patent it at all? New Scientist points to an interesting article in the April 2013 issue of Notices of the American Mathematical Society, in which David A. Edwards proposes a radical way of solving that conundrum (pdf):

At present, only those things which are made by man are patentable. Thus, the courts have allowed new forms of bacteria which have been engineered to have useful properties using recombinant DNA techniques to be patented but would not allow such a bacterium to be patented if it were naturally occurring even if it were newly discovered. This is the basis for the nonpatentability of computer programs. They are algorithms, which are essentially mathematical formulas, which -- as everyone knows -- are "eternal" and hence discovered by man and not created by him. This argument which, to say the least, is philosophically controversial, leads to our present unfortunate policy. From an economic point of view, there is no rationale for distinguishing between discovery and invention, and we would advocate dropping entirely any subject matter restrictions whatsoever on what can be patented. One should be able to patent anything not previously known to man.
In particular, he believes it should be possible to patent mathematics, and hence software.

One of his arguments is that this would spur people to make more discoveries. But that presupposes mathematicians aren't trying to do that now for glory, peer esteem and tenure, but there's no evidence to suggest that. The same argument is sometimes made in support of software patents -- that they stimulate the production of more software. But that overlooks the fact that the computer industry thrived for decades before the introduction of software patents, and that companies like Microsoft grew into hugely profitable enterprises without them.

Indeed, in 1991 Bill Gates famously warned about the problems that software patents would create for the industry and his company:

In a memo to his senior executives, Bill Gates wrote, "If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today." Mr. Gates worried that "some large company will patent some obvious thing" and use the patent to "take as much of our profits as they want."
That, of course, is exactly what has happened since the introduction of software patents, leading to the following situation today:
In the smartphone industry alone, according to a Stanford University analysis, as much as $20 billion was spent on patent litigation and patent purchases in the last two years -- an amount equal to eight Mars rover missions. Last year, for the first time, spending by Apple and Google on patent lawsuits and unusually big-dollar patent purchases exceeded spending on research and development of new products, according to public filings.
That's bad enough for huge companies with deep pockets; it would be even worse for universities on tight budgets which might suddenly find themselves sued for using mathematical formulae without permission -- a ludicrous situation. Edwards seems to be aware that this is a problem, and tries to address it as follows:
Since patents only give control over the commercial applications of his or her discovery or invention to the patentee, granting patents on mathematical formulas, laws of nature, and natural phenomena would have no negative side effects on pure science.
That's not really the case, in the US at least, thanks to Madey v. Duke University, as Wikipedia explains:
In 2002, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit dramatically limited the scope of the research exemption in Madey v. Duke University, 307 F.3d 1351, 1362 (Fed. Cir. 2002). The court did not reject the defense, but left only a "very narrow and strictly limited experimental use defense" for "amusement, to satisfy idle curiosity, or for strictly philosophical inquiry." The court also precludes the defense where, regardless of profit motive, the research was done "in furtherance of the alleged infringer's legitimate business." In the case of a research university like Duke University, the court held that the alleged use was in furtherance of its legitimate business, and thus the defense was inapplicable.
Clearly, there is huge scope for inventive lawyers (mathematical trolls?) to bring lawsuits against academics here, which would inevitably have a chilling effect on "pure science". Far from helping resolve the problems we have today with software patents, extending patentability to the mathematics that underlies programming would simply spread the misery wider, and make the lawyers richer.

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  1.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 6:24am

    If anything mus be patented then it should be the damned EXECUTION of the project not the idea itself. Patenting mathematics is a complete idiocy. If you go back in history most mathematical advancements (that often lead to solutions in all sorts of fields including but not limited to technology) came from people playing around with what already existed. There are examples where mathematical structures were developed that seemed to be useless at first but were used to develop very important structures that changed a lot of things (I'm thinking Benoit Mandelbrot out of the top of my head as a recent example).

    It just takes a small historic analysis to see that scientific development only thrived because there was freedom to build on whatever. Intellectual property makes bright minds spend energy with legal issues that were not there in the past.

     

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    Ninja (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 6:24am

    If anything mus be patented then it should be the damned EXECUTION of the project not the idea itself. Patenting mathematics is a complete idiocy. If you go back in history most mathematical advancements (that often lead to solutions in all sorts of fields including but not limited to technology) came from people playing around with what already existed. There are examples where mathematical structures were developed that seemed to be useless at first but were used to develop very important structures that changed a lot of things (I'm thinking Benoit Mandelbrot out of the top of my head as a recent example).

    It just takes a small historic analysis to see that scientific development only thrived because there was freedom to build on whatever. Intellectual property makes bright minds spend energy with legal issues that were not there in the past.

     

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    Jay (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 6:52am

    I can see out now...

    Just to point out the idiocy here, the very reason for the calculus wars was the fact that Newton was an a-hole. He didn't like that someone else was smarter than him to create calculus and used his position to constantly berate anyone that agreed with his competition.

    But if he could have patented math for the calculus equations he kept in his drawer, I'm sure he would have. He would have also claimed that only he knew how derivatives worked.

    Honestly, Newton isn't getting any richer off his discoveries. Why should anyone else get rich off of patenting math?

     

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  4.  
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    silverscarcat (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 6:58am

    Re: I can see out now...

    "Why should anyone else get rich off of patenting math?"

    Because, if people can learn math for cheap or free, why would they bother to learn anything new?

    Did I get the typical troll logic right?

     

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  5.  
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    Pixelation, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:05am

    A little late

    I wish it had happened when I was a kid...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:11am

    I'll accept that discovery and invention should both be valid domains for patent protection if Edwards accepts that the length of protection be zero years.

     

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    saulgoode (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:20am

    Re: If all discoveries should be patentable...

    ... then if I come up with an idea for a new law then I should hold a monopoly on that law -- and the government prohibited from enacting it.

     

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    crade (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:21am

    What he says is true, every invention is going to be an algorithm for how to make something.

    To me, this means the lessons we learn from how bad patents are for software can be applied to other areas as well.

     

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  9.  
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    trish, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:21am

    good maths :D

    If we define x as the number of stupid laws, and y as the number of stupid lawmakers, and z the number of lawyers required to deal with x, (carry the pi...) we find that we could save a whole boatload of money by eliminating x, y and z.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:21am

    Please tell me that he is actually making a poor attempt at "A Modest Proposal" type satire.

     

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    Keroberos (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:25am

    I can't decide, is this guy colossally stupid, colossally naive, or does he hope to profit from a change in patent law like this? Does it even make a difference?

     

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    Richard (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:32am

    Funny

    Funny thing is - I take his argumetn about the impossibility of distinguishing between "discoveries" and "inventions" and I can't disagree with any of it. The only thing is - I come to the exact opposite conclusion: NOTHING should be patentable.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:33am

    This would be a Trolls wet dream, as it is almost impossible to say what maths are used in any design process.

     

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  14. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    out_of_the_blue, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:36am

    What Bill Gates means is HE would have had to PAY THE CREATORS!

    "Bill Gates wrote, "If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today."

    First, NO it wouldn't, Microsoft could have licensed the patents, and there'd have been more equitable distribution of the rewards.

    Instead of Gates getting income from all the wonder that he did NOT invent. Gates alone probably got more from the computer revolution than ALL the engineers of the entire 20th century who developed the essentials. Far as I know, Gates didn't invent ANYTHING, just adapted what was already extant. So it's no wonder that HE'S against patents.

    Now, that doesn't mean I'm for software patents. Two items will cure it: disallow software patents and steeply progressive income taxes to limit how much second-handers like Gates can get.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:40am

    Mathematical sarcasm

    Perhaps mathematicians want a piece of the pi.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:44am

    Anyone remember the guy who patented some formula to square a circle, but it only worked if pi=3? So then he went and introduced a bill to the Indiana state legislature to legally redefine the constant pi to make his shitty math work, so he could charge royalties to schools by forcing them to use his patented formula to do math.

    Yeah, this isn't even close to how awesome that failure was.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:45am

    It's impossible to calculate how much harm these patents have caused.
    No really, it's impossible because the formula is patented.

     

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    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:48am

    But... if I proved the theorem that the math patent system cannot be consistent and full at the same time, could I patent this proof?

     

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  19.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 9:16am

    Re: I can see out now...

    He didn't like that someone else was smarter than him to create calculus and used his position to constantly berate anyone that agreed with his competition.

    Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz? ;)

    Thank God there weren't math patents back then because both Newton and Leibniz had access to earlier developments on that field. None of them did anything entirely novel. And all that was possible due to early 'inventions' from René Descartes. And what did Descartes do? Put damned axis in 90° angle and called them abscissa and ordinate axis. Genial and yet obvious if you think about it. Ideas should never be patented. Ever. Executions maybe.

     

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  20.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 9:25am

    Re: What Bill Gates means is HE would have had to PAY THE CREATORS!

    First, NO it wouldn't, Microsoft could have licensed the patents, and there'd have been more equitable distribution of the rewards.

    Because everybody has deep pockets and plenty of time and energy to worry and deal with a broken system right?

    Instead of Gates getting income from all the wonder that he did NOT invent... Gates didn't invent ANYTHING, just adapted what was already extant.

    Tell me how it is a bad thing to get something and adapt so people can easily and efficiently use. Thanks to the fact that it wasn't that bad back then he managed to do it. Ironically Microsoft is among the huge corporations that run around suing and putting awesome startups out of business with patent law.

    Two items will cure it: disallow software patents and steeply progressive income taxes to limit how much second-handers like Gates can get.

    Nice, the rest of the comment seems to be an attack on the article. You are incoherent. Other than that I agree with disallowing software patents (and probably most patents) but steep taxes alone won't do a thing other than make companies go to where the taxes are lower.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 9:28am

    Re:

    Think what would happen if Prenda could get their hands on maths patents. On second thought don't.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 9:44am

    Re:

    Was that Bloody Stupid Johnson again? I hear he made a time-travelling sorting machine.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 10:01am

    I think George Orwell holds the patent on "2 + 2 = 5"...

     

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    Wally (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 10:09am

    There are actually only a few cases where mathematics apply to patents...but none of them make their creators any money. My uncle co-created Basein Theory in Statistics and Marketing . It is very useful in predicting potential outcomes of financial decisions. These patents in theory of mathematics are public domain. Nobody but the people who publish text books on the subject make money off of these algorithms and it saddens me that people wish to patent troll on them as these types of algorithms tend to help humanity.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 10:29am

    Re: What Bill Gates means is HE would have had to PAY THE CREATORS!

    Stop creating this content here I am not paying you.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 10:38am

    Re: What Bill Gates means is HE would have had to PAY THE CREATORS!

    Dear blue, what did you "invent" really?

    Did you invent your clothes, did you invent your fork and knife?

    Did you invent anything you use to make a living?

    Most importantly do you pay royalties?

    No, then you are are a parasite aren't you?
    This according to your own ludicrous line of reasoning.

    Also why do you keep creating content for Techdirt, did you get paid to do so, why do you do it if you don't get paid?

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 11:17am

    Re: Re: I can see out now...

    Well, as far as we can figure out from the historical records, Newton did discover major portions of the calculus. Then he didn't publish his results. Leibniz independently discovered the calculus a bit later, and he did publish his work.

    Given that the US patent system is first-to-file, not first-to-invent, Newton would have been completely out of luck if he'd tried to patent the calculus. On the other hand, academia is already first-to-publish and not first-to-discover, which is why we call it the calculus and not the "fluxions".

     

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  28.  
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    artp (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 11:29am

    Re: Re: What Bill Gates means is HE would have had to PAY THE CREATORS!

    Back in the 60s, if you made a million dollars, the tax rate was 90%.

    You remember the 60s, don't you? NASA, great employment, booming economy, manufacturing plants all over America, no call centers...

    I don't remember companies moving overseas back then. That didn't start until the late 70s. Companies WERE starting to move west and south in America by the end of the 60s because they were trying to shed unions, but that was just more greed. It didn't have anything to do with the tax rate. Companies were focused on a skilled labor force back then. Now it is just warm bodies.

     

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  29.  
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    artp (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 11:31am

    Re:

    But only for sufficiently large values of 2!

    ;-)

     

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  30.  
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    Robert Doyle (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 12:38pm

    Why are we all so divided on the subject? This whole thing just doesn't add up. Biologically we are here to multiply and all of this conversation subtracts from the time we have to do that.

     

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  31.  
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    Richard (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 12:39pm

    Re:

    There are actually only a few cases where mathematics apply to patents...but none of them make their creators any money.

    Not strictly true - see

    http://quixoticquisling.com/2009/01/penroses-patent-and-the-battle-of-the-tissue-tiles-contai ns-mathematics/

     

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  32.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 12:46pm

    Re: What Bill Gates means is HE would have had to PAY THE CREATORS!

    Microsoft is against patents and Bill Gates never invented anything? You're always good for a laugh baby blue.

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 12:47pm

    Re:

    IFHY

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 4:41pm

    Lying Collectivists argument

    ”…algorithms, which are essentially mathematical formulas, which -- as everyone knows -- are "eternal" and hence discovered by man and not created by him.”
    (Except that Newton guy…)

    The Collectivists rely on two implicit premises which they dare not make explicit.

    1. "If you do not create everything, you create nothing."

    (Since Thomas Edison didn’t discover electricity, invent glass, learn how to forge metal, and devise language, he didn’t invent the light bulb.)

    In fact, creation is precisely the re-arrangement of materials into a new and more valuable form. Building is precisely the assembly of pre-existing materials to form a structure that didn’t exist before.

    2. "When an alleged creator pays for the goods and services of other individuals, he has actually stolen them from that anonymous collective which is “society.”

    (The artist who buys his pigments in an art-supply store has actually appropriated them from “society” –including the welfare recipients he is taxed to support.)

    In fact, an individual owns the goods and services he acquires in voluntary trade with other individuals. The services supplied by government...public “education” -are funded by taxes paid for by individuals (and almost half of “society” pays no income tax).

    Truth: The knowledge a creator uses was discovered by specific individuals, not by “society.” There is no collective discovery and society has no brain."

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2012/08/05/revenge-of-the-zeros-the-battle-between-a yn-rand-and-collectivism-reaches-a-climax/2/

     

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    NaBUru38 (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 4:44pm

    Illegal numbers

    The argument can be expended to illegal numbers and copyright.

     

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  36.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 5:23pm

    Re: Re: Re: I can see out now...

    True enough.

     

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  37.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 5:24pm

    Re: Re: Re: What Bill Gates means is HE would have had to PAY THE CREATORS!

    Agreed. But today they'd simply move from the US. They already are.

     

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  38.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 6:40pm

    The maths student will hate him

    If Maths is patentable, universities will begin pressing Maths professors to build more formulas for patent, that means Maths students will need to recite many many (less than useful) formulas.

     

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  39.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 7:37pm

    One of the key problems is that software patents are essentially patents on mathematical algorithms -- sets of instructions for carrying out a calculation. Since it has long been a principle that you can't patent mathematical formulae or laws of nature,

    You cant patent E=MC2 but you can patent the design of a nuclear power plant, you cannot patent "water" but you can patent a type of steam engine.

    cant patent a circle (a mathematical entity) but you can patent a type of wheel that happens to be a circle.

    You cant patent software, but you can patent a process or design or machine that is comprised of software.

    you cant patent wood, but you can patent the design of something that is made from wood.

    you patent a METHOD of doing some function, not the function itself.

    therefore you patent a method of turning steam into motive power, you do not patent steam, or the generation of power.

    it's amazing how poor an understanding of what a patent actually is displayed here, it's a shame coming from a web site that professes to know better.

     

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  40.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 7:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: I can see out now...

    you are wrong, they could of both patented there own and different methods of performing calculus.

    just like the person who invented the petrol engine and the person who invented the steam engine could both patent their methods of achieving the same results.

    you don't patent the function, you patent a method of achieving that function.

     

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  41.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 7:52pm

    Re: Re: I can see out now...

    None of them did anything entirely novel.

    actually they BOTH did something entirely novel, they both developed different methods to achieve a function, both could have patented their separate methods.

     

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  42.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:00pm

    Re:

    If anything mus be patented then it should be the damned EXECUTION of the project not the idea itself.

    Then you'll be happy to learn that is EXACTLY what a patent is, it is the EXECUTION of the idea, the METHOD if you like of the idea.

    The idea is (might be) "I want to catch or kill mice" you cant patent "I want to catch mice". But if you invent a method to execute your idea, you can patent that method.

    No one patents idea's you cant patent an idea, you also cant USE an idea, ie, "I want to kill mice" is great as an idea goes but unless you actually DO SOMETHING with that idea it's NOTHING.

    Do you honestly believe IDEAS are patented ???? read a patent one day, or even two.. Check out how you go about getting a patent issued, the process that is involved.

    You might be able to work out then that idea's of themselves are nothing, it's the application of an idea and it's method of application that is what IP and patents are all about.

     

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  43.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:15pm

    Re: Re: What Bill Gates means is HE would have had to PAY THE CREATORS!

    he did not invent clothes, but he contributes to the massive amount of wealth to a lot of people because he uses clothes, just like thousands or millions of people making a living making, or selling or wearing clothes.

    all because people like blue and yourself, even though you did not invent something has a much higher quality of life because someone else did.

    Gates pays license fees for the patents he himself did not invent, he also makes a lot of money by creating a market where many, many other people can create wealth, income, or function from the things that have made bill gates a billionair.

    So if you run a small computer shop, you make enough money to own your house, feed your family you are making a living off someone because someone else was willing and able to use patents to provide you a valuable service or product or market.

     

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  44.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:32pm

    Re: Re:

    Two words: Rounded corners.

     

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  45.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:37pm

    Re: Lying Collectivists argument

    (Since Thomas Edison didn’t discover electricity, invent glass, learn how to forge metal, and devise language, he didn’t invent the light bulb.)


    Edison did not invent the electric light bulb, he invented A METHOD OF GENERATING LIGHT USING ELECTRICITY.

    A method not THE ONLY method.

    His "idea" was "to turn electricity into light" he did not patent that idea, you cannot patent idea's, and idea's (without application of a method) IS NOTHING.

    Generating light from electricity can be reduced to mathematics, watts, volts, amps, lumens, degrees, power and all be expressed in formula's. Edison also did not patent ohms law, or the equations of ohms law.

    He did not patent the idea of "electricity to light", or the light bulb, or the natural physics and maths that applies to electricity and light, he just invented A METHOD for producing light using electricity.

     

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  46.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2013 @ 8:39pm

    Re: Re: Lying Collectivists argument

    'I have seen the light', 'in fact, I cannot see anything else'

     

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  47.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 11:33pm

    Re:

    i would patent i which is the square root of -1. Then sue all the electrical companies world wide.

    Think about the fun that will ensue. Injunctions against delivering energy unless they pay a seriously over the top licencing fee.

     

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    Hephaestus (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 11:36pm

    Re: Illegal numbers

    That would be Imaginary numbers and copyright, not illegal numbers.

     

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  49.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Mar 26th, 2013 @ 11:36pm

    Re: Illegal numbers

    That would be Imaginary numbers and copyright, not illegal numbers.

     

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  50.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2013 @ 1:09am

    Re: Re: Re: What Bill Gates means is HE would have had to PAY THE CREATORS!

    if you remember the 60's you were not really there !!!

     

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  51.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2013 @ 1:18am

    Re: Re: Re: What Bill Gates means is HE would have had to PAY THE CREATORS!

    "You remember the 60s, don't you? NASA, great employment, booming economy, manufacturing plants all over America, no call centers..."

    Not to mention something called Vietnam, massive protests, presidents assassinated, being beaten into outer space by the Russians, Cuban missile crisis, and almost the destruction of the human race, oh yea, The Bay of Pigs, assignation of Martin Luther King, African Americans given the vote !!! Cold war with Russia and china, skate boards and yo-yo's, Mr Ed and "bewitched"

     

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  52.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2013 @ 2:35am

    Re: Re: Re: I can see out now...

    The problem with maths and software, there are many ways of describing the same thing. This makes it difficult for a patent examiner to determine whether or not a method has been patented before. Note that it is trivial to rename variables, re-order operation etc. Maths patents would be even worse that software patents, especially given variations in notation and presentation.
    Just because two descriptions look different does not mean that they describe a fundamentally different method.

     

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  53.  
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    Niall (profile), Mar 27th, 2013 @ 5:17am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: I can see out now...

    But you shouldn't be able to patent 'the petrol engine' - you should just be able to patent a particular implementation. Just look at the competition over the electric light bulb... ("Edison took years to see the light!" ;)

     

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  54.  
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    Niall (profile), Mar 27th, 2013 @ 5:22am

    Re: Re: Re: What Bill Gates means is HE would have had to PAY THE CREATORS!

    The error is in thinking that *only* patented products are useful for this. Are the table and chair used patented? No, but they are a rather important element of a computer shop's work. What about the front window, or shelves? Patenting random crap has really little effect on improving life overall.

     

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  55.  
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    Niall (profile), Mar 27th, 2013 @ 5:27am

    Re: Lying Collectivists argument

    Wow, a typical pile of Randian bollocks. They seem to have forgotten that society is made up of individuals, and you owe everything you are to both the individuals you are exposed to, and society as a whole.

     

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  56.  
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    Niall (profile), Mar 27th, 2013 @ 5:30am

    Re:

    What's depressing is that those people *granting* the patent can't tell the difference between the method and the entity (just look at 'design' patents!) and that's what worries us - because we can see how it could be abused, and therefore how it *will* be abused, based on past and current abuses of the existing system.

    Once you start patenting 'nature' that you have discovered, then you really open up major cans of worms - just look at the mess there is with medical diagnostics. Great, so there's a cure for a form of cancer - but the cancer, the diagnostics and the cure are 'locked up' and no-one can 'improve' on them because that's "felony interference with a (poor) business model".

     

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  57.  
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    NaBUru38 (profile), Mar 27th, 2013 @ 5:56am

    Re: Re: Illegal numbers

     

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  58.  
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    NaBUru38 (profile), Mar 27th, 2013 @ 6:01am

    Re: Re:

    If you build a calculator and patent the machine design, ok, I understand that.

    But if you build a computer program that works like a calculator, people can patent a "system that performs mathematical calculations with a button interface". That's ridiculous, because the patent covers all program designs that fit the definition, not just the program that was developed.

    Like the Anon says, you shouldn't be abled to patent an idea. Like Niall says, it's happening right now.

     

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  59.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2013 @ 7:43am

    Re: Re: Re:

    But if you build a computer program that works like a calculator, people can patent a "system that performs mathematical calculations with a button interface".

    no, if anything, it would be a "A method for performing calculations by electronic means"

    I would not have used the example of a calculator, because a pocket calculator is a microprocessor running software. A computer is a microprocessor running software.

    you cannot patent 'a calculator' for the exact reason why you cannot patent "A steam engine" or "electric light".

    You would or could of course A METHOD OF GENERATING POWER BY USING STEAM, or a "Method of generating light using electricity.

    As you would patent "a method of performing calculations using electronics and software".

    Every software program can be realised in hardware, that means all software functions can be created using discrete logic like AND, OR, NOR gates. And often is, still is. It IS THE METHOD of achieving a result that you patent, not the application and not the idea.

    Remember the arcade game "space invaders"?? The "software" or "program" to create that game was not a CPU running code but was a large board full of 74xx logic chips, used to create that game.

    this shows that all software can be realised in hardware, and often is. Is an ISIG hardware or software ?
    Is a CPU hardware or software ?

    when it comes down to it, there is no distinction between hardware and software in a computer system, therefore there is no reason to separate hardware and software because of patents, because there is no real distinction between either one, and can use the same METHOD regardless of it it's considered hardware, software or firmware.

     

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  60.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2013 @ 8:27am

    Re: Re:

    sure, you cant patent a tree, but you can patent a method of using the wood from a tree to achieve some function. You are not patenting something 'natural' you are patenting "A method of using something natural to achieve some function".

    You do not patent steam, you patent "A method of using steam to generate power".

    Patents like everything that exists require the natural laws of physics for them to perform their specific function, all electric lights follow the physics laws known as Ohms law, you cannot patent those natural laws as they ARE NOT A METHOD TO ACHIEVE A RESULT, but they are the natural physical laws that all things electrical obey. They (rightly) cannot be patented, no more than E=MC2 does not show you how to build an atomic bomb or nuclear power station.

    So rightly natural laws cannot and are not patented, because they do not meet the requirements of being "A method of doing something"

    SO you can discover natural laws, and underlying physics but you cannot patent those laws, nor do those laws lead you to (necessarily) to invent a method using those laws to achieve a method.

    Mr Ohm who discovered ohms law, was no closer to applying that knowledge to the development of the electric light or the method of generating light by means of electricity that is governed by the application of the math of Ohms law.

    software is not just the application of maths, it is a method of achieving a specific function using continuously configurable hardware switches. Just as a nuclear power station is not 'just' the application of E=MC2.

    You do realise talking about electric lights and switches that your humble room light is a digital computer, a very simple one, but a computer all the same. Yes, it's only a 1 bit binary adder, but with switches and lights you can create a computer that runs "software" (that is actually the position of the switches (the real, physical switches, or relays) performing "SOFTWARE". Not just a mathematical function, but a method or achieving the desired result.

    In fact I am sure there is no one on this web site who could turn even the most simple of computer programs into an equivalent mathematical equation.

    If you were to intend to make that claim in a Court of law, then you probably would be required to prove your claim that "software is only equations".

    Ok, if they are only equations get a include file from a Linux distro, and convert that software into a mathematical equation !!!!

    If you understand Boolean logic you know you can turn software into a form of equation but that means you can also realise the Boolean logic in hardware.

    but that means nothing regarding it's patentability, you can realise an electric light using physics and ohms laws equations as well, but that does not create a light bulb.

    you can create software into equations (with great difficulty, to impossibly for anything requiring indeterminate input data, (such as human interaction). But the equation alone will not make your computer work or your function realised. But your patented invention might.

     

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  61.  
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    Bob, Mar 27th, 2013 @ 8:39am

    Re: Re: Re: What Bill Gates means is HE would have had to PAY THE CREATORS!

    Back in the 60's, the rest of the industrial nations were still rebuilding from WW2. The U.S. was the main manufacturer for the world.

     

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  62.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2013 @ 8:53am

    Re: whole genome shotgun sequencing

    "Drmanac, Radoje; and Reid, Clifford, to Complete Genomics, Inc. Efficient shotgun sequencing methods 08298768 Cl. 435-6.12."

    http://www.uspto.gov/web/patents/patog/week44/OG/patentee/alphaD.htm

    you don't think this mathematical method has not made it's inventor and the genome industry in general billions of dollars (or saved billions of dollars).

    Do you think "Complete Genomics" have not made a great deal of money, by making the sequencing of DNA vastly faster and more efficient?

     

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  63.  
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    Brian Balke, Mar 27th, 2013 @ 8:58am

    Academic Compensation

    But this is a perfect way of ensuring that academic compensation is linked to learning. Here's the model: math professors get no salary. Instead, when a professor writes a final, and then patents the answers. He then finds all correct answers to be in violation of his patents, and withholds the final grade until royalties have been paid. The students therefore only have to pay for what the professor succeeded in teaching!

     

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  64.  
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    ShadowCaptian (profile), Mar 27th, 2013 @ 8:18pm

    Re: Re:

    Wasn't that the machine that sent people electricity bills back in the time before Ankh-Morpork even had electricity :-P

    He should stick to making superbly entertaining and mildly explosive laden cuckoo clocks....

     

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  65.  
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    NaBUru38 (profile), Mar 28th, 2013 @ 1:58pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "you cannot patent 'a calculator'"

    Well, there is a patent for the Linke button. There's a patent for a "Dynamic progress marking icon" (progress bar), a "Method and system for placing a purchase order via a communications network" (one-click buying) and an "Internet test-taking method". See more here: https://www.eff.org/patent-busting

     

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  66.  
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    Wally (profile), Mar 28th, 2013 @ 5:48pm

    Re: Re: whole genome shotgun sequencing

    What does genetic engineering have to do with statistics and marketing theorems?

     

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  67.  
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    Wally (profile), Mar 28th, 2013 @ 5:54pm

    Re: Re: Lying Collectivists argument

    He patented the tungsten filament electric vacuum light bulb, and before that...guess what...it was gas or oil generated...

    Quick science experiment:
    Take a bit of steel wool and a small 9 volt battery, and stick the nodes to the bulb in a vacuum environment. Burns really quickly. Try it with Tungsten filament...lasts for days in a vacuum :-)

     

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  68.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 29th, 2013 @ 2:17am

    Re: Re: Re:

    What's depressing is that a solar panel engineer has absolutely no grasp of conversational linguistics.

     

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  69.  
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    Amber Barnes, Apr 9th, 2013 @ 4:06am

    Crazy but Cool!

    This article is so informative! I learned so many things from this crazy but cool post. I think patenting an idea is not that bad. What makes it not great, is if this never creates income afterall. What's the use of it? Such ideas will remains such mathematical equations which are never put into actions. If one inventor wants to make his incredible idea work, creating a business plan or a marketing study would be absolutely great for having it patented.

     

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  70.  
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    JOSEPH WAMUKOYA, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 3:56pm

    Crazy idea of the math

    The Pythagoreans (Before Christ) knew that 1+3+5+7+...will result in a square. In 100 AD, nicomachus of Gerasa found out that the cubes also obeyed a law which is the sum of positive odd whole numbers. Since then, no human being has been able to find a general law for nth powers. In 1984 I used a part of this law in my micro-teaching lesson at the Kenya Technical Teachers College in Nairobi.This law proves Fermat's Last Theorem in about 4 pages as opposed to Prof. Wiles' which uses 200 pages. Any publisher will run for it and pay handsomely.So I don't understand why I should not patent it?

     

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  71.  
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    JOSEPH WAMUKOYA, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 4:22pm

    Crazy idea of the math

    Machines are patented as a method of making work easier. A mathematical formula is a method of making solving problems easier. So why patent one and not the other?

     

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  72.  
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    JOSEPH WAMUKOYA, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 4:26pm

    Crazy idea of the math

    Is patenting mathematics the right thing to do or do we not patent because of fear of the repercussions ?

     

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  73.  
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    JOSEPH WAMUKOYA, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 4:47pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    True, a tree is natural and so are numbers. A formula however just like timber is not natural. It is doesn't exist in nature until it is formulated by someone. We don't naturally see a formula, do we? We plane a tree to see timber, and so also do we arrange numbers to see a formula. It can take centuries for one to figure out the arrangement that gives a particular formula. The numbers exist, but the arrangement does not.

     

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