Describing How To Create A Software Program Now Puts You At Risk Of Contributory Patent Infringement?

from the for-the-purpose-of-teaching... dept

A whole bunch of you have been submitting the following story from a Dutch developer who is being threatened by Landmark Digital, a BMI subsidiary which owns the patents on Shazam’s music recognition technology, for writing a blog post describing how to build similar technology in your spare time. The story is a perfect example of the ridiculous situation with patents today. Basically, the guy noted that what Shazam does in recognizing music is really not that complicated, and explained how to create something similar yourself, which he did himself in a weekend. He had not released the code, but was planning to do so when the legal threats came in. The guy wondered what patents they were talking about specifically, especially considering that in Europe, the standards to patent software are much higher. In response, he was only told about two US patents (6,990,453 and 7,627,477 — oddly, on that last one, Google still shows it as being patent pending, even though the patent was granted last year).

The developer points out how silly this is:

Why does Landmark Digital Services think they hold a patent for the concepts used in my code? Even if my code works pretty different from the Shazam code (from which the patents came).

What they describe in the patent is a system which:

1. Make a series of fingerprints of a media file and/or media sample (such as audio, but could also be text, video, multimedia, etc) 2. Have a database/hashtable of fingerprints as lookup 3. Compare the set of hashtable hits using their moment in time it happened This is very vague, basically the only innovative idea is matching the found fingerprints linearly in time. Because the first two steps describe how a hashtable works and creating a hash works. These concepts are not new nor innovative.

But, with a bit of imagination one could (possibly) argue that my code (again, written completely by myself in a weekend with some spare time) does the same thing as the patent describes.

After talking it over with some attorneys, he realized that it probably wasn’t worth the potential lawsuit to publish the code he wrote over the weekend, as ridiculous as that sounds. But then things got more ridiculous, as the lawyers for Landmark demanded he take down the original blog post as well, saying that it could teach others how to infringe the patent:

As I’m sure you are aware, your blogpost may be viewed internationally. As a result, you may contribute to someone infringing our patents in any part of the world. While we trust your good intentions, yes, we would like you to refrain from releasing the code at all and to remove the blogpost explaining the algorithm.

Great, so now we have to worry about contributory patent infringement as well? Are we really going to keep stretching third party liability to such ridiculous levels? Explaining to people how they might possibly build a simple app is now putting yourself at risk of liability?

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Companies: bmi, landmark digital, shazam

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Comments on “Describing How To Create A Software Program Now Puts You At Risk Of Contributory Patent Infringement?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

“Basically, the guy noted that what Shazam does in recognizing music is really not that complicated, and explained how to create something similar yourself, which he did himself in a weekend.”

Because patents are what’s supposed to teach you how to do stuff, not blog posts and teachers with lessons. PATENTS!!! Patents are the ultimate teaching instruments.

william (profile) says:

Dear Mr. Briggs from Landmark Digital,

First of all, let me thank you for bringing million of people’s attention to a blog that is possibly only followed by a few hundred people. Without your tremendous contribution, the general public and the rest of the world may have never known or realize how easy it is to write an application similar to Shazam.

Second of all, if I may, I would like to welcome you to the Internet, on behalf of everyone. As you may or may not be aware, the Internet never forgets. We would like to reassure you that if the original blog is taken down in the near future, you can have a peaceful mind knowing somewhere on the ‘Net this particular idea and code will live on with free access to all.

Finally, let me thank you again for dropping the stone on your own feet and save us a lot of work.


The Mighty Buzzard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You’re obviously laboring under the misassumption that Tea Party types enjoy big government and political parties telling them what’s good for them. Since this is more or less the exact opposite of why there even is a Tea Party movement, allow me to suggest you set aside your crack pipe long enough to do your own thinking for a change.

Christopher Weigel (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Uhm… nobody, to my knowledge, said anything related to that.

What was said, which is entirely truthful, is that free market capitalism as embraced by both the tea party and republicans is highly favorable to large corporations.

The point here is that there’s an amusing dichotomy between embracing “free-market capitalism” and “intellectual property” to the extent the US has done so, yet both the republican and tea parties continue to embrace both as though they weren’t completely contradictory concepts.

The particular mix that has occurred is, in point of fact, very highly favorable to large corporations holding effective monopolies and using their combined financial power and that of gov’t granted monopolies (i.e. patents) to eliminate the concept of “competition”, which is what free-market capitalism SHOULD be encouraging.

Therefore, allow me to paraphrase you and suggest you set aside the belligerence hat and actually do some thinking. It doesn’t even have to be your own.

Anonymous Coward says:

I haven’t read into those patents, but from the description quoted from the blogger these sound very much like the way speech recognition was done back in the 1980s. Including the matching of fingerprints linearly in time. One well-known algorithm for doing that is Dynamic Time Warping, which has been around since the ’70s.

Too bad patents are so hard to challenge, because this one probably wouldn’t stand up to the prior art. They’ve just applied old speech recognition and search tech to music. Hardly inventive.

Chosen Reject says:

I thought that was the purpose of patents

As a result, you may contribute to someone infringing our patents in any part of the world.

Wait, I thought the purpose of patents was to demonstrate how to do something. Someone should also tell them that the USPTO’s website can be viewed internationally and it may may contribute to someone infringing [their] patents by explaining the algorithm here and here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I thought that was the purpose of patents

“Wait, I thought the purpose of patents was to demonstrate how to do something.”

The problem with patents is that they mostly just cover general ideas and not specific implementations. At least in the U.S. where the legal system is generally broken so as to unfairly benefit the top one percent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mr. van Rijn,

The US patent numbers for the two examples I provided you are 6,990,453 and 7,627,477. Note that there are additional issued patents and pending patent applications in the US and Eu that cover these concepts as well.

Best regards,

Can we send tons of prior art to the patent office since he already told us they are trying to file other patents as well on the same subject?

That would be priceless, the guy send a lawyergram and gets his clients patents revoked LoL

Eugene (profile) says:

Looks like the only innovation here is in managing to correlate what this guy figured out with a BS patent. Hey! Maybe someone should patent THAT concept and then cite BMI for infringement!

I propose U.S. Patent #LOL: a system comprised of 1) a lookup table (be it a programmable database maintained on a massive server or a handwritten list on a stained napkin I stole from a diner) containing responses to otherwise benign ideas or original research 2) methods to equate said ideas or research with previously existing patents 3) a means by which said responses can be sent to the responsible party, and/or anyone linked to the responsible party, in the form of a takedown notice or cease-and-desist order. And 4) any other stuff related to this system which I haven’t thought of yet.

Richard Corsale (profile) says:

Intellectual Foreclosure

So, this makes perfect sense actually… If you allow ownership of concept, then you have to defend the right to control the spread of that concept/property. Otherwise, there is no legitimate benefit to the ownership of ideas. The only thing you can do with a concept is implement it, but why would you implement it when you have 20 years to see if you were right and collect royalties risk free. There is no right of exclusivity if the idea is spread outside of the jurisdiction that grants the monopoly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Found this interesting.

“Nearly one-fourth of scientists responding to a survey by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the largest general scientific body in the world, reported that patents were hampering their research.[1] In the European Union, over €60 billion are wasted every year on research and development of products that are already protected by patent law.”

MadJo (profile) says:

uninstalled+1star review

I had the Shazam app installed on my Android phone, but I have now uninstalled it, and left a 1 star review of the app.

And then I donated to mr. Van Rijn’s paypal account.

If Landmark decides to abuse patent law, then they don’t deserve my business, nor my ad-impressions.

Incidentally, I think it’s funny that they dared to claim that they filed patents in NL too, AFAIK software patents aren’t enforceable in NL. Good luck Landmark, but Shazam just gotten a HUGE black eye, and I won’t be installing it ever again.

Richard (profile) says:

Massive IP confusion

This nastygram is yet another example of the effect of confusing different kinds of IP and the related laws.

There is absolutely nothing in any patent law anywhwere in the world that gives a patent holder the right to demand that information about how to copy the mechanisms defined in a patent should be kept secret. In fact patent law demands that such information must be published as part of the deal.

Arguably even the source code in question is covered by this – since it is no more than a very precise description of how to achieve the patented effects. In fact this is one argument against software patents – because in principle it should be possible to construct an interpreter which could violate any software patent by executing the actual patent filing displayed by the patent office. (Hmm – should I patent that?) This would mean that the patent office themselves would be infringeing every software patent that they had ever issued.

Of course such takedown mechanisms do exist for copyright and maybe exist for information about how to break DRM. However those are completely different laws.

It just goes to show the stupidity of using the term “IP” to cover a variety of different things.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Microsoft v. AT&T

Microsoft v. AT&T came out the same day as KSR v. Teleflex, and did not attract as much attention

MICROSOFT CORP. v. AT&T CORP. (No. 05-1056) 414 F. 3d 1366, reversed.

In the Majority Opinion, Justice Ginsburg noted that: “Neither Windows software (e.g., in a box on the shelf) nor a computer standing alone (i.e., without Windows installed) infringes AT&T’s patent. Infringement occurs only when Windows is installed on a computer, thereby rendering it capable of performing as the patented speech processor.”

Oddly enough, Justice Stevens dissented. In the light of the total pattern of his patent opinions, he must have felt that the other justices were trying to apply a band-aid, rather than address something like Bilski head-on.

Microsoft v. AT&T of course constitutes a charter of rights for a “pure” Linux distribution, such as Debian, which does not get involved in side-businesses of one kind of another.

To: Richard (# 32)

I might add that there is an emerging movement towards “nearly-source-only” distributions. Microprocessors are coming to have many cores, which means that they can do highly parallel computations very quickly. Compilers fall into the category of “ridiculously parallel” computations. There are some distributions which provide only an essential minimum of components in binary form, and cause programs to be compiled in the process of installation. The installation system sequences in the compiler the same way it sequences in the file unzipper and the RPM manager, and so on. These essential installation-related components tend to be some of the oldest parts of Linux, going back to the time when Linux, and GNU, and BSD started as programmers’ operating systems, not users’ operating systems. They are very likely to provably predate any patent asserted against them. The comparatively controversial stuff like audio-video has very little to do with setting up a system. One justification for such a source-code-based system is that it keeps the practice of open-source comparatively close to the spirit of open source. Everyone gets a copy of the source code, even the non-programmers who only want to use Open Office. You don’t have binaries circulating into places where the source never arrives.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Microsoft v. AT&T

To: Richard (# 32)

I might add that there is an emerging movement towards “nearly-source-only” distributions…

Very interesting information – however I don’t quite understand how it relates to my comment which was more about the confusion between patent law (which contains no restrictions on the distribution of information), copyright law (which prevents redistribution of copyrighted content – but not comment about the content), and anti-circumvention provisions (which might be construed as restricting the distribution of such meta-information).

I then made a side swipe about software patents – really trying to do a “reductio ad absurdam” on them. Were you trying to amplify that last point?

Brian Berneker (profile) says:

Copyright Law

You could defend your software on the basis of the following:

Nothing you wrote is proprietary, and it uses standard algorithms commonly and publicly found elsewhere for other unrelated applications. This places your code and its sources in the public domain.

Personally I think you SHOULD defend the code, and file for indemnity of costs and maybe even move to have the patent stricken.

It’s high pressure lawyering like this that forces people to roll over and much worse, set a precedent for larger companies to bully around anyone who is remotely capable. You should take donations for your legal fund and FIGHT!!!

And don’t sucker down like Mike Rowe did with the story, settling for an XBOX.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Microsoft v. AT&T

Well, you do know about IBM’s OS/2 Warp, don’t you? It’s been a long time, fifteen or twenty years. IBM sold a version of their operating system, OS/2, which could interact with Microsoft Windows 3.1, if you just happened to have a copy of Windows 3.1 lying around. OS/2 would read the Windows files into memory, and patch them in memory, so as to incorporate the Windows system logic. They were very careful at no point to save these modified files to disk, but generated them anew every time the Windows system was loaded. The idea was to keep the patched version of Windows sufficiently ephemeral that the lawyers couldn’t get a grip on it. The point of the exercise was to enable OS/2 to run third-party programs intended for Windows. If I recall rightly, this must have been about 1993 or 1994, and Microsoft was having all kinds of delays getting out what eventually became Windows 95. So IBM tried to nip in with its own product, and take over the market. At any rate, I’m not prepared to say that your “reductio ad absurdum” is necessarily impractical.

As for source code, some phrases in Justice Alioto’s concurring opinion suggested that he attached importance to whether code was human-readable.

RobShaver (profile) says:

My email to Mr. Griggs

SUBJECT: Regarding Shazam Music Recognition Technology

Dear Darren P. Griggs,

It is my openion that you have sullied the reputation of the USA, Shazam, Landmark Digital Services, LLC and IBM, Inc. through your attempt to intimidate a Dutch national and fellow developer, Mr. van Rijn.

Patents were originally constituted to “promote the useful arts and sciences”. Is that what you think your doing here? Does your patent disclose the information about the technology it covers? Even though Mr. van Rijn didn’t know this at the time, isn’t that exactly what he is doing on his blog and, if he publishes it, isn’t source code the best way to discribe these concepts?

So isn’t he doing exactly what you did when you applied for and were granted the two patents in question? In fact isn’t that exactly what the patent system is intended to do? And aren’t you threatening him for doing exactly what the patent system was intended to do? Instead it is clear that patents, as currently practiced, are stifling innovation. This is especially true of software patents.

Or are you saying that he, and everyone in the world, are not allowed to even discuss these ideas? Are you trying to suppress the free exchange of ideas? Isn’t that what you’re trying to do?

I think that’s exactly what you’re trying to do.

Have you heard of “the Streisand effect”? (Look it up.) Well, now you’ve brought world attention to the algorithms used by Shazam exposing how simple they are. Is that what you wanted? How it’s virtually child’s play to implement them?

My only recourse is to boycot Shazam and any products of Landmark Digital Services, LLC. One guy; not much impact. Perhaps others will join me.

Cool regards,


Shaver Associates

TesserId (profile) says:

No Big Trick

Um, it’s no big trick to put fingerprints of files into a hash table (Perl, Python, Ruby, etc.) and save that to a file (YAML, etc.) or a database; it happens all the time. Aside from the usual discussion of prior art and non-obviousness, it’s only a Patent violation if someone attempts to sell a product that uses that functionality.

Getting huffy about someone who educates others is a sure way to prove that patents stifle education as well as innovation. Seriously, how can you be sure you’re not violating a patent if you don’t learn about the patent before you go to sell your product. That’s why patents aren’t violated until the patent appears for sale in an unlicensed product.

This is just more of the confusion over the differences between patents and copyrights.

Ken Domino says:

So describing an algorithm is now illegal?

I am writing a book on advanced algorithms with source code for programmers. But, the actions of Landmark Digital just gives me shivers. While Landmark Digital’s claim may not hold up in the courts, it will at the least cause van Rijn to spend large sums of money to defend himself. It makes me wonder if what I may publish would be illegal, or the target of some crazed company, just because I describe their algorithm using code. Even if I write the algorithm in my own pseudo code, and mutate the problem to use a different example or make it more abstract, publishing that seems to open me up to huge risks. This world really does suc’. When is software patenting and copyrighting going to end.

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