Why Real Programmers Don't Take The USPTO Seriously: Doubly-Linked List Patented

from the oh-come-on dept

It's pretty difficult to find software engineers who take the patent system seriously. There are a few, but it's still pretty difficult. For the most part, they recognize that code is just a tool: you can make it do all sorts of things, given enough time and resources, but that doesn't mean that doing any particular thing in code is an "invention" that no one else should be able to do. And then, sometimes, they discover that something pretty basic and old has suddenly been given a patent. Brad Feld discusses his discovery that doubly linked lists were apparently patented in 2006 (patent number 7,028,023):
The prior art was extremely thin, only went back to 1995, and didn't mention that entire computer languages have been created around the list as a core data structure.  One of my first Pascal programming exercises in high school (in 1981 -- on an Apple II using USDC Pascal) was to write a series of operations on lists, including both linked and doubly-linked lists (I always thought it was funny they were called "doubly-linked" instead of "double-linked" lists.)  Anyone who ever graduated from MIT and took 6.001 learned to love all varieties of the linked list, including the doubly-linked one.  That was 1984 for me by the way.

Ironically, Wikipedia had great entries -- with source code no less -- about both linked lists and doubly-linked lists.  The linked list history goes back to 2001, well before the patent was filed.

Another day, another reason to question why software is patentable at all -- and to question who approves these kinds of patents.

Filed Under: doubly-linked lists, patents, prior art, uspto


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  1. identicon
    darryl, 22 Apr 2010 @ 6:53pm

    Still little understanding

    Such simplistic views on patents and inventions.

    First, it's not the doubly-linked list that is patents it's 'A method of linking lists by some unique means'.

    Just as the patent 'on the steam engine' is not that simplistic, it would have been worded, and diagramed very specifically.

    That means if you come up with another different way of using steam to drive an engine, you can go patent that.

    As for software and hardware, it's all the same thing.
    Software is an abstraction, on the real physical level it's a specific configuration of many millions of swtiches.

    Next clock cycle, it's a new configuration, the invention is in the METHOD of achieving something, not the something itself.

    You dont patent 'the steam engine' you patent a specific method of generating torque from stream'.

    Is a switch any more or less 'real' or physical if it is turned ON of OFF ?? NO.

    The invention is in how you turn on or off specific hardware in a specific combination to achieve a specific result. (what we call software, but can be hardware as well).
    In the real physical world there is no distinction between software and hardware. As well if you want to get right down to it, electrons have mass, therefore they are physical, just as real as a transistor or a ford pickup.

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