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
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2010 @ 6:57am

    Re: @MRK

    Could you then point out some good software patents which are examples of why we shouldn't abolish software patents? As in -- a patent which leads to useful advances.

    Generally the companies doing interesting software choose to handle inventions as trade secrets.

    Software patents are an unmitigated disaster: no one in the software industry uses them to find better solutions, they're just used as a tool for litigation.

    I'm not convinced that better management at the USPTO would improve matters -- you'd need to reach the point where it was often faster and better to look for a patent than to solve the problem from first principles. (Assuming the goal of patents is to advance the useful arts and sciences, rather than benefiting established companies at the expense of new ones.) And given that patents don't generally explain the problems for which they are inappropriate, you'd often wind up with a suboptimal solution (not that that's different from the status quo).

    Copyright for existing solutions (software libraries) is a different matter -- there's a lot of benefit in not having every company re-implement the same algorithms with their own new bugs -- but software patents aren't software, just a blueprint which would need to be filled in anyway.

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