From: d...@kronecker.mit.edu (Dale R. Worley)
Subject: [ARTICLE] Interesting article
Date: 5 Jun 92 03:03:13 GMT
Organization: MIT Dept. of Tetrapilotomy, Cambridge, MA, USA
There is an interesting article on software patents in the most recent
Debunking the Software Patent Myths
Communications of the ACM
I'd have to say that it's not the finest piece of writing I've seen,
even though I'm prejudiced toward his conclusions, but it does flesh
out some of the background of the recent debate, and it does provide a
good summary of the pro-patent arguments.
One of the many tidbits that make the article worth reading is the
U.S. Patent 4,197,590 [the infamous "XOR cursor" patent]
[...] The "XOR" is only part of the invention. [...]
The League says this patent can be infringed in "a few lines
of a program." It can be, *but not on a computer that was
commercially available at the time the invention was made*.
The invention is largely the invention of the frame buffer.
As such, it requires hardware which has since become common,
making it possible to infringe the XOR claims with a few lines
of code. Many, if not most, computer manufacturers including
Apple and IBM have taken out licenses which cover programs
running on their computers.
(Whether it's a telling point, or even true, is not the interesting
point, but rather that a technique (in this case, frame buffers and
bitblt operations) that is widespread today was novel when it was
Dale Worley Dept. of Math., MIT d...@math.mit.edu
Don't waste the money to see _Waiting for Godot_. There isn't
any point to it -- believe it or not, Godot never arrives.
From: a...@ocf.berkeley.edu (Adam J. Richter)
Subject: Re: [ARTICLE] Interesting article
Date: 8 Jun 92 23:20:40 GMT
Organization: University of California, Berkeley
In article <5...@cluster.cs.su.oz.au> d...@kronecker.mit.edu (Dale R. Worley)
quotes Paul Heckel's ACM article:
> U.S. Patent 4,197,590 [the infamous "XOR cursor" patent]
> [...] The "XOR" is only part of the invention. [...]
> The League says this patent can be infringed in "a few lines
> of a program." It can be, *but not on a computer that was
> commercially available at the time the invention was made*.
There will always be a first person to develop any thing
that comes into existence. That does not imply that the thing in
question was unobvious the first time it was invented. It is possible
for something to be both new and obvious.
By the way, I think that "not obvious to a person of ordinary
skill in the art" is a lousy criterion for patentability. I'd like
us to return to the "flash of genius" criterion.
> The invention is largely the invention of the frame buffer.
I feel that the both the frame buffer and the XOR technique
have always been obvious, and I suspect that the development of frame
buffers was not a result of people seeing CADTrack's products or
patents. The first public demonstration of ENIAC used a frame buffer
of sorts, consisting of a 10x10 array of ping-pong balls with lights
behind them. When you consider that video terminals drove video
displays through character set ROMs when RAM was expensive, it is
reasonable to conclude that the development of frame buffers probably
occurred more because RAM became cheaper than because the industry
just couldn't come up with the idea. Similarly, I don't know how many
times I've "reinvented" XORing and other bit-twiddling techniques for
Then again, as far as I can, Heckel is the only only one who
is claiming that CADTrack's invention was "largely the invention
of the frame buffer." If CADTrack agreed with Heckel's position, I
don't understand why they didn't patent the frame buffer and why they
aren't going after every frame buffer manufacturer. If CADTrack really
did feel this way, then my suspicion would be that CADTrack did file
for such a patent, and there may be some prior art that we don't know
about. In any case, as far as I can tell, there is little or no public
benefit attributable to patent incentives in this case.
On the other side of the comparison, the public is paying a
large cost for this unnecessary patent. I have only a couple of
datapoints about this patent, and I'm not at liberty to reveal my sources
or to be much more specific, but suffice it to say that when you buy
certain not-especially-expensive computer hardware products, about $20
goes to CADTrack, and I have no reason to believe that the $20 is an
extreme case. While this number may be small as a percentage of sales,
it is not so small in comparison to profits and losses.
> Many, if not most, computer manufacturers including
> Apple and IBM have taken out licenses which cover programs
> running on their computers.
Often it is cheaper to license a bogus patent than to defend
against it, since, as I understand it, in practice, you can almost
never recover legal fees if all that happens is that the patent is
It is generally to a company's advantage to patent what it
can, so lots of things are patented regardless of whether or not
patent incentives actually caused their creation. By ignoring the
question of whether or not patent incentives actually caused
these things to be developed, Heckel is able to erroneously give the
impression that these such development occurred because of patents.