OT: Patent/Open Source Debate - lawsuits being threatened onl ine


Re: OT: Patent/Open Source Debate - lawsuits being threatened onl ine

Postby Mark Wonsil » Thu, 24 Jul 2003 23:31:56 GMT

uane suggests:

I looked up some reviews and found the quote that Alfredo gave ("I would
have really expected a pointer to any of these documents, which explain how
serious and damaging for a market economy the whole issue is:") The
original page is at:
http://www.linuxjournal.com/article.php?sid=6514. I highly recommend
checking this full page out even if you get the book by Mr. Fink.

This page lists a bunch of links about the problems with software patents
and one of those links led me to this letter from Donald Knuth to the Patent
office which I have included here in its entirety:

Letter to the Patent Office
From Professor Donald Knuth

Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks
Box 4
Patent and Trademark Office
Washington, DC 20231

Dear Commissioner:

Along with many other computer scientists, I would like to ask you to
reconsider the current policy of giving patents for computational
processes. I find a considerable anxiety throughout the community of
practicing computer scientists that decisions by the patent courts and
the Patent and Trademark Office are making life much more difficult
for programmers.

In the period 1945-1980, it was generally believed that patent law did
not pertain to software. However, it now appears that some people
have received patents for algorithms of practical importance--e.g.,
Lempel-Ziv compression and RSA public key encryption--and are now
legally preventing other programmers from using these algorithms.

This is a serious change from the previous policy under which the
computer revolution became possible, and I fear this change will be
harmful for society. It certainly would have had a profoundly
negative effect on my own work: For example, I developed software
called TeX that is now used to produce more than 90% of all books
and journals in mathematics and physics and to produce hundreds of
thousands of technical reports in all scientific disciplines. If
software patents had been commonplace in 1980, I would not have been
able to create such a system, nor would I probably have ever thought
of doing it, nor can I imagine anyone else doing so.

I am told that the courts are trying to make a distinction between
mathematical algorithms and nonmathematical algorithms. To a computer
scientist, this makes no sense, because every algorithm is as
mathematical as anything could be. An algorithm is an abstract
concept unrelated to physical laws of the universe.

Nor is it possible to distinguish between "numerical" and
"nonnumerical" algorithms, as if numbers were somehow different from
other kinds of precise information. All data are numbers, and all
numbers are data. Mathematicians work much more with symbolic entities
than with numbers.

Therefore the idea of passing laws that say some kinds of algorithms
belong to mathematics and some do not strikes me as absurd as the 19th
century attempts of the Indiana legislature to pass a law that the
ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter is exactly 3, not
approximately 3.1416. It's like the medieval church ruling that the
sun revolves about the earth. Man-made laws can be significantly
helpful but not when they contradict fundamental truths.

Congress wisely decided long ago that mathematical things cannot be
patented. Surely nobody could apply mathematics if it were necessary
to pay a license fee whenever the theorem of Pythagoras is
employed. The basic algorithmic ideas

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