Subject: Re: Question about documentation and patents
From: John Cowan <>
Date: Fri, 30 Nov 2007 15:50:18 -0500

Michael Tiemann scripsit:

> > If documentation, as opposed to source code, is released under a
> > FLOSS license with a patent grant, would people assume that the license
> > covers what is described by the documentation?
> Not me.  

Pretty much everyone agrees on this.  But here's the stinger in the tail
that gets you as you slide down the slippery slope:

What's the line between sufficiently detailed blow-by-blow documentation
and the code itself?  "a = a + 1" is code in some C-like language, and
"increase the value of the variable a by one" is not code in any language
(no, it's not Cobol either, that'd be "add 1 to a").  Where's the bright
line between describing code and providing code?

In the end, all that written software can do is document what is done
by some machine, virtual or actual.  If you want to argue from this that
software patents are broken because software isn't a device or process,
I won't contest it -- but software patents are a fact of life in the
U.S. and other places.

> My perception is informed by the fact that I often write documentation for
> things I don't understand.  Just because I document it doesn't mean I have
> the rights to the patents (known or unknown) that the subject matter covers.

(Sideline: obviously no patent grant can grant patents held by third
parties over which you have no control.  All action is fraught with legal
danger in a world in which U.S. Patent 6,368,227 reads on how kids swing
on a swing.)

The experiences of the past show                John Cowan
that there has always been a discrepancy
between plans and performance.        
        --Emperor Hirohito, August 1945