Subject: Re: IC's patent-pending technology
From: <stephen@xemacs.org>
Date: Tue, 26 Sep 2006 13:39:27 +0900

 Tue, 26 Sep 2006 13:39:27 +0900
Thomas Lord writes:

 > You correctly identify the "key concept" in these slides -- from which 
 > all else follows quite mechanically.   Turning up that key concept in a 
 > search for ways to speed up UTF-8 processing is, frankly, also a fairly 
 > mechanical result.

This is exactly what patents are intended to do.  *Identify* and
*publicize* key concepts that would *not* be known to ordinary
practitioners.  Patents are not about rewarding creativity or
breakthrough ideas.  They're about rewarding *innovation*, which means
invention *plus practice*.

The existing patent system fails on the publicization part to date.
Looking around at the various search services now available, however,
I wonder if that is going to be true much longer.

It also creates contradictory incentives concerning innovation.
That's inherent in the kind of monopoly granted.  But that's a
completely different argument from the one you are making.

 > So long as there are commercial restrictions on the use of the 
 > invention, no purely free software or open source business can practice 
 > the patent in a way that involves distributing code.   Period.  (At 
 > least as relates to FSF and OSI definitions.)

Emerson applies here: "A foolish consistency is a hobgoblin of little
minds."  As does Professor Bernardo de la Paz: "Revolution is an art I
pursue, not an objective I expect to achieve."

 > It's a weakness because the obligation of community participants to
 > immediately place all of their work under such terms does, indeed,
 > destroy incentive (and, indeed, actively invite the unjust
 > exploitation of labor).

There's no such obligation in the open source community.  That's
precisely Stallman's issue with it.  You can of course impose such an
obligation by using the GPL, but there are alternative licenses,
including copyleft alternatives, that do not.

 > I'm 100% confident that, had the practical need confronted me, I'd have 
 > reinvented much of Cameron's work with, at most, a few months of 
 > effort.   The "key concept" is on the short-list of things to check out 
 > and, given that, the rest simply falls out.

Tom, you did that work how many years ago?  For shame, not researching
and publishing such a simple thing! :-/

Even more shameful :-, you're not thanking Prof. Cameron for saving
you the few months' effort, which you can now apply to something
else.  Which is *precisely* what the patent system is for.

The *problem* with the patent system is that you might have already
done 5 of 6 months' worth of work.  Then you'd have a complaint,
although the social benefit of the patent system on average might
overrule you.  But the situation you find yourself in is *exactly* the
best possible outcome for the patent system!  You haven't done the
work yet, the technique is published *before* you would (could!) have
published it, and *your valuable time* is freed for other R&D.

 > [Now] I'm screwed.  I didn't learn anything I couldn't have figured
 > out in a short amount of time but, should I use this knowledge,
 > you've got a willful infringement claim against me.  I can't even
 > practice this idea in GPL'ed code without risk!

Of course you can, as long as your code is not derivative of GPL'ed
code.  AFAIK, you don't have to offer the GPL protections to your
licensees, even though they have to offer them to downstream.  The GPL
you offer simply lays out the restrictions that you put on their
redistribution; it doesn't promise them that there are no third-party
restrictions they must also satisfy.  As far as I can see, you
statisfy the conditions of the covenant, so you run no risk from
International Characters litigation.

BTW, that's why the economics literature calls it a "patent race."