On Thu, 6 Jan 2000, Crispin Cowan wrote: > Speakinf of RSA & co., is it purely coincidental that all the really useful public key > algorithms were developed after algorithm patents? Are we really sure that people will > continue to invest in crypto algorithm research motivated by fame, glory, and > first-to-market? > We'd have to ask the inventors about that. My guess is that, yes, it probably was coincidental. The emerging prominence of networks at the time was probably more of a motivating factor, I would think. As long as we're on the subject, I thought the Benson decision was the flag to _not_ allow patents on software. The decision I usually see cited is Diet-something-or-other, where a process for curing rubber that included the use of a computer program to control the curing was patented, and the patent upheld. To me, that kind of patent seems like it could be within the realm of reason, because in that case the algorithm isn't patented per se, but only the application of it (and a fairly "hard" application it seems like to me). The real question is one of what patent lawyers call "broadness", which I would prefer to call "abstractness" or "meta-ness", as it seems to me to better capture the problem. That is, at what level of abstraction should a patent not be allowed. Right now, it seems that the level is far too high. But that is not the same as saying that there is no level at which patents wouldn't be appropriate. Right now, the guidelines for algorithm patents allow for anything that has any relation to the physical world, or serves "any useful purpose" I believe. This means any idea where an abstract algorithm is thinly veiled in an application (by displaying results on a screen, or taking in some sort of real-world data) becomes eligible. I don't claim to know where the line should be drawn, but this is just ridiculous. Even the most abstract mathematical algorithm can be dressed up in an abstract application (for example, an algorithm for computing the coefficients of a data set with respect to a given orthogonal basis in a Hilbert space is very easy to dress up in a variety of fairly abstract applications - say, the lossy compression of images, sound, or video). It's disturbing because, in a real sense, these mathematics (and associated algorithms) describe the structure of information, in the same way that the mathematical constructs physicists choose describe the structure of the physical world. That is, physicists develop (or borrow) particular mathematical structures precisely because the correspond well with what they see in nature (or, really, the lab). In the same way, computer scientists (and statisticians, for that matter) develop (or borrow) mathematical structures precisely because they correspond well with the information they look at. For example, graphs for programming language specialists or harmonic analysis for compression of sampled continuous data. Hence, to me, patenting an algorithm on processing video information starts looking suspiciously like patenting a law of nature. Ok, I'm rambling. It's because I'm more confused about the legitimacy of "software patents" than I used to be (because I'm not sure where exactly a patent stops claiming only an algorithm, and where it starts claiming something I would normally consider reasonable that uses a computer program - just as 7 of Morse's patents on telegraph-related inventions were considered reasonable because they just _used_ EM's ability to affect change at a distance). Blah blah, Lynn