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patents vs copyrights

ok, so we've settled that whole opensource/closed source thing, so now I have a new question.  (we did come to a conclusion didn't we?)

I created a website for a company in new zealand some time ago, its the standard 'buy something from any country in the world' type setup.
So just recently they have received an email requesting they license the use of various parts of the website, I haven't had a close look yet but it sounds as if the problem is the 'select which country you are from' popup thingie and a couple of other pretty basic things like that.
Apparently some prick has patented this astoundingly basic method of doing things and now expects the rest of the world to pay for it....<g> or at least those parts of the world that support the patenting of software.
This particular website isn't really the problem, Im confident I can tweak the interface to get around the patent in question (for instance I have an idea its possible to work out the country a person is from based on their ip, so we can do that instead of asking them to select a country, and just provide a field for them to enter their country name if we get it wrong.)

So, I can understand wanting to copyright your code, I would get pissed if someone else took my code and used it without any kind of payment or recognition, but its rapidly approaching the point where if I bothered to actually learn what methods were patented before I wrote code I (a) wouldn't have time to write the code and (b) wouldn't be able to do much anyway because most things are patented.

My current approach to all this is to pretty much ignore the issue and assume it will go away eventually....(easier to apologise afterwards than to avoid it beforehand)

What do the rest of you do about this?  where do you stand?  patenting software good?  bad?  important to check before writing?  after?  never?

Monday, August 11, 2003

Patenting truly unique software methods - good
Patenting ridiculously simple software methods that would fail the obviousness test if the patent agent would pull his/her head out of his/her ass for five seconds - bad.

Patent agents are evaluated on how fast they clear patents. The fastest way to clear a patent is to approve it. There is absolutely no QA on the process. 'nuff said?


Monday, August 11, 2003

right, but its actually harder than that to judge.

For instance look at the gif patent, IMO that was perfectly reasonable, but trying to articulate _why_ that was perfecty reasonable but the country popup thingie is not is surprisingly hard to do.

Monday, August 11, 2003

I don't think software patents are ever good. Copyrights, ie actual source code, are.

You can't write a book about a subject that hasn't been covered and then patent it, which is basically what is happening with software.

Imagine if the first OS had been patented, or the first database system, or internet transmission, etc.

If there is ever a good time to issue a software patent, those would definitely pass the test. But imagine the mess we'd be in now.

I don't care how unique or clever the technology is, at the heart of it is a bunch of bit-switching, and that's been done before.


Monday, August 11, 2003


Are you able to give some more details.  Exactly what techniques are they claiming to have patented?  What evidence are they providing in support of their claim?

This sounds like a con to me.  I just can't see how anybody could patent something as simple as that.

Ged Byrne
Monday, August 11, 2003

Heh. There was a person somewhere in Kazakhstan (IIRC) that actually patented the 'Personal Computer with recording CD-ROM drive' combination and then sued a small music production company/studio for using 'their' technology.

"There's more things between Heaven and Earth, friend Horatio..."

Monday, August 11, 2003

Hi Ged,

for various reasons Im not able to specify details, but here is a news clipping that (very vaguely) covers it:,1227,205437-1-7,00.html

My own impression is that it _is_ a scam, unfortunately it appears to be perfectly possible that it is a legally enforceable one.

When he first got it my client was actually slightly panicky, hes not a techy kind of guy and was actually very worried...the license fees were quite scary for him (its only a wee site)

<g> he calmed down a _lot_ when I pointed out that in the very worst case he could simply stop using the particular items specified altogether, and that the second worse case was altering the way we do things with the only problem being a slightly harder to use gui.

I have a strong suspicion that the NZ government is actually going to wade in itself, their tech minister was heard muttering to himself about the importance of internet trade to a small country like this...

But it has _really_ clarified the problems with software patents for me, I used to believe they were bloody stupid, now I believe they are totally moronic and quite possibly as big a threat to the average developer as (potentially speaking only, lets not go there again) opensource or outsourcing is seen to be by many people.
As was said above, if someone had patented operating systems of databases using the kind of generic terms patents are using these days then we would truly be screwed.

As far as I can see, if I sit down to solve a problem and write code that does so then that should be the end of it.

Monday, August 11, 2003

NZ must have some very silly laws, since this canadian company seems to be targeting just that one country.

I'm just off to make my own patent:  A method for encoding information on ordinary materials by using a coloured liquid with quick drying and adhesive properties.

Ged Byrne
Monday, August 11, 2003

Much more detail here:

Ged Byrne
Monday, August 11, 2003

thanks ged, that was an interesting read.

actually, after reading the interview with the chap Im _much_ less worried, hes obviously a blithering moron...

favorite quote:
"If you are going to steal Intellectual Property and be highly anti-American then you should not be allowed to rob Americans of our jobs and our dignity"

christ help me, if he was a dog Id put him down.

where do idiots like that _come from_? is there some small town in each country that breeds the 'gibbering idiots' species of homo sapiens?

Monday, August 11, 2003

I've been reading the patent, and the whole thing hinges on accessing a database to get country specific details.

At the bottom of page 11 it states that what differs the patent from existing art is the step where a language is selected, and the details retrieved from the database.

The letter from James and Wells states:
'Receiving a customer's select of at least on product and product destination then accessing a database...'

The easy way round this is to publish static sites, CityDesk style, for each country.  This would remove both the customer selection and the accessing of the database.

Of course, the sites would all be published from a single database.  Again, Citydesk style.

As for claiming a patent for automatically checking the customers accounts and sending a confirmation invoice, they really do have to be joking.

Ged Byrne
Monday, August 11, 2003

How is database defined? When I was in college the definition was "Arbitrary amount of information stored in a structured fashion" losly translated.
By the sound of it, this patent could cover user manuals with tabs for different languages. :D

Im filing for a patent on the bubblesort BTW.

Eric Debois
Monday, August 11, 2003


Good. Go ahead and file a patent on bubblesort. That would be a good thing, since schools then needs to stop teaching it to everybody.

Don't patent Insertion sort or Quick Sort :)

Monday, August 11, 2003

I hold the patent on discussing patents via a technique I call "posting messages".  You are all clearly in violation , so everyone mail me a $1 USD license fee or I'll have to call out the lawyers.

Tim Faust
Monday, August 11, 2003

Seems like everyone who has more than one website is infringing this patent:

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

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