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Comment: The article misunderstands the ruling (Score 1) 263

by SLi (#47285741) Attached to: The Supreme Court Doesn't Understand Software

I don't think this article quite hits the nail. Specifically, its interpretation of the ruling is wrong (though IANAL). Having said that, this is certainly a positive ruling (if you are, like me, opposed to software patents), and in general my impression is that the trend is clearly against software patents. I'm not sure if there is any software patent the court would eventually uphold, but it generally prefers to avoid such sweeping rulings on matters that are not immediately before it. That is, the court is not entirely sure that no software patent can pass the muster, so it prefers to wait until it sees more credible software patents (like compression algorithms, apparently) to rule on those.

The article claims the Supreme Court ruled that the "invention" is not patent-eligible because "each step does no more than require a generic computer to perform generic computer functions". However, this is not the whole analysis and is akin to saying that no electrical circuit can get patent protection if it can be divided into basic components.

Let me quote the relevant parts from the ruling.

In Mayo, we set forth a framework for distinguishing patents that claim laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas from those that claim patent-eligible applications of those concepts. First, we determine whether the claims at issue are directed to one of those patent-ineligible concepts. If so, we then ask, "[w]hat else is there in the claims before us?" To answer that question, ***we consider the elements of each claim both individually and "as an ordered combination"*** to determine whether the additional elements "transform the nature of the claim" into a patent-eligible application. We have described step two of this analysis as a search for an "'inventive concept'"--i.e., an element ***or combination of elements*** that is "sufficient to ensure that the patent in practice amounts to significantly more than a patent upon the [ineligible concept] itself."

(page 7, emphasis added, internal quotations removed)

That is, the "elements", or the steps the algorithm in question performs, are to be considered both individually and as an ordered combination. The article somehow reads the second prong of this analysis entirely out, but such a reading is not faithful to the decision. Similarly to how an electrical circuit that consists of basic components can still merit patent protection, the court leaves open the possibility that an algorithm composed of "ordinary" steps might be eligible if the steps "as an ordered combination" contains an "inventive concept" that is "sufficient to ensure that the patent in practice amounts to significantly more than a patent upon [an abstract idea] itself".

The text that the article quotes is from page 15 of the ruling:

***Taking the claim elements separately***, the function performed by the computer at each step of the process is "[p]urely conventional.". Using a computer to create and maintain "shadow" accounts amounts to electronic recordkeeping--one of the most basic functions of a computer. The same is true with respect to the use of a computer to obtain data, adjust account balances, and issue automated instructions; all of these computer functions are "well-understood, routine, conventional activit[ies]" previously known to the industry. In short, each step does no more than require a generic computer to perform generic computer functions.

But this is only the paragraph that analyzes the claim elements separately. What the article does not recognize is the paragraph that immediately follows:

***Considered "as an ordered combination,"*** the computer components of petitioner's method "ad[d] nothing . . . that is not already present when the steps are considered separately." ***Viewed as a whole***, petitioner's method claims simply recite the concept of intermediated settlement as performed by a generic computer. See 717 F. 3d, at 1286 (Lourie, J., concurring) (noting that the representative method claim "lacks any express language to define the computer's participation"). The method claims do not, for example, purport to improve the functioning of the computer itself. See ibid. ("There is no specific or limiting recitation of . . . improved computer technology . . . "). Nor do they effect an improvement in any other technology or technical field. Instead, the claims at issue amount to "nothing significantly more" than an instruction to apply the abstract idea of intermediated settlement using some unspecified, generic computer.

So, the fact that an algorithm only performs "purely conventional" steps is not the end of the inquiry; it just may be sufficient that such an algorithm when viewed as a whole ("ordered combination") may warrant protection.

Comment: Let me add fuel to the flames (Score 0) 818

by SLi (#46765213) Attached to: Study Finds US Is an Oligarchy, Not a Democracy

This seems to be a rather natural result of a two-party, winner-takes-it-all system, or rather an electoral system that favors such systems.

I know this isn't going to be liked here, but I want to say it anyway:

One of the eternal prides of the American people is their freedom of speech. You are comparatively free to incite whatever kind of racial/ethnic/religious hatred, and the beautiful theory is that enough good speech will nullify the effects of bad speech.

I say (and have said before) this only works precisely because you don't live in a democracy, but in a system where the actual ruling class have the power do not let the government to be swayed by such popular sentiments and moreover control the sentiments by controlling media. I believe it is fair to say that historically having such freedoms in actual democracies very much tends to lead to genocides and otherwise really bad results.

Comment: Re: "Must" does not mean what you think it means (Score 1, Insightful) 193

by SLi (#46230037) Attached to: ICANN's Cozy Relationship With the US Must End, Says EU

It's quite simple really: The US cannot prevent losing control, but they can have it happen in an orderly way and perhaps get a better position in the resulting system.

You see, it's not like there is some magical Key To the Internet which is stored in a bunker in Oregon and which you can choose to either hand over or not. It's also not something you really can defend with guns to prevent other countries from having it.

It's rather more like having control over the rules of international air traffic. If you do it well and neutrally enough, it might be that few countries are annoyed that they don't have a say in the process you have set up for writing the rules. But you have no way of really enforcing those rules except inside your own borders.

Currently ICANN which drafts the rules (and works as the judges) for the Internet is for historical reasons set up as a US entity. It having control over the Internet means no more and no less than all countries deciding to implement their decisions.

The reason why ICANN still has control and the reason for this statement by the EU is that other countries are still hoping for a negotiated solution, because that's generally the way the civilized world works. The US might be in a slightly better position to negotiate than other countries, but if it refuses to negotiate, it will surely lose that advantage. An orderly solution would be in everybody's interests, while more unilateral action would harm everyone.

The orderly way to proceed would be to continue with ICANN, just internationalized. The disorderly way might be setting up a parallel organization and start disregarding ICANN.

Still you must realize it's a pipe dream that a single country with a few percent of world population could keep the right to make the rules for much longer. So sad you Americans feel offended about this. The rest of the world doesn't really think it's even asking for anything that in any meaningful sense belongs to you when they ask to have a say.

Comment: Re: Tyranny (Score 1) 252

by SLi (#46196331) Attached to: Finnish Police Board Wants Justification For Wikipedia's Fundraising Campaign

They ohappens y won't be easily able to go after Wikimedia Foundation itself, but they might be able to go after volunteers who live in Finland. I think particularly vulnerable would be the person who translated the fundraising notice to Finnish, if he happens to live in Finland.

Not that I really expect this to lead to much. I think it's entirely plausible that even if he got charged and found guilty, the court would decide to not punish him (and quite certainly he wouldn't get more than a small fine in the tens or hundreds of euros range).

Comment: Two-party system, three-party system (Score 3, Insightful) 583

by SLi (#44475499) Attached to: Half of Tor Sites Compromised, Including TORMail

I think there is a practical difference between a 2-party system and a n-party system where n > 2. It's not what you think, though, and I'm not sure which one is really better in practice.

At least from my observations, a two-party system produces heavy polarization. Nowhere have I seen such a polarization as the one in US between Democrats and Republicans. Everyone is sure that their POV is the good one and cannot comprehend how someone can possibly support the other party. As you say, you can choose your flavor of police state.

A system of three roughly equally big parties, however, seems to emphasize consensus. As none of the three parties can hope to form a government alone, they will need to secure the cooperation of at least one of the two other. None of them can afford to become the lone different party, because that would just result always in the other two parties forming a government (unless the winning party manages to persuade enough smaller parties to join a coalition government with the two other parties left out). The result is that you have three basically identical parties that are more or less only differentiated by how they market themselves. Of course there are politicians in the parties that would like to be different, but in order to secure a government with another of the parties, you will need to make concessions, which usually excludes the points of view that are unique to one party.

So, the end result is that you can choose from three flavors which are not really that different. Not that consensus policymaking would necessarily be bad - it's not.

In my country a fourth big party has recently emerged. It will be interesting to see how this affects the dynamics as we've only seen something like two elections where this was the case.

Of course it also depends on the system used in elections. I think the US-style "winner takes it all" system basically forces only two big parties to emerge.

Still, as someone who lives in a country with more than two big parties, I don't think I'd ever want to see a government effectively controlled by only a single party, not for any period of time.

Comment: Re:Deciphering != Reverse Engineering (Score 1) 245

Well, that's exactly the new thing here. You can think it this way:

The program being interpreted is a black box function, taking in an encrypted state and outputting an action to execute and the resulting encrypted state (this is accomplished using homomorphic encryption). The state can include things like values for variables, but it also includes the program counter. What the interpreter does is it loops this function over and over, at each step executing the action it outputs. Because you cannot observe the state (as you never have it in decrypted form), you cannot deduce anything beyond the actions.

Note that any program can be expressed in this form: Essentially, in a conventional processor the black box boolean function you are executing is the function from a state to the next state (to the next instruction or next clock cycle, however you wish to view it).

As to how it's possible to keep the state and the computed function secret, that's the thing done using homomorphic encryption, and nobody claimed that to be easy, but there's no reason why it should be theoretically impossible, and it in fact turns out to be possible. The thing is, you *do* have the state, including the program counter, but it's only available to you in a form which you cannot read.

Comment: Re:Seems improbable (Score 1) 245

And how easy do you think watching in a debugger an interpreter execute a program is, even if nothing there is obfuscated?

Here, the interpreter is not obfuscated. You do not need to run it in a debugger, you can read the source code. But the program being interpreted is such that you can only deduce what it does to an input by running it on that input, and you gain no additional information of its workings.

Comment: Re:Deciphering != Reverse Engineering (Score 1) 245

Consider an (non-JITing) interpreter. The interpreter is a standard piece of software, which is not obfuscated. The program being interpreted can be obfuscated, and no part of it will ever be run directly on the CPU - every machine instruction that runs is part of the interpreter.

Comment: Re:This is why we have a first amendment. (Score 3, Insightful) 254

by SLi (#44420849) Attached to: Judge Rules In Favor of Volkswagen and Silences Scientist

Yeah, I'm sure nothing like this could ever happen in the US due to your ah-so-fantastic First Amendment.

That case, by the way, is very close to this one. MBTA was granted a Temporary Restraining Order that prevented the researchers from discussing their findings in the conference where they intended to do it. Which is *exactly* what has happened here so far.

Comment: Re:Translation: (Score 1) 111

by SLi (#44058243) Attached to: NVIDIA To License Its GPU Tech

But that still don't explain why in the fuck Intel don't get busted, after all Apple and Linux were around when the DoJ busted MSFT's ass and if anything Intel has a tighter lock on the market than MSFT ever did. so I want to know who is cashing the checks, who is getting paid off, as i smell some dirty dealing which as we saw with the kickback scandal is SOP for Intel.

Because the crime is not being in a a monopoly position, but abusing it. Keeping a competitor alive and at 20% market share, while quite an interesting tactic (if true), actually tends to also prevent the worst monopoly abuses.

Beware of Programmers who carry screwdrivers. -- Leonard Brandwein

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