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Google (Patent Pending) 267

Jason Eric Pierce writes "I just noticed something interesting while using Google, considering how much it has been praised here by those that tend to denounce software patents: 'Unlike other current generation search engines, which rely heavily on keywords or meta-search technology to find information, Google offers an advanced patent-pending technology called PageRank(TM) to deliver the most relevant results. PageRank ensures that the most important, relevant pages always come up first and that your users will always find what they are looking for.' I love Google, but I hate the idea of patenting a search algorithm/implementation." Good point. Thoughts?
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Google (Patent Pending)

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    It doesn't handle phrase searches properly, like most search engines. First, when a word in Initial Caps is typed in, it should default to a phrase search. For example, any three words typed in (Hillary Rodham Clinton) should be assumed to be a phrase first, and all results with this phrase should show up at the top of the page. Then the results in which the three words are not contiguous should appear. Try searching for "World New York." Do you see any pages with "World New York"? No. Now try searching for "" The "World New York" pages are in there. Why don't they come up in the phrase search? I use phrase searching equally as much as majority-word results, so this is a real shortcoming to me. [Majority-word results are when you type in a bunch of words that you'd like to appear in the results and the pages returned for your search are ranked with those having the majority of the search terms you entered at the top.]

    BTW FIRST Plagiarized post
  • Google offers an advanced patent-pending technology called PageRank(TM) to deliver the most relevant results.

    I don't know how this technology works. But it surely has some funny "relevant results". Take a look at this one: [].

    It's a fact: they should be first... Google rulezz!

  • I know, in /. the obvious trend is somewhat anti-IPR. But Google apparently utilizes technology (ok, not anything worth a Nobel but inventive anyway) that has not been commonly used in search engines. If they feel that they have made an invention, why not trying to patent it?

    Although software itself is not patentable (and should not be), technologies and algorithms definitely are. The distiction is (and should be) made by the patent office. Self-discretion in this context just means lack of money ;-)

  • I dunno. I agree that the vast majority software patenting that's been going on lately is silly; "One click ordering" is a pretty obvious thing.

    But from what I've read, Google's search logic is pretty ingenious, and not very obvious at all.

    Is this not an example of a case where a patent makes sense? At the moment I'd say that I am not troubled much at all by this one.
  • Patent #93,593,376:
    A method of testing web servers by writing an interesting story for nerds, adding a few large JPG's, and then posting said link to The result of posting is a large and immediate increase in web traffic, not for purposes of advertising (because said nerds don't have any money to buy things) but only to test the reliability of one's web server.

    Licensing will be a no-brainer. If a company wants to test their servers, they can just mirror a six-month old news story and tell Hemos about it. "Psst - there's an article on here about why Linux web servers aren't as good as NT. It's only six months old - it's still news!"

    - Sorry, Hemos, you walked right into that one.

  • Why is it that companies I praise for a while, suddenly turns bad and start patenting ideas? I've recomended google to everybody I know for the last 6 months or so - And now they screw it up. Thypically.

    Patenting software ideas is a bad thing. Now the ranking system will be patented for .. is it 25 years? That's .. stupid .. plain stupid.

    Of course they should be praised for having a nice idea. And patents could've been OK - if they lasted a year or something. But 25 freaking years? yargh. I'm out looking for a new search engine, that's for sure. (and sending some cute emails to google, of course..)

  • by Dilbert_ ( 17488 ) on Monday December 27, 1999 @01:45AM (#1443286) Homepage
    I don't think most Slashdotters are against all patents, but more against patenting the obvious (like the icon for these stories indicates). One-click shopping, or banner ads are so obvious (to one 'skilled in the art', eg. a geek) that they shouldn't be patentable.
    What Google uses is far from obvious, so this merits a patent. I think this was the original idea behind the patent system, but somehow the USPTO seems to have lost the definition of 'obvious' along the way.

  • 7th the perfect number

    Actually, 7 is very far from a perfect number. A perfect number is one whose aliquot divisors add up to itself. 7 does not even come close, being a prime. 6 is a perfect number.

    1 + 2 + 3 = 6

    See? Hope this helps...

  • by supersnail ( 106701 ) on Monday December 27, 1999 @01:48AM (#1443289)

    This is the crux of the question is do slash.dotters object to the principle of patenting ideas full stop, or, just the patenting of dumb ideas.

    If your priciple objection is to the patenting of dumb ideas then you should have no problem with the google patent. Thier search algorithms are certainly different from all the others and produce good and consitent results. It seems like they are patenting something "original, not obvious, and which works". There may be some prior art here as a ton of work has been done on search algorithms over the years, but generally speaking this looks like a "good" patent.

    If the main objection is to patents per se, then I would say we are a bunch of hypocrytes. The whole high tech industry which produces all the goodies we love to play with is driven by patents. IBM is not going to spend billions researching "copper" etc. and give as those lovely gigahertz processors if some company in tiawan can rip off the design as soon as it is working.

  • And what if netscape had patented cookies?
    Guess what, things are ingenious the first year or so after they've been developed. Then they become mainstream and common knowledge. Thank heavens that Patent Panic® didn't begin in the earliest days of the web.

  • I'm not saying that this is the case here...

    When I have what I think is a good, innovative idea, I get selfish and I want to make sure that everyone knows that it's mine. Haven't you ever been somewhat indignant when someone retells a joke you told them and doesn't give you credit?

    I suppose that this could be covered by software licenses, etc, but patenting one's idea seems like a comprehensive method of asserting that it is yours. I'm not too knowledgeable on patents, but you don't have to demand royalties, restrict use, or anything else, do you? Can't the patent office just be used as a place for keeping a nice record of who came up with an idea? (yeah! Exploit! Exploit! ... :-)

  • The reason I ask is if the search routine can be patented is because it has been three years in the development and most likely already made public previously. Remember with worldwide patents you may not make any disclosure and with American only six months are allowed.

    And the other question is I did some research and found an interesting link ndex.htm. Why I found this interesting is because funding was partially provided by DARPA and NASA. Does this not mean that this stuff cannot be patented? I thought there was a clause that when either DARPA or NASA provided funding it should be for the common good...

    Just some thoughts...
  • by Apuleius ( 6901 ) on Monday December 27, 1999 @01:53AM (#1443294) Journal
    Search engine admins are constantly in a cat and mouse game with the Web. It's not just cat and mousing with word spammers (first rank down pages with words in alphabetical order... word spammers strike back... then try to parse pages a bit.. word spammers strike back... et cetera...). Styles of web page writing alter over time, and there are issues over the mutability of pages and the such. (Frames fall into fashion.. frames fall out of fashion..)

    Search engine admins should have the freedom to tinker with their ranking algorithms without getting nailed by patent sharks. Besides, copying a search algorithm is a bit difficult if the algorithm isn't published. Search enginges don't have to publish their methods to build a user base. They just have to do a good job.

    So, Google is probably justified in seeking a patent. One can't be too carefull. But if Google starts pulling an Amazon, it's time to boycott them.
  • That part at the end about everyone else hearing the voices telling them to post crap was your clue that the A.C. in question was being sarcastic and should be moderated up as funny.

  • The caching of full pages on a search engine is wrong wrong wrong.

    Nope, caching of pages is cool, cool, cool. Quite a few times when pages were yanked, you could still grab them from Google's cache. Or other times, when a server is not responding I'm quite happy with the cached version.

    Copyright? That's just a word in a dictionary to me.

  • Try this then: ss&num=10
  • by g1t>>v ( 121036 ) on Monday December 27, 1999 @02:02AM (#1443298) Homepage
    Maybe the patents are needed in some way to compensate for research costs, but I'd think that nowadays the life-time of patents is much too long. 25 years (or whatever) was maybe fine 100 years ago but nowadays technology of 10 years ago is obsolete, so I'd say that if patents are really a necessary evil (I don't like them anyway), the duration for computer-related patents should be shortened (5 years should be more than long enough to give the google guys their cash). Methinks.
  • by rappybaby ( 53126 ) on Monday December 27, 1999 @02:09AM (#1443300) Homepage
    I love Google, but I hate the idea of patenting a search algorithm/implementation

    Well then how selfish are you? You love Google but you're opposed to them trying to make a buck from the technology for which you love them. You'd rather they didn't patent it, and someone like Lycos could come along and say "Thanks for doing all the research Google, this technology will work great in our new search engine".

    And you know the masses will all go visit Lycos and click on their banner ads, because instead of wasting money on "research" and/or "development", they've been spending their money on ads on the sides of buses.

    And then Google will go bust, and all their workers will go home and have no money to put food on the tables of their families.

    But it's ok, because patents are bad, because Slashdot said so.
  • What I dislike the most about patents, is that they actually are a legal way of creating a monopoly. If you invent some kind of wristpad or a paperclip and you patent it, you do it so others are not allowed to make them also, this means that you can charge a lot of money for yours and make them low-quality - since nobody is allowed to make a cheaper, better one.

    So the answer is simple: if you invent something cool, put it to good use and make a nice product out of it. By being the first on the market you'll have a big advantage over the competition. If in the end someone using your idea beats you anyway, he probably makes better stuff than you do (and earned his top spot in the same way you earned being the first to release it.)

  • copying a search algorithm is a bit difficult if the algorithm isn't published

    So I can't see Google's algoritm and Google's lawyers can't see mine. Where does a patent help? Patents are protecting published and licensed techniques. If its secret, then a patent is useless. (see Coca Cola)

    Google might be justified in seeking that patent, but it won't help them, cause by the time they get it through it will be yesterdays techique.

  • ...and I'm a patentaholic.

    It all started very innocently, with some cool-looking inventions, completely original stuff. It felt good to know that I had power over the way my inventions were used, so I started doing it more often. First it was just a couple a year, then every few months... before I knew it I was a regular at the patent office.

    By that time, I no longer restricted myself to original items - anything was fair game. Algorithms, software, ideas, concepts, even names that I saw on billboards - nothing was beyond my patenting frenzy. I was a lost man, I tell you.

    Then one day I overdosed. I came to the patent office at 10 AM, as usual, with a box full of stuff that I thought was patentable. The clerk (a funny-looking Jewish guy named Al), eager to help me protect my intellectual property and trade secrets, started the usual job of cataloguing application, banging the "Approved" stamp on them, and storing them in the files.

    That is, until he arrived at my application for patenting the scientific method. I thought it was a good idea. He looked at me, shook his head, picked up some scribbled papers at his desk, and showed them to me, while, grinning, he said: "Prior art."

    The feeling of having one of my patents challenged, at a time when I was still in serious withdrawal, drew me over the edge. In a mad frenzy, I jumped over the counter and onto Al, trying to strangle him. Before I could, though, the security officers showed up and dragged me away, saying "I think you've had enough patenting". Next thing I know, I'm at the Henry Ford clinic for patent addicts.

    Whew! I'm glad I got that out of my system! Now, with the help of some extremely powerful drugs, I feel completely recovered, and don't have the urge to patent anything... say, is that cool-looking wall clock taken?
  • > Google might be justified in seeking that > patent, but it won't help them,

    It helps them in that they won't be beaten to the punch by some other patent and then sued into non-existence.
  • Anyone whose search engine returns this result for More Evil than Satan Himself [] can have a patent. That's one SMART search engine.
  • There is a great deal of difference in someone owning a patent and wielding it when they shouldn't be. I think whilst we live in a world where there are software patents it is a good idea for google to make sure that they have the one for the technology they created, rather than let some ignorant person manage to give it to a competitor, who might use it against Google.

    I know that's a bit unlikely, but do you really think Barnes and Noble were thinking 'AHA! we've pulled a swift one on Amazon - they won't realise we've stolen their technology? Of course not, they were just using an obvious idea - the fact that they didn't get the patent process started quick enough must be the only reason Amazon got the patent and not them.

    So rather than let someone else try and get it, Google should get it themselves, but not be aggressive with it...
  • by bons ( 119581 ) on Monday December 27, 1999 @02:24AM (#1443308) Homepage Journal
    Since we're going to discuss PageRank [] and it's patentability, You might want to read about it first.
  • by MalcolmT ( 1868 ) on Monday December 27, 1999 @02:24AM (#1443309)
    A question for your question: Do "Slashdotters" all have the same opinion? Methinks the answer to that one is a loud NO. :-)

    In past Slashdot articles about patents, some have come down in favour of them, others are against them all. However, I think your topic needs to be sub-divided a little more: a lot of people are against the concept of being able to essentially patent algorithms (rather than hardware, for example).

    I honestly don't know where I stand on this. Many patents that are just glorified descriptions of algorithms seem stupid to me. However, in the current state of Computer Science, many businesses *are* putting in the hours of research and coming up with new inventions. Those inventions just happen to be algorithms. So maybe a patent is ok in some cases. On the other hand, my training is as a mathematician and I would be horrified if somebody patented an algorithm for factoring numbers, for example (in fact, the RSA patent is a bit galling for that reason).
  • the problem is when they're enforced where they shouldn't be... what amazon did was less protecting their rights, and more trying to look like Microsoft and beating up their competitors.

    If Google didn't patent this, whose to say Altavista wouldn't patent it tomorrow and sue them? Hopefully, if someone wants to make a search engine similiar to Google's, they'll be nice enough to keep from ripping them to pieces...

    I don't really know, I don't know the Google folks too well. But a lot of /. folk seem to put a lot of faith in them, I think they'd do the right thing if it came up.
  • Try "the company with no class" [].
    Steve Jobs was right, and Google agrees!
  • I love using Google. I think it's much better than other search engines. Patenting this technology? Why not? They seem to patent everything else.
  • IBM is not going to spend billions researching "copper" etc. and give as those lovely gigahertz processors if some company in tiawan can rip off the design as soon as it is working.

    Wouldn't they? They spent billions on the PC, and made it open. That didn't turn out so badly for them.

    People spend big bugs on researching things that are then made freely available to the body of human knowledge every day. It's called "science".

    I'd say patents shouldn't last 25 years; 3 sounds good.
  • To most everyone out there, patents are meaningless. I use google because it is the best search engine I have found so far. I don't care about patents. I care about search engines that return good results. I use the best tool that I am aware of to get the job done.

    It's the same with Some are advocating boycotting amazon because of the lame patent on one-click shopping. To be sure, the patent never should have been issued, but I'll let other corporations fight that battle in the courts. As a consumer, I like the convenience of one-click shopping and will therefore take advantage of it.
  • I understand your point and it is well taken. Please temper your reading of what I'm about to say with the knowledge in mind that I agree that patents of late have been silly:

    The notion of patents came about for a reason, which (if memory serves) goes something like this: It gives the "little guy" an incentive to create, and a chance to profit from its creation wherein for a period of time it is not under threat of having some large monopoly simply imitate and walk away with the market.

    Ring a bell?

    Now, in the case of browser technology, it happens that we're all much better off in the long run that browser technologies aren't patented. We'd be in a very different "world" today if such patents existed. In this sense you're absolutely right.

    But I'm not sure it's right to begrudge the "little guy" some small protection under the law for a short period of time. Minus this protection, creativity outside the context of a corporate monolith seems decidedly less attractive to me.
  • whee.. this really is correct ;)
  • quote One-click shopping, or banner ads are so obvious (to one 'skilled in the art', eg. a geek) that they shouldn't be patentable.
    What Google uses is far from obvious, so this merits a patent"

    A few years back the one-click shopping and banner adds were not as 'obvious' as they are now and if Google wouldn't patent it's search technique, it would be as obvious as the other 2 patents in a few years, because their technique would've been widespread. Obvious patents are just obvious because the techniques are common.

    It is true that it is crazy to patent something already used across the globe... That's what is against those requests. The fact that google chooses to request a patent on their stuff while it's still new, is just common business, and common sense.

    Whether such a technique should be 'rewarded' with a patent is another story.


  • What I hate about patent is that they mean that you just cant do something anymore, even if you (re-)invent it yourself. The probability of reinventing is much higher with simple inventions, of course, but if somebody has never heard of Google (and can prove this) and has the same idea, he is not allowed to use it. That is not fair.
  • by phil reed ( 626 ) on Monday December 27, 1999 @02:51AM (#1443320) Homepage
    What I dislike the most about patents, is that they actually are a legal way of creating a monopoly.

    Which was actually the intent. The idea behind patents is that the person who thought of it should have a monopoly. The trade-off is that in exchange for that monopoly:

    • The technology must be published, so that everybody can see it;
    • The monopoly expires after a relatively limited time (in the U.S., 20 years). After that, it's fair game for anybody.
    This 20 year time period seems a bit long in the Internet era (which works in dog years), but it's worked for a long time.

  • I dont see any problem with them patenting the specific algorithim as long as they are not trying to patent the idea behind the alogorithim. I think its good buisness practice to make your competitors work a little. No need to get beat at your own game
  • That comment was sure worth a load of "funny"-points, not just one as for now... If you have moderator acces, please give it some, because I don't have such access for now...
  • The original thinking behind patents, IMHO, is to encourage the development of novel products. Google has a superior product based on a search algorithm that is head and shoulders above the rest, both in originality and accuracy. In order to fully benefit from their superior product, they need to have their bread and butter insured against the actions of parasitic organizations that would otherwise leech ideas off of pioneering companies (in this case Google). Patents are not bad, they are just more susceptible to abuse than they could be. Fault lies with the USPTO, not the intrinsic concept of patents itself.

  • (Sorry for the off topic)
    Give the points to the one who posted the same at the top of this page...

    Do people actually read the comments? or do they just post away...

    my 2ç

  • Larry Page's paper PageRank: Bringing Order to the Web [] is available in Page's home page [] at Stanford University. You may also want to have a look at Google's press release [].

    The relevancy of hits in Google seems to be pretty good, but the "I'm feeling lucky (TM)" thing IMHO is a dumb feature.

  • Patent panic *did* begin in the earliest days of the web, its just that those patents are just being issued now.
  • I don't think so. I think it's pretty close to obvious in that when told to solve the relevance problems that search engines are facing, one is almost guaranteed to come up with something like this. What isn't obvious is whether it will work well. To determine that, you need to do some serious testing.

    The fact that no-one else was doing this doesn't mean that no-one else thought of it or that it isn't obvious.

    It would be nice if someone familiar with patent laws could tell us whether "it's obvious, but I'm the only one who believed in it" is grounds for a patent. I'm not sure how I feel about that myself, but I'm leaning toward "no".

  • I agree. Cached pages are a great feature. If someone were attempting to make this a vorbotten practice, I would be most unhappy. If one does not wish the public to view information, he should not commit to posting it on to the internet in the first place. Once such a transaction has been established, it is in public view. Some people wish to subject us to a bunch of silly laws for to further their own greed and cause problems for the rest of us. I say get rid of those silly people and make them publish books.
  • by Zigg ( 64962 ) on Monday December 27, 1999 @03:21AM (#1443335)

    A few years back the one-click shopping and banner adds were not as 'obvious' as they are now ...

    Patenting ``one-click shopping'' is just preposterous. You might as well have patented cookies. And if you did, you'd shoot yourself in the foot, because another solution would be found to the problem, and you wouldn't even see cookie support in browsers.

    Banner ads, OTOH, depend on being widespread and the concept being freely available to catch on. I doubt you could patent them if you tried, though with the government existing as it does today, I won't take any bets.

    Now Google's technology would obviously be a great boon if it was published. I'd love to see it. But Google's patent extends to what amounts to their entire business, and does not extend to the protocols that folks need to depend on to communicate with their server. It's all behind the scenes and it provides a better product. On top of that, the patent's existence ensures that down the road, we'll all be treated to a good description of it that we can use.

  • Yuck, I am disgusted. No! not by Goggle, but by the vast amount of cheap remarks I have read so far. I cannot believe how many of you recoil at the thought of patening software algorithms. Hah!, I dobut you could code! If you could, you would realize how important and hard it is to come up with original software algorithms. Anyone who discovers a software algorithm is free to patent it, I just hope the patent in the software world will have a limit of 2-3 years, because the software world moves at an incredibly pace. The problem of text data mining on the web is not an easy task. I have been doing slight research on it, and I will tell you, that it takes great skills to come up with something. Look at goggle, look how small they are, compared with altavista, yahoo, excite and infoseek. Imagine if these other competitors could grab their algorithms and stiff them out of the search engine world. How fair will that be? Not at all! I know I rather see goggle survive, than another lame search engine survive cuz they have money and ripped on the poor guys.

    If software algorithsm shouldn't be patented, Why the hell should hardware? Cuz hardware takes work, and software doesn't take work? Good software algorithms takes years of painful, hardworking research just as software. If you don't think so, you are not a programmer and have no say in this, go take a seat my friend. Anyway, to end this off, I will like to state, that I am against stupid patents, patent of one shop clicking, something that is very obvious, something that takes no brain cells to implement, The technology behind slashdot is original and unique, if there was a patent behind it, I will not mind! Now on the other hand, if someone puts a patent on guest books, now they have to get in the same pant with me.

  • I think they'd do the right thing if it came up.

    Speaking of ``the right thing'', wouldn't it be ingenious of them to pull an RSAREF on PageRank -- but rather than say ``for noncommercial use only'', require use of the algorithms to be GPL'd?

    Kind of a silly idea, and certainly will not sit well with quite a few OSS folk (I personally find some fault in it), but it's a neat idea nonetheless.

  • And you know the masses will all go visit Lycos and click on their banner ads, because instead of wasting money on "research" and/or "development", they've been spending their money on ads on the sides of buses.

    In order for someone to copy Google they'd have to start from scratch.. No one has access to the source code...
    This protection is known as a "Corprate secret" it's a lesser known tactic to protecting your IP.
    The advantge is you don't have to regesture it and you get to keep it forever.. just sign everyone to NDAs.

    The disadvantage is if someone comes up with it totally on his own with out any access to your product (other than visiting the website) theres nothing you can do. Patents however allow you to go after someone who did all the work on his own with out any knowladge of the patent.

    Patents are good but to a point... the Intel chip line is patented of course and so are most parts on the computer... You wouldn't believe the stuff some people will do to steal Micro processor technologys... including breaking out an electron microscope.

    Some car parts are patented.. you can just dicast a car and make nock offs pritty easlly so patents protect the inital investment.

    Patents are basicly to protect against copying by means of reasonable inspection of the original but are often used to protect copying by random chance.
    The idea is the patented item is original enough that someone wouldn't copy it by random chance. But patents as of late demonstrate that the USPO isn't doing there job in checking this and issuing patents on commen sence.

    In Googles case we would have to develup our search engen from ground up if we were to copy Google... But Google dosn't want to be copyed.
    They arn't protecting the results as much as they are preventing anyone else from doing the same research.
    If Google protected there search engen as a corprate secret (as others do) they could have saved some money on patent lawyers...
  • Well, there is a problem with a short lifespan for technology patents: how do you define what is a technology patent? Let's say that we are going to allow original algorithms to be patented for 5 years, with hardware and so forth falling into the conventional patent limits. What about a hardware implementation of an algorithm, like an ASIC? OK, so we have to include hardware. But if we say that computing hardware is patentable for a shorter-than-normal duration, than how do we handle hardware that can be used in computers and elsewhere, like a special pivot designed for a disk drive and also useful for microsurgical instruments? It is very difficult to differentiate between what you want to protect and what you don't. My personal thinking is that code, however implemented, should be copyrightable but not patentable. Then, implementations would be protected, but algorithms would be available to all under fair use standards.
  • by Greg Merchan ( 64308 ) on Monday December 27, 1999 @03:37AM (#1443346)
    I agree, but I'm not sure why. I generally agree that algorithms shouldn't be patentable, but this seems like an exception. Maybe it isn't, but I'm trying to find the cause of my unrest. Some things come to mind:

    1) The most hated patent: LZW. Why? It seems that Unisys submarined the patent; they waited until it was widely used then started suing to collect royalties. Is this the real history, or did people not read the licensing terms which permit gratis use for 'non-commercial, non-profit GIF-based applications'? According the the GNU no-gif page Unisys retracted these terms in 1999; that does fit the submarine story. But which is the problem here, a patented algorithm or the licensing practices of Unisys? If the former then the laws need changing, else boycott Unisys or try to file suit for dishonest licensing. (IANAL, so I don't know if that's possible or what magic words to invoke.)

    2) The most hated, but assuredly bad, patents: Amazon's One-Click Shopping. This is fairly clear-cut, the patents should not have been granted because the technique is obvious. Everything here has been said many times over - next...

    3) The worst recent change in the US patent sustem: patenting business models. This was probably to be expected as soon as an algorithm was patented. We seem to be on a slippery slope. Prediction: 'thought crimes' already exist under the name of 'hate crimes'. Will the penalty for execution of patented ideas on wetware be punishable by financial penalties or will the infringing computer be deactivated? This is not an example of the evils of capitalism or intellectual property or patents, it is the abandonment of the ideas which is the basis for those things. If man does not have his basic rights - life, liberty, property, pursuit of happiness, the sanctity of his mind (aka. religion) - then he does not have the rights which necessarily depend on those.

    Looking at these things, what of Google's patents? They are not submarine patents, good. They are not obvious (right?), good. Are they of those things which infringe upon the rights of others? I don't know. Google has the fairly unique (nowadays) feature of not throwing banner adds all over the page. Instead, they seem to be planning to generate revenue by providing a search engine service. I don't think they've patented the business model, good. They have patented what makes their business model work. As a result they provide an advertisement-free search engine to everyone and pay for it by providing customization services to their customers. If they weren't they only ones who could do this in this way, someone else (MS?) would surely come along and use Google's algorithms to provide the customized system for free. This would destroy Google and leave the system in the hands of whoever could use the service as a loss-leader - and we know what happens when those people no longer need to take a loss.

    Perhaps I need to rethink my stand on algorithm patents. It seems that without them we will lose the good service businesses which we enjoy today. If the algorithm is patentable, then there is no need to patent the business model; if the business model is not patented, then anyone who does it better can do so.
  • Nobody seems to have made the point that it's not patents that are "evil", it's using thge courts to extort money out of people for using an obvious technique.

    Patents were originally intended to support the free exchange of ideas by giving people a short period of protection for the ideas which might have taken a lot of time and money to develop to ensure that it was worth people investing time and effort in new ideas.

    Things like one-click ordering would take about 15 seconds to think up and about a day to implement and so are not deserving of patent protection. And anyone who uses the courts to enforce such a patent has basically just found a way to make money undeservidly and deserves the contempt they get.

    You have to look at each patent on it's own merits. It's hard for a software patent to be reasonable because software ideas just are not that expensive to develop that they need protection.

  • Oh, I have an easy solution to that:

    I wasn't talking about three years for technology patents, I was talking about three years for patents, period.

    If you can't make a buck off your technology in three years, license it to somebody who can.

    If not, then get out of my way and let me use it.
  • If the main objection is to patents per se, then I would say we are a bunch of hypocrytes. The whole high tech industry which produces all the goodies we love to play with is driven by patents. IBM is not going to spend billions researching "copper" etc. and give as those lovely gigahertz processors if some company in tiawan can rip off the design as soon as it is working.

    Hypocrisy is a bit strong; just because someone is opposed to something that provides them with a benefit doesn't make that person hypocritical. What would be hypocritical (IMHO) is one who opposes patents in general but supports them for his particular purpose.

    I'm opposed to patents in general. There may be reason in the pharmaceutical industry (note that I work in the software industry, not the pharmaceutical industry) due to the heavy regulatory burden that is faced (drug trials and all that). Even there, I would prefer explicit compensation for their expenses or outright subsidies over patents.

    If nothing else, I simply think it's wrong for the government to grant an individual a monopoly on the use of an idea.

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Monday December 27, 1999 @03:44AM (#1443354) Homepage Journal
    I'd love to hear RMS' take on the topic, what with them being in his home town and all. I bet he comes out against it. Software patents, if allowed to continue, WILL destroy the programming industry in the US.

    The other day, someone was asking how long the internet boom could continue. I think the boom is part of a natural shift into an information based economy. Countries that restrict the flow of information by artifical means, be it censorship of the net in Australia or artificial restrictions imposed by patent and trademark laws which require anyone with a web presence to have a substantial and expensive legal team, will end up killing the boom in their borders. Said countries will end up being the new third world countries, strangling the wealth that the information age offers. Countries that make an effort to embrace the internet and assist the flow of information will most likely enjoy the boom indefinitely.

  • I think all sane people should be against patenting the obvious. Ruling out patenting the obvious requires no change in patent law, just having the USPTO follow their own guidelines better.

    Where I (and I think many of us here) differ from the USPTO is in patenting technology. Patents were designed to protect the development of tools, not technology. You develop a better adjustable wrench, you patent it (tool). You never were supposed to be able to patent the technique of tightening a bolt by using a wrench (technology). Software patents, business practice patents and algorithm patents are all patenting technology, not tools.

    Patenting technology is dangerous, since it stifles innovation, development, and even the activities of the general public. It also encourages flooding an already overloaded legal system with long and expensive lawsuits. The only people who really benefit from technology patents are the lawyers.

    As for the specific Google patent, I would agree that the technology it patents is not obvious. Also, given that the current system allows technology patents, it's far easier for Google to defend their business from someone else's patent if they've got one themselves, so I don't begrudge them a defensive technology patent. The point where I get upset, and will get upset at Google, is if and when they use the patent as a tool for threatening (or suing) someone else.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    A few years ago? Hell, before the web even existed the idea of banner ads and one click shopping were obvious.

    Banner ads are obvious to anyone with any marketing savvy whatsoever. They have been univerally used in every medium that can be used for advertising, hence the very term "banner." Certainly if you had given a brief description to any publication based marketing developer of the web, oh, say 50 years ago, the idea of banner ads would come to him in about, oh, 5 minutes. It's that obvious. *Implimenting* them in the particular medium might be less obvious, but the idea itself isn't. What would be unique and revolutionary, even to the least sophisticated end user, these days would be a publication medkum that *didn't* use "banner ads."

    One click marketing? My local grocer has been using it for over 75 years that I know of personally. It's possible that they've been using it much longer than that, ( My local grocer has been in operation continuously for over 200 years, only 75 with the current owners). Here's how a transaction goes, (ring, ring, ring...."Yeah, hi Pete, look, next time you send the van out can you send me the usual, and add a bag of Doritos(tm) too? Yeah, thanks.")

    Notice a couple of key points in this transaction. I havn't identified myself, my grocer knows who I am without direct input from me. The bag of Doritos is delivered to my door. No financial exchange is done explicitly, finacial matters arn't even brought up.

    My grocer has a database of customers, cookies if you will, of his regular customers, i.e. he knows who I am and can recognize the sound of my voice and unique speach patterns as well as my unique buying patterns. The only thing I've had to explicitly order is the one item that he knows I *don't* normally get, ( I'm alergic to all flavors of Doritos, honest). Once a month I write him a check for the amount I owe him, an amount that is contained in a database "hyperlinked" to my order record, i.e. his 3x5 card file.

    One click shopping has been prior art for a long, long time and is obvious, as an idea, to anyone with experience in a retail trade.

    These ideas are so obvious that any sharp 12 year old could have come up with them without expending a great deal of mental effort.

  • Google seems to have an aversion to advertising and keyword sales. Why are they bothering with a patent if they don't seem to be interested in generating a cent of revenue through normal means? Is it because of terms of some government funding they've gotten?
  • If Google's search engine is so original and they manage to keep it on tracks then there will be minimal problems. Maybe we will loose some dynamism in its progress but it is hard to level this point. Meanwhile if they do not touch similar algorithms that may slightly resemble their engine then we have all doors open to progress and an healthy competition.

    However if they jump on the bandwagon on "how unique" their search engine is and stop making any serious developements on it. If, beyond this, they start playing lawsuits over similar systems. And if they simply try to hold market tighten to their original idea then we will have a lot of trouble. We have tons of examples on how such policies killed whole technologies. I cannot evaluate what benefits/losses we got from such thing as STAC vs Microsoft. But we can be sure that this story placed "disk compression" systems into a marginal alley. Today we have 6, 9, 13, 20, 28 Gb disks. Most of us may not feel how critical such systems can be sometimes, even if you have a lot of space laying around for most of the time. However, there are situations when a flexible, fast and light compression system would do a lot of help, specially in some extreme moments. However there are a lot of caveats on those systems that exist today. And I believe that this happens because disk compression is still healing from this conflict.
  • Let's give them the benefit of the doubt for a moment and assume that they have a legitimate non-obvious patent claim here. Then from a practical point of view, wouldn't it be great if we could persuade them to allow use of the patent in all free (speech) software projects. It would aid their PR, and would still protect them from people like Altavista. Note that due to the very nature of patents, this would enforce a form of copyleft on any software using their patent - making the software non-free would impinge the patent licensing agreement.

    I might add that this is simply a practical compromise to the situation, and not a general solution for patents. If anyone here were ever to patent anything, then I would strongly recommend them to put the patent in the intelectual public domain. Patenting, unlike copyright, takes away more that just the right to someone's work - it takes away the right to someone's thoughts. Now whether you live in RMS's communist (from community) society or ESR's anarchist one, this impinges on your basic communal/individual freedoms and is hence a Bad Thing.

    Still, until we can persuade the (US) government that software patents in their present form don't work -- and many of the upcoming court cases should hopefully help us do that -- approaching the company involved seems to be the only alternative to putting our head in the sand and hoping they don't see us.
  • it takes away the right to someone's thoughts

    How the HELL do you reach this conclusion?

    The only thing a patent grants the owner is a limited ability to prevent others from using an invention. Google comes up with a new search engine and patents it. Anyone can still think all they want about the methods used, and in fact do R&D on it without infringing. In fact, without patent protection the chance is you WOULDN'T be thinking about the Google algorithms because they would be kept as a trade secret.

    Governments take away your rights every time they make a law. The laws against murder take away your rights to shoot somebody just because you have a headache.

    The point of laws is that the OVERALL gain is supposed to outweigh the loss of freedom associated with having a law. Back in the 17th century governmants worked out the principle that granting patents in exchange for requiring the inventor to publish his technology was a benefit to society as a whole. If it weren't for patents, the Google inventors WOULD NOT be publishing their algorithms and you would have no idea how their search engine worked unless you tried to re-engineer it yourself, a needless duplication of effort.

    until we can persuade the (US) government that software patents in their present form don't work

    I won't argue with that - any system can be improved.

  • You are obviously unaware that in many fields, drugs and genetic reasearch come immedeiately to mind, it can take more than 25 years to bring a product to market *after* the patent in approved.

    I'm not unaware of that at all, I just don't think sick people are willing to wait 25 years to get well.

    If you can't bring your product to market in 3 years, then somebody else will. You can play on a level playing field after that.

    If it takes 25 years to figure out if the product is safe and effective, then everybody else is in the same boat as you anyway, and your patent doesn't protect you anyway because nobody can sell the product.

    If 3 year patents mean we have to come up with faster ways to test drugs, then good. If we can't, which is entirely possible, then we don't need the damn patents anyway.
  • Incorrect. IBM is a smaller percentage player in a much larger pond.

    They've made vast scads of money off PCs. If they weren't open, they'd have made 100% of a tiny market, for much less money than what they've made of their tiny piece of a huge market.

    IBM's own stupidity in trying to close it back up hurt them, not their decision to open it.

    If IBM didn't agree with this, they wouldn't be pushing open software now as well as the open hardware.

    Hell, this is the company that recently release an open spec for PowerPC motherboards, too.

    I didn't get the history wrong, folks. I was there, I lived it, and I'm telling you that the majority of you are reading this now because the hardware was cloneable, not despite it.
  • Until Google starts to sue infringers, I'm happy with it. It searches extremely well. For instance: Moderate this down (-1, Underwhelming)
  • Well, perhaps their enthusiasm for free/open source software (unless paid mercenery astroturfers count as slashdotters these days), but beyond that I doubt you'll find slashdotters agreeing on much of anything.

    Some of us (such as myself) believe that patents should be eliminated entirely, that they are a diservice to humankind and do more to harm and slow down technological progress in all areas of scientific endeavor than any other single thing.

    Others are against software patents, but do not feel the same reasoning applies to other disciplines.

    Others are simply against the pathetically obvious patents being issued by the USPO, and would like to replace the people issuing these patents but keep the system as it is largely unchanged.

    Still others feel the same as above, except they would like to see the system reformed in various ways. How exactly it would be reformed is a conversation that, among slashdotters at least, will result in numerious, boistrous, and often mutually exclusive opinions and suggestions.

    Finally, there are some here who ardently support and approve of the patenting system just the way it is.

    All of these points of view probably stack up as a minority opinion when taken against all the others.

    The myth of a "typical" slashdotter is one being bandied about by Microsoft-paid astroturfers and the like, and has little if anything to do with reality. It is as nonsensical as arguing that a crowd of people who unanimously expect the sun to rise in the east are therefor conformist and can be expected to agree on just about everything else. As with most things, we mostly disagree on the issue of patents and what to do about them and the problems some of us believe they cause. Hell, we even argue about the implimentation of the one thing we all do agree on -- how best to create and nurture free software (BSD vs GPL, Gnome vs. KDE, etc.). If we can't agree on that, it is highly unlikely we'll agree on anything, except maybe that the sun, probably, will rise in the east tommorow, unless of course it doesn't.
  • Patenting the concept of 'one-click shopping' is ridiculous, granted. But is it ridiculous to patent some novel piece of enabling technology?

    Even patenting an algorithm may be acceptable, if the algorithm is specified enough to be recognizable as such, and complex enough as to not be a basic building block in the whole field of thought. For example, Dijkstra's routing algorithm is recognizable regardless of the implementation language. It even bears the man's name ferchrisakes. And there are alternatives applicable to the problem domain - though they have somewhat different characteristics.

    But patenting the binary search is dead wrong. It's like seeking a patent on covalent bonding. Not only is there prior art that predates any binary search implementation (since it's an obvious way of zeroing in on an item in a sorted collection of anything), it's also a fundamental building block, with hardly a comparable alternative.

    Worst of all is that which has been emerging lately. Umbrella patents on a concept are evil. These seek to corner a broad idea and corral all implementations. Things like 'one-click shopping' are right on the fringe of the umbrella patent trend. And the only reason the trend didn't get squashed on the first lame attempt is because the people granting the patents are not up to date or knowledgable in the computer field. Much like the legal system isn't up to date on the computer industry (witness the DOJ vs M$ sideshow. Melissa, et al). Much like the legislature isn't up to date on the computer industry (crypto restrictions).. Blah, blah, blah.

    As you point out though, there is a benefit to patents - even the questionable ones on algorithms. In time, we'll get to see their innards. With 'trade secrets' we do not have this option, until somone brute-forces it. Isn't this the case of Intel, with AMD making a workalike having guessed at the contents of the 'trade secret' black box?
  • by InfiniterX ( 12749 ) on Monday December 27, 1999 @05:12AM (#1443407) Homepage
    Why is this patent bad? Google's people invested their hard work and time into developing a page analysis method, and they are more than within their rights to patent it.

    Patenting a concept (i.e. the "concept" of banner ads) is relatively questionable business behavior. Patenting an IMPLEMENTATION of that is not - it helps the developers protect their investments, and it forces everyone else to find a better way to do the same thing.

    Here Google's authors can rest assured that nobody will steal the fruits of their hard work, and it prompts the rest of the community to come up with a different implementation of a page rankings algorithm that may be better or serve a different purpose.

    I'm sure that if someone were to release a competing search engine using Google's algorithm, this entire community would be up in arms about it. So why don't you allow Google the chance to protect their work?

  • The fact that no-one else was doing this doesn't mean that no-one else thought of it or that it isn't obvious.

    Why the hell not? It seems to me the fact there no one else was doing it is a pretty good clue that it wasn't obvious. How long have search engines been around? There are many search engines out on the net, using all kinds of weird methods, most of which are ineffective.

    One of the more famous cases of a patent granted on this basis was the use of a ramp to slow down a bowling ball when it was returned to the bowler. Prior to this invention people had problems with the balls getting damaaged, people getting broken fingers, etc. when the balls arrived back at the front of the lane.

    An inventor came up with the idea of a ramp, and tried to patent it. At first it was rejected because it looked so obvious. HOWEVER, on appeal the patent was allowed because of the fact that the problems it solved had been around for a long time, and nobody previously had come up with this as a solution - proving the idea was in fact not obvious.

  • There's nothing wrong with taking out a software patent, in today's crazy world. It's a good way to make yourself look good to investors, for example.

    The problem is suing other people based on that patent.
  • Google Search: "the end of the world as we know it" []

    Search engine envy? Can't disagree with the second result, though..

  • The idea of using links/citation for ranking the importance of search results predates the web, and other groups had built search engines based on rankings using links/citations before Google (but didn't go the startup route). It seems to me that, up to some tweaks, PageRank is one of the more straightforward implementations for the web.

    It's really hard to tell without seeing the patent how broad its claims are. On the whole, this patent doesn't seem any worse than a lot of other software patents. Depending on its claims, however, I think there may be some published prior art.

    Incidentally, take a look at NorthernLight (; they have a patent on their search folders, again something that is very close to widely used techniques.

    On the whole, startups don't have a choice: VCs want patents. Those patents are needed for defense and negotiation with other companies in cross-licensing deals. Almost everybody (other than the lawyers) would be better off if these software patents didn't exist, but as long as the patent office will grant them and courts will enforce them, everybody has to get them.

  • The crux of the issue for me is that I don't think "easily independently invented" is very measurable. A lot of best software algorithms I've seen have been smack in the forehead obvious *after* you've seen them, but in fact weren't discovered for a decade or more. To look at an algorithm and determine whether another programmer could duplicate it independently in x amount of time is worse than the halting problem.

    We don't patent expressions of natural language, even when they required years of unique experience to provide a never before discovered insight with profound effects on readers. Language is copyrighted to protect the work that went into collating and presenting the information. I think the difference between natural and computer language is one of degree, especially in the realm of pseudo-agorithms expressed in a natural language, which is what is really patented. We would be better off protecting algorithmic implementations with copyright than with patents protecting algorithmic ideas.

    Imagine if authors could patent the story idea of a trip to Mars. Think of all the great science fiction that wouldn't have been written in 17 years. The fact that authors copy each other's ideas with their own original twists is to the benefit of all, including the author with the original idea, whose market is expanded. I don't really think software is all that different.
  • No, you missed the middle ground, which I think is where most slashdotters will stand:

    We are against software patents.

    IBM can go ahead and patent all they want on physical computing devices. Just don't get us (or me anyway) riled up by trying to PATENT some piece of software - that's what copyrights are for. And don't even THINK about patenting an algorithm - those are just not patentable, if you believe the current US patent laws. An algorithm is a mathematical formula and as such, is unpatentable. Of course, that hasn't stopped anyone in the computing industry before, witness RSA.

    Google is just fine if they want to COPYRIGHT the code they've written. They'd just better not think about PATENTING "index all the pages on the internet and rank pages by how many other pages link to them." That's an algorithm and is unpatentable. Of course, like I said, the USPTO is certainly not going to pay attention to their own laws and will surely grant them a patent for it anyway.


  • Software patents are a Bad Thing. It's good to fight to change them. But until they actually are changed, we do have to respect the system.

    However, until the patent system is changed, it can yet prove useful. Consider: The GPL uses copyright, which is supposed to prevent people from copying works, to instead allow such copying. Something similar could (albeit more expensively) be done with patents relatively easily. Get the rights to it, then give others those same rights freely.

    Last I checked, Google was Open-Source. Since OSS and the typical uses of software patents are antithetical, my guess is that this is what Google is trying to do. It'll apply a GPL-like license to the patent: you may use this technology in your products, provided that either 1) those products do not involve any other patented technology or 2) any other patented technology used is licensed is distributable and usable under the terms of this license.

    It's a shame that Google has to do this; patents are expensive. But when you have a system that people twist to knock others out, you have to twist it too in order to survive.
  • These ideas are so obvious that any sharp 12 year old could have come up with them without expending a great deal of mental effort.

    The problem is that those things are obvious now. Where they this obvious two years ago? I know you'll say "yes", but I really wonder.


  • The proliferation of obvious patents (windowing, one-click shopping) is starting to make us lose sight of the core issue: software patents should never have been allowed.

    Algorithms cannot be patented. No matter what you may think about that; that's the law. The idea that you can't patent an algorithm, but you can patent the concept of implementing that algorithm in software is simply absurd, and we won't get out of this mess until software patents are rejected.

    If the algorithm behind google can't be patented, then it makes no sense to patent the implementation of the algorithm in software. The specific implementation can be protected by copyright law. The *idea* of implementing an algorithm in software is an obvious one.

    So even if you think Google has done significant and non-obvious work here, that's irrelevant. The algorithm may be impressive, but that's not patentable. And the implementation may represent significant work, but that's protected by copyright. There's simply no place for patents here.

    Now, I'm not really attacking google here. The law is a mess and Google has to play the game. But this madness has to stop soon. The Internet would never have come into being if this mess of patenting every idea in sight existed 25 years ago.

  • The Constituional goal of patent law is to encourage the sciences, not industry.

    What's the dividing line between science and industry?


  • Take the situation of filing a patent in the US. And then you talk about the technology. At that moment the European Patent applications becomes invalid. European Patent applications do not care whether you have filed in the US. The point is that once it is public and no patent has been filed, it become automatically invalid.
  • Here is the letter I wrote them. I'm not sure what email address you should use for this sort of things; anyone?

    Date: Mon, 27 Dec 1999 18:50:02 +0100
    From: Vilhelm Sjöberg
    Subject: Concerning the Patent on PageRank.
    X-Mailer: Mutt 0.95.6i

    Dear Sir,

    I am writing to you, since it has been called to my attention (through the
    recent Slashdot article) that you are applying for a patent for the PageRank
    measure. I urge you to reconsider this decision. If you feel that that is
    impossible, at least consider granting use of this technology to everyone,
    without licensing fees.

    When I first learnt about Google I was excited, not only about the remarkably
    high-quality results it returned, but equally much about the fresh attitude
    exhibited in for example the paper "The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual
    Web Search Engine". Quotes like

    "Up until now most search engine development has gone on at companies with
    little publication of technical details. This causes search engine
    technology to remain largely a black art and to be advertising oriented.
    With Google, we have a strong goal to push more development and
    understanding into the academic realm."

    gave an impression of a company which took true "community responsablity" (to
    use a marketing word): rather than being content with some market share, you
    aimed to improve the state of the art in web searchers. The academic
    background seemed to vouch for a free dissemination of information, following
    a tradition much older than IPOs and Market Relations.

    With its connections with the academic domain, Google would be clearly aware
    of the damages patents on algorithms has done to the level of technology used
    in many fields. Research itself might not be hampered (since the academic
    study of an invention is not covered by patents), but its adoption in everyday
    life is critically hampered.

    The clearest example of this is in the field of data compression, where
    algorithms like PPM (which has existed for decades) remain unused due to
    patent problems. Some more current algorithms _were_ in fact adopted, for
    example Ross Williams' variations on Ziv-Lempel coding which were implemented
    by GNU, only to be forced to withdraw. Instead, the commercial field remains
    dominated by LZ77 (Zip, Gzip), or LZ78 (compress). Imagine if Ziv and Lempel
    also had patented their results; then we would still be using per-symbol
    huffman coding like the Unix utility pack(3).

    The Google founders should be well aware how new inventions in this area must
    depend on older; indeed the paper mentioned above itself acknowledges this when
    it describes the PageRank:

    "Academic citation literature has been applied to the web, largely by
    counting citations or backlinks to a given page. This gives some
    approximation of a page's importance or quality. PageRank extends this idea
    by not counting links from all pages equally, and by normalizing by the
    number of links on a page."

    Patenting the PageRank would frustrate further development in text searching
    and block its actual adoption, in the same way that would have been the case
    if the "Academic citation literature" had been covered by patents.

    By filing for patent of PageRank, Google has chosen Profit over Progress. If
    more users become disillusioned like I have, you might find you will gain

    Sincerely Yours,
    Vilhelm Sjöberg

    -Vilhelm Sjöberg "355/113 -- not the famous number, but an incredibly good imitation!"

  • I disagree. What is obvious changes with time, and if it isn't specifically about the Internet, then it may change with culture as well. The problem with patents is that it causes market stagnation.
  • Although software itself is not patentable (and should not be), technologies and algorithms definitely are.

    The above-quoted statement is a restatement of a common misconcetion about patent law. It mistates the law, at the same time, by overstating and understating the scope of patentable subject matter. It overstates the scope of patentable subject matter, in that there exists a narrow class of abstract "mathematical algorithms" which are non-patentable. It understates that scope because software, "itself," is most certainly patentable in some cases. Claims directed solely to software have been allowed by the PTO and enforced by the Courts under the United States Patent Act.

    The modern standard is basically, "anything under the sun made by man." A patent claim directed to software is patentable, even if it recites a mathematical algorithm, if it constitutes a "practical application of a mathematical algorithm, . . . [by] produc[ing] 'a useful, concrete and tangible result.'" See AT&T Corp. v. Excel Communications, Inc., No. 98-1338 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 14, 1999) [].

    If the lawyer properly framed the claims, it is these days almost frivolous to argue the validity of a software patent claim on subject matter grounds. The only issue is the traditional question as to whether the invention was novel, useful and unobvious, as those terms are used in the Patent Act.
  • by werdna ( 39029 ) on Monday December 27, 1999 @08:30AM (#1443468) Journal
    The standard is not whether the invention was obvious to "one 'skilled in the art', e.g. a geek'." To the contrary, the standard is whether "the differences between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art are such that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains." 35 U.S.C. s. 103(a).

    The issue is not whether in hindsight an expert would think the issue is obvious, but whether a dull, ordinary, hack familiar with the art without the benefit of knowing the solution -- or even a requirements specification of the problem -- would find the differences obvious.

    So what, then, if we are to charge Amazon with invalidity, is the relevant prior art that makes obvious the one-click solution? And if the solution was so obvious, given the need to do it, why wasn't it done by others before Amazon did it? It is interesting to note that B&N's lawyers couldn't come up with a plausible answer to that question during the preliminary injunction hearings. Where is the "clear and convincing" evidence of invalidity, then, apart from the naked assertion of obviousness so frequently asserted in these letters?

    I do not assert that invalidating prior art does not exist. I merely note that no one has come close, so far, to presenting any.
  • by / ( 33804 )
    What, pray tell, are patents good for other than restricting your competitors from doing what you have patented? What value does a patent have if there is no threat of a lawsuit? Maybe if you had said "only defensive lawsuits" I would've agreed with you. As it is, I can't distinguish your statement from a hypothetical one like "It's not the sun that's the problem; it's that giant celestial body we orbit around that's the problem."

    Even investors, who are overvaluing everything in sight these days, wouldn't touch you on this one.
  • I seem to recall a group at Watson Labs working on a similar eigenvector-based ranking system for citation analysis. I believe that research was discussed in a Scientific American article sometime in the last year or so.

    Is this the same guy, or am I conflating technologies?
  • What on earth are you smoking?

    CAST, a cryptographic algorithm is patented.
    So is IDEA.
    So is RSA.
    So was Diffie-Hellman.
    So was Lucifer.
    So were knapsack ciphers.
    MISTY1, certain implementations of elliptic curve crypto, FEAL, REDOC, REDOC II, Khufu, Khafre, CA-1.1, RC5, RC6 (?), Pohlig-Hellman, DSA, ESIGN, Fiat-Shamir, Schnorr, EKE, and *many* *many* other cryptographic algorithms have or have had patents.

    This isn't some recent development, as the RSA patent was obtained in 1983.

    If someone comes up with a new and innovative process for doing something, by all means, let them patent it. That's what it's there for.

    RSA (the three guys) came up with a process by which people could communicate securely. Yes, it involves math. So? You could say that the KegHead could be expressed mathematically, but does that mean it's a mathematical formula? Say I take simple addition and come up with some ground-breaking new way to open cans. Is that a mathematical formula?

    I don't see how you can say you shouldn't be able to patent algorithms. Algorithms are processes, and why can't you patent a process?

    On a side note, this is *way* old news. Google has had a "patent pending" sign on it since I first knew about it.
  • It must not be that obvious, because other search engines have been around for years without using this algorithm.

    Now Google uses it, and it actually returns links that make sense because of it. I think it deserves the patent.
  • There are two successful methods you can choose, depending on your own creativity, to create a search result that will point to

    The first is to go to and find some words that you can string together and take out of context. Remember: Google doesn't preserve the order of your words, and is one of the most linked websites on the web, so whatever string you put together will likely point to them first before others, and this is even more true if you reference Bill Gates.

    To illustrate this, we can put together a simple string of words like Bill Gates eats customers in his office []. All of those words are found on Microsoft's site, and lo and behold, is the first site to come up.

    The second technique is really just a variation on the first: when Google encounters a word in your search that it doesn't understand, it just drops it and proceeds with the rest of your search. Thus, if you are creative and come up with a word that sounds like an obscene sexual act but which doesn't actually exist in the English language, like for instance "oingoboingo", you can make a lovely search like Bill Gates oingoboingoed your mother []. Again, is the first site to come up, after "oingoboingoed" is dropped.

    Now you too can explore your own personal brand of juvenile humor.
  • IMHO industry is the application of science for profit.

    Internal combustion is science. Using the principle in an engine that powers automobiles is industry.

    Zymurgy is science. Using zymurgy to create beer is industry.
  • You are missing one important point:

    Google [] does not only look at the result pages (micros~1 in this example) for the search terms you entered, but also at the links that point to that page! This is in fact one of the reasons why Google is so good.

    I don't think the words evil and satan appear on their homepage, but instead they probably appear on some (or many) links to them.

    Look here [] for more about this.

    - Stephan.

    Carpe diem.

  • Damn right, IANAL, but how about this:

    A physical device that implements an algorithm is patentable: nobody else can sell such a device without paying royalties.

    A list of instructions that carries out an algorithm is non-physical (can be written down on paper, on a floppy, etc.) and is no more patentable than a recipe in a cookbook.

    When the list of instructions is written down in an executable file on a PC's hard disk, and that computer then carries out the algorithm, it has for the moment become a patentable device.

    HOWEVER, as a practical matter, it is wrong to define a general purpose computer as a specialized device that was designed to carry out one particular algorithm. The PC is really a general-purpose algorithmic simulator that happens to have become very fast.

    If I write down a "patented" algorithm on my PC's hard disk, and sell it as a "device", all I'm really selling is a general purpose computer (non-patented) with some instructions on it (non-patented), and BTW it can also run Quake (copyrighted, but non-patented). Do I pay the patent holder 1/2 royalties? If I add Windows (copyrighted, but non-patented) to the "device", I've added thousands of algorithms, so do I pay the patent holder 1/1000th royalties?

    I would have to DISABLE all other capabilities from the computer, so that it could only run the original algorithm, and hence become a single purpose "device" that implements it, to be liable under the law.

    And as a user, what I run on my PC is my own damn business. I'm not selling it; I'm using it. If I own a web search company and write a google-like ranking engine, I'd be serving up web pages from a general purpose web server. I have bought nothing illegal, and am doing nothing illegal. Get a warrant and all you find is unpatentable components. Would the cop yell "Don't turn the computer off! Without electricity, the evidence will disappear!" ?

    As a fantastic example: a crescent wrench is patentable, but a blob of liquid metal that can morph into any shape cannot be called a crescent wrench, if it can also be every other tool in the box. Would the patent holder hire a guy to stand over the blob and wait for it to become a wrench again? "You see? I own that. Pay me!" If the metal blob was in my living room, I'd consider that an invasion of my privacy.

    (I've already patented the blob, so you can forget that idea.)
  • Actually, one-click shopping WAS obvious a few years back. Many considered and discarded the idea as a potential liability (user sets up one-click and orders some stuff. User's kid comes in and one-clicks a whole ton of stuff without having to authenticate or steal dad's credit card, dad disputes the charges...). In fact, I considered such a technique myself. I STILL think it's a big potential liability, and wouldn't use it unmodified even without the patent.

  • The problem is that those things are obvious now. Where they this obvious two years ago? I know you'll say "yes", but I really wonder.

    If his grocer has been using it for 75 years, I'd guess the answer is YES.

  • Yes, the real villains here are not Google (who may just be trying to defend themselves, we'll have to wait and see), but those who grant such patents in the first place.

    In the US, this seems to be mainly down to the incompetence of the USPTO, who clearly have a vested interest in expanding the scope of what is patentable. Elsewhere in the world, it is made clear that software is not patentable. Copyright makes sense for software, patents do not.

    But there are some who are lobbying to spread the US software patent system throughout the world. In particular, they seek to introduce software patents in the European Union. You can check out [] to find out more about the fight to stop this happening.

  • What I'm wondering is how Google differs from IBM's Clever []? According to a Scientific American article, clever determines relevance based on how many pages that are also considered relevant link to a given page. The process iterates several times, re-assigning the weight of each link until the solution "settles out", not unlike a bi-directional associative memory type neural net. That sounds familiar!

  • At least by my reckoning of the English language. The resulting search [] puts an American-football team on top [].
  • You, and the others arguing for long patent life, keep bringing up this same assertion that these products "wouldn't have been developed if not protected by patent".

    What exactly is it that you think the pharmaceuticals companies would do if patent life was shortened; shut their doors?

    Quit researching things altogether?

    Rubbish; they'd just have to work faster to build markets, and keep their information just about as secret as they do now before the patent is filed.

    In most countries anybody can copy their formulas who cares to; shortening the patent life would just extend that to a few more countries.

    You can still innovate, and if you can't get quite so rich on the individual products (for instance, can't charge $125 a month for Prilosec), well then you'll have to find new ways to make a buck. Producing good products at low prices and marketing them well, for instance. There's a novel freakin' concept.

    We don't need long term patents on chemical formulas, or anything else. Big business wants them because it lets them do less work for more money. Me, I'd rather have medicines available at affordable prices for the 80% of Americans (and various other population percentages in various other countries) who don't have adequate insurance coverage and aren't wealthy.
  • Yes, we're all opposed to patenting the obvious (who isn't?) but there are other big problems with software patents that go far beyond obvious stuff.

    And the big one is this: software creation doesn't require much capital. It mainly just takes time. In spite of what some people say about "The Software Crisis" or whatever, programmers can be extremely productive. We consider that to be a Good Thing and one of the neat features of this industry. If you have a mind, you can actually create something useful fairly quickly.

    Software patents change all that. Every time you write a program or even part of a program, you may be violating dozens of patents and not even know it. Even non-obvious stuff is way too easy to independently invent.

    GM can afford to do a patent search on every moving part in their next years car model, but I sure as hell can't afford to do a patent search on every loop in my code. If I have to do that, then the rate that I have to bill would jump from $50 per hour to $5000 per hour. There goes the productivity. That is what makes software patents such a bad thing.

  • The whole high tech industry which produces all the goodies we love to play with is driven by patents. IBM is not going to spend billions researching "copper" etc. and give as those lovely gigahertz processors if some company in tiawan can rip off the design as soon as it is working.

    If I were working with something that costs billions of dollars to produce, I would have no problem with hiring a patent lawyer to make sure that my billion dollars wasn't about to be spent on something that someone else had already patented.

    The problem is that I don't have lawyer money to spare. Or more to the point, my customers don't want to spend that money. When I'm working on part of an accounting or claims processing system and I need to to solve some problem, it might only take me a few minutes to unknowingly write some code that infringes on someone's patent. (In fact, I have probably done it hundreds of times.) Am I supposed to hire lawyers to review every line of my code? Do you have any idea how much code I write per year?

    My customer currently pays $250 for me to add feature X to his custom app. Imagine what would happen to me if his next invoice had the following items: $250 for programming time, $3000 for patent searches. I think he's a lot more likely to decide to do without feature X. That means I'm going to either find a job doing something uncreative (e.g. flipping burgers) or I'll have to work for a huge software company where the patent lawyers' time can be amortized over a large volume of sales. No thanks.

  • Patenting an algorhythm is a rediculous concept and needs to be ended as a legal fiction. What would happen if Albert Einstein had patented his theories and formulas? Would every Nuclear powerplant in the world have to pay royalties to his estate?

    Actually, his colleague in Chicago, Szilard (sz?) held a bunch of the seminal patents relating to nuclear fission and associated technologies.

    And, in case you hadn't heard, every "Nuclear powerplant in the world" did pay many dollars in royalties, directly and indirectly, to patent holders in the underlying technologies during those patent terms.
  • I have seen dozens of postings in Slashdot recently along the following lines:

    Algorithms cannot be patented. No matter what you may think about that; that's the law. The idea that you can't patent an algorithm, but you can patent the concept of implementing that algorithm in software is simply absurd, and we won't get out of this mess until software patents are rejected.

    This is a wild overstatement of the law. While it is true that there exists a narrow class of abstract "mathematical algorithms" that are non-patentable per se, the more general statement about algorithms is clearly false. The term, "mathematical algorithm" as used by the courts is not the same as the term is used by "computer scientists," and refers only to claims directed to the most abstract account of a narrow class of mathematical algorithms. This issue has now been well-settled by the courts in Diamond v. Diehr, State Street Bank and the cases, and is no longer considered an open legal question (except, it would seem, on Slashdot).

    And even then, the application of an algorithm to a problem (whether in software or otherwise) can be patentable even though the algorithm itself might not be patentable. Indeed, an unobvious selection of a prior art algorithm to solve a particular problem can itself be patentable. The "mathematical algorithm" rule is no more a bar to patents on applications of a "mathematical algorithm" than the "law of nature" rule is a bar to patents on an apparatus that relies on the law of gravity. While it does still have force, the importance and practical import of this rule is still wildly overstated by opponents of software patents.

    If you wish to be an effective advocate for your cause, it is imperative that you learn what is, and what is not, the law so that you can criticize it intelligently.

    The modern standard is basically, "anything under the sun made by man." A patent claim directed to software is patentable, even if it recites a mathematical algorithm, if it constitutes a "practical application of a mathematical algorithm, . . . [by] produc[ing] 'a useful, concrete and tangible result.'" See AT&T Corp. v. Excel Communications, Inc., No. 98-1338 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 14, 1999). []

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