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Comment Re:It's been a while since math was relevant to CS (Score 1) 219

So when someone develops a way of doing something electronically that is novel, it should be just as worthy of receiving a patent as another idea that needs physical implementation. The milieu shouldn't matter.

The only thing that really matters is whether or not granting patents in some field "promotes progress...", as the US Constitution says, and there are a number of reasons why it is a mistake to think about patents at the individual level and in terms of "worthiness", "natural rights" etc. [q.v. the historical and economic literature]. For example, the purely ethical but very serious concerns arising from the fact that independent invention is no defence in patent law (unlike copyright), and of course the economic fact that patents can actually impede progress and reduce economic welfare.

What does matter is the quality of the idea and the quality of the process to determine the validity of the patent application. This is where the problem lies today. It's not that people shouldn't get patents for software, it's that the patents that are being granted are of such poor quality that it calls into question the whole system.

It does matter but it is by far not the only problem with patent eligibility for software and the whole system has been called into question irrespective of software and quality (by economists and long before software patents even existed). Furthermore, even if somehow only "good" software patents were granted, the overall effect on economic welfare might still be negative, and there are serious barriers (to do with things like patent examination objectivity, cross-field homogeneity of treatment, and what is practically feasible) to filtering out "bad" software patents anyway.

Comment Re:Documentation (Score 1) 891

But I still had to resort to Google.

Well no you didn't. The (often very good) documentation for GNU software is primarily in texinfo format, not man pages - although a rudimentary man page is often supplied too. I'm not surprised you didn't know that though. I used to frequent the Ubuntu developer forums but eventually became very disillusioned with what I saw there. One of the most frustrating things was the sometimes merely ignorant but sometimes apparently 'politically' motivated way the 'experts' would fob the 'newbs' off with any old shitty website or man page rather than show them how to access the excellent texinfo documentation under their noses.

Comment Re:It's a balance (Score 1) 634

Your guess seems exactly the wrong way round to me! Scheme *removes* all the barriers that most other languages place in the way of learning and doing. Take a look at some of the testimonials here if you don't believe me:

I think TFA goes even further in getting things backwards - especially where it implies that Scheme is somehow /necessarily/ all about approaching programming with academic rigour (it isn't) and that it fails to facilitate a more pedagogically suitable exploratory approach (exactly the opposite is true).

Comment Re:Backward patent logic (Score 1) 252

The "it's all maths / it's not all maths" arguments are indeed bogus - but so are the "it's truly inventive, it deserves a patent" arguments. Credit should be given and easily can be without also entailing powerful monopoly exclusion rights; your ability to commercialise some invention is not dependent on its being patentable and is not something which can be guaranteed by patents anyway; furthermore, third party patents can and often do work in exactly the opposite direction!; the patent offices never have attempted to distinguish at examination time between the truly inventive and the run-of-the-mill and for obvious reasons cannot be expected to ever be able to do so (at least not reliably, fairly and at reasonable cost); the moralistic "it deserves a patent" sort of argument falls apart when independent (re-)invention is taken into account;...

...To cut a long story short, the only arguments that really stand up in the end are the economic arguments. The fundamental economic question is this: Does granting patents in some field or industry significantly promote progress, innovation and overall economic and social welfare? If not, that field or industry certainly shouldn't be burdened with the considerable weight of negative effects that are an inevitable consequence of patent eligibility. As Fritz Machlup wrote in his 1958 Economic Review of the Patent System:

If one does not know whether a system "as a whole" (in contrast to certain features of it) is good or bad, the safest "policy conclusion" is to "muddle through - either with it, if one has long lived with it, or without it, if one has lived without it. If we did not have a patent system, it would be irresponsible, on the basis of our present knowledge of its economic consequences, to recommend instituting one. But since we have had a patent system for a long time, it would be irresponsible, on the basis of our present knowledge, to recommend abolishing it. This last statement refers to a country such as the United States of America-not to a small country and not a predominantly nonindustrial country, where a different weight of argument might well suggest another conclusion.
      While the student of the economics of the patent system must, provisionally, disqualify himself on the question of the effects of the system as a whole on a large industrial economy, he need not disqualify himself as a judge of proposed changes in the existing system. While economic analysis does not yet provide a basis for choosing between "all or nothing," it does provide a sufficiently firm basis for decisions about "a little more or a little less" of various ingredients of the patent system. Factual data of various kinds may be needed even before some of these decisions can be made with confidence. But a team of well-trained economic researchers and analysts should be able to obtain enough information to reach competent conclusions on questions of patent reform.

Here is some of that research and analysis:

Comment Re:RMS == bonkers!? (Score 1) 1008

Considering that the current legal environment is making it more and more difficult to use tech patents as a weapon against competing products

It isn't. I'm not sure what you think has changed (Bilski etc.?) but the software patent pollution level is still at saturation point and there are good reasons why patent disputes very rarely result in obvious and visible effects (e.g. litigation) anyway.

If the technology exists with no visible drawbacks, why not use it?

Sure. But this one does have visible drawbacks.

Ironically, given the enormous landscape of opportunities they've had (and still have), I'm very disappointed at the way (some) major FOSS projects have chosen mimicry and cloning over innovation in recent years and I'm sorely tempted to hope that the patent situation gets worse!

Comment Re:RMS == bonkers!? (Score 4, Informative) 1008

What an idiotic statement by RMS! Why should it be a danger? If there are any software patent issues, they are certainly not on C# which is an open standard

But Microsoft (and our co-sponsors, Intel and Hewlett-Packard) went
further and have agreed that our patents essential to implementing C#
and CLI will be available on a "royalty-free and otherwise RAND" basis
for this purpose.

RMS == bonkers!?

No - just well-informed and cautious. Some people seem to trust that patent holders won't in future want to leverage patents covering tech. that could, invitingly, become deeply embedded in competing products. Others are more cynical / have read the patent strategy manuals and think that that sort of trust is naïvely optimistic. :)

RMS is actually harming many F/OSS projects with these stupid comments. What a letdown.

Quite the reverse.

Comment NW is better than W but it still ain't true N. (Score 1) 88

One day maybe they'll get it right and appoint someone with a working compass but it seems to me (from reading the article you linked) that Kappos' thinking is just as devoid of the empirically informed economic theory necessary to navigate patent system issues rationally and ethically as any of his predecessors'. Ironically, Dudas was probably slightly better placed background-wise to grasp why it's so extremely dubious that software should be patent eligible subject matter at all. A further irony is that IBM once (in the 1960s) at least seemed to understand patent system economics well enough to have made it their policy " be sure that nobody bottled up software and algorithms by getting patents on them.":

Comment Re:I call shenanigans! (Score 1) 332

...automatically updating any program while its running without any interruption (which would be quite a feat if accomplished...

Depends on the program I suppose, but there would be nothing remarkable about accomplishing such feats in running Lisp programs. There's an amusing example of what is possible in this general area here:

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