Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 10th Mar 2010 23:58 UTC
In the News If you thought the growing criticism directed at the United States Patent and Trademark Office would force them to rethink their strategies in granting patents, you're most likely wrong. After a re-examination that took more than four years, the USPTO has reconfirmed Amazon's ominous one-click patent.
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You are right, algorithms, in software or hardware form, are methods of doing things. But what is mathematics then? A good part of mathematics are methods too! For example, matrix multiplication is a method to multiply the numbers in matices to produce a new matrix that is a product of the input matrices. Differentiation is a method of producing the gradient of a tangent (or a function that gives the value) from a graph (a set x,y values, a two dimensional vector) or a function that gives the graph.

Why are these methods not patentable? Is it because their inventors were generous? Yes indeed they were. But the reason you do not pay a patent to some organization every time you multiply two numbers (that's a method and algorithm as well) is because the inventors of the method believed that they discovered something that was already there, i.e a part of nature. They never 'invented' it as such, they merely found it out. And they were happy to take credit for it, but most importantly, use it for their own benefit. Charging someone who chooses use their discoveries in their products (to make those products or make products that themselves allow these methods to be carried out) should have seemed bizzare to them. You should not have to pay patents to someone to make and sell an abacus, should you? Should you, even for a modern calculator? Why then, for a modern computer or now, for a video decoding hardware? Someone rearranges many, many standard mathematical operations to find a optimum way encode and decode video signals (numbers to represent moving images) and charges for it's implementation? Did they pay their patents for matrix multiplcation and calculus or for using the algorithms for multiplying and diving numbers, for using it in their algorithm?

Thinking logically, algorithms should not be patentable, either in hardware or software. Individuals/companies will find new ones and improve existing ones anyway, since they obviously need it produce better products or just for the sake for research.

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