Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 14th Jul 2011 21:16 UTC
Legal I've been sitting on this item all day. Technically, it's about patents and the like, and even I understand I've been beating this dead horse so often it almost looks like it's alive. However, this is an interesting opinion piece by Craig Hockenberry, long-time employee at The Iconfactory, one of my favourite software development houses - these guys breath software and beautiful design, and employ one of my favourite artists, David Lanham. The gist of his story? Software patents are killing the independent developer scene.
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The patent number is? I'd like to read it.

Its Patent Number 7,617,530. However, it is/was not even related to SUDO... The whole notion that it was is nothing more than the result of ill-informed people not knowing how to read a patent spreading gossip. Even the maintainer of SUDO at the time (Todd Miller) conceded it was unrelated.

Having said that - I am violently opposed to the concept of software patents for a multitude of reasons. But I also believe in honesty - 7,617,530 is not and never was an example of the real problems in the patent system. It was much ado about nothing.

If you want a good example, look at 5,893,120: "methods and apparatus for information storage and retrieval using a hashing technique with external chaining and on-the-fly removal of expired data." Google recently good sued by a patent troll over this one and lost. The offending code is actually in the Linux kernel - Google was only targeted because of the size of their pocket book (another common problem in the patent system, but I digress).

There isn't much more to it than the title of the patent - pretty much sums it up. The problem with this patent is simple:

1. Chained hashes had a multitude of examples of prior art.
2. Removal of items from a data structure during updates (i.e. self pruning) also had a multitude of examples of prior art.

There are literally thousands of patents that follow fall into this mold. The patent system allows the combination of 2 obvious inventions with prior art into a "new" one. The rationale is the combination is unique and makes it a new invention. The reality is this rationale is mind-numbing-ly stupid to anyone that does software development.

The fact that you can take two things OTHER people invented and combine them and claim ownership is absurd, but it happens all the fricken' time. Software simply should not be patent-able. period.

The problem is the rare instances where someone actually comes up with a truly unique software invention that deserves patent protection are so rare as to almost be non-existent. On top of that, it is (most of the time) relatively easy to work around a known patent in the software world with little or no downside (if you have the money and resources to do so). The system does not encourage innovation in any way, shape, or form - it simply creates a minefield where in order to survive you file patents to cover you ass and your patent portfolio grows into a bat you beat people over the head with to make them submit. It actively encourages the formation of defacto cartels through all the crazy cross licensing agreements that come about because of patent suits in large corporations. And it costs tens of thousands of dollars to do the due diligence required to actually file a software patent properly. This tips the scales heavily in favor of those with deep pockets - the exact opposite of what the system was designed to do.

How exactly does such a system foster innovation?

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