Algorithms are a relatively precise set of instructions describing some process. In another words, they are ideas – complex chains of ideas, but still nothing more. Since algorithms can be “protected” by patents (at least in USA), one can perform variety of socially defined thoughtcrimes just by doing what is a natural proclivity and right of every sentient being: play with ideas, copy ideas, modify ideas, look how they combine, …
Since the beginning of human history, the already established social interest (individuals, groups) were using the social “laws” to prevent loss of profitability that their established position keeps bringing to them. It was like that since ever, and it will be until the last human society exists. The phenomena does not change, only its specifics take new faces and names.
The USA patent system (and its projection to the international domain) currently acts as one such social restraint, a force of conservation of established, and prevention of new. Through the last several decades it got corrupted by extending the application of the idea of patentability from the specific implementations of the algorithms to the general/abstract algorithms themselves.
The newest example of consequences of ability to patent the algorithms is following minor incident where a company that has successfully patented an algorithm to fingerprint the sound/music files threatens an developer who dared to implement general outlines of that algorithm afresh.
- [ NNSquad ] Open Source Music Fingerprinter Receives C&D Order, Drawing Attention to His Work – http://www.nnsquad.org/archives/nnsquad/msg03827.html
Summary: A software and music enthusiast in the Netherlands does a blog post explaining his analysis of music “fingerprinting” — and
quickly receives a Cease and Desist order from the Shazam patent holders (Landmark Digital Services) ordering it to be removed. As a result, vast new attention has been drawn to the many mirrored copies of his analysis and code fragments. Even if we assume this represents “due diligence” by Landmark Digital
Services, the end result is lots more people playing with code that Landmark presumably had wished to suppress.
- Open Source Music Fingerprinter Gets Patent Nastygram (SlashDot; 2010.07.08) – http://yro.slashdot.org/story/10/07/08/2311225/Open-Source-Music-Fingerprinter-Gets-Patent-Nastygram
- Blog posts by the author of the suppressed implementation – http://www.redcode.nl/blog/2010/06/creating-shazam-in-java/:
- Free Software Coder Bullied over *Algorithm* (OPEN blog; 2010.07.08) – http://opendotdotdot.blogspot.com/2010/07/patent-bullying-over-algorithms.html
- Told to remove blog posts describing patented algorithm (Hacker News) – http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1496683
- Apparently, describing a patented algorithm is infringement (reddit) – http://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/cn79s/apparently_describing_a_patented_algorithm_is/
- Describing How To Create A Software Program Now Puts You At Risk Of Contributory Patent Infringement? (TechDirt; 2010.07.08) – http://delta.techdirt.com/articles/20100708/04230710128.shtml
- After creating Shazam in Java, patent infringement claim (DZone) – http://www.dzone.com/links/after_creating_shazam_in_java_patent_infringement.html
it’s a very nasty area, as anyone who has had a cease and desist letter can testify. when you are an individual up against a company, there is little chance as the system is so biased towards those who can weather the deep lawyer fees. this is the opposite of what the original patent system was intended for — it was designed to protect the little guy’s invention.
- Patent Threat for Posting Partial Sources to a Weekend Project (The Command Line blog; 2010.07.08) – http://thecommandline.net/2010/07/08/patent-threat-for-posting-partial-sources-to-a-weekend-project/
- When amateur programming meets patent infringement (digg) – http://digg.com/programming/When_amateur_programming_meets_patent_infringement
- “Patent holder’s demand: stop discussing my patent” by Cory Doctorow (BoingBoing; 2010.07.08) – http://www.boingboing.net/2010/07/08/patent-holders-legal.html
Briggs appears to be saying that his US patents grant him the right to prevent van Rijn from discussing its subject matter — and that they also constitutes a ban on publishing code that may violate them, even in regions where the patent hasn’t been granted, even in regions (such as the EU), where software itself isn’t patentable.
- Robust Landmark-Based Audio Fingerprinting – http://labrosa.ee.columbia.edu/~dpwe/resources/matlab/fingerprint/
- “How Shazam Works” By Bryan Jacobs – http://laplacian.wordpress.com/2009/01/10/how-shazam-works/
Related here: “Broken patents system” – http://eikonal.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/broken-patents-system/
| “Broken patents system” – http://eikonal.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/broken-patents-system/