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Patent 5,893,120 Reduced To Pure Math 323

An anonymous reader writes "US Patent #5,893,120 has been reduced to mathematical formulae as a demonstration of the oft-ignored fact that there is an equivalence relation between programs and mathematics. You may recognize Patent #5,893,210 as the one over which Google was ordered to pay $5M for infringing due to some code in Linux. It should be interesting to see how legal fiction will deal with this. Will Lambda calculus no longer be 'math'? Or will they just decide to fix the inconsistency and make mathematics patentable?"
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Patent 5,893,120 Reduced To Pure Math

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  • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @02:57PM (#35992140)
    it doesn't matter if program is reducible to mathematics, only that a claim for a software patent might be valid if it contains "a mathematical formula [and] implements or applies the formula in a structure or process which, when considered as a whole, is performing a function which the patent laws were designed to protect" []
  • So? (Score:5, Informative)

    by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @02:59PM (#35992148)
    This point has been made repeatedly, but nobody cares. The eHarmony patent was shown to be nothing more than linear algebra with particular names assigned to each variable. People have been pointing out the relationship between software and lambda calculus since before most Slashdot users were in high school, but it has had practically no impact on the legality or public opinion of software patents.
  • by wagnerrp ( 1305589 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @03:08PM (#35992204)
    That's why patents used to require a physical demonstration. Ideas were all well and good, but until you demonstrated a physical device that acted like the patent claimed, you could not get it patented. This was intended to prevent fraudulent devices that looked good on paper but could never actually be manufactured, like perpetual motion machines. It could just as easily prevent software, algorithms and business methods.
  • by Grond ( 15515 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @04:27PM (#35992680) Homepage

    I am an attorney & patent agent and I hold multiple degrees in mathematics and computer science, so I feel fairly competent to speak on this issue.

    The claims require a physical implementation (e.g. "An information storage and retrieval system"). No amount of math will produce such a system out of the aether. Nor does thinking about the math or the formulas on pen & paper infringe the patent. The specification makes it clear that "information storage and retrieval system" refers to a computer system. Thus, the patent was not actually reduced to pure mathematics.

    The nonpatentability of mathematics refers literally to patenting a formula or algorithm without any useful application, just as chemical elements cannot be patented but a mechanical device made entirely of a single element could be. A claim to a bare formula would be invalid for lack of utility as well as lack of patentable subject matter. Consequently, the Curry-Howard Correspondence has no effect on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions.

  • Re:Math? (Score:4, Informative)

    by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt.nerdflat@com> on Sunday May 01, 2011 @04:27PM (#35992686) Journal
    Based on what is evidently your limited understanding of mathematics (you did not realize that iterations and conditions exist in math, for example), I would be inclined to speculate that if someone were to humor your request and show you a legitimate mathematical formula that was isomorphic to the patent, that you would not understand it, and proclaim it to be invalid presentation on that basis.
  • Patent Law Explained (Score:5, Informative)

    by xkr ( 786629 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @04:41PM (#35992782)

    All of patent law deals with interpretations, most of which are involve varying degrees of subtly.

    The Federal Circuit Court has provided a great deal of well-written guidance. This particularly applies to what is and is not patentable.

    The issue of what is and is not patentable is not black and white, such as, “mathematical formulas are not patentable,” or “software is patentable.”

    A process that creates something useful and tangible is patentable, whether or not that process involves a calculation. What is not patentable is a “pure” formula that is not tied to something tangible. Data structures are tricky. The newer rules (yes, lots of mistakes were made in the past) are that generalized data structures, such as a table or a linked list, do not count as “tangible.” However, if those data structures are used (critically) to perform useful work, such as to refine steel or to serve up ads on websites, then the ENTIRE process is patentable. Subject, of course to all the other restrictions, such as non-obviousness.

    These rules are not really new. They are the same rules that apply to mechanical inventions. For example, you cannot patent a “law of nature,” even it is something complex and nobody else knew about it. You can, however, patent a new device that takes advantage of this law of nature. For example, you cannot patent super-conductivity, but you can patent a useful device that uses super-conductivity.

    Even mechanical inventions could be reduced to equations. CAD systems and hardware description languages are such examples. However, these “mathematical” representations have no bearing on the patentability.

    Thus, the “deaf ears” referred to are those practitioners in the field who are following well-established law.

    You don’t have to like current patent law. Many people don’t. European rules, for example, are different that ours. Note that not liking is distinct from not understanding.

    - Registered Patent Agent

  • by bunratty ( 545641 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @04:59PM (#35992902)

    The device is not what is patented. If you build a device out of metal and that device is covered by a patent, and then I make a device using the same plans but I make mine out of wood, it uses the patented idea. Similarly, I can write an algorithm in C or Fortran, and no matter which I use if the algorithm is patented both pieces of source code use the patented idea. It's the idea of how to construct the device which is patented. Otherwise, a trivial way to get around any patent would be to build a minimally different device.

    This is actually what happens in the pharmaceutical industry. If a drug is patented, the molecule itself is patented. If someone makes any change to the molecule, no matter how slight, the new molecule is not covered by the patent.

"If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong." -- Norm Schryer