[Mono-list] Re: someone, please clear out that patents issue

Jonathan Pryor jonpryor@vt.edu
13 Feb 2003 22:53:31 -0500

In the interest of starting...oops, stopping...a flame war, allow me to
clarify the US patent system.

It's run by a bunch of people who wouldn't know "obvious" if it
flattened them.  (I'd quote "The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy" but I'd
rather not look up a suitable quote.)

It doesn't matter how "basic" or "pre-existing" technology is.  It
doesn't even matter how "obvious" it is.  Why?  Well...  Let's just look
at some examples of existing patents.

In Australia, someone patented the wheel:


In the US, a "technique to exercise a cat" (using a laser pointer) has
been patented (obvious to anyone who has spent any time with a cat):


Then there's the new "method of swinging on a swing":


I'm sure I did that at least 15 years ago...

There's also yesterday's slashdot article about NCRs patents, which
cover such "inventions" as categorization and "secure databases" (which
probably covers passwords):


More "obvious" patents (using XOR for a screen cursor, etc.) can be
found at:


The fact of the matter is that any idea, no matter how obvious, is
likely to get a patent.  Even if it's been done before.

Hopefully this will change, but I'm not counting on it anytime soon. 

Now that I've depressed everyone about how hopeless the situation is in
the U.S., perhaps I can make this less depressing.

I am not aware of any instances in which Microsoft has sued for patent
infringement.  It has defended itself against patents at least once
(drive compression), but it has never used them against competitors. 
They appear to use patents only defensively.

Of course, my memory may be wrong.  Microsoft may change its behavior
tomorrow.  The second coming of Christ may occur this weekend, making
all this pointless.  The future is unknown.

Regardless, even if this patent application is accepted (I wouldn't be
surprised, but I'm a pessimist), I don't think the mono project needs to
worry about it.

Continue on your merry way.  I would suggest not worrying about patents
until the lawsuits star.  Unless you want to work on improving the
patent system...  Lord knows it could use the improvement.

 - Jon

p.s.  I apologize for this rant of an email, but I figured some context
would be useful.  With one group running around like headless chickens
proclaiming the end of the world because of a patent application
(perhaps I exaggerate, but I've been reading osnews.com too), and the
other group being sensible, but apparently not being understood by the
first group, I thought a good "whacking" with a clue-stick would be in

Please, no starting a flame-war over this.  Let's drop this thread
now...  We can resume it in 3 months when the next patent alert frenzy
appears. :-)

On Thu, 2003-02-13 at 21:49, ginga@kit.hi-ho.ne.jp wrote:
> Hello,
> > This does not change our plans.  You can read the FAQ, and look at the
> > question of how we will deal with patents that can not be used by free
> > software.
> Whether we deny software patents or not, it would be good if anyone
> proves that the technology of .NET API is *basic* and *pre-existed*
> as written in the Mono FAQ.
> I don't know well about U.S. patent law, but I know that if technology
> is pre-existed, it loses their entitlement about its novelty.
> In this case, Microsoft's (provisional?) application was at early 2002,
> so it is informative to the juror of the Patent Office if it became
> clear that their technology had already existed before that year,
> even only theoretically stuff at any papers.
> Maybe it is much easier topic for you developers than legal stuff :)
> Cheers,
>   Atsushi Eno
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