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Michael Kay wrote:
> I find it completely bizarre that this kind of thing can get past the
> "obviousness" test.
> The US Patent Office is clearly not applying stringent enough criteria.
> What I would like to know is, is it a conspiracy (protectionism for the
> US software industry, jobs for the lawyers), or is it just incompetence?
I believe it's just that your definition of "obvious" and the legal
definition are far apart.
Programmers are inventors by nature. They routinely replace algorithms,
formats, languages, protocols, etc. with not quite interchangeable
equivalents to improve performance, reduce overhead, expand
interoperability, etc. More rarely, they create a new one of these
things. So they view replacement by near-equivalents and creation of new
alternatives as very different processes.
A patent lawyer's view of "obvious" is very different. According to
http://www.bitlaw.com/patent/requirements.html, patent examiners test
the nonobviousness requirement by seeing if prior patents can be
combined to produce the claimed invention. They don't take an opinion
poll of people skilled in the art. If the prior art does not include all
the elements in the claim, it will not fail this test.
They will also consider whether the invention can be derived from an
existing invention by simply substituting one "material" for another.
Bob Wyman thinks this should stop patents like the one in question, but
I don't see it. If the "material" substituted brings any measurable
improvement to an existing process, then use of the material is
patentable (or DuPont would have gone out of business long ago). An
equivalent, I'm afraid, means almost exactly equivalent, like the
substitution of one inert ingredient for another.
The comp.compression FAQ is instructive. Lempel and Ziv genuinely
invented several new compression algorithms, some of which are in the
public domain. But improvements to all of them have been patented. To
even an ordinary programmer swapping out a linear search and replacing
it with a hash lookup or a tree lookup is "obvious", the sort of thing
programmers do every day. All such obvious substitutions are the basis
of patents, one of which was used by Stac to obtain a $120 million court
judgement against Microsoft.
I'm not a lawyer, either. But Henry Petroski's book, The Evolution of
Useful Things, where he traces the patent trail of the paperclip, helped
me understand that patent examiners don't (and can't) think like
Patents stopped making sense to programmers the day that software
patents were allowed. The fact that every day they seem to make less and
less sense only means that programmers don't look at patents every day.
> Michael Kay
>>Systems, methods and data structures for encompassing scripts
>>in one or more scripting languages in a single file. The
>>scripts of a
>>computer system are organized into a single file using Extensible
>>Language Markup (XML). Each script is delimited by a file
>>the script's instructions are delimited by a code element
>>file element. Other information, such as a name of the script and a
>>functional description of the script may also be included in
>>using other XML elements to delimit that information. The
>>which a particular script is written is also included within
>>format. When a particular script is executed, the file is parsed to
>>create a list of the script names or of the functional
>>the scripts. One or more scripts are selected and the code
>>scripts is extracted from the file and executed by the appropriate
>>scripting process. The scripting process that executes a particular
>>script is identified from the scripting extension attribute that is
>>included in the XML format of the file."
>>At very first glance, it appears to be another case of
>>practice in XML tags makes it patentable". Of course, there
>>subtleties here that are more innovative than are apparent at first
>>glance, but needless to say it's hard to have any faith that
>>would be able to tell the difference.