Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original http://ebb.org/bkuhn/blog/2010/02/02/took-our-jobs.html
I could not think of anything but the South Park
quote, They took our jobs! when I read
Duck’s announcement of their patent, Resolving License
Dependencies For Aggregations of Legally-Protectable Content.
I’ve read through the patent, from the point of view of someone skilled
in this particular art. In fact, I’m specifically skilled in two
distinct arts related to this patent: computer programming and Free
Software license compatibility analysis. It’s from that perspective
that I took a look at this patent.
(BTW, the thing to always remember about reading patents is that the
really significant part isn’t the abstract, which often contains
pie-in-the-sky prose about what the patent covers. The claims are the
real details of the so-called “invention”.)
So, when I look closely at these claims, I am appalled to discover this
patent claims, as a novel invention, things that I’ve done regularly,
with a mix of my brain and a computer, since at least 1999. I quickly
came to the conclusion that this is yet another stupid patent granted by
the USPTO that it would be better to just ignore.
Indeed, ever since Amazon’s one-click patent, I’ve hated the inundation
of “look what stupid patent was granted today” slashdot
items. I think it’s a waste of time, generally speaking, since the
USPTO is granting many stupid software patents every single day. If we
spend our time gawking and saying how stupid they are, we don’t get any
real work done.
But, the (likely obvious) reason this caught my attention is that the
patent covers activities I’ve done regularly for so long. It gives me
this sick feeling in my stomach to read someone else claiming as an
invention something I’ve done and considered quite obvious for more than
I’m not a patent agent (nor do I want to be — spending a week of
my life studying for a silly exam to get some credential hasn’t been
attractive to me since I got my Master’s degree), but honestly, I can’t
see how this patented process isn’t obvious to everyone skilled in the
arts of FLOSS license evaluation and computer programming. Indeed, the
process described is so simple-minded, that it’s a waste of time in my
view to spend time writing a software system to do it. With a few one-off
10-line Perl programs and a few greps, I’ve had a computer assist me
with processes like this one many times since the late 1990s.
I do feel some shame that I’ve now contributed to the “hey,
everyone, let’s gawk at this silly pointless surely-invalid
patent” rant. I guess that I have new sympathy for website
designers who were so personally offended regarding the Amazon one-click
patent. I can now confirm first-hand: it does really feel different
when the patent claims seem close to an activity you’ve engaged in
yourself for many years prior to the patent application. It’s when the
horribleness of the software patent system starts to really hit
The saddest part, though, is that Black Duck again shows itself as a
company whose primary goal is to prey on people’s fear of software
freedom. They make proprietary software and acquire software patents
with the primary goal of scaring people into buying stuff they
probably don’t need. I’ve spent a lot more time working regularly on
FLOSS license compliance than anyone who has ever worked at Black Duck.
Simply put, coming into (and staying in) compliance is a much simpler
process than they say, and can be done easily without the use of
overpriced proprietary analysis of codebases.