Thursday, May 10, 2007

What is the deal with patents?

My god, what has happened to the patent office?

Perusing a blog tonight, I caught a post that made my jaw drop. Apparently, somebody recently patented the linked list. Seriously. Click the link.

Now, come on. What brain-dead patent lady let this one through?!? Mary Steelman. If you're that brain dead woman, and you are reading this blog, I'd like you to look to your upper left. That guy's name is Donald Knuth, and I am sure you have never heard his name. I am also sure that you aren't a degreed software engineer, because every software engineer I ever met in school studied his books. There is no accredited institution in the United States granting a degree in Computer Science that doesn't have "The Art of Computer Programming" as a text book in some class, somewhere. Not one. Not a single one. Aren't linked lists in, like, the second chapter? When did he write those books? Wasn't JFK still alive? I hate to call you out by name, Mary, but let's get real here. Donald's not mentioned in the prior art, anywhere. How did you miss this one?

Let me give you a hint for the future: google. What I claim is:
1) A method for discovering information on the Internet entitled "searching" for it.
2) A method for using Google, a search engine that you can use to "search" for information on the Internet.
3) A method for determining information about prior art, by placing the term "linked list" into "google".
4) A method for not looking like a complete fool by reading the very first link it returns, and reading the very first paragraph entitled "History" (See Exhibit A).
Linked lists were developed in 1955-56 by Allen Newell, Cliff Shaw and Herbert Simon at RAND Corporation as the primary data structure for their Information Processing Language. IPL was used by the authors to develop several early artificial intelligence programs, including the Logic Theory Machine, the General Problem Solver, and a computer chess program. Reports on their work appeared in IRE Transactions on Information Theory in 1956, and several conference proceedings from 1957-1959, including Proceedings of the Western Joint Computer Conference in 1957 and 1958, and Information Processing (Proceedings of the first UNESCO International Conference on Information Processing) in 1959. The now-classic diagram consisting of blocks representing list nodes with arrows pointing to successive list nodes appears in "Programming the Logic Theory Machine" by Newell and Shaw in Proc. WJCC, February 1957. Newell and Simon were recognized with the ACM Turing Award in 1975 for having "made basic contributions to artificial intelligence, the psychology of human cognition, and list processing".

Aren't patents supposed to encourage innovation by protecting the investments that companies and people make to develop them? Software patents like this subvert this principal in the most egregious way. I, for one, am becoming polarized against patents, not because I believe that investments shouldn't be protected, but because patents are granted in such stupid and ignorant ways.

And, no no no no no. Voice Over IP was not invented by VocalTec in 1996.

R,S,T,L, N and E Copyright (c), Thomas Howe. All rights reserved.


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