[Haskell-cafe] US Patent for the idea of using Haskell to implement UAX #9

Paul Johnson paul at cogito.org.uk
Mon Apr 19 17:45:01 EDT 2010

On 16/04/10 19:59, Daniel Fischer wrote:
> Am Freitag 16 April 2010 20:50:25 schrieb Brian Hulley:
>> revealed a link to a US Patent (7120900) for the idea of implementing
>> the Unicode Bidirectional Algorithm (UAX #9
>> http://www.unicode.org/reports/tr9) in Haskell, making use, as far as I
>> can tell, of nothing more than the normal approach any functional
>> programmer would use, namely separation of concerns etc.
> In which case the patent should be null and void since obvious ideas aren't
> patentable, AFAIK.
> But of course, IANAL, you never know what jurists think a law means, ...

First, everyone in this thread needs to stop writing and read 
http://news.swpat.org/2010/03/transcript-tridgell-patents/ , which is a 
talk by Andrew Tridgell of Samba fame about patents and how to 
avoid/invalidate them.  His main point is that avoidance is much much 
easier than invalidation.

Now, about obviousness and prior art.

The patent system has been shaped by lawsuits.  Judges want nice clear 
dividing lines because otherwise the law becomes unclear and a trial 
becomes even more of a crapshoot than it already is.  This search for 
bright dividing lines has forced judges to make some decisions that 
sound rather odd.

The problem with the "obvious" bit is that almost everything is obvious 
after you've had it explained to you.  Sherlock Holmes had this problem 
with Watson; every time Holmes explained his reasoning Watson realised 
that the puzzle was absurdly easy and couldn't understand why he hadn't 
understood it before.  Its the same with inventions.

So its no use having an engineer on the witness stand testify against a 
patent by saying "I'm skilled in the art and this looks obvious to me".  
You need something a bit less subjective.  So to prove a patent 
"obvious" you have to locate some piece of prior art that almost does 
what is in the patent, then find another piece of prior art that fills 
the gap, and then find a "motivation" (such as a problem with the first 
piece of art) that would lead an engineer to logically put the two 
together.  You can string several such steps together, and the bits of 
prior art can be as obscure as you want, as long as they actually were 
published.  What you cannot do is assume even the tiniest inventive step 
in this process.

In short the "person skilled in the art" of patent law isn't any real 
kind of person, its more like Google with an inference engine attached.  
(Actually thats a pretty cool idea).


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