US Patent for the idea of using Haskell to implement UAX #9

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US Patent for the idea of using Haskell to implement UAX #9

Brian Hulley
Hi everyone,
It's been a long time since I last posted to this list since I'm
currently working on something that is not directly Haskell-related, but
it still relates to functional programming in general.

Anyway imagine my surprise when an innocent search for some keywords (I
can't remember the exact ones but the following gives similar results)

    haskell unicode bidirectional

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.

The link is http://www.freepatentsonline.com/7120900.html though I think
it would be better if they had just called the website "free handcuffs
online" because that is what it amounts to when people succeed in
preventing others from using ideas, especially ideas everyone would
easily think up by themselves.

Before going further I would like to explicitly state that I would not
wish to cast any aspersions upon the people or companies involved in
this patent, since it is all too clear to me that these people have
acted in a perfectly legal way and are just doing their various jobs: in
other words it's an "I'm a lumberjack and I'm ok..." kind of scenario:
everyone probably thinks of themsevles as being a perfectly nice
upstanding person, and if I met any of them face to face I'm sure I
would find that they are *indeed* really nice friendly people who
believe that they are doing absolutely the right and logical thing.

In fact many nice people I myself have talked to about my own ideas
immediately suggest that I should "obviously" patent them: it takes a
long time to explain to them why this would not actually further my
goals at all, and it is difficult for them to understand my explanation
because the problem is rather too subtle for people who have not already
been thinking along these lines for a while.

However all this does not affect the problem that this patent acts as a
brick in the general structural evil in our world today: anyone who is
trying to create a programming language environment that is accessible
to people who use right-to-left languages is now between a rock and a
hard place when it comes to implementing UAX #9, the standard Unicode
algorithm for implementing the Unicode semantics of bidirectional text.

In this particular case, I expect (but I'm not a lawyer so please don't
take this as solid advice: it's just a hope) that a workaround for
Haskell programmers would be to discard their natural desire to use a
functional approach and instead just implement UAX #9 verbatim using the
ST monad. (The patent also tries to extend itself to other functional
languages so caution is needed all round.)

But although the above workaround *might* be legal in this particular
instance it seems to me that as programmers we must not just let our
craft be dominated by the psychopathic tendencies of certain elements in
society that work hard to try to squash the ``normals'' into a life of
brutal misery while they rampage ruthlessly about with a biological
inability to experience empathy for other human beings. (www.ponerology.com)

The memetic virus of psychopathy is rapidly spreading throughout human
civilization and most people are not conscious enough of the elements
that are contributing towards their own behaviour, thus ignoring the
fact that the rice they eat for supper might have been picked by a tiny
little girl in China with bleeding fingers or the carpet they walk on
may have been made by a little 8 year old boy slave chained all day to a
loom in a shed in India.

To this end I humbly appeal to everyone here to please help in the fight
against software patents, so that we can begin the huge task of
reclaiming our world for real people who understand that true meaning in
life comes from extending our feeling of self into the world beyond our
own body:

   http://petition.stopsoftwarepatents.eu/
   http://ffii.org

Thanks a lot for reading this,
Brian. [expecting to be crucified, but if it helps just one little girl
or boy it will be worth it!]

Disclaimer: this email is entirely my responsibility and I am not acting
on behalf of any of the above web sites.

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Re: US Patent for the idea of using Haskell to implement UAX #9

Daniel Fischer-4
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, ...
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Re: US Patent for the idea ...

jerzy.karczmarczuk
In reply to this post by Brian Hulley
Brian Hulley reports a search similar to :

>    haskell unicode bidirectional
>
> 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.
>
> The link is http://www.freepatentsonline.com/7120900.html though I think
> it would be better if they had just called the website "free handcuffs
> online" because that is what it amounts to when people succeed in
> preventing others from using ideas, especially ideas everyone would easily
> think up by themselves.
>
> Before going further I would like to explicitly state that I would not
> wish to cast any aspersions upon the people or companies involved in this
> patent, since it is all too clear to me that these people have acted in a
> perfectly legal way and are just doing their various jobs: /.../

Comment irrelevant to Haskell, sorry.
Everybody does his/her various jobs. But I lost all respect due to people
who work in the US Patent Office, when I saw the patent 6,025,810, a patent
for an antenna which sends signals faster than light, using some mysterious
new dimension. Or the U.S. Patent 6,960,975 for an anti-gravity device.
It seems that although it is illegal to break some local regulations, the
idea of breaking fundamental physical laws remains perfectly legal. (In
some countries...)

Somebody finally decided to ridiculise the system. If you want a good laugh,
see the patent 6,368,227. The search site is here:

http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/srchnum.htm 

Best regards.

Jerzy Karczmarczuk

PS. concerning the patent 7120900. The authors appropriate this
bi-directional display in Haskell, Erlang, SML, Lisp, Scheme and Miranda.
So, please, hurry up, and before they wake up, implement your stuff in Ocaml
or Clean. Or better, get a relevant patent yourself.
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Re: US Patent for the idea of using Haskell to implement UAX #9

Brian Hulley
In reply to this post by Daniel Fischer-4
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, ...

Hi Daniel,
Thanks for your reply.
The main problem for me is just the fact that the legal system in itself
is, as Charles Dickens wrote in "The Old Curiosity Shop" (Chapter 37):

     ... an edged tool of uncertain
     application, very expensive in the working,
     and rather remarkable for its properties of
     close shaving, than for its always shaving
     the right person.

I just think somehow we should be free to write any programs we want
just like composers can compose music, (as long as we don't just copy
other people's actual copyrighted *code* without their permission of
course).

After all, there is no reason why people couldn't just keep their ideas
a secret if they don't want others to use them: at least it wouldn't
spoil things for everyone else. Companies could even charge for *access*
to these secrets and people could sign NDAs, but this isn't the same as
being allowed to actually own an idea itself.

The current situation is a bit like a supermarket throwing oranges and
apples at passers-by, then forcing people to pay if they were hit...

In any case after signing the petition I'm going to just try and forget
about the problem! ;-)

Cheers, Brian.
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Re: Re: US Patent for the idea ...

Brian Hulley
In reply to this post by jerzy.karczmarczuk
[hidden email] wrote:

> Brian Hulley reports a search similar to :
>
>>    haskell unicode bidirectional
>> ....
>
> Comment irrelevant to Haskell, sorry.
> Everybody does his/her various jobs. But I lost all respect due to people
> who work in the US Patent Office, when I saw the patent 6,025,810, a patent
> for an antenna which sends signals faster than light, using some mysterious
> new dimension. Or the U.S. Patent 6,960,975 for an anti-gravity device.
> It seems that although it is illegal to break some local regulations, the
> idea of breaking fundamental physical laws remains perfectly legal. (In
> some countries...)
> Somebody finally decided to ridiculise the system. If you want a good
> laugh,
> see the patent 6,368,227. The search site is here:
> http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/srchnum.htm
> Best regards.
> Jerzy Karczmarczuk
> ...

Hi Jerzy,
Yes that one is very funny.
Also the existence of the other patents just show how ridiculous the
system is.

So thanks, that humour has helped me get back down to earth and away
from all kinds of fruitless imaginations about the state of the world. I
think my mind is best suited to functional programming *only*... ;-)

Cheers, Brian.

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Re: US Patent for the idea of using Haskell to implement UAX #9

Ivan Lazar Miljenovic
In reply to this post by Brian Hulley
Brian Hulley <[hidden email]> writes:
> The main problem for me is just the fact that the legal system in
> itself is, as Charles Dickens wrote in "The Old Curiosity Shop"
> (Chapter 37):
>
>     ... an edged tool of uncertain
>     application, very expensive in the working,
>     and rather remarkable for its properties of
>     close shaving, than for its always shaving
>     the right person.

I like Humorix's take on the issue of patents
(http://humorix.org/articles/2000/01/linux-history1/):

Lawyers Unite
=============

Humanity faced a tremendous setback ca. 1100 A.D., when the first law
school was established in Bologna. Ironically, the free exchange of
ideas at the law school spurred the law students to invent new ways
(patents, trademarks, copyrights) to stifle the free exchange of ideas
in other industries.

If, at some point in the future, you happen upon a time machine, we here
at Humorix (and, indeed, the whole world) implore you to travel back to
1100, track down a law teacher called Irnerius, and prevent him from
founding his school using whatever means necessary. Your contribution to
humanity will truly make the world (in an alternate timeline) a better
place.

--
Ivan Lazar Miljenovic
[hidden email]
IvanMiljenovic.wordpress.com
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Re: Re: US Patent for the idea ...

Murray Gross
In reply to this post by Brian Hulley


On Sat, 17 Apr 2010, Brian Hulley wrote:

>> see the patent 6,368,227. The search site is here:
>> http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/srchnum.htm
>> Best regards.
>> Jerzy Karczmarczuk
>> ...

It's really almost not fair to cite that particular patent, since, if I
recall the story correctly (I may be wrong in small detail, but I am sure
of the general picture), that patent was filed by an attorney as a
demonstration to his son how the system works. It was never filed as a
serious patent. Yes, it may show how poorly the examiners are doing their
job, but I think this particular patent really doesn't reflect on the poor
service we are currently receiving from the entire patent system--I would
like to think that the examiner knew perfectly well that this patent was
not serious and was willing to play along.

Murray Gross

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Re: US Patent for the idea of using Haskell to implement UAX #9

Brian Hulley
In reply to this post by Ivan Lazar Miljenovic
Ivan Lazar Miljenovic wrote:

> Brian Hulley <[hidden email]> writes:
>> The main problem for me is just the fact that the legal system in
>> itself is, as Charles Dickens wrote in "The Old Curiosity Shop"
>> (Chapter 37):
>>
>>     ... an edged tool of uncertain
>>     application, very expensive in the working,
>>     and rather remarkable for its properties of
>>     close shaving, than for its always shaving
>>     the right person.
>
> I like Humorix's take on the issue of patents
> (http://humorix.org/articles/2000/01/linux-history1/):
>
> Lawyers Unite
> =============
>
> Humanity faced a tremendous setback ca. 1100 A.D., when the first law
> school was established in Bologna. Ironically, the free exchange of
> ideas at the law school spurred the law students to invent new ways
> (patents, trademarks, copyrights) to stifle the free exchange of ideas
> in other industries.

Hi Ivan,
Thanks for the humourous take on the unfairness of software patents.

I have to admit however that I do own a trademark, namely "Xipal"
(European Community Trade Mark No 007366693). (It is pronounced
"ZeepAhl" with the "ee" as in "keep".)

I just mention this because I want to make sure that anyone reading the
archive in the future understands that I *do* see a positive role for
the legal profession in our life today. My gripe is only about the
unfairness of software patents and the way they serve only to stifle out
hope for small businesses like the one I'm trying to create. (Metamilk
Limited, registered in Scotland as SC270127)

I'd like to hope that someone high enough up in the legal profession
would eventually see that by stifling out small businesses in this way
they are actually depriving their profession of all the work they would
otherwise be getting by providing day-to-day legal services to those
businesses, such as providing an address for the registered office and
doing routine filing with relevant government departments.

Cheers, Brian.

--

www.xipal.eu
www.metamilk.com

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Re: Re: US Patent for the idea ...

roconnor
In reply to this post by jerzy.karczmarczuk
On Fri, 16 Apr 2010, [hidden email] wrote:

> Somebody finally decided to ridiculise the system. If you want a good laugh,
> see the patent 6,368,227. The search site is here:

As I recall some (patent?) laywer was simply teaching his kid how the
patent process worked, so the worked through a real life example.

--
Russell O'Connor                                      <http://r6.ca/>
``All talk about `theft,''' the general counsel of the American Graphophone
Company wrote, ``is the merest claptrap, for there exists no property in
ideas musical, literary or artistic, except as defined by statute.''
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Re: Re: US Patent for the idea ...

Brian Hulley
In reply to this post by Murray Gross
Murray Gross wrote:

> On Sat, 17 Apr 2010, Brian Hulley wrote:
>
>>> see the patent 6,368,227. The search site is here:
>>> http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/srchnum.htm
>>> Best regards.
>>> Jerzy Karczmarczuk
>>> ...
>
> It's really almost not fair to cite that particular patent, since, if I
> recall the story correctly (I may be wrong in small detail, but I am
> sure of the general picture), that patent was filed by an attorney as a
> demonstration to his son how the system works. It was never filed as a
> serious patent. Yes, it may show how poorly the examiners are doing
> their job, but I think this particular patent really doesn't reflect on
> the poor service we are currently receiving from the entire patent
> system--I would like to think that the examiner knew perfectly well that
> this patent was not serious and was willing to play along.

Hi Murray,
Point taken about patent 6,368,227.
I think in all fairness to examiners that in a way they have an
impossible job due to the fact that what is a clever idea to one
programmer will be a trivial idea to another: the field is so huge and
people have such different experiences.

Coming back to patent 6,368,227 one could perhaps look past the humour
and see it as a kind of indication of what the patent system is trying
to do to humanity. I just mean to see this dispassionately as an image,
and by "trying to do" I'm just anthropomorphizing what I see as a purely
structural phenomenon that in itself is like a force of nature, that
emerges from the inevitable incompleteness of people's understandings
even if each person individually is trying to do what they feel is right.

In terms of a way forward for research companies I think there is a lot
of well-paid work to be found in designing and implementing useful
libraries of functionality, and then licensing them for inclusion in
other programs.

After all, end users want a real implementation not just an idea, and it
is surely much easier to trade implementations rather than to try to
trade the rather nebulous concept of ideas.

This would allow programmers full freedom to implement whatever they
like together with the clear advantage of being able to license well
designed third-party libraries: we'd have total clarity and freedom.

Anyway I've said enough about software patents so I'll leave the
discussion here and reiterate that all I want is for people to be able
to write programs without a Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.

Cheers, Brian.
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Re: Re: US Patent for the idea ...

Steve Schafer
On Sat, 17 Apr 2010 23:33:48 +0100, you wrote:

>I think in all fairness to examiners that in a way they have an
>impossible job due to the fact that what is a clever idea to one
>programmer will be a trivial idea to another: the field is so huge and
>people have such different experiences.

In US patent law, algorithms themselves were deemed unpatentable quite
some time ago (I believe that European patent law is more liberal in
that regard, but I don't know all of the details). So a lot of the
discussion concerning software patents in this country has been on
whether or not software can be considered to be an "invention" separate
from the underlying algorithms used in its construction. Since those of
us who work with software realize that software is often little more
than a restatement of an algorithm in a way that is suitable for a
computing device to "understand," it's very difficult to draw a clear
line between the two.

People do occasionally come up with truly novel ideas about how to
perform some software task, but it seems to me that unless the novelty
involves some aspect that can be separated from the algorithmic approach
used, it shouldn't be patentable. For example, quicksort, though
certainly novel, is purely an algorithm, so it shouldn't be
patentable--it is completely independent of any "tangible"
implementation. But a sorting technique that is optimized for large
datasets that can't be held entirely in volatile memory, and explicitly
takes advantage of known characteristics of disk latency, etc., could
very well be patentable.

-Steve Schafer
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Re: Re: US Patent for the idea ...

Richard A. O'Keefe
In reply to this post by Brian Hulley
When it comes to patents, there is less than meets the eye.
A review of Intellectual Property in New Zealand a few years
ago found that the NZ Intellectual Property Office quite
deliberately do not review patent applications for originality.
An IP law expert I spoke to about this felt that there was no
problem, because patents that failed the originality criterion
would fail in court.  It didn't seem to bother him that
defending yourself costs money.  He was also untroubled that
computer science professionals find most software patents
incomprehensible; again, such patents fail a basic requirement
so it should all be cleared up in court (and of course we can
all afford that).

The Australians recently conducted an experiment asking volunteers
to check for prior art.  The patent application I commented on
claimed the invention of doing whole number arithmetic in a
computer using "big digits" to base (10**max) where (10**max) just
fits into a computer word.  This of course goes back to _at least_
the 1960s.

The people who claimed this particular patent may well have
perfectly innocent intentions:  they may not be trying to block
anyone else doing obvious things, they may be trying to protect
themselves against being blocked.  The only way to tell, really,
is to find out what they want for a licence to use "their"
"invention".

The current review of New Zealand IP protection may well scrap
software patents entirely, in part on the grounds that we cannot
afford to do a proper job of scrutiny.

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Re: US Patent for the idea of using Haskell to implement UAX #9

Stefan Monnier
In reply to this post by Daniel Fischer-4
>> 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.

Doesn't matter: you'd need to pay lawyers to defend yourself to convince
a court that it is null and void.  So even if you may end up winning in
the end (which is far from obvious), you'll have wasted a lot of time,
effort, and money.


        Stefan

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Re: US Patent for the idea of using Haskell to implement UAX #9

Paul Johnson-2
In reply to this post by Daniel Fischer-4
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).

Paul.
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Re: US Patent for the idea of using Haskell to implement UAX #9

Paul Johnson-2
In reply to this post by Brian Hulley
This patent has zero practical impact.

When the patent was written there was no Unicode support, so the
implementation translates the input into lists of integers instead of
lists of characters.  Crucially this step was also written into all
three independent claims (which are the only bit of a patent that
actually matters).  So you are free to re-implement this algorithm
provided that you manipulate lists of characters rather than lists of
integers.  Now that GHC has full unicode support this should not be a
problem.

Paul.
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