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Two computer scientists have published a study on 50 famous patents on respectable advances in computer science and find that these patents are not overly broad or trivial and did, in spite of the long duration of 20 years, not impede progress in the field. They conclude from this that software patenting, if handled properly, is beneficial and necessary. The research appears to be part of a project that is financed by Microsoft. One of the involved researchers is already known from a Microsoft-financed attempt to refute a patent-critical study by US economists which had become politicised in the debate about the EU directive. Their names are also linked to a Brussels think tank which proclaims that "patentability of software is in the nature of things" and attributes opposite views to "anti-Americanism" and "anti-capitalistic zealotry".

The Abstract

This reasoning is strange, since generalisations such as "all software patents are broad and trivial" are rather rare, and the authors themselves admit that they have picked 50 "good patents" based on the criterion that they are related to well-respected advances in computer science.

However the findings should be worth further examination and discussion. In particular the finding that these patents are in general not overly broad merits some attention. It does not correspond to what FFII has found so far when examining patents related to MP3 and JPEG.

Authors and backgrounds

This study comes from the same people who criticised an early unpublished version of a patent-critical paper from Bessen and Hunt, giving as a motivation the fear that this paper could unduly influence on the European debate on software patent legislation. Bessen and Hunt later reacted to the paper and addressed the points which it had raised in a revised version.

When looking at the author information of the PDF file you find "idanilkina" in the author field.

That is likely to be Irina Danilkina, and if you feed that name to google, you again find a link to the Bessen & Hunt criticism on the first page.

And indeed, a quote from the latter:

More evidence: a footnote on page 6 of a "research paper" advising against promotion of open source software by governments:

Campbell-Kelly is a historian of computer science, who strongly believes in the value of patents for CS -- and believes that any patent problems are no different to those other industries have faced and surmounted (eg typewriters, automobiles...).

He knows his subject, and his research grant is paid for by Microsoft, but that is, unfortunately, not stated in his paper.

The above cited Center for the New Europe also has an "interesting" paper on its website:


The 50 'good' US-patents:

5339392 Individual 1994 FGAS GUI 109 Apparatus and method for creation of a user definable video displayed document showing changes in real time data

4305131 Individual 1981 FGAS Video 174 Dialog between TV movies and human viewers

5093914 AT&T 1992 FGSS PL 175 Method of controlling the execution of objectoriented programs

4821220 Tektronix 1989 FGSS PL 150 System for animating program operation and displaying time-based

5151987 IBM 1992 FGSS PL 123 Recovery objects in an object oriented computing environment

4667290 501 Philon 1987 FGSS PL 119 Compilers using a universal intermediate language

5136705 Tektronix 1992 FGSS TS 109 Method of generating instruction sequences for controlling data flow

4277837 IBM 1981 LGAS BC 144 Personal portable terminal for financial transactions

5220501 Online Res. 1993 LGAS BC 142 Method and system for remote delivery of retail banking services

4799156 Strat. Process. 1989 LGAS BC 138 Interactive market management system

5557518 Citibank 1996 LGAS BC 54 Trusted agents for open electronic commerce

4922432 Int. Chip 1990 LGAS CAD 138 Knowledge based method and apparatus for designing integrated circuits using functional specifications

4558413 Xerox 1985 LGAS CASE 263 Software version management system

4809170 Apollo 1989 LGAS CASE 145 Computer device for aiding in the development of software system

5155847 Minicom 1992 LGAS CASE 117 Method and apparatus for updating software at remote locations

5347632 Prodigy 1994 LGAS Com 136 Reception system for an interactive computer network and method of operation

5333266 IBM 1994 LGAS Com 119 Method and apparatus for message handling in computer systems

5406557 Nat. Semicond. 1995 LGAS Com 56 Interenterprise electronic mail hub 5181162 Kodak 1993 LGAS DB 198 Document management and production system

5133075 HP 1992 LGAS DB 164 Method of monitoring changes in attribute values of object in an object-oriented database

4853843 Tektronix 1989 LGAS DB 122 System for merging virtual partitions of a distributed database

4769772 Bull 1988 LGAS DB 107 Automated query optimization method using both global and parallel local optimizations for materialization access planning for distributed databases

4992940 H-Renee 1991 LGAS DB 107 System and method for automated selection of equipment for purchase through input of user desired specifications

5499371 Persistence 1996 LGAS DB 59 Method and apparatus for automatic generation of object oriented code for mapping relational data to objects

5560005 ActaMed 1996 LGAS DB 57 Methods and systems for object-based relational distributed databases 5437027 Texas Inst. 1995 LGAS DB 52 System and method for database management supporting object-oriented programming

5008853 Xerox 1991 LGAS GUI 193 Representation of collaborative multi-user activities relative to shared structured data objects in a networked workstation environment

5572643 Individual 1996 LGAS GUI 173 Web browser with dynamic display of information objects during linking

4555775 AT&T 1985 LGAS GUI 170 Dynamic generation and overlaying of graphic windows for multiple active program storage areas

5041992 U. Pittsburgh 1991 LGAS GUI 169 Interactive method of developing software interfaces

5119475 Schlumberger 1992 LGAS GUI 157 Object-oriented framework for menu definition

4813013 Cadware 1989 LGAS GUI 149 Schematic diagram generating system using library of general purpose interactively selectable graphic primitives to create special applications icons

4885717 Tektronix 1989 LGAS GUI 148 System for graphically representing operation of object-oriented programs

5072412 Xerox 1991 LGAS GUI 120 User interface with multiple workspaces for sharing display system objects

5500929 Taligent 1996 LGAS GUI 55 System for browsing a network resource book with tabs attached to pages

5524195 Sun 1996 LGAS GUI 48 Graphical user interface for interactive television with an animated agent

5530852 Sun 1996 LGAS IR 125 Method for extracting profiles and topics from a first file written in a first markup language and generating files in different markup languages containing the profiles and topics for use in accessing data described by the profiles and topics

4658370 Teknowledge 1987 LGAS KB 114 Knowledge engineering tool

4591983 Teknowledge 1986 LGAS KB 113 Hierarchical knowledge system

4649515 Westinghouse 1987 LGAS KB 111 Methods and apparatus for system fault diagnosis and control

5241671 Enc. Britannica 1993 LGAS MM 137 Multimedia search system using a plurality of entry path means which indicate interrelatedness of information

5307456 Sony 1994 LGAS MM 107 Integrated multi-media production and authoring system

4630201 Int. Security 1986 LGAS Sec 122 On-line and off-line transaction security system using a code generated from a transaction parameter and a random number

5550984 Matsushita 1996 LGAS Sec 55 Security system for preventing unauthorized communications between networks by translating communications received in ip protocol to non-ip protocol to remove address and routing services information

4953080 HP 1990 LGSS FS 146 Object management facility for maintaining data in a computer system

5050090 R.J. Renolds 1991 LGSS FS 115 Object placement method and apparatus

5329619 Software AG 1994 LGSS MW 127 Cooperative processing interface and communication broker for heterogeneous computing environments

4819159 Tolerant Sys. 1989 LGSS MW 120 Distributed multiprocess transaction processing system and method

5497463 Bull 1996 LGSS MW 52 Ally mechanism for interconnecting nondistributed computing environment (DCE) and DCE systems to operate in a network system

5125091 Hazox 1992 LGSS RTS 122 Object oriented control of real-time processing

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