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Math You Can't Use

Patents, Copyright, and Software

Ben Klemens

Publication Year: 2006

This lively and innovative book is about computer code and the legal controls and restrictions on those who write it. The widespread use of personal computers and the Internet have made it possible to release new data or tools instantaneously to virtually the entire world. However, while the digital revolution allows quick and extensive use of these intellectual properties, it also means that their developers face new challenges in retaining their rights as creators. Drawing on a host of examples, Ben Klemens describes and analyzes the intellectual property issues involved in the development of computer software. He focuses on software patents because of their powerful effect on the software market, but he also provides an extensive discussion of how traditional copyright laws can be applied to code. The book concludes with a discussion of recommendations to ease the constraints on software development. This is the first book to confront these problems with serious policy solutions. It is sure to become the standard reference for software developers, those concerned with intellectual property issues, and for policymakers seeking direction. It is critical that public policy on these issues facilitates progress rather than hindering it. There is too much at stake.

Published by: Brookings Institution Press

Title Page

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pp. v

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pp. vii-x

I am a quant. Almost all of my work involves either pure math or writing computer code to calculate numbers—even this book will rely on one mathematical theorem (which I promise will be painless). In my free time, I’ve done things like write a video game and a short guide to statistical analysis using the C programming language....

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Chapter 1. Introduction

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pp. 1-11

How should software be protected from undue imitation and plagiarism? At present, all of the traditional means of protecting intellectual property (IP)—patents, copyright, and trade secrets—are applied to software in one manner or another, and the U.S. Congress has even invented a new type for cases in which these may be insufficient, via...

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Chapter 2. Optimal Breadth

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pp. 12-23

The foremost economic question surrounding patents and copyright is how much territory they should cover. Part of the answer lies in the function that patents serve, which is to enable the inventor to recoup profits from up-front investment in research. One person or company...

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Chapter 3. From Equations to Software

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pp. 24-43

There is no magic or genius to the process of programming, just small components built upon larger structures, and then still larger structures built upon those. Isaac Newton explained that he progressed by standing on the shoulders of giants, but perhaps a more appropriate...

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Chapter 4. Patenting Math

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pp. 44-72

Imagine a continuous line of inventions, with physical machines built from transistors and diodes at one end and pure mathematics at the other end. Any given piece of software falls somewhere along this spectrum. The line between the patentable and unpatentable items along this continuum should meet three basic criteria: physical...

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Chapter 5. Profiting from Overbroad Patents

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pp. 73-91

What’s wrong with the system of software patents that the courts have put in place? One set of problems stems from weaknesses in the patenting process that could be remedied by revised policies or more resources at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), while other fundamental issues are rooted in the nature of software and software...

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Chapter 6. The Decentralized Software Market

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pp. 92-107

The world of software engineering is in no way restricted to software companies. Beyond Microsoft or thousands of smaller software vendors, almost every corporation in the world keeps a stable of programmers in the basement to write little scripts that move the company’s...

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Chapter 7. Interoperability

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pp. 108-130

Interoperability refers to the ability of one vendor’s products to work with the data or interface from another vendor’s products. Suppose that DBA Corp. writes a suite of programs to create databases, with a back end to do the bookkeeping and a front end to enter data. Then DBB Corp. writes a new front end that can read, write, and modify...

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Chapter 8. Protecting Text

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pp. 131-150

Two of the most common and sensible solutions to the problems with software patents rest on the basic principle that protection should be granted for an implementation, not an idea. For a program, that means protecting the text of the source code....

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Chapter 9. Policy Recommendations

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pp. 151-160

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is in the business of preventing overbroad monopolies. Of late, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has been granting overbroad monopolies. In October 2003, in the spirit of its mandate, the FTC published a report stating...


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pp. 161-166


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pp. 167-170


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pp. 171

E-ISBN-13: 9780815797951
E-ISBN-10: 0815797958

Page Count: 181
Publication Year: 2006