View Full Version : Free plugins! But not for long maybe...

09-06-2003, 05:59 AM
I just wanted to bring this to peoples attention, as it effects everyone involved with computers, and it is also starting to noticably encroach on our field.

There's a current trend for big powerful companies (Microsoft, IBM, HP, Pixar etc.) to patent software algorithms. Famous examples include the patenting of LZW compression, meaning that anyone who includes an implementation for loading and saving GIF files (which use LZW compression) have to pay a fee for the use of the algorithm. Apparently the owner of JPEG is also starting to enforce his ownership rather strongly as well.

All this has the power to prevent developers producing free software, and restrict the feature set of Lightwave unless money is paid for the licenses to use patents.

As another example: have you ever wanted to have displacement maps that dynamically modify the geometry to keep it as efficient as possible? (Think of making footprints in snow without having to subdivide the entire mesh into tiny segments - the process subdivides the mesh for you, but in the correct places). Well unless I'm mistaken, Pixar own the patent on that one, so don't expect to see Lightwave implementing it any time soon.

The problem is that the situation is rapidly becoming rediculous. Companies are attempting (and succeeding) in patenting algorithms that are fundamental to computing and certain applications. Imagine if somebody patented a sentence from the English language - sounds daft but it's a very good analogy for what is happening. Individuals and small companies are being bullied by major companies into withdrawing software, giving up trade secrets, etc in exchange for not being taken to court over rediculous patent infringements.

Anyway (rant over!), I found this link today (http://swpat.ffii.org/index.en.html) which is for petitioning against this crazy situation (you can add your voice by clicking on the "sign support now" banner a short way down). It's a petition to the European Patent Office, but they want people from all over the world to sign to show support. If anyone knows of a similar lobbying group for the US, I suggest they post the link here as well.

I hope that no one (including Newtek) is offended by this slightly political posting, but I honestly believe that it is in everyone's interest to show support. :)



09-06-2003, 06:13 AM
makes me think of the Biped patent. ridiculous, to say the the least. next someone patents human speech....

09-06-2003, 06:56 AM
Well, did it stop from having XSI or Messiah having a walk generator ?

09-06-2003, 09:05 AM
Software patents are stupid. Especially since they last for a monopolistic amount of time (since computers move so fast). The thing is patents usually protect a process or way of doing things. So say you patent the use of carbon as a way to write things (like with a pencil) Someone else could think of something else better than carbon .. or I guess something worse. The point is there are many ways around it. When you patent foot prints to show a character where to walk ... well how else do you describe a character how to walk .. ? Probably a bad example .. but yeah ...

Anyway, there's companies (like iD software) that are totally against software patents because they are stupid and can completely lock competitors out which goes against all reasons for patent laws.

BTW Ed Cutmull has about 30 patents to his name .. bastard ...

09-06-2003, 04:02 PM
Imagine if ID had patented normal maps, we wouldn't have any other games with that technology in them for the next 10 years! Ouch! Software moves wayyyyy to fast for patents to be a good idea. I've already signed, and spread the site to all my co workers (in the games industry, hence the example!:)

09-06-2003, 05:09 PM
Yes patenting software is bad for innovation. There are companies that exist now that do nothing but try to enforce the patents they have and charge everyone to use them. Think of SCO a dying UNIX company that is trying to charge everyone that uses Linux.
There is also a company that claims to own a patent for streaming video over the internet and are trying to extort money from everyone that uses streaming technology. I think these sort of broad patent claims will be thrown out in court.


09-06-2003, 06:13 PM
Originally posted by CB_3D
next someone patents human speech....

Hey I own the patent on that one, I think you are infringing on my IP there.

Seriously though if the people that came up with .jpg start trying to get money out of it I think a new algorithm that is similar will arise from the depths.

09-06-2003, 06:42 PM
There is already png that is similar to jpeg but with the ability to include an alpha channel that jpeg never had.


09-06-2003, 07:39 PM
haha I'm sure in a few years time people will be saying

"Do you remember old days, when we still used jpgs"


"Back in the jpg dayz!" :)

09-06-2003, 07:45 PM
SCO is going crazy about copied code which seem to all have been copied from BSD which they are allowed to do anyway. Other than that they alo believe any work a company does on unix is counted as a derivative work and thus they own it and those companies can't put it under the GPL.

PNG came about because of the LZW compression scheme and was meant to repleace GIFs. It's a great format though :)

Patents were invented to protect the time spent on R&D essentialy. If you sepnt 2 years and 5 million dollars on something you don't want to release it and then have everyone copy what you've done. It'd be better to ait for other people to innovate and just copy them then. This is why patents force competition. The problem is with computers and software is locks everyone else as there's no two ways around something like that. Companies these days usualyl use patents for defense. IE if you get taken to court you have 50 patents the company is using and you tell them to back off or you'll sue them for patent infringement. I'm sure if you go through the patent database it'd be near impossible to write a program doing anything without stepping on several patents.

JHust to prove what a patent hoarder IBM is, they had a patent for the order in which people should go to the toilet. Luckily they released this to the public, but they said they didn't think it was a silly patent ...

09-06-2003, 07:53 PM
"Imagine if somebody patented a sentence from the English language- sounds daft "

Fox News is suing a writer for using the term "Fair and Balanced" in his book title -

Only in the U.S. :rolleyes:

09-06-2003, 08:07 PM
He should change it to 'Fair and Just' :)

Maybe that's an australian joke??

09-06-2003, 08:31 PM
Since when has fox been fair and balanced? :p

Riki, I don't know how that can be an Australian joke because I don't get it :p

Going back to the fox thing here's a tidbit for you - Our national broadcaster, ABC (http://www.abc.net.au) got complaints for being biased against the American's during the Iraq conflict. ;) Ah well, atleast we're not handing out medals to people in car accidents ... :rolleyes:

09-06-2003, 08:39 PM
Ok maybe it's a family joke then :)

I just remember when I was a kid, if my Dad said someone was 'Fair and Just' he meant

"A Fair Pr#ck and Just a K*nt!" Something to that effect. PS excuse the french.


The medals and car accidents bit went over my head, what's that referring too?

09-06-2003, 08:45 PM
Originally posted by riki
Ok maybe it's a family joke then :)

I just remember when I was a kid, if my Dad said someone was 'Fair and Just' he meant

"A Fair Pr#ck and Just a K*nt!" Something to that effect.

BA-HA :p

09-06-2003, 08:48 PM
LOL, never heard it riki, but still funny :)

09-07-2003, 07:02 PM
I just successfully patented mouse, trackerball, and stylus clicking relating to 3d software, including Discussions of 3D. each of you sucka-chumps owe me $0.10 a click....

Cmon and pay up now... its cheaper than lawyer fees...

facial deluxe
09-08-2003, 01:07 AM
Don't laugh !
It's not that easy to earn money on patents.
I have a patent on 7 faces cube and never earned a penny :)

09-08-2003, 01:32 AM
Microsoft bought patents to do with OpenGL. We will all be their slaves!

09-08-2003, 01:57 AM
As far as I know microsoft just borrows the right for those patents from SGI. This was done at a time when the CEO of SGI was in love with microsoft and the visual PC's were around. The patent sharing was for the MS and SGI graphics system known as Fahrenheit which was meant to be OpenGL's successor .. but it died.

09-08-2003, 08:00 AM
When Commodore went bust the Amiga went through a chain of owners and ended up with Gateway, who, it turned out, were solely in it to acquire the fourteen patents that Commodore had for the look and feel of the Amiga... don't know what good it did them though.


09-08-2003, 08:18 AM
Gotta love the PNG format. By far one of my favorite formats to save in from scanners, etc. Also the best format to use for PowerPoint presentations.

09-08-2003, 09:16 AM
OpenGl - I thought that was an open standard built up by Nvidia? And therefore, who can really claim a patent?? This whole topic reminds me of something that happened in the 60's. Back during the creation era of lasers, a company actually had held patents on lasing, mainly the CO2 laser. And began demanding money from the people who have been using it, and entered into many legal battles. No one paid, and the company eventually began to tank. What really killed them in the end is the fact that you can't patent something that happens naturally, and CO2 lasing was proven to occur naturally in the atmosphere of Mars.

Why bring this up?? Well 2 things, the fact that you can only patent something that isn't natural (PC's aren't so bummer) and the other is, who will really pay the royalties?

I do think it is absurd to patent alogorithms, it puts a crimp into progress, especially for those who aren't money inclind.

So sad...

09-08-2003, 10:00 AM
OpenGL was originally designed by SGI. There are many companies now that are 'trusties'. It's not OpenGL that is patented but some of the things it does, like using shaders.

People pay royalties all the time as long as they need the patent to produce something or further their r&d.

The big fuss in recent years has mainly been with the WTO decision to allow patents of things that are just wrong such as ... I dunno, the human genome. Or any genome for that matter. Why? All in the name of money. This is why the US allows patents of algorithms while just about every other country does not, and the EU is currently looking into ways to stop patents being used for profit as it is in the USA.

Oh, and patenting algorithms is absurb not only because it puts a crimp into progress, but because they are maths, and maths isn't allowed to be patented as maths is based on nature.

09-08-2003, 10:01 AM
opengl is/was an SGI thing. The IP is now owned by Microsoft....

Elmar Moelzer
09-08-2003, 11:11 AM
Patents on human genome are bull****, just as are patents on mathematical algorithms.
Whats next? Is someone going to patent the "+" or "*"?

IMHO there are a few things that should belong to everyone. Among these is the knowlegde of the human genome, the math and mathematical algorithms as well as the knowledge about dangerous illnesses.

Never forget that most of these things that are copyrighted nowadays are based upon knowledge that is public domain.
If there had been copyrights like these in the past we would still be trying to find un- patented alternatives to the (comparably simple) math of Adam Ries(e).

To say it with the words of Adam Riese:
"Für den gemeynen Mann nützlich habe ich nach gantzem Fleiß gesetzt, damit der arme, gemeyne Mann nicht übersetzt werde"
The free translation into english would be:
"I made this [book on math] for the people, putting all my hard work into it, so the poor people cant be betrayed anymore"

09-08-2003, 11:26 AM
To say it with the words of Adam Riese:
"Für den gemeynen Mann nützlich habe ich nach gantzem Fleiß gesetzt, damit der arme, gemeyne Mann nicht übersetzt werde"
The free translation into english would be:
"I made this [book on math] for the people, putting all my hard work into it, so the poor people cant be betrayed anymore"

Hear hear!

09-08-2003, 12:35 PM
But algorithims are not just math but define a method of doing something and should be allowed to be patented. For instance Mpeg1, 2, 3 are algorithims that tell how to compress/decompress a video or audio stream and is patented by Thomson Multimedia and every company that uses Mpeg technology pays a license fee to TM.

But there are things that shouldn't be patented like a combination of keystrokes and a mouse click or things equally as stupid.

Basically it comes down to using an existing technology instead of having to reinvent the wheel like OpenGL or Mpeg.


09-08-2003, 12:50 PM
I think the key to this is that companies should be able to patent a specific solution to a problem, not the problem itself. Whoever invented jpeg compression should be able to patent their specific solution, but not the idea of compressing images, so that no one can create their own solution for compressing images without paying royalties to the jpeg company.

when it comes to application interface, no one should be able to patent the idea of rotating a 3d object in a viewport, but if someone invented some special mathematical solution that updated the redraw much faster than anyone else's, they should be able to protect that particular invention. That should not prevent others from creating their own code for solving the same problem.

I think the Catmul Clark subdivision thing is getting pretty grey, considering they have patented geometric principles, rather than the code that does the subdivision. I'm not real informed on this particular situation, so I could have it all wrong, but that's my understanding of it anyways.


09-08-2003, 12:57 PM
Yeah that's the right idea. As mpeg is a patented solution to compressing/decompressing audio/video but they don't preclude anyone from developing their own solution otherwise we would't have so many codecs. Noone has or should have a patent on the idea of compressing/decompressing. The market should determine the value of a particular solution not the patent laws.


Elmar Moelzer
09-08-2003, 01:35 PM
I think the problem is that people tend to mix up the use of something with the principle behind it.
The algorithm itself is still basic math that should not be patentable IMHO. It is something that has always been there. It is like say an animal species that was always there, but has never been discovered until now. You cant patent an animal.
Or lets say something like gravity which is a natural law.
It has always been there without anyone doing anything about it. Hehe, imagine Newton claiming a patent on gravity, that would simply be insane!
The human genetic code as is the math has always been there. They are basic principles. You can discover them but you cant invent them.
Therefore patents on these things are IMHO stupid.

Now the problem is that you can of course go and make use of these things. To stay on topic, lets say you use math to do a new type of image- compression. I think that many people agree that you cant patent basic math, so where does it start to be a new "product", that is worth being patented?
This is a very big problem. I think one should be very carefull with that.

1. IMHO one should be very restrictive with what can be patented and what not. Too many patents will hinder development of new technology and it will make it very hard for smaller developers(or more general inventors) to compet with large companies that can afford having a whole- company- section that deals with just that.
This makes is hard for smaller companies to be competitive and gives ways to monopoly. Patents should also not last too long. Right now they are prolongating that more and more in the US because of a strong lobby of people that are making good money from things that dead people did (like say studios that are making money from dead moviemakers, or songwriters).

2. On the other hand there have to be ways to protect inventors from being ripped of. Because if there is noone making any money from his invention, noone (despite a few idealists maybe) is going to invent anything new.

It is a matter of balance.
The problem I see is that currently it is too easy to get something patented. I.e. a patent should have to be aquired before(!) publishing a product and that patents/copyrights are lasting too long.

09-08-2003, 03:59 PM
Some no name company supposedly has a patent on embeding content into web pages with plugins.

Here's an example of a very bad patent (http://www.macworld.co.uk/news/main_news.cfm?NewsID=6812)

This is bad because the company didn't invent ANYTHING but the idea (supposedly) to embed content into web pages. They didn't develop the browser or the plugins or even the way to make it work just the idea.

This kind of patent should NEVER be allowed.


Elmar Moelzer
09-08-2003, 04:14 PM
Hmm, this is funny and seems to be something more rare to happen, because usually you would have to do a prototype if you want to get a patent.
Reading things like these makes me believe that the entire situation is out of hand.
I also wonder how something like that could get through microsofts patent- division. Many large companies have their own divisions doing nothing else but looking up patents and such.
As smaller companies cant afford that, they usually have a disadvantage in this regard. There are thousands of patents and the entire thing is getting more and more complex every day. Guess that this is starting to become a problem even for the larger companies now.
I think, that if things proceed into that direction the development of new products will be harmed big time, simply because noone can afford the time to look up all the patents or risking the loss of a lot of money.
I think that something like that would have killed most other companies despite Microsoft. This is a LOT of money...

09-08-2003, 05:56 PM
I think these companies file the patents then wait for someone to develop the products then sue them after they have invested their time and money to bring them to market. But you would think this patent would have to have been filed before anyone implemented the idea and I wonder how the patent got overlooked if it was indeed on the books ahead of time.

MS has appealed it so maybe it will get overturned.


09-09-2003, 01:43 AM
Patents also help big business at the detriment of inventors or small businesses. Since it costs £30,000 in the UK for a two-year patent lease, and then a further £10,000 every year to maintain it, it makes it hard fro an individual, unless they are very well-heeled to uphold a patent.


09-10-2003, 12:28 AM
Replying to the original post:

Footprints left while walking on the snow is easly doable in LW 8..

09-10-2003, 03:17 AM
You must be in the wrong thread. The original post was how patenting software algorithims is bad.


09-10-2003, 05:29 AM
It's easy, but you can't have the mesh optimise itself after the deformation

Alan Daniels
09-10-2003, 03:53 PM
The only silver lining in the dark cloud that is software patents, is that they only last for 17 years. "Only?!" Yes, a long time, but at least you can see them expire within your lifetime, God willing. If patents were handled like copyrights, with the currently insane 95 years, I'm quite sure we'd still be using computers based on vacuum tubes. The money involved with patent litigation would have killed any potential Silicon Valley before it even started.

P.S. Looking forward to years down the road, when the great dung-heap of Internet-related patents starts to expire (take a common real-world activity, add the words "over a computer network" at the end, voila, instant patent).

09-12-2003, 07:59 PM
This looks nasty for web users.


09-12-2003, 09:14 PM

That's what we were talking about earlier in the thread. This does not look good for anyone. Why should MS pay 521 Million and still have to dance around the issue? This just makes no sense that some unknown company NOW comes out of the woodwork. Why didn't they speak up earlier? If this patent is real then everyone would have violated it in what 1995 or sooner. So why did they wait 8 years to enforce it?


09-13-2003, 01:11 AM
Sounds pretty messed up but I'm sure they'll have to come to a workable solution.

09-14-2003, 10:10 AM
Originally posted by toby
"Imagine if somebody patented a sentence from the English language- sounds daft "

Fox News is suing a writer for using the term "Fair and Balanced" in his book title -

Only in the U.S. :rolleyes:

Actually, Fox dropped the suit against Al Frankin after being told by their lawyers it was laughable out of court. So at least there is some sense against stupidity out there.

Elmar Moelzer
09-14-2003, 11:41 AM
So at least there is some sense against stupidity out there.
Well, I am not too sure about that.
There are plenty of examples where stupidity actually payed.
Guess that with that huge amount of idiots out there, politicians are trying to get them as possible voters for the next elections (or how else do you explain idiotic laws as these actually getting through in congress?)
This could really pay already and it seems that this part of the population is actually growing, so there is a lot of potential for the future.

09-19-2003, 09:28 AM
I'm not just trying to propigate the anger, but... I remember a few months ago a company that holds a patent on the concept of "using electronic means to aid and assist consumer exchanges", was patented long before the internet even existed - went after the airlines & cruise industry reporting that using travel agents on phones & computer databases was in violation of his patent. Of course, the big pockets shelled this guy into oblivion. Here we are years later, he has teemed up with a lawyer from California, to go after a whole slew of mom & pop style internet businesses. He is offering to settle out of court for the small sum of $10.000 each(IFRC) Obviously his plan borders on extortion, but defending yourself costs more than 10 grand! He wont go after microsoft, the sellers of the web based storefront software, just the end users. IE small guy who can't afford to defend himself.

Does anyone have more details as to the success of this extortion ring?

I appologise for adding to this non LW thread - but this stuff really urks me.

09-19-2003, 09:33 AM
As a slight tangential comment, I really like the story from a few years back about two cases MacDonalds defended about their apple pies. Obviously they are very hot, but still two people suffered burns from them. One, an American, sued for a crazy amount of money, I can't remember exactly what it was, but probably in the millions. The other, a Scotsman, simply asked them to put a notice on the packet warning the consumer...


Elmar Moelzer
09-19-2003, 02:32 PM
Hey Ben!
I have heard of that one too. There was a simillar story about hot coffee, if am not wrong. So now MCdonalds have to server their coffee not boiling hot anymore.
Note, there are people that drink their coffe very hot (like my GF), so this is again an example where a pretty large part of the society has to stand behind an ideiot with a big mouth, oh well...
Im this context I remember the story of that caravan- driver that left the steering wheel to go back and cook something while being on a highway at full speed!!!!
Well, of course there was an accident. But this guy did not accept that it was his own fault. No, he sued the car- manufacturer (I think it was GM) becuase it was nowhere mentioned in the manual that you must not leave the drivers seat while actually driving.
Guess what, this guy got right and a lot of money.
I am really wondering where the judge had his head, when he decided that.
I really ask myself how this guy ever got his driving- license?
Perhaps there should be an intelligence- check done to people before they get their license. Wonder how many other applicant for a darwin- award are on the roads out there.
If you want to have a good laugh, check these out (in case you dont know them yet):
I know, I got slightly OT with that, sorry