Re: Do C++ Programmers Overuse Templates?

James Kanze <>
Sun, 14 Dec 2008 01:47:14 -0800 (PST)
On Dec 13, 11:26 pm, LR <> wrote:

James Kanze wrote:

On Dec 12, 10:22 pm, LR <> wrote:

Pete Becker wrote:

On 2008-12-12 06:48:24 -0500, tonytech08
<> said:

I suggest to you that software pattents disallow me to
enlighten you.

How? Patents are public disclosures of techniques. They in
no way prevent discussion of those techniques (indeed,
their purpose is to promote discussion and knowledge).
What they prevent is use of those techniques without

I think I don't understand how IP law works in this regard.
Does this work the same way for code that it does for, say,
an apple peeler?

You can't patent "code". What you patent is an invention: a
process or a machine which is new and non-evident. And the
patent doesn't cover the "expression" of the invention, only
the invention itself. Also, you can't patent laws of nature
or algorithms (but you can patent particular applications of

I think I see what you mean. Like this invention?


Process for evaluating the financial consequences of converting a
standard form I.R.A. to the Roth form I.R.A.

I'd have to read the entire patent to be sure, and even then,
I'm not a patent lawyer. Still, the first sentence of the
abstract says it concerns a "process". The real question then
becomes: what is a process, and what is an algorithm. The fact
that the patent seems to talk about input and output formats
suggests that it is more than an algorithm. (On the other hand,
one might seriously question the novelty or originality. Off
hand, it looks to me that what is being patented is the use of a
program to convert between two formats. Which isn't what I'd
consider a particularly novel or original idea. But from what
I've read, the patent office in the US doesn't really have the
means of verifying such claims, and counts on the applicant
being honest and providing full and detailed "existing

At least traditionally, and in international law. I get the
feeling that the US is extending what patents were designed for.

Maybe a little bit. Maybe a little bit too much. Maybe the
same way some C++ programmers misuse templates?

With the major difference that it's easy to verify what has been
patented and what hasn't. And that you're back to using loaded
phrases which don't mean anything. It's certain that some C++
programmers misuse templates, just as it's certain that some
misuse inheritance, and some misuse pointers, and some even
misuse addition. Such programmers are in a very small minority
(with those misusing inheritance probably outnumbering those who
misuse templates).

There is no mention of the requirement to publish at,
for example.

So much for our desire "To promote the progress of science and
useful arts".


If someone invents a new apple peeler can I, at least in
the US, in aid of showing how the invention works, publish
blue prints, and maybe even make a virtual model in some
simulation software that emulates the apple peeling process
to show how truly good this type of apple peeler is?

In order to patent an apple peeler, you *must* make the
plans, showing how it works, public. Otherwise, no patent.

If I can do that with a patented apple peeler, can I do
that with patented software?

Software is the expression of an algorithm. As such, it
isn't patentable, at least under international law.

For which I am grateful.

But a process which depends on some specific software is, and
it's sometimes hard to make the distinction.

The literal expression can be copyrighted, of course, and
the software may be an integral part of a machine or
process, which can be patented. In that case, you do have
to publish detailed specifications of the machine or
process, including detailed specifications of what the code

If you want a patent. If, it's just a trade secret that you
might be using to convict someone of a crime with, then I
don't think under the law of Florida, at least, that you have
to reveal your code. Well, maybe, we'll see how that

Trade secrets are almost the opposite of patents: reveal your
code, or not take proper and adequate steps to prevent it from
being known, and you forfeit the right of trade secret. You
cannot have a patent and a trade secret for the same thing (and
I'm pretty sure that still holds in the US as well).

And of course, you can register almost anything as a trademark.
I've often wondered why trademark protection wasn't used for
"look and feel"---copyright doesn't seem to be right here. (To
me---and again, I'm not an IP lawyer, so there are likely issues
that I don't understand.)

and (generally, I would assume) the algorithms it uses to do
it. I don't think you'd be required to publis a particular
"expression" of those algorithms, i.e. you need an English
language expression of them, but no C++ code.

No, of course, not, but suppose I wanted to explain how the
patent about converting your IRA worked. Can I publish code
to explain it? On paper? On computer readable media? Just
the way I could for an apple peeler?

Of course. You can *publish* anything you want about a patent.
(You might be required to mention that the code is covered by
patent. I'm not sure there. And anyone who uses the code to
compete with the patent holder, without the authorization of the
patent holder, is infringing.)

I mean, that patent says that it uses a computer. Maybe I
could implement a hardwired solution and that would be ok?

Probably. You'd have to read the patent to be sure. And of
course, the courts might have to rule whether the hardware was
"a computer", or "programmed".

Could I hook the hardwired version up to a computer? Or what
about an "english" rendition of the algorithm?

An English rendition is clearly legal; it must appear in the
patent. Beyond that, you'd have to talk to a patent lawyer, to
read the entire patent, and measure exactly what is covered.
And you'd have to ask to what degree the patent is enforceable;
if it is a solution that is evident to any competent
practitionner, you can fight it.

Different jurisdictions interpret this differently; in the
United States, there is a patent for a "Cryptographic
communications system and method" which uses the RSA
algorithm; in the rest of the world, the absence of any
physical machine in the patent meant that it wasn't
patentable, and the patent is only valid in the US. But
even under the US law, the authors of the patent were
required to publish the algorithm, in enough detail that any
moderately competent programmer could understand it.

I believe in the past that patents of this kind were required to publish
a circuit.

United States Patent 4,135,240
Ritchie January 16, 1979
Protection of data file contents
"The circuitry shown in the Figure controls file access in the following

There's been a definite evolution. At least partially
justified: what we consider a "machine" has evolved.

But it's not just math, I understand that this


patents not just properties of particular numbers, but an actual number
5,373,560 Partial modular reduction method


I've heard a number of wild stories. Enough to convince me that
there is some underlying truth. The crux of the problem is that
a program cannot be patented, but a machine can, and that today,
many machines aren't anything more than a program.

Note that RSA is patented in the US, but the patent is not
recognized elsewhere. (I think it might be recognized today,
however. As long as the patent covers using the algorithm for
a specific cryptographic purpose, and not the algorithm itself.
It's a "machine" which is realized entirely in software.)

James Kanze (GABI Software)
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