[postgis-devel] Xing Lin's SoC project (raster support)

Tim Keitt tkeitt at gmail.com
Fri Jul 13 03:06:52 PDT 2007

On 7/13/07, Tom Lane <tgl at sss.pgh.pa.us> wrote:
> "Tim Keitt" <tkeitt at gmail.com> writes:
> > On 7/12/07, Xing Lin <solo.lin at gmail.com> wrote:
> >> Could we just take a modified version from Oracle GeoRaster or we can't take
> >> anything even the idea of georaster model. But it is very common in
> >> GeoScience and how could we avoid using it?
> > My understanding is that the patent covers the method of
> > implementation, not the idea. You can use the same idea, but the
> > implementation cannot be the same as described in the patent.
> No, it's much grimmer than that :-(.  Patent law is exactly about
> patenting *ideas* --- you may have confused it with copyright law,
> which is about restricting specific expressions of an idea.

Idea is too vague here -- I was referring to the concept that you
cannot patent for example a mathematical equation, but you can patent
a business process that employs the equation in the development of a
product. If I'm not mistaken, one can work around patents by finding
an independent method to achieve the same result (not by simply
substituting different names for the same functions as I might have
seemed to imply).

> To be sure you've steered clear of a patent, you have to be sure
> you have not used any ideas described in the "claims" of the patent.

But the "ideas" refer to processes or methods (at least in principle).
You can't patent the idea of a mouse trap, only a method of trapping
mice. Someone who builds a better mouse trap can patent their method.

> Now this game is rigged against you, because the normal structure of
> patent claims is about like this:
>         1. I claim the universe.
>         2. I claim the Milky Way galaxy.
>         3. I claim the moon, the sun and the stars.
>         4. OK, I just claim the moon.
>         5. I claim Tycho Crater.
> and if the thing ever gets dragged to court, the judge will throw out
> the first several claims and only allow the most specific ones that
> clearly don't match any prior art.  But if you aren't versed in
> patent law and art, it's hard to tell just where the threshold of
> silliness lies.  And in any case it'll cost a lot to vindicate
> your opinion in court.
> (Shouldn't the USPTO have rejected the overly-broad claims, you
> ask?  Well, if they weren't utterly dysfunctional they would have.)


> > I still agree though that the patent is probably overly broad and
> > covers things that have been done many times in academia and
> > elsewhere. The problem is that even if it is invalid owing to prior
> > art, the cost of defending against a claim is prohibitive.
> Right, the real problem is in whether you are willing to bet $lots
> that you can prevail against a patent troll.

That's the rub.


>                         regards, tom lane
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Timothy H. Keitt, University of Texas at Austin
Contact info and schedule at http://www.keittlab.org/tkeitt/
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