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Patent Nonsense

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This page was originally inspired and parts were shamelessly cribbed from an email from Ivan Mizera regarding an old controversy on the R-help mailing list about the patent application of Alvaro Munoz and others at the Johns Hopkins University for the diamond graph.

This "invention" bears more than a superficial similarity to the "hexagonal glyph" of Carr et. al. (1992) as illustrated below in M.G. Schimek's (ed.) "Smoothing and Regression," demonstrating yet again the validity of the truism: "Everything has already been said, but perhaps not by everyone and to everyone."

Another, and even more outrageous example of this sort of "patent nonsense" is the attempt by MicroSoft to patent Ed Tufte's sparklines.

Further comments:

In the last act of the Czech movie "The Mysterious Castle in Carpathia", a not-very-serious adaptation of Jules Verne's classic "Le Chateau des Carpathes", the dying ill-fated inventor hands a fascicle to the main hero with the last words: "Give my inventions to mankind - otherwise, the scientific revolution may be delayed at least by fifty years!" And really, adds the voice in the closing credits, they were handed to the most appropriate hands of the Carpathian Kingdom Patent Office, where they were studied by the most appropriate specialists - and the camera shows a pack of mice munching on the papers...

Mark Twain's immortal comment "lack of money is the root of all evil" makes Paul Halmos's "What to Publish?" test all the more agonizing: "Would you publish your paper even if somebody offered you $1000 for not doing it?"

A Chicago Price Theory Exam Question: We would have more and better mathematics today if theorems could be patent protected. Discuss.

A letter from Don Knuth to the U.S. Commissioner of Patents deploring the decisions to allow some algorithms to be patented in recent years is quite apropos.

Another example is the following story about Newegg and the socalled shopping cart patent.

The story "When Patents Attack" on This American Life is a more scary take on the topic of patent trolls.

For a more amusing take on patent nonsense I strongly recommend applying to the London Institute of 'Pataphysics.

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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Commerce West, Champaign IL 61820
contact Roger Koenker (

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