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I've been making a similar point here for years | 380 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Can somebody please explain the "Software is Math" argument to me?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 24 2012 @ 02:39 PM EDT
Yes you are missing all of it! Look back on the earlier discussions on Groklaw,
read and consider. You might emerge enlightened. Hopefully! I hop.

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

Can somebody please explain the "Software is Math" argument to me?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 24 2012 @ 02:40 PM EDT
Computers operate on a formal mathematical system. They operate on pure
information. Chemistry operates on chemical elements. Read PoIR's article on
that for more info.

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

You ask good questions
Authored by: BJ on Thursday, May 24 2012 @ 02:45 PM EDT
although I don't join you in calling RMS names; to this person everyone using a
computer should owe the highest repect. I might say fanatiscism is good a
times, but it's the intention (of degrading a person) that counts -- and I don't
join you in that, at all. And times will come when people like him, will be
looked up to even more than you might even image now. The world is changing,
and the freedom that RMS envisioned for himself and others is (going to be)
under attack in increasing ways as the years of human madness progress.


[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

I've been making a similar point here for years
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 24 2012 @ 03:08 PM EDT

There really isn't any difference between Hardware and Software Patents.
They are all bad.

Consider KSR v. Teleflex, where the main point of the patent was moving a
micro switch to get better response. That patent had all of the bad points
that we commonly see in Software Patents. Of course since it was
Hardware, the Software people pretty well ignored it.

In my opinion (and I've read a lot of patents) less than 10% of the patents
issue meet the U.S.P.T.O. Rules.

In other words, the problem is the Patent Office - it is incompetent.


[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

Can somebody please explain the "Software is Math" argument to me?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 24 2012 @ 03:57 PM EDT
>So, what I cannot seem to figure out is, why is it that so many in the tech
fields think that software should somehow get a pass because it is math, when
that is also true of virtually(?) all patents.

You're not missing anything unimportant.

It is true that many things in the physical world may be described
mathematically: chemisty, mechanics, electronics, astronomy. But these things
are NOT mathematics! In fact, everything, EVERY ... THING ... is not
mathematics. Because mathematics is not a thing.

Mathematics is a concept: logical (conceptual) processes acting on abstract
(logical) concepts. It can always be done mentally (although many people using
mathematics employ devices to cut down on the amount of memory involved).

So you describe a bridge, mathematically, but nobody actually builds the bridge.
Can you cross the river, mentally? What mental processes can you engage in that
will result in that THING you call your physical body being on the other side of
that other THING you call a river?

But software is different. You can (and programmers always have to) mentally
process the mental abstractions that they are describing in that program. The
program is not a THING. It is a CONCEPT, and it is the same concept, whether its
representation is scribbled on a napkin in Hong Kong or printed on a t-shirt in
Brussels. Can you say that of your bridge, or your chemical molecule?

The difference is, the software IS mathematics. It IS logical conceptual
processing of mental concepts. Software is not transported, it is communicated:
because it is not matter, it is logic.

Software is not a THING that is added to another THING (a COMPUTER) to create a
unique new THING. It is a concept, and a computer is just a device to simplify
mental manipulation of that concept.

Think of it this way: software can be read over the phone to someone else (who
can write it down and have exactly the same concept. Try reading a bridge over
the phone, and see if your friend gets exactly the same bridge. Try it with
gears, or molecules, or asteroids. It won't happen.

Only information can be communicated over the phone: software, pictures, music,
novels, poems. Things can't. And that's why software, or pictures, or verbal
descriptions, are all fundamentally alike, and are all fundamentally different
from bridges or gears or anything else that you'd try to "describe"
with software or pictures or words.


[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

Can somebody please explain the "Software is Math" argument to me?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 24 2012 @ 04:15 PM EDT
My simplistic understanding.

Software is, truly, simply mathematical calculations performed in a completely
predicatable fashion, just really, really fast. Everything that can be done on a
computer in software can also be done with pencil and paper in the abstract
realm of symbols, mathematics, and logic. Sometimes you'll need lots of pencils
and paper, and a librarian to remind you where you put page 37863, but you won't
need a corkscrew in the midst of adding two numbers.
I'm not speaking of processes that display colors or make noises using computer
hardware, just the calculations - the software part. Once one is done
calculating, by hand or by computer, the papers could be burned, the memory of
the computer wiped, and the world would not be any different to a dispassionate
observer. So, what gets patented in the case of software? The ideas that were
placed into the heads of the participant/end user? The knowledge that the Nth
digit of pi is '7'? Neither of these should be controllable, for a variety of
good reasons. Thus software part, as software, should not be patentable. QED

Processes and inventions that cause a measurable change to something or
exemplify measureable differences between alternatives - melting materials more
efficiently, making stronger alloys, cleaning sheepskins with less water,
lifting a barge over a falls using a lock instead of dragging behind yoked oxen
- actually transform the world to a different place than before the
implementation of the invention. Treated as a "black box", the
dispassionate observer will notice a difference because of the invention
(assuming they are paying attention). The "thing" that made the
measureable difference is the thing that is worthy of patenting.

I tend to believe that the major difficulty with patents these days is in the
mis-application of "not obvious to one skilled in the art". I
acknowledge that there is sometimes a hard line to draw between "that's
obvious" and "that's obvious once you tell me how it's done". But
that's obivious to me.

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

Go to left of screen, find Search, Keyword- PoIR , Subject- Patents , Type- Stories
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 24 2012 @ 04:42 PM EDT
To Search Groklaw for the article you are looking for:

Go to left of screen, find Search,

Keyword- PoIR (Exact Phrase)
Subject- Patents
Type- Stories
Authors- All

Read the resulting articles that are relative to your search.

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

Can somebody please explain the "Software is Math" argument to me?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 24 2012 @ 04:42 PM EDT
What you are missing is that there is no purpose to having the things at all.
Nobody in the industry wants them.

The industry has been asked to carry a monkey on its back. You are proposing
that the monkey be trained, that it be carried in a proper backpack, and that
the industry be equipped with a protective helmet to stop the monkey pulling its
hair. We'd rather ditch the monkey altogether.

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

Can somebody please explain the "Software is Math" argument to me?
Authored by: PolR on Thursday, May 24 2012 @ 04:47 PM EDT
Here a few references. Here is the answer to your question on the relationship between the math of software and physics. We may take a rocket as an example. An engineer will describe the rocket and its motion is space with math, using the law of physics. The formulas describe simultaneously two things. First, they describe the rocket and its motion. This is patentable despite being described by math. Second, the same formulas describe the computations the engineer must do when computing his mathematical model of the rocket. This model is math.

Math is a language. We write symbols on paper or in computer memory to describe things. This written language is math. The thing described by the mathematical model is not math. When we say software is math, we say that the manipulations of the symbols in the computer (the bits) is a mathematical calculation, like the computation of the engineer working out the model of his rocket.

A big difficulty is that lawyers use a different computer science than programmers. Lawyers think they use the same computer science as programmers but this is not the case. This makes communication between members of the two professions very difficult.

  • In legal computer science software is a physical invention. When a program is inserted into a computer the circuit is physically altered and a new structurally different machine is made. This machine along with the process by which it operates is patentable. Many lawyers want to apply arguments based on physics to say software is not math because they think of the math of computing as a description of this physical invention. To them software is like the rocket.

  • In programmers' computer science the physical changes resulting from introducing a program in a computer are the normal operation of the machine. The changes are operational, they are not structural. No new structurally different machine is made. There is no way to define what is software in terms of a machine structure because this difference depends on the meanings of the bits and meaning is never part of machine structure. If we insist on calling these changes "structural" a series of paradoxes ensue which are documented in the above references. For programmers the software invention is not physical. It is an abstract method of manipulating abstractions called symbols (the bits) pursuant to an algorithm which is further limited to specific meanings assigned to the symbols. For programmers, software is math because the execution of software is the actual mathematical computation and not some physical thing described by math. To them software is like the model, it is not like the rocket.
Part of the software is math argument is to explain and justify this difference between the legal and programmatic versions of computer science. Why the laws doesn't use the same computer science as programmers is beyond me.

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

Can somebody please explain the "Software is Math" argument to me?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 24 2012 @ 05:45 PM EDT
(sorry if this is a double post...don't think it is...)
I asked the same question a couple of times. Overall, the
software is maths argument is mostly legalistic - and based
on the argument that you aren't allowed to patent concepts.

Given that judges have decided that, yes, you are allowed to
patent some concepts, my overall judgement is that the time
spent telling outsiders to fall in line and agree that
software is math and therefore unpatentable is probably

I suspect that arguing for changes to the patent system to
serve the public good will be more productive. Basically,
the law doesn't rely on logic or proofs - but tends to be
devoted towards creating reproducible, 'better-than-nothing'

I also believe, to some extent, software patents could
probably be a good thing. For example, nominally, any
midsize company with a new software package can by nigh-
instantly-squashed by a larger company simply duplicating
their software functionality. This isn't true in areas with
significant lock-in - but will be true in areas without
lock-in. Patent provide some protection. (assuming that the
mid-size company can afford the lawsuit.)

Now, the current state of software patents is just
ridiculous, but, honestly, hardware patents are fairly
messed up also.


[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

Maths is not reality
Authored by: Wol on Thursday, May 24 2012 @ 06:17 PM EDT
THAT is what you're missing.

Patents are supposed to apply to reality, while copyright applies to
"fiction". I include maths here because maths is a fiction that
*tries* to describe reality - with strong emphasis on the word "try"
because (as Science tells us) it is pretty much impossible to actually get it

To quote Einstein, "As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality,
they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to

Patents refer to reality, therefore they (should not) have anything to do with
mathematics (other than using maths to *de*scribe the patented reality). And as
gets hashed over all the time, software IS maths, therefore should have nothing
to do with patents ...


[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

Can somebody please explain the "Software is Math" argument to me? Yes ...
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 24 2012 @ 09:30 PM EDT
Software is math: ref. universal Turing machine (a concept before practical
computers existed). A universal Turing machine can undertake any 'calculation'
or 'transformation' that can be produced by any/every other symbol manipulating
'machine'. Proven by the rules of mathematics. I.e. no symbol manipulation
machine is 'novel', it is either a Turing machine (if general) or a restricted
Turing machine (when task limited). These are 'concepts'.
Hardware: there are probably numerous ways of shuffling 'bits' onto and off a
'stack' in (say) an IC. These practical methods were probably worthy of patent
protection, and may even have been patented. If you find a new way of
accomplishing this physical task you are welcome to patent it.

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

Can somebody please explain the "Software is Math" argument to me?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 24 2012 @ 10:18 PM EDT
My understanding was that software patents were patents on *running code* rather
than the software "thing" itself (which is not patentable) - which is
clearly just math and a purely functional (since a compiler will of course
strip/ignore anything not absolutely essential) version of the source code.

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

Challenge for those wishing to claim software is not math
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, May 25 2012 @ 10:22 AM EDT

First... let's produce some software:

FUNCTION add_two_numbers (first_num number, sec_num number)
RETURN number
RETURN (first_num + sec_num);

That function is called "add_two_numbers". It takes two numbers and returns the sum of them.

Every human being who has gone through grade school has done that with pencil and paper in about grade 2 (maybe 1 or 3 depending on the education system - or earlier if you had good parents).

The challenge: Explain how the software in the specific example is not applied math.


[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

Can somebody please explain the "Software is Math" argument to me?
Authored by: ThrPilgrim on Friday, May 25 2012 @ 10:36 AM EDT

I can write, In fact I have done her e, a program to create every computer program ever.

That's not every one already written, but every one ever

All it needs is sufficient time and memory/disk space

When you can build me a machine that will create every other machine that can ever be built, including it's self, then I'll agree that Software can be patented

Beware of him who would deny you access to information for in his heart he considers himself your master.

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

  • Ya lost me.... - Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, May 25 2012 @ 03:44 PM EDT
Can somebody please explain the "Software is Math" argument to me?
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, May 25 2012 @ 01:47 PM EDT
"When you patent a mechanical device, in then end you are placing a patent
on a series of fulcrums, gears, pulleys, chemical reactions, etc.

In the end, it is ALL math."

Ok, I think I see what you're missing, and I'll do my best to point it out...

Hardware exists in the real world, and has a direct effect on the real world.
Math, however, does not. Math can be used to *model* the real world, but that
model will never actually cause any changes to the real world.

For example:
You can (with a sufficiently powerful computer) model all of the known and
understood physical mechanisms by which a candle burns. That model of a candle
will produce neither light nor heat (though it will tell you how much light and
heat the candle will produce). This is Math.

A candle, a simple bar of wax with a string running through it, will produce
light and heat as it burns. This is *not* Math.

If you want a more basic proof that software is Math, look at the CPU (and
various other processors) in a computer. There is no task they can accomplish
which cannot be done by writing the steps down on a piece of paper, and solving
it manually, using a pencil and your fingers. They just solve those steps more
quickly and accurately than is typically possible for humans.

A software representation of a lever will not allow you to lift a heavy load. A
real lever will.

This is the difference between software (math) and the real world.

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

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