Mojang: "Software patents are just plain evil"

Notch attacks litigation halting the spread of ideas after Uniloc files patent lawsuit against Mojang

Uniloc, a company specialising in computer security and copy protection, is suing Mojang for patent infringement, prompting Notch to brand the whole practice of patenting software, "just plain evil."

According to a legal document submitted to the courts of the Eastern Division of Texas, the patent in question is called, "System And Method For Preventing Unauthorised Access To Electronic Data."

Uniloc claims that Mojang has infringed on "one or more claims" of the patent, but the central point of the case relates to a system that checks the licenses of Android-based applications with a server to "prevent unauthorised use."

"If needed, I will throw piles of money at making sure they don't get a cent"

The allegation includes, but isn't limited to, Minecraft - misspelled in the document as, "Mindcraft." Uniloc is seeking damages for the infringement, including a "reasonable royalty", pre and post-judgement interest and costs.

The matter was made public by Mojang founder Markus "Notch" Persson, who tweeted about receiving the document with his usual good humour.

"Step 1: Wake up. Step 2: Check email. Step 3: See we're being sued for patent infringement. Step 4: Smile," he said.

"If needed, I will throw piles of money at making sure they don't get a cent," he continued. "Software patents are just plain evil. Innovation within software is basically free, and it's growing incredibly rapid. Patents only slow it down."

The following day, Notch published an article on his blog that questions laws that halt the spread of ideas.

"I am fine with the concept of 'owning stuff', so I'm against theft... I am mostly fine with the concept of 'selling stuff you made', so I'm also against copyright infringement... But there is no way in hell you can convince me that it's beneficial for society to not share ideas. Ideas are free. They improve on old things, make them better, and this results in all of society being better. Sharing ideas is how we improve."

"If you own a software patent, you should feel bad"

While Notch accepts that patents are valuable in areas where research is costly and the benefits are great - areas of science and medicine, for example - he calls software patents "trivial" and "counterproductive."

"A common argument for patents is that inventors won't invent unless they can protect their ideas. The problem with this argument is that patents apply even if the infringer came up with the idea independently. If the idea is that easy to think of, why do we need to reward the person who happened to be first?"

"If you own a software patent, you should feel bad."

This isn't the first time Uniloc has filed a patent infringement suit against companies from the games industry: in August 2010, it accused Activision and Sony, among others, of creating rival DRM technology based on its patents.

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Latest comments (23)

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 5 years ago
Yes. Utterly right. Patents on software should not be allowed.
Apple suing all and sundry for using slide to unlock on smartphones was just crazy stuff.
All that happens with software patents is that lawyers get used as a major business tool and the iterative development that software has being built on gets screwed up.

What gets me is that one of the most aggressive litigators worldwide on software patents is Apple. But where did they get their WIMP Macintosh interface idea from in the first place, because they didn't invent it themselves?

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IP & Patent laws: fattening shysters and chancers since 1960's.
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Brian Smith Artist 5 years ago
Nothing to do with protecting the inventor. Patents have turned into currency.
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Show all comments (23)
Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve5 years ago
I've yet to see a software patent lawsuit where I've thought the patent owner was in the right. When the system is being abused quite openly every single week, surely it's time for a change?
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd5 years ago
Agreed with everyone here. These are a ridiculous type of patent, and of course agreed with Notch as well, considering software is MATH. You're patenting lines of code that are just equations. Unbelievably stupid that these are allowed to exist.

PS: While we're on the topic, can we please outlaw "design patents" as well? These are a special kind of BS.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 23rd July 2012 3:24pm

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John Donnelly Quality Assurance 5 years ago
If you create a super efficent and effective AI algorithm for use in gaming would you not want to be able to make money off that?
Why should you not be able to paitent that to protect your hard work and effort?

How software patents are being used is wrong and yes its a system that is broken and is being driven by patent trolls but I still see value in the system and why we should look to keep patents for software.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 5 years ago
Another person who thinks he can: 1.) predict the future; 2.) decide what is good for everyone else.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 5 years ago

Yes, you can reduce software to just math.

Also, you can reduce writing to just words. So let's get rid of copyright.

Hey, why stop there? You can reduce houses to just bricks and boards. Nobody should be able to own a house that they built.
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Keldon Alleyne Strategic keyboard basher, Avasopht Ltd5 years ago
@John and Tim: Patents are for protecting novel creations, most algorithms are not novel creations but responses to the problem domain. What's worse is that the world of software progresses much faster than traditional industries, so patents that prevent others from solving or making use of a solution to a relevant problem for a 25 year period slows the progression of software development drastically.

It's very difficult for someone without a computer science / software engineering background to truly understand the reality of it all of this either. Things like Namco's "playing a mini game while loading" is extremely uncreative (and had prior art). In fact most software patents are extremely simple to figure out. Tell any competent programmer to create a text disambiguation for mobile phone input and within 20-90 minutes they would have figured out an efficient algorithm with a demonstration for you.

Tim, I can tell you that basic trigonometrical formulas (naturally existing truths) have been patented to the point that you had to pay a huge licensing fee to print clear text on LCD devices.

Can I ask what background you have in computer science or software engineering to be contributing to this discussion as it's something of a hot topic for programmers who have been crippled from implementing simple and obvious code.
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Patent for software that "checks the licenses of Android-based applications with a server to prevent unauthorised use"? At least that is better than Apple's "slide to unlock" or their "smooth mirror" iPhone design patents.

Agree with John Owens here. The system is very favoring big companies which doesn't really need those protections. Patent cases should be solved by experts, not lawyers. And software should not violate any patents if it's not copy of the same source codes.
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Dave Wolfe Game Developer, Cosmic Games5 years ago
Tim, the way many of these software patents work is more like patenting the concept of writing in general, built up on many patents such as writing with a ballpoint pen, writing with a fountain pen, ect. If someone were to invent a new type of pen, then expect a new patent that covers writing with that type of pen. Or they are built on combining a few common techniques in an obvious way. They tend to be very broad and based on abstract ideas that would not be patentable if it were not related to software.

To get back to your analogy, building a house is like developing software, of course you own it. But you can't patent the concept of a house and then sue everyone for infringing your patent. I can just imagine the language that would be used too, "An enclosed structure with one or more internal sub-structures or divisions for purposes of storing, preparing, ingesting/imbibing and disposing of food or beverages; family, group, or individual recreation and relaxation; elimination of solid and liquid bodily waste..." It's absolutely absurd.

The patent in question was filed in 2001 and it's essentially for authenticating users stored in a database over a network using a portable device. You can't seriously tell me you think that should be patentable. What exactly was invented here? How is it not obvious? And that process has been used far earlier than 2001, so prior art should invalidate the patent. And yet Mojang will have to spend a lot of money to point out the obvious. If the judge knew anything about software development this case would have been thrown out of court.
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David Phan Producer, Relic Entertainment5 years ago
Uniloc doesn't hold a candle to Lodsys in terms of patent trolling. [link url=""][/link]

This "shell" company holds patents for:

(The "908" patent) "Customer-based product design module"
(The "834" patent) "Product Value Information Interchange Server"
(The "078" patent) "Methods and Systems for Gathering Information from Units of a Commodity Across a Network"
(The "565" patent) "Customer-based product design module"

They've been very actively going after large and small mobile developers who have IAP in their apps. Thankfully Apple, Oracle and other companies are fighting back in the courts against these guys and trying to put and end to their practice.

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Keldon Alleyne Strategic keyboard basher, Avasopht Ltd5 years ago
Right on Dave.

@John Owens: you are right about the need for experts in resolving these disputes.

I think the biggest problem is that we're thinking in terms of patents and not in terms of what is right. Rather than asking if software should be patentable, we should instead ask what aspects of software, algorithms and computer science should be protected and how?

Surely the person who makes the most sought after product in the world possible should be rewarded, or at least have some say about things that are only possible because of his contribution to some degree. Unfortunately this is not the status quo right now, it's little more than a claim to rights.

And regardless of how difficult your wife's process was, whose to say that the algorithms the research leads to aren't obvious? Now I'm sure a fantastic discovery was made, but how do we measure novelty here? And if the discovery was just the result of throwing a few million pounds at research, then could it be argued that it is obvious to anyone with the budget? If so, then would it be right to deny others the freedom to spend a few million solving the same problem? Supposing there was someone else doing the same research who started a month after her, so you wife gets the patent out first and then the other poor soul loses any right to use their own research?
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd5 years ago
@ David Good to hear, though it would be even better if Apple and Oracle would stop patent trolling themselves based off VERY similar broad software (and in Apple's case design) patents.
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 5 years ago
Part of the issue here is that most people's view of IP protection laws (and especially those of owners) has changed from the original conception.

The original point of IP laws was to encourage creativity and put more creative works (be they novels or inventions or whatever) in to the public domain. The way this was done was to have the government grant a short-term monopoly on certain IP so that IP creators could engage in rent-seeking behaviour. The idea was that what is effectively a tax on society at large that's being given to creators would be worthwhile because of the dramatic increase in creative works we'd get that would eventually go into the public domain and be free for all to use. (This, by the way, is about the biggest government interference in to "free markets" ever.)

That's been breaking down on a regular basis, however, because the ability to prevent others from copying these works (though that copy takes nothing away from the creator) has come to be seen as some sort of right. It's absurd if you think about it; a parallel right that you're not allowed to look at my house when you walk by it (a house is a creative work, too) unless you pay me for viewing it would be seen as crazy.

Note that the parallel often drawn with theft of real objects is wrong; we stop
real theft because taking a real object away from someone denies them the use of that object, i.e., you suffer an objective loss. However, making a copy of a creative work doesn't deny the person holding the original the use of that work.

This is not new, by the way. Progress on the steam engine was held up for years by James Watt wielding his patents because he could make more money from people using his inferior original model rather than new improved models invented by others (but based on his work).

There's a free book worth reading that discusses this in detail: Boldrin and Levine's Against Intellectual Property.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Curt Sampson on 24th July 2012 1:02am

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Russell Watson Senior Designer, doublesix5 years ago

"Another person who thinks he can: 1.) predict the future; 2.) decide what is good for everyone else. "

I've seen you do those very two things whenever you start talking about the film industry in regards to games.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 5 years ago
We should all write to our politicians about software patent trolling. The system is broken and needs fixing.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 5 years ago
There is political pressure to change things:
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Dave Knudson Sr. Technology Manager, Electronic Arts5 years ago
The ridiculous part is what is the tangible value of such a thing on 99c apps. I know Minecraft is $5-$6, but a boatload of it's sales were for 10 cents on a promotion. In the Uniloc patent suit vs. Microsoft they were told by the court that even 2-3% of revenue was excessive, because the infringement had little to do with the product itself. So if they take it all the way and win, they could only be getting a fraction of a cent per sale.

So I'm sure the idea is to settle for cost that is less than the legal cost involved, basically legal extortion.

One step in the right direction would be to get rid of jury trials for these patent lawsuits. So many of these suits seem like "Poor so and so invented this and slaved his whole life, only to have the big evil profit from his invention", which I am sure plays well in a jury. Then once one suit is won it creates a war chest for further lawsuits and bolstering the patent portfolio. By this time the "poor little guy" is many years gone from the equation.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Dave Knudson on 24th July 2012 7:23pm

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Chuan L Game Designer / Indie Developer 5 years ago
From Mojang's blog:
A common argument for patents is that inventors won’t invent unless they can protect their ideas. The problem with this argument is that patents apply even if the infringer came up with the idea independently. If the idea is that easy to think of, why do we need to reward the person who happened to be first?


Says the guy who ported Zach Barth's stolen .NET "Infiniminer" source code to Java to make his millions. Notch is blowing hot air out of his arse here and its disgusting that not a single cent of "Minecraft's" sales made it back to Zachtronics. Their code was effectively responsible for the world generation, core building mechanics and also the aesthetic that people like so much about Persson's port.

I have zero respect for this dude. His other prior "self -made" games are also all clones of existing games but with just one tiny modification. A talent -less and unethical hack perhaps who happened to be in the right place at the right time when the "Inifiniminer" source code broke. "Minecraft" didn't just borrow ideas or concepts from "Infiniminer", rather it copied lines of code verbatim. Zachtronics is still making great innovative games like "Space Chem" while Mojang is doing what?

Zachtronics : Infiniminer

-- Chuan

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Chuan L on 25th July 2012 6:32am

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Tobias Burandt5 years ago
It's like using charcoal to power your Future-Flying-Car. We're living in the 21st Century and writing Software for the 22nd. Yet all is regulated by a law that was created when? In the early 50s perhaps? Or even older? I agree on everyone who begs for a redesign of these laws. They're just too old to reflect today's development processes.
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Bryan Robertson Gameplay Programmer, Ubisoft Toronto5 years ago
The other problem is that if people can't protect their IP, in this case the algorithm then there won't be any investment in future research because why fund the investment in it first when you can just wait till someone else does it and copy them.
Because in the software industry, getting to market first with something novel is a massive advantage, if you can't capitalise on that, then lack of ability to stifle competition likely isn't the problem.

If someone had patented all the practical scene-management algorithms thirty years ago, and sued anyone using them into oblivion, then the video games market would be massively different today, limited only to that that can be brute-forced on modern hardware. That benefits no one, other than the person who happens to hold the patent.

If this is such a massive problem, then why stop at software patents? Why don't we allow mathematics to be patentable? After all, no one will advance the field of mathematics if we don't allow them to have a monopoly on monetisation of everything that uses their discoveries

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Bryan Robertson on 26th July 2012 1:31am

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Keldon Alleyne Strategic keyboard basher, Avasopht Ltd5 years ago
@Keldon Alleyne - You miss the point, if it requires a lot of money and time to fund experts in the field then it's probably not obvious :-)
Please see the case of the wright brothers, who succeeded in creating a flying machine at a time when everyone was trying to do it. Without any financial backing or even any serious engineering expertise they beat the most educated experts of the time who were heavily funded.

Innovation is an energy. When forced it is slow and inefficient, but when inspired the innovation becomes obvious, presenting itself to the recipient of the idea like a calling from the wind.

With enough research you could have discovered flight, but the Wright brothers took inspiration from nature, observing how birds tilted their wings, and perhaps their experience as bicycle engineers made it obvious to them that a reliable control method was required.

Yes, the Wright brothers did eventually apply for patents, but I'm sure that the coolness of flying was what motivated them, not financial gain (and again I'd reiterate that those who were in it purely for financial gain invested a great deal of money to no avail). Speak to a true innovator and they will tell you they don't do it for the money, they do it because innovating and inventing is a thrill.

Going back to software patents, I don't think the justification for software patents should be based solely on the currently accepted business model that is based on IP protection without first addressing the entire context in which software operates. And if you think in terms of patents, asking whether patents are right or wrong you fall victim to candle problem blindness. Perhaps the entire system needs a rewrite and we need to readdress how we believe the world should operate from the ground up.

@Bruce: that seems cool

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Keldon Alleyne on 26th July 2012 11:24am

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