Re: Sort method patents and standard

From: Alain LaBont/e'/ (
Date: Tue Apr 23 1996 - 13:55:58 EDT

At 16:15 22/04/1996 EDT, Tony Harminc wrote:

>Ah - I was hoping for a response from you, Alain.

>>in fact for this sorting/searching feature, I have seen one US patent of IBM
>>and it has been embarrassing for some IBM people as my name is not mentioned
>>but I am the inventor of what they claim... they acknowledged it (they could

>I have found the following US patents assigned to IBM:
>5070456 Method for Facilitating the Sorting of National Language Keys
> in a Data Processing System
>5077669 Method for Quasi-Key Search within a National Language Support
> (NLS) Data Processing System
>5072386 Method for Culturally Predictable Keysort within a National
> Language Support (NLS) Data Processing System
>5231581 Method for Culturally Predictable Keysort within a National
> Language Support (NLS) Data Processing System
>5195034 Method for Quasi-Key Search within a National Language Support
> (NLS) Data Processing System
>All of these list the "inventors" as Denis Garneau [formerly of the
>NLTC in Toronto] and Wen-Hsiu Sears. In my technical opinion, all
>of them cover essentially the same ground, with a few bells & whistles
>to differentiate them. Further, the ground covered is exactly that
>published in the National Language Design Guide, Volume 2 (SE09-8002)
>and the "Redbook" Keys to Sort and Search for Culturally Expected Results
>GG24-3516. Both these publications are dated *after* all the above
>patents. As you know, Alain, the NLDG does acknowledge your contribution
>and that of Denis Garneau. (Do you know the whereabouts of Denis these
>days ? I haven't seen him since just after he left IBM several years ago.)

When these patents were registered, Denis was placed in front of a fait
accompli and he was in fact embarrassed that my name did not appear...

Denis is still one of my best friends. I see him each time I go to Toronto
(3 or 4 times a year)... and we talked on the phone not later than Sunday,
as he was receiving a common friend of us from France who is supposed to
come and see me next week in Quibec (city of).

>>not do otherwise because I had a copyright on that; however because the
>>patents laws are not the same in Canada and in the USA, a patent could not
>>be obtained in Canada [once you have talked about it, it's finished here,
>>while in the United States you have 1 year to get your patent even after you
>>made the idea public]) and told me they patented the thing to avoid another
>>company doing it and charging them royalties (this already happened to them,
>>apparently, as one company patented something that had come out of IBM
>>research labs!)...
>>They also told me their intent was to give free access to that patent to
>>anybody... they did it for their own protection only...

>If that is the case, it would save much time and effort all round if
>IBM would simply publish a statement to this effect. Somehow I don't
>think it is the case, though I would like to be proved wrong. IBM holds
>hundreds of software patents, and browsing through any of them is enough
>to make one want to join the League for Programming Freedom immediately.

When I was told so, I believed it. I have no reason to believe they want to
charge royalties on this. In fact I know it is used more than many think,
even in the USA, and to my knowledge nobody pays any royalty.

>Many of them cover material that is blindingly obvious (e.g. US4615002
>patents the concept of calling a message issuing routine and passing it
>both a message ID and a language ID, and having the routine issue the
>message in the right language! Hard to believe, but the US patent
>office evidently thought this was a non-obvious idea in 1986.

>>If it is the case, then fine, I agree that this work be in the public
>>domain, and that is what my copyright said as early as 1986 (final version
>>of my method in 1988, followed by a reduction technique in 1989)...
>>I also know for sure that a patent was registered by Kulinek and Lee
>>(although I have not seen the actual patent), from Bell Northern Research,
>>around 1988 also (they did their work in parallel with me, we had not met
>>nor were we mutually aware of our respective works then; around 1988 we
>>began to work in common on a Canadian standard about the issue);

>I did not find any US references to such a patent, but I'm just an
>amateur net searcher, not a patent professional.
>Alain, do you believe that your method covers essentially *all* of what is
>mentioned in the NLDG Volume 2 ? If so, and you are making it public
>domain, then it would seem that anyone can use these methods, at least
>everywhere outside the US.

Yes my method essentially covers all of this and goes beyond, with a
reduction technique.

>And it seems to me that the US is the one
>country where no one cares about this stuff anyway. (Please - no insult
>intended to the USers on this list - what I mean is that there's essentially
>no commercial demand for this stuff in the US.)

I believe it is used in the USA as well. Don't forget that even for English
other sort methoids fail, unless you limit yourself to the 26 letter of the
alphabet in upper case, and that you don't use any space, nor punctuation,
nor special characters, which is nevcer the case...

>On the other hand, there is
>mention of at least one European Patent on some of these techniques. But
>if you published the material before the EP application, then it is surely
>invalid, since only the US has the "date of invention" scheme for patents.
>Questions, questions... Perhaps I should just write to IBM's Director
>of Licensing and ask them for permission to use the patents. Or maybe
>get the lawyer to write... :-(

If you could ask IBM that would be sufficient, imho. They showed good faith,
at least if you look in the IBM NLDG books, this is quite satisfying to me.

Alain LaBonti

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