Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Patents and Prior Art for Obvious Developments of the State of the Art in the Digital World: Atari Apple Sigma SLAC and the First Small Computers

I am gratified to read at Forbes an article by Tim Worstall titled Did Steve Jobs Get That List Scrolling Bounce Back Patent From Atari? in which he refers to and quotes our posting at Lawpundit in PONG ! About that Ridiculously Granted Bounce-Back Scrolling Patent US 7469381 Which Is Anticipated by the Prior Art and Obviousness of the Old Atari Game of PONG.

As Worstall writes there:
"Now, of course I do not endorse this accusation of professional theft. I also don’t quite agree that bounce back is quite that simple. For of course we have the entire patent system of the United States of America telling us that the two are absolutely not the same thing. Bounce back in Pong is completely different from bounce back in list scrolling. Must be, otherwise no one could have a patent valid in 2012 for something that has been around since 1972. Well, unless the US patent system was definitively and entirely broken and it’s impossible to conceive of all those bright people in government using all our money to achieve something as ridiculous as that, isn’t it?

But let us just step over to that alternative world where this assertion is true, where bounce back is bounce back. How could Apple have got hold of it?

Hmm, so, where did Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak first work together? Oh, yes, that’s right, isn’t it? When they adapted Pong from a multi-user game into a single user one called “Breakout“. That was work they did for Atari, wasn’t it?

Hmm. How different that alternative reality is from the one that we live in. How much smaller the world of ideas about smartphones is. How much more prior art there is over there than there is here.

And where was it Steve Jobs was working when this bounce back patent was granted to Apple? He wasn’t at Atari any more, was he?"
I am thankful to Worstall for "understanding" the nature of the current general patent problem in its larger "alternative" dimensions. This is not a problem of Apple or Steve Jobs, it is a cancer of the entire patent system.

Before I started my first year at Stanford Law School in 1968, I drove to California some weeks early, and stayed with a friend, a Stanford Ph.D. candidate in computer science, one of the first PhDs in that field. He in fact subsequently became a Professor of Computer Science and it was through his connection to SLAC that I at that time saw some of the first graphic "bitmaps" ever of human faces made by computer Xs and Os on math paper (which was actually forbidden at SLAC by the powers that be, since valuable computer time was not be expended by computer operators on such foolish play -- but that is the way the computer "graphic" interface later found in Apple PCs actually began -- in the stealth of forbidden play).

SLAC, mentioned above, was then called the Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory but now carries the title of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

SLAC was put into operation in 1966 as the longest linear accelerator in the world -- a record it still holds, and it was essentially through SLAC discoveries that researchers were ultimately awarded three Nobel Prizes in Physics for:
The computational and computer-control needs of SLAC in the early years were a significant factor in driving the fledgling computer science industry, in leading to the development of personal computers, and in creating "Silicon Valley" at Stanford. Now, I am not an expert in computer science, so I will here quote one of those early experts:

Sam Howry for SLAC wrote TEN years prior to the founding of the Apple computer company as follows:

The introduction of hardware multilevel interrupts has made the small computer a suitable device for on line analysis and control of experiments in physics, and such systems have been developed in the past. However, until recently little attention has been given to the man-machine interface, that part of the system referred to as the command post. This paper describes an operational system at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) where this area has been more fully explored. [block print emphasis added by LawPundit]

A small on-line computer system has been developed at SLAC to monitor and control magnets and other equipment leading from the end of the accelerator to the experimental areas. The compact user language, easily grasped by the operators of the control room, provides a high degree of interaction with the environment. Internal computer time has been correlated with time of day so that the user has the capability in the language to synchronize events to a resolution of i/360 set over a 6 hour time interval. All input output including signals to and responses from the environment are completely multiprocessed, and two users may gain access on a time sharing basis.... [block print emphasis added by LawPundit]


The computer is an SDS 925, a 24 bit machine with a 1.75 psec memory cycle time, and 4K memory. There is a typewriter [LawPundit: now we use a keyboard] (teletype Model 351, card reader and punch, all on a single channel, and 16 levels of priority interrupts. [SDS link and block print emphasis added by LawPundit]

[above, you see the LawPundit clip of an original image in Howry's paper showing the finger-touch control of the "Tune Box", and below you see one illustration from the multitouch patent by Apple as found in Nilay Patel's article at The Verge in The 'broken patent system': how we got here and how to fix it.

System Configuration
... The tune box allows the operator to make a fine adjustment on magnet settings much as he would with a potentiometer.... Using the typewriter, he can specify the sensitivity of the lever.... Then by pushing the desired magnet buttons and  the lever, he can change the magnets independently or in concert. The RATE dial provides single step mode or 3 nominal rates of change....

User Language

... Language input may come from the typewriter, cards, or over the link from experimental area A. The typewriter/card channel and the link may be operating simultaneously.

The entities considered in this discussion of the language are: characters, words, clauses, instructions, and blocks. Universal delimiting characters are blanks and carriage returns. These two are functionally equivalent and may be used interchangeably to format the input copy. Words are then strings which contain no delimiters. A clause is a group of consecutive words, one of which identifies the clause.

The order of the clauses is irrelevent but within a clause position is important. Instructions consist of certain combinations of clauses.... [T]he final nature of the instruction is not decided until the terminating semicolon word. On receiving this the computer searches backwards ... for a meaningful instruction. If there is none, the indication is typed and the accumulated words are cleared out." [LawPundit note: we could call this the initial software programming "bounce back"]. Sam Howry, A Concise On Line Control System, SLAC, Stanford University, Stanford, California (work suported by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, submitted to 1967 Spring Joint Computer Conference, Atlantic City, New Jersey, April 1967). SLAC Publication SLAC-PUB-0248, SLAC Release Date: August 26, 1999, A Concise On Line Control System, Download File: SLAC-PUB-0248.PDF. [block print emphasis added by LawPundit]
As one can see from the above, Jobs and Wozniak in 1976 did not create the bandwagon of the "small computer" "man-machine" interface. Rather, they jumped on a bandwagon already well on its way.

To award one company monopolistic rights on developments clearly anticipated by prior art many years ago and obvious to boot, is simply absurd.

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