The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

May 9, 2008

Mathematical Patents

In a previous post, I mentioned Narendra Karmarkar's path-breaking discoveries in interior-point techniques that helped in the solution of large-scale linear programming problems. Wherever he went to present his results, he was accompanied by lawyers from AT&T (where he was working at the time). Their purpose was to vet questions posed to him by attendees to ensure that AT&T's patent for these techniques - one of the earliest granted for algorithms and mathematical results - was not infringed and intellectual property was not lost.

The patent was challenged in a remarkable way by Professor Konno in Japan, who published a best-selling book in 1995 about linear programming, Karmarkar, AT&T, and Konno's reasons for opposing patents in mathematics. Check out a summary here.

It appears that Karmarkar found himself isolated in the mathematical community, and others took up his work and left him far behind. A truly tragic result.

So as not to end on a low, I might as well point out that in 2000, the ACM honoured Karmarkar for this work.


Space Bar said...

hey - how do i mail you?

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