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August 10, 2009

Turing Tarpits and Nonobviousness

Alan Perlis coined the term "Turing tarpit" in a 1982 article entitled, "Epigrams on Programming," in an epigram which stated, "Beware of the Turing tar-pit in which everything is possible but nothing of interest is easy."

Turing tarpits tell us something about nonobviousness in patent law which may seem trivial, but which is often missed in debates about software patents: the mere fact that computers make the creation of a particular piece of software possible does not render that software obvious. Computers may facilitate the creation of software, and thereby raise the bar of nonobviousness for software, but they don't raise the bar infinitely. Yet it continues to be common to hear the argument that computers render all software trivial to create, and therefore obvious and unpatentable.

I presume that the "Turing tarpit" idea was inspired both by Turing's conception of the computer as a universal machine, capable of mimicking any other computing machine, and also by Turing's response to "Lady Lovelace's Objection" in his paper, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence." Mere possibility does not imply predictability and therefore should not be treated within patent law as sufficient proof of obviousness.

Posted by Robert at August 10, 2009 6:16 PM
category: Philosophy of Computing | Software Patents


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