15 October 2015

The Sun Salutation

From the time I exited grad school, I've practiced (and studied when I found an instructor on my wavelength) tai-chi and yoga. Both are Eastern, and tai-chi was originally a martial art. Both have, in Western incarnations, been promoted more as exercise of mind/body. Both are grounded in the same principle: the center (i.e. the space of the pelvic girdle) is all; all energy flows from it and out to the extremities. Golfers have been known to seek guidance from teachers of one or the other.

Tai-chi has a documented history that goes back some centuries, and has evolved into 4 (or 5, depending) schools. Yang is the most commonly taught, and the one I've studied. Again, when an instructor was available. Yoga, on the other hand, goes back millennia, and hatha form is what is mostly taught in the West. Both practices share a common attribute: each instructor popular enough to have a school/academy/franchise modifies "official" forms to better express his/her view of the fundamental principles of the art. And so it is. I first studied tai-chi with a student of William Chen, who taught a Yang form that looks nothing like the standard 24 step Beijing form. The one I teach now came from Art Ziello, from Don Miller (who is the brother of Julian Miller who taught me my first form in Cambridge too many years ago). And it's different from Art's version, which doesn't follow the official 24.

The same process happens in yoga, perhaps more so. Hatha is the main basic school in the West, but each instructor modifies to suit. And, unlike tai-chi, yoga practice is some arbitrary (well, sort of) combination of poses. The most well known documented version is, likely, "The Sivananda Companion...".

"What in Heaven's name does this have to do with quant and normal databases?" I here from the slackers in the back. Well, this. If you've been paying attention to the software world for more than a few days, you're surely aware of the patent trolls, software patentability, and suits from the trolls aimed at various and sundry. The latest (so far as I know) salvo, came last week when the Supreme Court declined to re-open Vringo's loss in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC, usually). The CAFC basically told Vringo to shut up and go home by gutting Vringo's "win" over Google. Ever since, the innterTubes has been a Tower of Babel.

The Blue Corner: "All software is algorithms, thus explicitly not patentable under both the Constitution and Federal law. Copyright is appropriate."
The Red Corner: "Software is unique intellectual property and therefore patentable."

Needless to remind, I'm in the Blue Corner and the Vringo, et al, are in the Red Corner. It bears reminding that the first software patents came from a Patent Office that had no experts in software, and were easily gulled (the account goes on a path I don't agree with, BTW).
What we learned is that things that we were doing in previous months are no longer acceptable. It seems that early last week a memo went out from the powers that be to the examiners handling Bilski-related applications, and in the memo it was explained that merely putting "computer implemented method" in the preamble of the claim is not something that will any longer work to overcome a patentable subject matter rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101.

More recently, not so much. The fact that a Supreme Court, deep in the pockets of the Red Corner generally, would refuse to bless Vringo's attempts is of note. Which brings us to today's news.

Bikram Choudhury has made an attempt to copyright his version of yoga, aka "hot yoga". He's just lost. I suspect that lawyers from the Red Corner cabal have already been on the phone offering any and all assistance to right the grievous wrong. All the way to the Supreme Court. You see, the court found that a sequence of yoga poses was not a copyrightable entity!!! This surprises even me. A sequence of words, as poem or novel or essay, certainly is.
"We wanted to establish that you can't own sequences, Mr. Drost, a founder of Evolation Yoga, said. "Traditionally, you take a teacher's training and move forward with it."

I can hear all those Red Corner sphincters sucking half the planet's atmosphere into their lower colons. It is well established that software is a sequence of discrete steps, taken from a previously established set, either the high-level language defined syntax or the cpu ISA. Now, here is a precedent that an real-world sequence, not even the abstract sort of computer languages, isn't even subject to copyright, let alone patent. There's going to be gallons of Chivas downed around Wall Street this week.

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