Freesteel Blog » Delcam’s 18 months of patenting secrecy are up
Delcam’s 18 months of patenting secrecy are up
Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 at 12:43 pm
We all know how rotten software patents are. Unfortunately, software companies are too often run by idiots who play the game by contributing to the worsening of the situation and doing absolutely nothing to make it any better.
Anyways, 19 months ago in March 2012 we got a press release:
Delcam will preview its new Vortex strategy for high-speed area clearance on stand 4011 at the MACH exhibition to be held in Birmingham from 16th to 20th April…
Vortex, for which Delcam has a patent pending, has been developed by the company specifically to gain the maximum benefit from solid carbide tooling, in particular those designs that can give deeper cuts by using the full flute length as the cutting surface. It can be used for two- and three-axis roughing, three-plus-two-axis area clearance and for rest machining based on stock models or reference toolpaths…
Unlike other high-speed roughing techniques that aim to maintain a constant theoretical metal-removal rate, the Vortex strategy produces toolpaths with a controlled engagement angle for the complete operation. This maintains the optimum cutting conditions for the entire toolpath that would normally be possible only for the straight-line moves. As a result, the cutting time will be shorter, while cutting will be undertaken at a more consistent volume-removal rate and feed rate, so protecting the machine.
Sounded a lot like the Adaptive Clearing strategy which I invented in 2004, and was most accurately replicated in 2009 by Mastercam.
I’ve yet to find a CAM company that doesn’t lie about its toolpath strategies being the only ones on the market to do a particular thing. In this case, it wasn’t even on the market.
Attempting to follow this up, I fired off an email to the Intellectual Property Office:
I have a simple question. If a company states that it has a patent pending, do they have a duty to disclose its application number so that I can look it up?
I have searched under the relevant company name and cannot find a patent pending that remotely fits the description.
The details of this case are:
16 March 2012 press release:
“”"Vortex, for which Delcam has a ***patent pending***, has been developed by the company specifically to gain the maximum benefit from solid carbide tooling, in particular those designs that can give deeper cuts by using the full flute length as the cutting surface.”"”
I have sent them an email and received no response. I don’t think they will want to respond if they don’t have to as they should know I have already developed what appears to be the same algorithm and would likely file an objection. So it would really help if there was a duty to state the application number.
Perhaps you could send them an email and ask them to clarify which patent pending they are referring to?
I received the following reply from the Office of Quick-and-Dirty Government Granted Monopolies Made Without Any Justification In The Public Interest:
All patent applications are confidential initially.
In the UK only four pieces of information appear in the patent journal: the applicant’s name, the title of the patent, the application number and the filing date. For the next 18 months the application is kept confidential – the specification is not open to public inspection and only the applicant or his authorised representative can access the file.
During this period phrases like ‘Patent Pending’ and ‘Patent Applied For’ can be used but they have very little value, because no one can access the specification to check.
After 18 months the application is then published and the actual specification becomes available for anyone to see.
Protection for the application greatly increases on publication because once the specification enters the public domain everyone is on notice of its detail. It is not possible to seek damages for infringement until the patent grants, but, if it does, a court can backdate damages back to the day of publication. Section 69(1) Patent Act 1977.
After publication phrases like ‘Patent Pending’ and ‘Patent Applied For’ have greater meaning because they can be followed by a published patent application number.
Here is what the disclosure looked like:
And sure enough we now have the patent application disclosed on 13 Jun 2013.
Abstract: A method of generating a plurality of cutting paths for a material remover, which generates a set of offsets from the perimeter of the model for each corner region of the model; creates, for each offset within each of the sets, a subset of cutting paths based upon each offset with each cutting path within the subset separated from a neighbouring cutting path within the subset by a stepover, wherein a portion of a first cutting path in one of the subsets has a distance of greater than the stepover to the last cutting path in a previous subset; joins cutting paths from within a subset at each corner region forming complete cutting paths causing a material remover to move between corner regions; and creates backfill cutting paths used to remove material from between subsets of cutting paths in the portion greater than the stepover between the subsets.
Skipping past the boilerplate where we define what a computer is as though it were just another mechanical machine in order to pretend we are not patenting software “as such”, we see that… well I can’t be bothered to read this worthless lawyerese crap in too much detail as I’ve got a lot of actual programming work to get on with. You know, stuff that compiles and actually runs on a computer and does stuff, as opposed to wastes paper.
Here is a diagram from the patent application.
Skim-reading, it seems to describe a way of rounding off the sharp corner collapses in an offset clearing toolpath by offsetting further in, and then offsetting back out before trimming back to the original offset.
On page 6 there is this absolutely classic footnote:
What the hell? Did they write it in crayon? Someone teach them to use LaTeX.
Say, maybe if we wasted less time and money dicking about with software patents, we might even get this feature done. Or why not try and replicate the Adaptive Clearing technology — which works and is not patented — so that your customers have something good to use?
What is wrong with this industry, where everyone is frightened of exchanging ideas and engaging in honest competition? You know, we could have a proper technological ecosystem where progress is made, and there is a constantly advancing state of the art. This kind of nonsensical retrograde step is pathetic. There’s only one or two of us programmers doing this kind of work in each company, so we don’t have spare capacity to waste.
I’ve been at this sort of work for 20 years now. It’s getting boring. Not one cross-industry technical meeting in all this time — ever — about the successful approaches to toolpath generation. It’s ridiculous. Do you know how much energy could be generated if such a summit were held between the key programmers from around the world? More than from any poxy multi-million dollar buy-out takeover by any on-the-skids investment fund. We’re dying out here.