Monday, April 24, 2006

Ridiculous Patent: Infinite Data Compression

A ridiculous patent was recently brought to our attention by an alert reader. The patent claims to perform the impossible: compress data beyond the bounds that are clearly understood in information theory. Since the algorithm is not operative, it shouldn't have been granted a patent, as per the USPTO's own rules.

Specifically, the patent in question claims to compress any input data by at least one bit, and to do this with no loss of information. The patent also claims that this process can be applied recursively, making multiple passes over a file until the desired level of compression is reached. These claims imply that you could run the compression enough times to eventually reach a compressed data size of 1 bit, regardless of the input. Now, suppose I compress 10 different files in this way -- each of them compresses to a single '1' or '0' (a single bit). How, then, can we decompress a '1' into many different files? Where does that extra information come from? Obviously, this is a non-starter.

The sad fact is that anyone who has studied rudimentary computer science should immediately know this patent is impossible. Every introductory course in Information Theory makes this plain within the first week of lectures. But you don't have to be a computer scientist to understand the impossibility of these claims through simple logic. We keep hearing that USPTO examiners are experts in their fields, yet the patent office keeps churning out patent approvals just like this one. I'll leave it to you, gentle reader, to draw your own conclusions.

Perhaps, though, it really is time to "open up the examination process to those beyond the single PTO employee doing the examination, and ... let adversarial forces (competitors, existing players) use their own survival as an incentive to participate. And let's let the poor overworked patent examiner act more as a judge or referee in this activity (instead of adversary, advocate, AND judge)" (from "More Examiners = Better Patents?").

Previously Ridiculous:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"claims to compress any input data by at least one bit"

"Now, suppose I compress 10 different files in this way -- each of them compresses to a single '1' or '0' (a single bit)."

Why stop at a single bit? If it can compress any input by at least one bit, then it can compress an input of one bit into 0 bits. Infinite compression!

8:07 AM  
Blogger Steve R. said...

I see that you picked-up on the antigravity device. When I saw the article in Discover Magazine that disclosed that a patent had been issued and that the experiment failed, I actually had a thought: What happens if another person actually makes an antigravity machine? Will the patent trolls come out of the woodwork to claim they own the technology eventhough it didn't work?!?!?!. Our patent system is seriously broken (pun here?) if patents can be issued for non-functional devices.

7:12 AM  
Blogger Steve R. said...

Here's a new absurd case for your list, the New York Times (May 5, 2006)in the article "Lilly Loses Patent Case to Ariad" wrote: "A federal jury in a closely watched lawsuit ruled yesterday that Eli Lilly & Company had infringed a patent covering drugs that work through one of the body's basic biological pathways, in a verdict that could send ripples through the pharmaceutical industry." ... ""The Ariad position is equivalent to discovering that gravity is the force that makes water run downhill and then demanding the owners of all the existing hydroelectric plants begin to pay patent royalties on their use of gravity," Robert A. Armitage, Lilly's general counsel, said in a statement yesterday."

7:33 AM  
Blogger Jackson Lenford said...

srynas, you may want to look at reform suggestions involving the 'usefulness' clause (which requires patented devices to be operative, but for which there is currently no practical, objective test or criteria that the USPTO can apply).

7:34 AM  
Blogger Gaby de Wilde said...

Why stop there?

I can make it even more crazy,

I'm willing to bet the size could be less then zero.

I just wrote this lol

I've just had the strangest idea reading your post, a web-server with infinite data on it all packaged in 1kb HTML files.

I bet it's going to be funny if I get it to work.

- gaby de wilde


7:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually I didn't know that someone allready patented this. OK, it's strange to claim that data can allways be compressed by at least one bit, but I think it can be done very close to this. It must be writen at least how many times file is compressed in file, and than at least one byte not bit more to decompress. I think I have solution for the problem myself, and I'm starting to code it in the begining of the year 2007.

I really am interested in what will be the case, if my code actually will work, regarding the not working patent that is mentioned here.

I'm sorry for errors in text, because I'm from Slovenia, and I'm not using English much.

9:48 AM  
Anonymous MR.B said...

i have been working on this problem for 7 years and i still have hope that it is possable to save information infinitly it would have to use a patteren and a scale abcd efgh 0123 4567
there are only 256 different abcd
and exactly 4096 efgh
and the power of so there are
15 main patterens of abcd
and have not found the main patterns for efgh yet then you have a scale 01234567
change the binary to 011010100001
011 010 100 001 0 1 2 3 4
all the way to 0 through F hex
the prosses can be very complicated if you can hel[ me any further write to

2:19 PM  

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