OMG! Microsoft patents sudo! Linux and MacOS dead!

Wow, Microsoft's latest patent has gotten free software advocates livid. They say the Redmond crew has re-invented sudo, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is asleep at the switch. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers get all spun up and worry for the future of Linux.

By Richi Jennings. November 12, 2009.

USPTO logo

Your humble blogwatcher selected these bloggy morsels for your enjoyment. Not to mention eye exercise...

    Rosa Golijan can't quite believe what the USPTO hath wrought:

Microsoft has been granted a patent for the sudo command ... apparently you can patent a command that goes back to the mainframe days as long as you explain that it's a "personalized version" with a GUI.


Someone at the US Patent Office must've been snoozing when they approved this patent application.

Ivo Vegter is relatively subtle:

The latest travesty to be committed by the Einsteins in the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will be held up, once again, as proof positive that patent law is ... evil. ... If you run Linux today, you'll be very familiar with what Microsoft just claimed ... as its own invention.


Microsoft did not invent "rights elevators". Bob Coggeshall and Cliff Spencer arguably did. The "sudo" command, designed to give a user elevated privileges on a system, ran on BSD Unix ... made public on Usenet in 1985. ... [Patent] bureaucrats have proven hopelessly incompetent ... They do not investigate "prior art", they have no subject-matter expertise ... USPTO happily awards patents to applicants for "inventions" that are not innovative, not non-obvious, not useful, or not accurately described.

Pamela Jones says Microsoft "has no shame":

Thanks, USPTO, for giving Microsoft, which is already a monopoly, a monopoly on something that's been in use since ... the 1970s ... and wasn't invented by Microsoft. ... Sudo is an integral part of the functioning of GNU/Linux systems, and you use it in Mac OSX also. Maybe the Supreme Court doesn't know that, and maybe the USPTO didn't realize it. But do you believe Microsoft knows it?


The earliest sudo reference in the patent database Microsoft told the USPTO about is 1997, for patent 5655077, and in other references 1991. ...  Software and patents need to get a divorce, before all the geeks in the world either stop coding in disgust or die laughing. ....

But hdood wonders is Pam is illiterate:

This is a knee-jerk anti-Microsoft reaction. The patent is not for sudo, it is for a GUI that automatically presents a list of users that have the required rights so that the user doesn't have to remember and type it manually. ... In fact, the patent application makes a large amount of references to sudo.


All big companies have thousands upon thousands of patents like this, and they are intended primarily to prevent other people from suing them. ... Business as usual. If this came as a shock to anyone, then sorry, but you are completely clueless as to how the world works.

Jeremy Visser agrees:

Indeed. In fact, this patent reminds me more of PolicyKit (which is GUI-based) than sudo. See screenshot, which almost exactly matches how I visualised the patent after reading the initial claims..

And Sockatume delivers the final blow:

If I'm reading the patent right, they've actually applied for protection of the UAC popup system that appears in Vista and Win7. There's no unqualified patent on user account privilege escalation. Indeed, "su" would be explicitly outwith this patent's claims, as it's specifically about bringing up an interface to escalate when the system determines that escalation will be required, not about escalating manually before the task is attempted.

  Top marks to [Pam] for providing a thorough explanation for how they can't get a patent on something they're not trying to get a patent for..

So what's your take?

Get involved: leave a comment.

And finally...


Richi Jennings, your humble blogwatcher
  Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and security. A cross-functional IT geek since 1985, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him as @richi on Twitter, or richij on FriendFeed, pretend to be richij's friend on Facebook, or just use good old email:

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