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Spam Patents

Analyzing AT&T's Anti-Anti-Spam Patent 314

Posted by simoniker
from the oddness-abounds dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Dan Gillmor is reporting in his eJournal taken, in turn, from Gregory Aharonian: AT&T has apparently been awarded a patent for circumventing certain spam filters, thereby providing slimeball spammers with yet a bigger hammer!" The patent covers "A system and method for circumventing schemes that use duplication detection to detect and block unsolicited e-mail (spam.)", although it's unclear exactly what AT&T want it for.
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Analyzing AT&T's Anti-Anti-Spam Patent

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  • by KFury (19522) * on Sunday November 16, 2003 @01:21AM (#7485512) Homepage
    Has it occured to anyone that by patenting an anti-anti-spam technique, AT&T can legally forbid spammers from using that technique?'

    Yay AT&T. I applaud you.
    • by KrispyKringle (672903) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @01:24AM (#7485537)
      See, that occurred to me. But I sorta doubt they'll use it to track down spammers and sue them for patent infringement, considering that spammers are already very often violating state laws, violating their ISP AUP, and peddling illegal scams and therefore make themselves hard to find.

      But on the other hand, I doubt ATT will be selling circumvention technology. Now, a fair guess would be that they won't sue the spammers for infringement, but may sue those who sell software used for spamming (who are generally a bit more findable).

      • spammers are already very often violating state laws


        Most of those laws only apply to people who spam from within a state. They can't really be held up against someone spamming from another country.

        International patent law, however, is another matter.

      • by Shakrai (717556) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @02:04AM (#7485742) Journal
        spammers are already very often violating state laws, violating their ISP AUP, and peddling illegal scams and therefore make themselves hard to find

        Hey, I hope this doesn't get me modded flamebait but I've had this thought for awhile and this seems like the ideal article to raise it in. Disclaimer: I am not endorsing or defending SPAM or the people behind it.

        Has anyone else thought that the most effective way to combat SPAM would be with education not filters/lawsuits/etc?

        It would seem logical to me to assume that at least a large number of (if not a vast majority of?) spammers are ignorant as to why it's a bad idea. They don't know much about the Internet, and some idiot with a spam-software outfit approaches them and tells them about this "Great Marketing Idea", sells them some software (that may or may not do various bad things like hiding headers/etc), and off they go!

        My boss approached me once with some literature he received from one of these software companies. After my initial "WTF??? You aren't serious???" reaction I sat down with him and explained some of the history behind spamming, why it's a bad idea, would piss off our existing customers/alienate new ones, etc etc etc. Based on this experience it would seem to me that the most logical solution would be to educate the companies behind the spamming as to why it's a "Bad Idea".

        Of course, this theory doesn't hold any water when you look at pornographic spam, Nigerian bank fraud spam (my personal favorite), pyramid schemes, etc etc. But it probably would be a better approach when dealing with the idiots who have been duped into thinking that unsolicited e-mail is a legitimate marketing tool. At the very least it can't hurt any.

        Just a thought I've had for awhile now.

        • by Narcissus (310552) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @02:34AM (#7485858) Homepage
          Or, instead of trying to educate the spammers, how about trying to educate the people who respond to spam?

          Just do a mass spam once a month, or even once a week, to every email address you can find. Do a few spams: one selling Viagra, a few pushing different types of porn, etc. Cover the basic list of things that get spammed for on a regular basis.

          Make the offers believable, and direct the recipient to an appropriately believable web site. Take their credit card details (but don't actually charge the card), do the whole lot. Right at the end, though, put up a page and say "hey, this is a scam site. Lucky we didn't really take your money!"

          This will make all of those people that actually buy from these emails actually think twice the next time they go to purchase.

          I wouldn't mind getting these "spams" as often as other spam if only for the fact that because the goal of these emails is to educate, there would be no reason to try and break through Bayesian filtering (or any other form). That is to say that they would be very easy for me to filter and never see, and hopefully at the same time we would see a reduction in other types of spam as people are educated about the problems associated with it (as it would drive sales down).

          Having said that, I know there is no limit to stupidity, so maybe the market will always be big enough...
          • That's definitely not the way to educate people.

            Would you educate them about the dangers of walking on dark alleys at night by cornering them with a gun and then taking their wallets?

          • On the other hand, since you don't enter card details, you also wouldn't be able to tell these apart from other spam.
          • You appear to be suggesting that we solve the spam problem by sending more spam.

            The currenty existing spammers are not going to cease their activities - and if they had any respect for common sense conventions or for good manners then the spam problem would never have occured.

            So the only way we're going to implemnet your educational strategy is if we do it ourselves.

            Somhow I have my doubts about the effectiveness of this, except for providing a pseudo-ligitimate pretext for scumbag spammers. Honestl

        • Most of the people who could be educated aren't the ones that end up putting most of the e-mail out there. These people often only send out a single mailing and then get quickly educated as the complaints, DoS attacks, and ISP services terminations arrive. No, most of the big spammers don't care that it's inconvenient. I've been getting 50 worm.swen.a e-mails per day, and I'm pretty sure every virus and worm writer out there knows it's wrong to make these things.

          Personally, I agree with the other people

        • by jcr (53032) <jcr.mac@com> on Sunday November 16, 2003 @07:09AM (#7486530) Journal
          My boss approached me once with some literature he received from one of these software companies. After my initial "WTF??? You aren't serious???" reaction I sat down with him and explained some of the history behind spamming, why it's a bad idea, would piss off our existing customers/alienate new ones, etc etc etc.

          I'm astounded at your self-control. I'd have slapped him sillty.

          -jcr
        • It might work with a few of the small-time guys, but most of the spam comes from a few very unpleasant types who know perfectly well what they're doing. They need a good bitchslapping from anyone with the means.
      • by djupedal (584558) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @03:27AM (#7486037)
        1980...
        Remember being charged for an unlisted number?

        1990...
        AT&T sells us caller-id, and then sells caller-id avoidance devices to marketeers, then sells us next-gen caller id to thwart their devices...etc...etc.

        AT&T has been playing the middle for years...I see no reason for them to stop now. Patents just mean more money, faster.
      • Patents are public records, and spammers can read too. Since they are routinely breaking the law anyway, they'll grab a copy of ATT's patent, implement it, and use it against us.

      • Now AT&T has legal ground to stand on (As the recent Microsoft vs Eolas case has shown us, patent law is still respected in the courts, even if the whole patent system is a total mockery of the idea of intellectual property) and the ability to build a case which carries more weight in court than a simple AUP violation. AUP violations get users suspended accounts, not fines & jail time. Laws in "some states" leave those in other states without a platform to fight from.

        We also have to keep in mind th
      • But I sorta doubt they'll use it to track down spammers and sue them for patent infringement

        Why not? Habeas [habeas.com] tracks down and sues spammers for copyright infringement when they abuse the Habeas Haiku, this could be used in a similar way. Spamming is a legal grey area and it is risky trying to sue for damages, but copyright and patent infringement is a much safer prospect, and easier to prove too.

    • I thought about that too. If thats the case, it would be quite excellent.
    • PRECISELY! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chas (5144) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @01:26AM (#7485556) Homepage Journal

      Now, instead of being well-nigh untouchable due to spam's precarious placement as little more than a highly undesireable activity, AT&T can go after spammers IN COURT on grounds of PATENT INFRINGEMENT.

      And going to court over something like this takes megabucks. Especially against a company the size of AT&T. Even if the spammers somehow weasel out on technicalities (like they didn't actually infringe on the patent directly), they're still going to be out so much money that their great grandkids aren't even going to be able to go to any educational institution after public high school.

      • Re:PRECISELY! (Score:5, Informative)

        by fishbowl (7759) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @01:44AM (#7485664)
        Looking at my inbox, they appear to be mainly in Korea. I don't think AT&T has much litigation influence there, but I could be wrong.
        • Re:PRECISELY! (Score:3, Interesting)

          Sent from korean servers, but the people behind them could very well be Americans or American companies. They might be able to go after those selling the products advertised in Spam. You know the, "your a small business and we'll eat you alive in legal fees unless you tell us the name of the spammer you used".

          Yeah, probably bad tactics. I applied for a trademark and copy right of one of my screennames for the express reason of maybe someday sueing some of the emails that look like their from me to me.

          • I applied for a trademark and copy right of one of my screennames

            It's impossible to copyright a name. (Notice there are many titles of books, songs, even a few movies, that duplicate others.)

            And any text you want to claim copyright on, just publish it (say on a webpage), preferably with the (C) symbol and date, and that's it.

        • If your in box is like mine, you are as foolish as the people who respond to spam - regrdless of the e-mail headers, without exception, the person WHO STANDS TO PROFIT is in the USA

      • And going to court over something like this takes megabucks.

        In this case, it's cool that the legal system sucks the way it does. But after all is said and done, it still SUCKS.
      • They could but would they?
        After all they stooped to a new level of sleaze when they offered to pink list spammers that payed them enough.
        http://news.com.com/2100-1023-248067.html ?legacy=c net

        I really do not think that you can count on AT&T to look for your interests.
    • by m_chan (95943) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @01:27AM (#7485560) Homepage
      Or it occurred to them that they can make a mint by selling/licensing the technology to "spammers" or slightly more legitimate advertisers. It's probably just perception, but I think that a good chunk of the dinner-time phone-spam, and a large portion of the direct mail I used to get was from the Death Star.. oops.. I mean good ole Ma' Bell.
    • by incom (570967) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @01:32AM (#7485588)
      Please someone with some money, patent all possible future DRM techniques.
    • by FearUncertaintyDoubt (578295) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @01:35AM (#7485614)
      by patenting an anti-anti-spam technique, AT&T can legally forbid spammers from using that technique

      Which would make it an anti-anti-anti-spam technique

    • by Steve B (42864) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @01:38AM (#7485633)
      Has it occured to anyone that by patenting an anti-anti-spam technique, AT&T can legally forbid spammers from using that technique?

      True, though it's unfortunate that the government hasn't already done so on the grounds that circumventing an anti-spam filter is a form of cracking.

      • I disagree there. Would you say that putting a flyer on your porch under a rock, so it doesn't blow away, is a form of cracking?

        What about sending a physical junk mail in an envelope designed to look like you've won money? That's arguably circumvention.
        • Would you say that putting a flyer on your porch under a rock, so it doesn't blow away, is a form of cracking?

          No, that's not cracking, it's trespassing. If I caught you on my porch doing that, I'd kick your ass, or turn the hose on you, or let the dogs chase you away.

          Now, to be fair I do have a "no soliciting" sign where it's easy to spot. Perhaps I should add something along the lines of "solicitors undertake dire peril".

          -jcr
    • Or rather -- has it failed to occur to anyone that by patenting an anti-anti-spam technique, AT&T can legally forbid spammers from using that technique?

      I mean, that is what the "not clear what AT&T will use it for" part of the banner was implying.

      The follow-up thought should be: How many times has a big company done something rational and charitable like that? Not much. AT&T is already in the business of playing pro-caller-ID anti-caller-ID services off each other.

    • by GammaTau (636807) <jni@iki.fi> on Sunday November 16, 2003 @01:52AM (#7485694) Homepage Journal

      Has it occured to anyone that by patenting an anti-anti-spam technique, AT&T can legally forbid spammers from using that technique?'

      If the technique is well-known and utilized prior the patent as well as extensively discussed in public forums (like nearly all ways of bypassing the spam filters are), then the patent can be nullified. In other words:

      • If the spammers have been using this patented method, the patent is void
      • If the spammers haven't been using this patented method, the patent has very little effect on spam
      • Except that prior art only comes into play if it is found prior to the FILING of the patent, not the granting of the patent. The filing of the patent probably predates the earliest spam archive, so it's unlikely anybody has prior art available (and even if they do, are they likely to release it to stop an anti-spamming organization?).
    • That was thought number two.

      Thought number one was that the phone companies in general have made great money playing *both* sides of the telemarketing fence, so why wouldn't they pull the same stunt in the spamming world.
    • Hold your applause until they demonstrate that their intention is good.
    • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @02:17AM (#7485793)
      This patent describes the simple use of hash-busting characters in email messages.
      System and method for counteracting message filtering

      Abstract

      A system and method for circumventing schemes that use duplication detection to detect and block unsolicited e-mail (spam.) An address on a list is assigned to one of m sublists, where m is an integer that is greater than one. A set of m different messages are created. A different message from the set of m different messages is sent to the addresses on each sublist. In this way, spam countermeasures based upon duplicate detection schemes are foiled.

      This isn't "providing slimeball spammers with yet a bigger hammer". It's a bread-and-butter spamming technique. Almost all the spam I get is salted with random letters or dictionary words in the address or message body to change the hash (and is therefore infringing on AT&T's new patent). We just saw a story a few days ago where spammers were sprinkling fraudulent scam emails with hash-busting characters [securityfocus.com] to get past filters.

      One of the nice things about spammers is that (unlike their opponents) they rarely patent the circumvention mechanisms they use, leaving their bag of tricks open for intellectual property land grabs like this one. Compared to laws against spam, which for the most part hardly exist, patent law rests on sound international footing and gives AT&T much greater leverage against spammers who are now patent infringers. Good for AT&T. I wish I'd thought of it first.

      It's lunacy to assume that AT&T secured this patent for any other reason- like productizing this stupid patent. Are they going to sell a new software suite for spamming? Spammers aren't an ideal software market by any reasonable standard. There's only 180 of them. AT&T would sell one copy, it would get pirated 179 times, everyone with a copy would start spamming warez versions of it, and that would be the end of it. Assuming that spammers cared about using patent-encumbered software at all- which they don't. And AT&T would alienate its customers in all the other markets they're in. It would be like a Christian bookstore opening a bondage videos section. It makes no sense. I can't understand how anyone could possibly take the outrage in this article at face value.

      What is really amazing about this patent is what it says about the research done by the USPTO. I bet the USPTO examiner received a dozen examples of prior art in his own inbox the very day he approved this patent, and he approved it anyway!

    • Even if AT&T wanted to use this for good and somehow had a way of enforcing this against spammers, it won't stop any existing spam you are getting since either a) it does not infringe upon this patent or b) is an example of prior art that defeats this patent.
    • Do you honestly think that most spammers are worried about the law in the first place?

      I really do not think so.
    • And why, exactly, do you think that any spammer will pay the slightest bit of notice to this patent, gicven that they break so many laws already?
      After all, they are currently breaking all the anti-spam laws that currently exist, they are forgers (for using faked "from" addresses,) they comit libel whenever the perform a joe-job attack on anyone, they criminally attempt to take anti-spam blocklists out of action with DDOS attacks, and then there's all the porn spam, viagra spam, pryamid scheme spam, Nigeria
  • by TiMac (621390) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @01:21AM (#7485520)
    Now all I need is an anti-patent patent and we can end all the stupid patent nightmares once and for all!
  • Up next.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by placeclicker (709182) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @01:24AM (#7485543) Journal
    A patent on bank robbery!
  • Obvious value (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SSpade (549608) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @01:25AM (#7485547) Homepage

    If you look back, at the time AT&T would have been filing the patent they were in the consumer ISP business.

    Odds are it was filed as an offensive tool to use against spammers.

    A patent such as this could be used as a hammer against spammers using filter evasion approaches. The value of that for an ISP of the size of AT&T far exceeds the cost of filing a patent.

    (AT&T are pretty clueless on many levels, but this looks like it was a smart move. It'll be interestng to see what, if anything, they do with it.)

    • I suggest reading the patent itself [uspto.gov].

      From the final paragraph, before the appendices:

      Thus, Anti-spam techniques based on the various forms of duplicate detection are useful only as long as spammers don't use the list-splitting countercountermeasure, because the LS-spammer has a powerful advantage in the arms race. I believe the anti-spam research and development communities should focus attention instead on the techniques that are impervious to list Splitting, such as cryptographic techniques and the email

      • It looks like a very clever use of the patent system. At the same time as patenting a filter-avoidance scheme so they can go after spammers that use it, they have published an alternative spam rejection scheme that is immune to the patented avoidance scheme. By publishing it in their patent application, it becomes prior art, which stops someone else from patenting it and preventing the community from benfiting.
        • preventing the community from benfiting.

          I'm not sure I understood the last part here.... I must also admit I didn't RTFP. Which community? Us (as in FOSS)? From the parent's text, it looks like the e-mail channel method (which is an approach to the problem I don't like for various reasons), is mentioned in the patent as a reference only, to an ACM Comm paper, so that is not patented (I presume). So, that idea is something we can us if we like.

          I think it seems like the patent is simply a research-pro

  • Everytime I make a new filter rule in outlook, am I violating their patent?
  • Wait a minute ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by obsidianpreacher (316585) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @01:34AM (#7485605)
    1) Patents are a way of restricting rights to certain ideas/methods/etc.
    2) AT&T can prevent anyone else from circumventing anti-spam filtering software with this patent
    3) Ergo, AT&T are the good guys

    ...

    wait a minute, I thought they were the bad guys [slashdot.org]

    ...

    I'm confused now ...
    • As somebody else has said, if spammers actually use this technique, then the patent is void due to that prior art. If spammers DON'T use it, then they couldn't POSSIBLY use it to go after them.
      • Not necessarily. Prior art only overrides a patent if found prior to the filing of the patent. Note that patents typically take several years to be granted, so AT&T could have a legitimate patent on their hands here.
  • In purely intellectual proporty terms, there is validity in patenting the idea that helped evade .. something .. something. The reason is that there are many applications that can be derived from this concept, and currently the one that is being used as "proof-of-concept" is as a spam-filter evader.

    In time, as new applications are developed, AT&T would have a better hold on the foundations of this new market .... So, I think is is wise for them to have patented it.

    And after all, who knows when the lev
  • While I understand they might be able to help prevent spam with this possibly defensive patent...keep in mind some things that have happened in the past. Phone companies sold people caller-id to help stop telemarketers. Then they sold people caller-id blocker, and so on and so forth. And that is just ONE of the examples of when they've done something like that.

    Hopefully in this day and age of corporations getting a lot of bad press for treating customers poorly, AT&T will decide NOT to be completely

  • Pink contracts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by www.sorehands.com (142825) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @01:40AM (#7485641) Homepage
    AT&T have the ability to use this patent for good by killing spammers with it.


    What I suspect that they will do is allow it for their Pink contract holders and go after anyone else.

  • by Nailer (69468) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @01:56AM (#7485709)
    Couldn't you use the DMCA to stop circumvention of mail security software?

    That's a question, not a statement.
  • by astrashe (7452) * on Sunday November 16, 2003 @01:59AM (#7485719) Journal
    Maybe this isn't part of a master plan -- maybe it's more random.

    I could see a guy inside of AT&T working on something, and having to justify his time to his bosses. The lawyers who filed the patent probably work directly for AT&T, and so they gave it to them, and asked if it could be patented. The patent lawyers filed it, because they're patent lawyers, and that's what they do.

    I tend to assume that this situation would fit right into a dilbert storyline. I don't think it's part of a grand strategy.

    I can't imagine that AT&T would sell spam technology, because it would be a public relations nightmare. And I can't imagine that they'd try to sue spammers for patent infringment, because that would be expensive, and they wouldn't get anything out of it.

    • I can't imagine that AT&T would sell spam technology, because it would be a public relations nightmare.

      Boeing now derives over half it's revenue from military equipment, and it doesn't seem to have suffered any public relations damage. Are you trying to say that if you sell technology designed to circumvent spam filters, it will make everybody hate you, but it you sell technology designed to simply kill people, nobody will mind? I think AT&T has a much greater chance of forcing their patents to be

      • And the public buys airplanes how often? If I buy a plane ticket, is boycotting Boeing planes really that viable an option? Even if Boeing was using sweatshop labor and dumping napalm on the rainforest, I don't think the public would have much recourse.
    • by Phroggy (441) * <slashdot3NO@SPAMphroggy.com> on Sunday November 16, 2003 @02:29AM (#7485837) Homepage
      I can't imagine that AT&T would sell spam technology, because it would be a public relations nightmare.

      You don't think they'd sell it under the "AT&T" brand name, do you?

      Several distinct companies operate under the AT&T brand name; I'm sure AT&T owns several companies that operate under different brand names as well.

      How many normal people do you suppose make a connection between Bugs Bunny, WinAmp, Mapquest and CNN? They wouldn't make the connection between AT&T and whatever subsidiary sold the spam software either.
    • I see at as just another research project. The people have researched how to foil spam filters. Why? For the same reason I just ran nessus against my server, to better guard against attacks. Finding a way to foil spam filters is just as legitimate as writing something like nessus, sure it can be used to break in, but it is important if you want to improve system security.

      What we should do now is to read the patent, understand where the weaknesses are, and improve the filters now, before the spammers start

  • by jesdynf (42915) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @02:00AM (#7485721) Homepage

    Okay. I can work with that. Now I shall patent a method to circumvent systems that use visual inspections to detect and block illegal quantities of cocaine from entering national and/or state jurisdictions.

    Forget trying to wrest money out of some crummy /spammers/.

  • by bencvt (686040) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @02:11AM (#7485766)
    After reading through the comments, I'm surprised at the number of people who can't see the obvious: this patent is a huge boon for the anti-spamming community. The author of the article is one of those people too, unfortunately. RTFA, but think it through, too.

    With the patent, AT&T can sue the makers of spamming software for patent infringement, unless SpamCo (or whatever company) makes sure that their mass e-mailer doesn't use any of AT&T's patented methods for avoiding filters. Of course, this will result in a crippled program: AntiSpamCo (or whatever company) knows exactly what SpamCo is not allowed to do, so their anti-spam filters will actually work.

    So why is AT&T doing this? One, it could be good PR for them once AntiSpamCo et al. realize the implications. Two, (this is for all you conspiracy freaks out there) the government may have asked them do to it. Governmental agencies cannot hold patents. Only individuals and corporations hold patents.

    I'm not trying to claim that AT&T is some benevolent corporation, though. It's entirely possible that, in addition to suing SpamCo, AT&T could also try to sue AntiSpamCo. They might not have as strong a case, but AntiSpamCo would still be using pieces of AT&T patent in their filtering software.

    Despite that troublesome possibility, it'll be good to see SpamCo get what's coming to it. A lot (perhaps most) of SpamCos are rather or the sleazy, shoddy side; I'm sure there will be patent infringement. It will be interesting too see how soon and how vigorously AT&T will defend their patent in court.

  • by joelparker (586428) <joel@school.net> on Sunday November 16, 2003 @02:21AM (#7485804) Homepage
    Can Slashdot patent anti-anti-anti-spam?
    And recursively more anti- as well?
    • Since Slashdot is now anti-anti-spam-spamming me with all those anti-anti-spam stories (counting future dupes ;-). I'm seriously considering suing them for anti-anti-spam-spamming as soon as my anti-anti-spam-spamming patent is granted, or maybe I'll drink this Mountain Dew.
  • thats why i firewall spammers. Let the stupid fucks
    try to dodge iptables.
  • by finity (535067) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @02:32AM (#7485852) Homepage Journal
    AT&T recently got in trouble for violating the no-call list, because they were telephone "spamming." Also, I've gotten more telemarketing calls from AT&T than any other company, despite the fact that I've asked to be removed from their lists many times. It seems to me that AT&T will use this to spam with e-mail now, since the telephone is no longer working. I don't imagine they'll be violating their ISP's regulations if they do start spamming, either.
  • How will I achieve the longer, thicker penis that drive women wild while I'm talking on my newly range-enhanced cellphone to my stock broker that just found a great new company in Nigeria that is a sure bet?
    • Simple.... resell those heavily discounted printer ink cartridge refills. Surely, you'll profit enough from that and the cheap vacation offers so you can afford to challenge the AT&T patent!

      If not, check your inbox for some great deals on debt consolidation/refinancing loans.
  • Wow. (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I wonder if hackers are now able to patent stack-smashing code, too. Maybe they could sue viruses and bugs out of existence!
  • by rsilvergun (571051) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @03:09AM (#7485990)
    Since slashdotters seem to hate spam so much all reason gets abandoned when it's involved, I thought I'd point out why this is so awful. Basically, it's a math algorythm. Like Quick Sort. Now stop and think about what computing would be like if Quick Sort was patented. The same sytem that allows this to be patented would also allow Quick Sort to be. We're fortunate that most of the ground work for computing was layed before this mess started. Anyways, I just wanted to make the point that there's no such thing as a good software patent.

    • Now stop and think about what computing would be like if Quick Sort was patented.

      Easy. C's qsort() would heapsort instead, as it in fact does on some C library implementations such as Metrowerks CodeWarrior's. If heapsort were patented as well, qsort() would merge-sort on large-memory machines and Shell sort on small-memory machines. If more of the efficient sort algorithms were patented, programs would be designed to manipulate data in search trees instead of arrays. There exist several sorting algorit [wikipedia.org]

  • by martin-boundary (547041) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @03:30AM (#7486052)
    Actually, this whole thing is probably blown out of proportion. The patent summary looks a lot like a paper [nec.com] by Robert J. Hall. I expect that ATT has a policy of patenting everything any of their researchers works on, regardless of what it is. The paper itself is mainly mathematics with the spam theme thrown in to make it interesting.
  • The reason why... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by toupsie (88295) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @03:39AM (#7486079) Homepage
    The patent covers "A system and method for circumventing schemes that use duplication detection to detect and block unsolicited e-mail (spam.)", although it's unclear exactly what AT&T want it for.

    If they cannot call you [nypost.com] to get you to change your long distance service, maybe they are doing to "telemarket" to your inbox. The Federal 'Do Not Call List' is changing the way a lot of traditional telemarketers are doing their business. Since they are now being fined for calling you, they need another way to invade your life and bombard you with offers. Having a technology that can circumvent spam blocking would be a step up on the competition.

  • Sue the pants off spam software makers and spammers. hehehe. Not like I'd actualy have the resources to find 'em, of course.
  • useless patent (Score:4, Informative)

    by geoff lane (93738) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @05:23AM (#7486340)
    having actually just read the patent it would appear to be useless as it describes a means of avoiding a rather poor spam detection mechanism which I've never actually seen deployed.

    Modern spam detection which uses statistical methods applied to the spam content would be unaffected by the techniques described in the patent.
  • by Chaostrophy (925) <ronaldpottol@nOsPAm.gmail.com> on Sunday November 16, 2003 @05:34AM (#7486359) Homepage Journal
    Up until now, all anti spam tech was aimed at the individual spammer, but this can be aimed at the much smaller pool of people who write the tools to spam. This could cripple spamers.
  • Why, and WTF? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lwsimon (724555)
    By patenting this "technology", they are showing the weaknesses of current spam filters. Maybe that's what they intended all along... And now that i think about it, wouldn't this come under the heading of a software patent? I mean, its not code, but its an algorithm, right?
  • by Eric Savage (28245) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @07:15AM (#7486546) Homepage
    As mentioned in a few other posts, this could mean AT&T can go after spammers for patent infringment. Now this seems unlikely, but if I got only one spam a day and it was from AT&T and I knew that they had hordes of lawyers tracking down "infringers" I would not only switch to AT&T, I would print out the daily message and admire it during the time I've previously allotted to hitting "D" a few hundred times...
  • by Swanktastic (109747) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @09:42AM (#7486987)
    1) Slashdot links to article
    2) Article links to Slashdot discussion
    3) Slashdot links back to article
    4) Article links back to Slashdot discussion

    repeat...

  • by dacarr (562277) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @01:14PM (#7488113) Homepage Journal
    Remember, everyone on the 'net is affected negatively by spam - including the Death Star themselves. As such, if they patent this, they make it harder for spammers to deal with circumventing filters.

    That AT&T came out and did this, frankly, rocks. Good show, guys.

    The only concern I have is that there is prior art, which will come up as a double-edge sword again. Prior art will protect the good guys from frivolous patent filings (Amazon, anybody?), but as such I'm concerned that the spammers will pull the prior art card against AT&T. On the other hand, AT&T's interest - protecting their network - and the fact that they probably have infinitely larger amounts of money than your spammers just might put an end to them for now.

  • by humankind (704050) on Sunday November 16, 2003 @07:44PM (#7490128) Journal
    It doesn't really matter. Content-filtering based spam controls will never, ever be effective, because as soon as someone figures out a way to circumvent the spam filter, the spam filters get updated. It's a never-ending cycle, and AT&T can create all the goofball patents they want. Relay blacklisting is still the most effective method of controlling spam. The more blacklisting that occurs, the more spammers are forced to congregate in smaller areas of the net and be more ethical in their practices.

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.

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