APG-L ArchivesArchiver > APG > 2007-11 > 1196451520
From: Bob Velke <>
Subject: Re: [APG] Ancestry Patent
Date: Fri, 30 Nov 2007 14:38:40 -0500
>If Ancestry holds a patent on how conclusions of unity are made in a
>software environment, does that then parallel patents for things like
>determining which DNA markers point to Sub-Saharan ancestry, for instance?
I don't think that a patent would cover coming to a certain
conclusion. Again, I am not a patent attorney but I understand the
patent to cover not the result but how you got there.
>As you understand it, does it claim to possess *my* process of evaluating
>records and understanding their interconnections, or is it limited to
>software design that does that?
>What concerns me most is if it pretends to say that its weights and measures
>are the *only* correct ones, or that they set a standard for others. What
>happens if in my practice as a genealogist I come to the same conclusion
>that they do by coincidentally coming to the same answer through independent
Their patent doesn't claim that there is no other "correct" way to do
it. They're just claiming that their method of "consolidating
genealogy records" is new and different (and presumably better). If
it isn't really new and different, then the damage has been done
because the patent has been granted. The burden is now on other
people (especially anyone who might be accused by Ancestry of
violating their patent) to appeal the patent on the grounds that it
was granted in error. That's not a simple thing for an individual or
small company to do when opposed by such deep pockets.
I don't know whether Ancestry's patent really covers anything new and
different. But, while not accusing them of anything, it is not
unprecedented for a company to get a very-specific patent and then
try to "persuade" <ahem> others that the scope of the patent is much
more sweeping than it really is. It is that potential for abuse that
leads me to suggest that the major societies might act in the best
interest of their collective constituents by having the patent
evaluated by a professional.
Many years ago, COMMSOFT (the dominate genealogy software company at
the time) claimed that my software violated their patent for
constructing source citations. Like Ancestry's, the language of the
patent description would alarm any professional genealogist
but it really covers a very specific process of handling source
citations within the technical internals of a document. That didn't
stop them from threatened me, though, claiming, as I understood it,
that I must have violated their patent because my software-generated
source citations (long and short forms) _looked_ the same as theirs
in print. That is, they apparently wanted me to believe that their
patent covered the result and not the process.
Of course, my software's source citations were designed to look like
those which professional genealogists had been constructing by hand
for decades but mine was a very small company (I think that I had a
staff of one at the time) and they knew it. It took a big toll on me
(more than I think most small companies would have withstood) but a
very expensive patent attorney finally convinced COMMSOFT to go away.
I don't think that it is an exaggeration to say that, had I conceded
to their demands, it would have emboldened them and produced such a
chilling effect on other developers that COMMSOFT's program might be
the only one on the market today which produces source
citations. The genealogical community may be facing a similar sort
of risk if Ancestry's recent patent is not at least evaluated by an
objective professional. I think that's an appropriate project for
the national societies to spearhead collectively and on behalf of
For all I know, failing to make any response to a
potentially-offending patent once it came to our attention here might
even be offered as evidence some day in support of the patent
holder's claim. That too is a question for a professional.
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