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Similar to this question, but for a very different situation.

I've been working-up some example code to accompany a proposed programming challenge and asking questions about the difficult bits. In my latest question, the answer I've received suggests that I use an Octree instead of a BSP-Tree.

But Wikipedia says it's patented. And a public programming challenge -- much more than a private program or even free (beer) software -- really is encouraging people to reuse the idea without regard to ownership.

So I can't (legally or in good conscience) use it here, can I?

More generally, What do I need to find out (or do) when I learn that an algorithm I want to use is "Patented"?

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closed as off-topic by MichaelT, gnat, GlenH7, Dan Pichelman, Bart van Ingen Schenau Sep 23 '14 at 9:31

  • This question does not appear to be about software development within the scope defined in the help center.
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This question appears to be off-topic because it is about a legal issue specific to patents and the rules of a programming challenge. – MichaelT Sep 22 '14 at 3:57
The steps outlined in the answer transcend the specific situation. I've made references to this information from various posts throughout the SE network. deleting will break my links! – luser droog Sep 2 at 21:46

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted
  1. Find out when the patent expires. The Wikipedia article you cite says that the patent dates from 1995. Wikipedia also tells us that patents in the US last either 20 years from the date of the first filing (which could be as early as 1984 in this case) or, in some cases, 17 years from when the patent was granted. So, it's quite possible that the patent has expired by now.

  2. If you're not certain that the patent has expired, you could always try to contact the owner of the patent and get permission to use it.

  3. If you don't know for certain where you stand, get some competent legal advice. Talking to strangers on the Internet doesn't qualify under any circumstances.

  4. If you're asking whether the fact that you're using the idea in a programming contest somehow makes it okay to use patented material without permission, I think the answer is no. (IANAL -- see #3 above.)

share|improve this answer - filing date Jan 9th 1985. – MFAH Feb 16 '13 at 16:01
+1 for contact the owner, but do note that the owner is Octree Corporation (based on the Google Patents link in the previous comment. If your use doesn't impact their profits, and maybe even further advertizes the value of the method, they may be quite happy to give you permission. – Peter Rowell Feb 17 '13 at 0:38
Thanks. I found a copy which clearly indicates that it's expired. – luser droog Feb 17 '13 at 7:24


It's not worth a patent holder's time or money to pursue you for damages for entering an competition. They only start suing once the infringer is worth something. Although, now that you've publicly admitted to knowing about the possible infringement you're liable to pay triple damages. How that 'damage' is valued no-one can say.

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The 'liable for triple damages' needs a source. And I'm pretty sure that's not an international thing, just local to US or some other country. – Matsemann Feb 16 '13 at 16:52

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