04/05: Did Microsoft just patent sudo?

I found something interesting while surfing the blogosphere. Mackenzie, on blogspot has written an interesting blog post in which she critically looks at the patent for UAC (which stands for User Access Control - a new feature for Windows Vista which has a surprising resemblance to a security feature in use on many Linux based distributions for years) and how she thinks that in effect, Microsoft just patented sudo.

For those who don't know, sudo is a command used on Linux consoles for using root access privileges to carry out tasks requiring administrative privileges. Users of Ubuntu will be particularly familiar with it.

You can read Makenzie's post on blogspot here. The article has been reproduced below:


Did Microsoft just patent sudo?
by Mackenzie

Holy crap, I think they did. Here's the patent for UAC:

A computer such as a network appliance executes an administrative security process configured to run under an administrative privilege level. Having an administrative privilege level, the administrative security process can initiate administrative functions in an operating system function library. A user process executing under a non-administrative privilege level can initiate a particular administrative function that the process would not otherwise be able to initiate by requesting that the administrative security process initiate the function. In response to a request to initiate a particular function from a process with a non-administrative privilege level, the administrative security process determines whether the requesting process is authorized to initiate the particular administrative function based on information accessed in a data store. If the requesting process is authorized, the administrative security process initiates the particular administrative function. In this manner, the administrative security process facilitates access to specific administrative functions for a user process having a privilege level that does not permit the user process to access the administrative functions. - Patent 6775781

Does that sound like sudo to you? Does to me. If you look at sudo's manpage, you'll find a link to this site: The History of Sudo. What can this site tell us? Plenty. For instance,

Sudo was first conceived and implemented by Bob Coggeshall and Cliff Spencer around 1980 at the Department of Computer Science at SUNY/Buffalo. It ran on a VAX-11/750 running 4.1BSD. An updated version, credited to Phil Betchel, Cliff Spencer, Gretchen Phillips, John LoVerso and Don Gworek, was posted to the net.sources newsgroup in December of 1985.

1985, huh? And when did this Microsoft patent happen? It was filed in 2000. Well gee, that doesn't make sense. How'd they get the patent? It certainly falls under the category of "obvious" if there's prior art such as sudo.

What makes this whole thing funny, though, is something I saw a couple days ago. Head over to Builder-AU and listen to Peter Watson from Microsoft. He says,

User Account Control is a great idea and strategically a direction that sort of all operating systems and all technology should be heading down.

Excuse me? Does he really believe this is all Microsoft's great new idea?

In the end, this seems like a patent that Microsoft will hold up and say "we have a patent and Linux is violating it!" They won't ever sue on it though (just leave the threat hanging to scare away potential users), because then they could have the patent revoked. It's better for them to just wave it around.

All rights relating to the article reproduced above, lie with the original author, Mackenzie.
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Comments made

As a paki I am not particularly strong on respecting patents if you know what I mean ;) But its interesting nevertheless. Makes you wonder how the patent got approved in the first place. What sort of incompetent patent officers do they have in the US? Certainly Not Linux users :)
14/05 01:01:27
@ Abdussamad:

I consider the patent system in the US to be a joke. One just needs to look at the patents to realize that instead of actually protecting IP rights, they are just being used as a basis for suing other companies for millions of dollars.

The non-technical patent authorities grant patents for technical matters, of which they have little to no understanding.
14/05 01:22:58

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