Thursday, June 08, 2006

Can Settling P vs. NP Get You Sued?

A reader Osias asks
About purported P vs NP solutions…I was wondering what if you, sooner or later, lets say, 10 years from now, solve yourself the P vs NP question. Can those authors sue you, claiming they have solved and you "stole" it from them?

I am most worried about myself too. Cause I am actually reading those papers from them and contributing to a wiki that analyze them. What if those guys decide to sue me? Can they?

I view this question as an extreme hypothetical. I don't expect either you or I will settle the P versus NP problem nor do I believe any of the papers posted on the wiki will play any significant role in the eventual solution.

We rarely see lawsuits in academics and then only when large sums of money are involved, for example patent rights based on research. The Clay Mathematics Institute Millenium Problems do provide a significant sum of prize money but even in the scenario you outline above, the suit would not be against you but instead the Institute for not recognizing the earlier work.

If I write a paper and later learn of some work that overlaps my paper, I will mention this other work even if I was unaware of it at the time of my research. I could imagine a scenario where I don't believe a paper has any connection to my research and the authors of that paper decided to sue me to acknowledge their perceived contributions. In such a scenario I would not be bullied and hold my ground, though not before consulting the university's lawyers.

On a related note, Luca reports on the status of the Poincaré conjecture, likely to be the first Millenium Problem prize awarded by the Clay Math Institute.


  1. To sue you would have to show damages. What would the damages be in this case?

  2. Thanks professor. I have to say I also don't really believe that me or any of that papers can solve the problem. I know the question is veeerry hypothetical. I study this things more like a hobby, and I am aware of my incapacity. But...

    >> Professor Scott says:
    > The bottom line is that in
    > America, anyone can try to
    > sue anyone for anything,
    > and they might even win.

    ... yes, being sued for stupid reasons is headache enough to psychologically put me down. I mean, when I'm thinking about the problem (P vs NP) I always hear a voice: "there are stupid people that can sue me even for thinking about them..."

    (of course, read it allegorically, I'm not really schizophrenic. My other personality told me that.)

    >> Professor Lance says:
    >even in the scenario you outline
    >above, the suit would not be
    >against you but instead the
    >Institute for not recognizing
    >the earlier work

    Well, that's something I didn't know. Thanks. It's a relief.

    >> anonymous says:
    >To sue you would have to show
    > damages. What would the
    >damages be in this case?

    Aside from the money the "lost"? They can invent something.

  3. Scott: "The bottom line is that in America, anyone can try to sue anyone for anything, and they might even win."

    Who said anything about America?
    I don't think Osias is even from the US.

    My point is this: I would like other readers and posters of this nice blog to acknowledge the existence and life of people outside the US.
    (And, no, I won't sue you if you don't).

    somewhere outside the US.

  4. If you get a proof that P=NP wouldn't that violate the DMCA (Digigal Millenium Copyright Act)?

  5. If you get a proof that P=NP wouldn't that violate the DMCA (Digigal Millenium Copyright Act)?

    Only if it's constructive.

  6. > someone could just as well sue you for not thinking about P vs. NP.

    They have lots of other people to sue also. Like... 99.9% of the mankind. Among those, there are very powerful people, that will be a firewall to me. :)

    > So why let that dictate your behavior?

    Good point! I will try to tell that to my subconscious.

    >I could give you much better
    >reasons to not think about P vs. NP...

    OOops. I don't think I want to know...


    Whatever. Can you tell me them?
    (I hope "spent your time thinking about quantum computing" don't be one of them...)

    >I don't think Osias is even from the US.

    Yes, I'm from Brazil, but I think that sentence applies well. :(

    >>If you get a proof that P=NP wouldn't
    >>that violate the DMCA ?
    >Only if it's constructive.

    According to wikipedia:

    >The Digital Millennium Copyright
    >Act (DMCA) is a United States copyright law.
    >The act criminalizes production and dissemination
    >of technology that can circumvent measures
    >taken to protect copyright,

    OMG!!! there are lots of absurdities in that very idea!!

    But now I got a doubt: if I, I mean... if someone, smarter - than me - discovers a construtive proof of P = NP, a polynomial algorithm, he/she doesn't violate that, because it's not a technology, right? It could violate only if it was implemented and compiled in some language, right?

  7. Scott: "I was trying to avoid American chauvinism, by not automatically assuming that my comments applied to countries and legal systems I knew less about. Sheesh."

    And I was trying to *avoid* Anti-American fanatism; (to make it even clearer: I am a great fan of America).
    My point was just regarding this particular blog:
    Please try to be more international.

    s/w out of US

  8. Scott: "many of the smartest people on Earth still have no idea how to answer."

    I totally agree with the content of Scott's response. I utterly disagree with the reasons, and the way they were put:

    Let alone the fact that the failure of others should not be the main reason for giving up a research problem, the phrase "the smartest people on Earth" has no basis, no evidence, no argument to support it, no theory or model of "smartness" to serve as its foundation, and so on.
    This is just a subjective (somewhat, fashionable) belief. More like a myth, promoted by some B level Hollywood films, and folklore tales.

  9. It's true that there might be people who make the Fields/Nevanlinna winners look like Beavises and Buttheads. All I meant is that, whoever the smartest people on Earth are, a proof of P!=NP has apparently eluded them.

    You seem to imply that there is some sort of linear order on human intelligence and that it is somehow closely related to chances of proving P!=NP.

    misha b

  10. Very good comment (the last one). Scott has no counter-argument.


    Traditionally the person who poses the problem is the one who gets sued not the one who presents the solution.

  12. As part of the ongoing series exploring P=NP, to a potential proof. I have obtained a tip to visit this webpage, which raises some startling implications concerning the debate surrounding the Digital Milennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Basically, this is the first documentation I’ve seen of a machine copying content neither it’s owner nor someone else told it directly to do. The question it raise is this: are we to be held liable when our machine’s copy or archive content we didn’t tell them to? It seems like an “A.I.” (Artificial Intelligence) problem, but there’s actually a very fine “real-world” factor it, with this being a first documented example, of such an anomoly.

    The website automatically tracks documents and frames them relating to specific terms, with the aim of protecting civil liberties and protections in cyberspace. Interestingly enough, what appears to have happened here is that the site, in its course of archiving, caught a glance of a different website denying access to a different machine, and so it basically took a picture of itself. It’s sort of like a TV within a television. The URL has nothing to do with the content, and the items framed are basically a large portion of the outer site, with some of the text and forms divided. It’s like an Internet content “melting-pot

  13. It is likely that there will be a major overhaul in the academic community and expect some people to even be arrested and jailed for these crimes "white paper" stained red with the wounded economy like one big Madoff.