Developer Week in Review: Are APIs intellectual property?

APIs may be IP, and C remains popular, even when obfuscated.

Returning after a brief hiatus due to my annual spring head cold, welcome back to your weekly dose of all things programming. Last week, I was attending the Genomes, Environments and Traits conference (I’m a participant in the Personal Genome Project), when I got notified that WWDC registration had opened up. I ended up having to type in my credit card information on my iPhone while listening to the project organizers discuss what they were doing with the saliva I had sent them. The conference itself was very interesting (although I was coming down with the aforementioned cold, so I wasn’t at the top of my game). The cost to sequence a genome is plummeting — it’s approaching $1,000 a pop — and it has the potential to totally revolutionize how we think about health care.

It’s also an interesting example of big data, but not how we normally think about it. An individual genome isn’t all that big in the scheme of things (it’s about 3GB uncompressed per genome), but there are huge computational challenges involved in relating individual variations in the genome to phenotype variations (in other words, figuring out what variations are responsible for traits or diseases).

While all the West Coast developers who slept through the WWDC registration period lick their wounds, here’s the rest of the news.

APIs are copyrightable, unless they aren’t?

These days, I feel like you need to consider a minor in law to go with your computer science degree. In the latest news from the front, we have conflicting opinions regarding the status of APIs. On the one hand, the judge in the Oracle versus Google lawsuit has instructed the jury they should assume that APIs are copyrightable. As the linked article discusses, this could have ominous implications for any third-party re-implementation of a programming language or other software that is not open source.

Over in Europe, however, a new ruling has stated that programming languages and computer functionality are not copyrightable. So, depending on which side of the ocean you live on, APIs are either open season, or off limits. No word yet as to the legal status of APIs on the Falkland Islands …

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Code to make your head hurt.

For those of you who like to celebrate the perversities of life, it’s hard to beat the International Obfuscated C Competition, which just released its 2011 winners. For your viewing pleasure, we have programs that compute pi, chart histograms, and even judging programs for obfuscation, all written in a manner that will have code reviewers running to the toilet with terminal bouts of nausea.

And speaking of C …

We tend to focus a lot of attention on emerging languages, partially because many of them have novel features, and partially because the grass is always greener in a different language. It’s instructive to step back sometimes and take a look at what people are actually using. The latest TIOBE Programming Community Index, which measures how much code there is out there in each of the various languages, has a new top dog, and it’s our old friend C. In fact, when you factor in C#, C++ and Objective-C, C-related languages pretty much own the category. Java has now fallen to the second position, and you have to go all the way down to sixth place to find a scripting language, PHP.

Importantly, all the hot new languages, like Erlang and Scala, don’t even make the top 20, and you only need half-a-percentage point to get in that list. As much as we like the new darlings on the block, the old veterans still are where most of the action (and money) is.

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