The fact that sem_release only resease the semaphore if it is currently acquired by the calling process is, in fact, a misfeature since sometimes (eg in a readers-writers implementation) it is desirable to release a semaphore acquired by another process. In C you can do that.
I'm telling this because I was trying to write a chat app in php3 made of two programs: a listener and a speaker. The speaker releases a semaphore to inform that there is a new message in a shared memory var. And listeners wait in that semaphore before outputting the message.