Should software be patented? This site would like the practice stopped

Summary:A new website entitled End Software Patents is attempting to galvanize public support to accomplish that goal.Here's the core of their argument:Patents differ from copyright in one key manner: independent invention is a valid defense against claims of copyright infringement.

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A new website entitled End Software Patents is attempting to galvanize public support to accomplish that goal.

Here's the core of their argument:

Patents differ from copyright in one key manner: independent invention is a valid defense against claims of copyright infringement. That means that if you happen to write something that looks like the writing of somebody else, then you can't be sued, unless the other author can prove that you directly copied his or her work.

Conversely, a patent holder can sue anybody who has written a composition similar to a patented composition. The holder of a software patent need only spend a few minutes with an Internet search engine to find somebody to sue—which is why "software companies" like the Green Bay Packers and Tire Kingdom are being sued: their web site evidently implements something that seems to match one out of the above-mentioned thousands of patents.

Is your company, school, or organization infringing any software patents? If it has a computer on hand, then the answer is almost certainly yes.

So software patents have created liability for everybody. But have they spurred innovation? Nobody can find any evidence that they have; see the Resources for economists page for the list of pro-software patent scholars who have searched for evidence of benefit and failed.

The site then tries to make the case that one of the key reasons why software patents have thrived despite their ineffectiveness is because of the self-perpetuating Patent bureaucracy- namely that of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Here's what End Software Patents has to say about the USPTO and the software patent culture:

Imagine a government agency with the scope to inspect and grant a monopoly on every line of computer code written by anyone in any part of the economy, and you've got the US Patent and Trademark Office.

As you can imagine, granting so many monopolies requires a lot of resources: the PTO has grown out of its buildings and continues to expand, to the tune of 1,200 employees per year for the next five years. Even so, it will still have to stretch to catch up to its backlog of 1.3 million uninspected patents

1,200 new employees over five years equals 6,000 new hires. Coincidentally, the PTO in 2000 was about 6,000 people. So the PTO hopes to grow to more than double its size in 2000.

The irony of this effort to create a federal bureaucracy to oversee everybody's computer code is that, as above, nobody has any proof that this computer code bureaucracy has spurred innovation. Even coders themselves oppose this government ‘service’—see the what practitioners are saying page.

I'm not sure all software Patents should be abolished, but I will grant that an unfortunate culture of patent trolls has been spawned by software patents.

What do you think?

[poll id=202]

Topics: CXO, IT Employment, Software

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