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

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, Software, IT Employment

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3 comments
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  • No, no, a thousand times no

    Let's put it this way. I'm a small software innovator. And I do mean innovator: I'm on my fourth startup, and every one of them has been in the business of producing stuff that is genuinely new and different. That's where the fun is in this business -- if you're not trying to change the world, you shouldn't be in a startup.

    Along the way, patents have been omnipresent. I have to admit, I've got my name on a few, and I've written more that didn't get submitted for one reason or another. That's part of how the game is currently played: you *have* to play the patent game, purely for defense. If you don't play the game, you're living in constant danger. (My new company, which is unfunded and bootstrapped, is simply going to have to live dangerously: I don't have the time or money for this nonsense. I don't like that risk, but I don't have a choice.)

    So I'm viewing this from the inside. I'm one of the people who the system is supposed to be *for*: the true innovator, the ones who it is supposed to encourage and protect. And let me assure you, it's not worth the damned price.

    The only people who have really benefited from software patents are trolls and giants. The small innovators simply get screwed by them -- losing money and focus playing the game, while still not having the resources to benefit from it. The only small companies that really profit from patents are the ones that are focused on that, and devote their resources to it. In other words, the unproductive bottom-feeders.

    I say, get rid of 'em. Let software companies compete strictly on the basis of innovation and execution, the way we did before the bad decision to apply patents to software. (Which, let's remember, is still a relatively recent change in the grand scheme of things.) That's a game I'm much more prepared to play...
    jducoeur
  • Microsoft's 'Openness' Pledge A Potential Patent Trap,

    Gartner Warns

    http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=206900525

    "Do not use Microsoft's documentation unless you have rigorous processes to keep track of applicable patents," said Gartner, in a new research report.

    -Mike
    SpikeyMike
  • RE: Should software be patented? This site would like the practice stopped

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