Software patents was Re: [extropy-chat] Care Economy?

Rik van Riel riel at
Thu May 19 04:04:37 UTC 2005

On Wed, 18 May 2005, Brett Paatsch wrote:

> I tend to see patent law as a potentially good thing but it has to strike
> the right balance between creating incentives for people to be practical
> and to innovate and not creating disincentives or other side effects that
> produce a net or suboptimal social benefit.

Exactly how do you think software patents would encourage
innovation ?

In many (most?) companies, engineers are not allowed to
look at patents, unless explicitly asked to do so by the
people in the legal department.  Also, software patents
take a few years to get issued.

Add two and two together, and you'll see that software
patents are NOT a useful tool to get information on new
innovations shared in the field of software engineering.

Also, if you were to wait for the patent to be issued
before bringing your invention to the market as a
product, there is a good chance your product will be
outdated before you get around to trying to sell it.

A last issue to keep in mind is that you cannot build
a useful piece of software that relies on just ONE idea
or invention.  Any moderately complex piece of software
will rely on hundreds, if not thousands of ideas, many
of which will have been patented by somebody else!

In short, patents can only protect your idea, but not
the actual product that your business is trying to make
a living off.  In fact, patents can endanger your product,
and with 150,000 granted software patents in the US alone
I don't think there's anything you can do to avoid potential

This is why I believe that software patents hurt innovation,
instead of stimulating it.

Besides, a perfectly good legal mechanism exists that does
protect your product without being any threat: copyright.

"Debugging is twice as hard as writing the code in the first place.
Therefore, if you write the code as cleverly as possible, you are,
by definition, not smart enough to debug it." - Brian W. Kernighan

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