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

Mike Lorrey mlorrey at
Thu May 19 21:17:56 UTC 2005

--- Rik van Riel <riel at> wrote:
> 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.

Since the passage of GATT, patent protection dates from the date of
application, not issuance.

> 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.

That is one point of view. The other point of view is that software
engineers/entrepreneurs are cheap and chintzy and have no respect for
the work and originality of others, at least not enough to pay for it.
And the software industry wonders why there is so much piracy.

> 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 outdated before you get around to trying to sell it.

Which is why GATT addressed that issue a decade or more ago.

> 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!

I believe that Ted Nelson's Xanadu has developed some proprietary
concepts that deal with this issue quite nicely... ;)

> 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
> infringement.

What the do is establish a nested system of proper accounting for
intellectual property. Most hackers, however, don't like doing their
homework and are extremely lazy about documenting their sources.

> 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.

Copyright only protects the exact instantiation of code you copyright.
It does not protect the algorithm that the code implements. Should code
writers have the burden of writing out ALL possible implementations in
all languages they want protection in? That might be a reasonable request.

Mike Lorrey
Vice-Chair, 2nd District, Libertarian Party of NH
"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.
It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
                                      -William Pitt (1759-1806) 

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