Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 8th Oct 2012 09:24 UTC
Legal The failing US patent system is getting ever more mainstream - The New York Times is running a long and details piece on the failings of the system, especially in relation to the technology industry most of us hold so dearly. Most of the stuff in there isn't new to us - but there's two things in the article I want to highlight.
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I'm going to guess you aren't a software engineer.

Software innovation generally comes down to one thing: algorithms. The thing is, when you release a product, the algorithms are hidden. It's not like an engine, or a drug, where it can (fairly easily) be broken into its component parts to see how it's made.

Think of Google. When it came out, it was successful because of the algorithm development they did. It isn't protected by patents though. It's protected because only Google employees know the exact parameters (despite the overall idea of the algorithm being common knowledge).

What people call software patents have always been either trivial and obvious (such as forwarding packets in a router), or really design patents. That is, the outcome of the program and the way it works and interacts with the user. Think of the example of using a mapping program on a smartphone. Apple has patented the idea of searching for a contact within the mapping program so that the contact's address is shown. That's design and interaction. It's not an innovative algorithm that someone can develop a competing algorithm for. Now, no other company is allowed to search for users in their mapping program. At all. Ever. Or at least until the patent expires in a few decades.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that genuine software innovation is already protected by the fact that it is secret, and all the other "software patents" that exist today, should probably fall into a different area (like design patents) and the idea of software patents be thrown out.

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