Home > Legal > What is the “Mainstream” View of Software Patents? What is the “Mainstream” View of Software Patents? Submitted by E.M. 2005-01-11 Legal 17 Comments Although it appears in a “Mainstream” (non-technical) publication, this lengthy indictment of Bill Gates and software patents from ‘The Guardian’ is another interesting indicator of how the public’s view of the issue is shifting. About The Author Eugenia Loli Ex-programmer, ex-editor in chief at OSNews.com, now a visual artist/filmmaker. Follow me on Twitter @EugeniaLoli 17 Comments 2005-01-11 12:38 pm You can already have patents on technical ideas, and naturally software is copyrighted. If someone puts in the programming effort then they can construct software which may be compatible with the first thus encouraging competition. Software patents is like patenting paragraphs and sentences of a story and even patenting words. Even if you write the sentence in a different way, if it explains the same thing then it is still under that patent. Thas ridiculous. Copyright is fine for software and patents on novel technical ideas. Patents on software are uncompetitive and help patent-holding companies to keep out competition, and therefore hinders invention and innovation. invention and innovation has done well in the past decades without patents because innovation occurs where there is a lot of free market competition, like in the current open source and free software economies. 2005-01-11 1:13 pm software what ???? 2005-01-11 1:38 pm Just seen that IBM are releasing 500 patents to the community and are hoping other companies will follow suit. This is indeed a step in the right direction. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4163975.stm 2005-01-11 2:15 pm I think I should patent the words “The”, “And”, “You” and the numbers 183 – 875 – 953 and 295 They are just groups of 3 number or letters, but the fact is, I put them together in that order and I need to protect that in case anyone else tries to copy what I wrote. Also, I want to patent that last paragraph… and this one… and also them 3 fullstops, (periods for americans) Seriously The whole idea of software patents is shite and goverments around the world need to pay attention and block companies like microsoft from “buying” a patent for what in essence is just a pack of noughts and ones. 2005-01-11 2:32 pm Sorry, but i’ve just patented the numbers 1 and 0. I guess you owe me big bucks. As does everyone else who visits this site. Or any site. Or uses a computer. (btw – I’m aware of The Onions spoof on MS doing the same thing). 2005-01-11 2:53 pm . 2005-01-11 2:55 pm you missed my point. I was not going to patent single numbers, I was patenting a specific “group” of numbers and letters. I had just arranged them in that order and I want to protect them. 2005-01-11 3:02 pm Most people (including politicians) don’t understand the difference between patents, copyright and trademarks. 2005-01-11 3:34 pm You’re right – I don’t think most people care, as long as the latest Missy Elliot CD will play on their computer without too much hassle. 2005-01-11 5:13 pm Most people I think are not even aware of the issues, and if they are aware then they are aware from the mass media (TV etc) of large networks which are often on the same side as large patent holding bodies, either by ownership or same self-interests. This is unfortunate. Never was fond of mass-media, always prefered people gather their own information from multiple sources and for them to think for themselves, but this is harder, takes practice and time which people don’t usually have. 2005-01-11 6:28 pm “Most people I think are not even aware of the issues, and if they are aware then they are aware from the mass media (TV etc) of large networks which are often on the same side as large patent holding bodies, either by ownership or same self-interests. This is unfortunate. ” They’re not aware, because they’re not the group that’s affected directly by software patents. Do developers worry about issues that affect pilots? Not many I’d bet. “Software patents is like patenting paragraphs and sentences of a story and even patenting words.” Not quite. One can trademark specific words. e.g. Microsoft, but not a generic word like windows as opposed to “Microsoft Windows”. “Even if you write the sentence in a different way, if it explains the same thing then it is still under that patent. Thas ridiculous.” See the “Gone with the Wind case” “Copyright is fine for software and patents on novel technical ideas.” Well aside from the shorter terms. “Patents on software are uncompetitive and help patent-holding companies to keep out competition, and therefore hinders invention and innovation. ” A similiar argument is used against copyright. One could argue that monopolies (government or natural) are “anticompetitive” by definition. Hindering “invention and innovation” depends on what the patent holder does with it and could be achieved just as well with trade secrets. 2005-01-11 6:40 pm Oh BTW http://www.nolo.com/ Here’s a nice source of legal info in plain english. Of course the usual legal disclaimers apply; get a lawyer. 2005-01-11 8:46 pm This isn’t particularly mainstream. The Guardian is a U.K. broadsheet newspaper. Newspapers in the U.K. are broadly divided into broadsheet and tabloid. Broadsheets are read by business and the middle / upper-classes in general. The broadsheets are: The Times, which is mostly politically neutral with a slight right-wing bias, The Daily Telegraph, which has a distinct moderate right-wing bias, The Independent, which has a rather idiosyncratic position but tends to be liberally-biased on social issues and centrist on others, and The Guardian, which is left-wing biased. The Daily Telegraph has the highest circulation, around 850,000. The Times gets about 650,000. The Guardian gets 350,000, and the Independent 250,000. The tabloid newspapers are the truly mainstream press in the U.K., with more downmarket content (less politics (and it’s simplified and populist), a lot more sport and entertainment). Their circulation is much, much higher – the leader, The Sun, has a circulation of 3,000,000, then the Daily Mail (which is tabloid format but between tabloids and broadsheets in content and style) has 2,300,000, then the Mirror has 1,600,000. When the Sun prints an article on software patents, *then* we can talk about a mainstream view… (figures here – http://www.publicitas.com/display.asp?id=6.8&chp=6.3&foot=6.9&cpny=… ) 2005-01-11 8:56 pm Just for clarification, the article is a ‘comment’ piece, which means the Guardian publishes it because it finds it interesting – the newspaper’s print edition states expressly that comment pieces do not necessarily represent the views of the paper or its editors… 2005-01-11 10:51 pm @ A stranger (IP: —.224.159.23.Dial1.Cincinnati1.Level3.net) ” “Even if you write the sentence in a different way, if it explains the same thing then it is still under that patent. Thas ridiculous.” ” “See the “Gone with the Wind case” ” Yeah, but ‘Gone with the Wind’ wasn’t patented… It was only copyrighted. Patents have a very different affect than copyright. With copyright you could make your own work and the story could affectively be the same as long as you don’t copy. If it was patented, that is another matter entirely. Even if you don’t copy it you could get hit using their patents. ” “Patents on software are uncompetitive and help patent-holding companies to keep out competition, and therefore hinders invention and innovation. ” ” “A similiar argument is used against copyright. One could argue that monopolies (government or natural) are “anticompetitive” by definition. Hindering “invention and innovation” depends on what the patent holder does with it and could be achieved just as well with trade secrets.” Similar at a stretch, because patents are very different from copyright. With copyright you can still do much with the work (though copyrights now last for infite minus one years which aint good). Patents are extremely restrictive and anti-competitive, becuase they stop others from using the same idea (and even similar idea) even if it was invented independently or even if it was thought of years before the patent was granted. Copyrights are much more fairer and are certainly not anti-competitive. Copyrighted software is a good enough protection for software. They allow others not to steal, but they also allow others to independently develop their own competitive systems and also to improve and innovate without restrictions, and then compete in the market place instead of the courts. 2005-01-12 10:36 am Sure one can be recorded in history books as the inventor of something, but if you want a real free market and as much innovation as possible, then there should be no such thing as patents at all, not for anything. I even doubt if copyright is really necessary, but I’m willing to accept that. Protect the thing, but not the idea, so that everybody can improve upon it (cheaper, safer, cleaner for the environment and so on) and thereby increase gross national wellness, not just the income of one man. It’s the same with subsidies (and in fact patents are a form of subsidy). It’s wrong to subsidize the metal industry for example because they can no longer compete with foreign companies. It affects the entire society in fact twice; one time because they pay the subsidies through their taxes and a second time when they pay for the product which has a higher price than it should have because of those same subsidies. So, give us a true free market. It will make all of us better of, which after all is why people invented such a thing as economy. Economy should serve us, the people, not the other way arround. 2005-01-12 4:05 pm (1) It’s interesting that none of the comments thus far directly relate to the article in the Guardian –I don’t really *mind* if you didn’t read it, but the discussion has so far pretty much been the venting of pent-up rage, rather an actual response to the specific argument that showed up in the Guardian (2) Yes, the Guardian is a bourgeois newspaper; but the bourgeois caste is “Mainstream”, and computer owners are disproporionately bourgeois and/or they’re outright aristocrats –so the comment that “it doesn’t reflect the Mainstream” until it shows up in one of the papers of the working man (e.g., _The Sunday Sport_?) is a bit spurious. (3) There is a big difference between copyright and patent. You can patent a method of binding books; but the content of the book can only be copyrighted, not patented. Nobody has a patent on detective novels (etc.) –and if someone did patent genres or methods of writing (i.e. “software”) it would stifle authorship. But “hardware” patents (such as patent-leather bookbinding) are another matter.