Posted by: 2stepsback | September 17, 2007

The simple case against software patents

Patents were meant to encourage innovation, apparently.

With technology and inventions needing hardware or engineering, the case is quite different as compared to computer software.

Engineering / hardware:
A man with a great brain but no resources gets an idea.
He publishes it, or say, tells it to his neighbor.
Neighbor is a cheat. He impements it because he has access to workers, material and money.
Inventor is completely discouraged and rightly fuming, but is helpless.

Enter patent protection.
Now inventor goes to PTO with an official paper, the clerk at the desk gives him a proper legal receipt in exchange for the idea document. Patent is examined and found to be a new idea.

Neighbor hears of it, gets a copy, tries to implement it.
Inventor goes to Police chief / court / etc and clarifies matters.
Inventor gets royalty and maybe damages.

Happy ending for inventor, encouraged to think and invent more.

Computer software:
Everybody is brought up learning same theory, rules, laws, examples, axioms, etc.
Any two CS grads have roughly same knowledgebase in brain. If they have similar analytical and future-thinking dispositions, they come up with similar solutions since they try similar methods to solve same problems.

A tiny set of examples of common needs for everyone are:
Internet speed increase, program speed increase, increase in capacity of multiple concurrent operations, as close imitation of brain as possible for data interlinking and so on.

Everyone learns the same theory.

Without standards, industry cannot proceed.
So, everything is standardized.
So, existing knowledgebase is essentially standardized.

Now take any two good brains in IT industry.
Both are aware of same problem.
Both have same thories and material in their brain.
Both have access to thinking styles of other people or past experts (education, blogs, webpages).

Most ideas or organisation of material and information are common to human thinking. We think of containers for objects, easy of carrying around, logical separation of content, rules and statistics are put separately, numbers and text are stored adjacent but separate and so on.

So, when faced with the same problem, almost surely, 100s, if not 1000s of minds, across the globe have hit upon the same solution within a few days of first appearance of the problem.

Only a few have financial and legal resources to file patents. They file patents and sue each other or make agreements.

Rest of them cannot do what they thought up themselves!
Because they do not have money or legal resources.

Now, when those 998 others are inherently programmed to come up with the same solution, and they therefore do come up with the same solution, they cannot do a thing with their idea only because those 2 have monopoly over the idea.

998 innovators lose because 2 have legal and financial resources.
Best word for this is discrimination, not protection.

Another angle:
Engineering / hardware:
Man with idea has no money to make machines, so to encash his idea, he has to sell licenses or ask for royalty. Man without brains but with resources sells real goods, makes money and gives royalty or fee to man with brain.
Symbiosis.

Computer software:
Man with idea already has computer with him.
Man with idea got the idea in the first place beause he can use the factory himself.
He has all the resources needed to make copies of his work and sell them himself.
He has the full set of tools to make the final saleable product and therefore needs different protection from law, not the same as for engineering patents

That is precisely why he will make the full program and sell it. Then if someone stops him in the name of exclusive right on certain thoughts, that is simply stifling innovation en masse.
Parasitism. Extortion.

The very fact that “IP” touters claim – that copies can be made easily and so we need patent protection – is flawed and the very reason that IP laws for software are not needed.
They need Copyright protection not IP or Patent protection.

Using one for the other is like essentially pulling a fast one on the public who knows nothing of the technicalities.

More later, got to hurry home! 😉

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