Should Software Patents Exist?

Patents are supposed to encourage invention and protect inventors from being ripped off. At least, this was the reasoning when patents applied to things like steam engines and drillbits. But software? That might be a whole other question.

Patents were always intended for physical things - mechanisms that did something better in a way that would have never been obvious to another inventors. A genuine leap forward. The advent of software complicated things - and Microsoft's immense commercialisation of software pushed software patents forward at a blistering pace.

Things like a single-click online purchase dubiously fit that great leap criterion - and it's yielded a giant bundle of money for Amazon, which owns the patent on that button. If you try to use it without their permission, out come the lawyers.

Most recently, the issue's been highlighted by Lodsys, which has attacked small developers with little means to defend themselves, claiming patent grievances and demanding dough. The little guy has a hard time fighting back against patent trolling, and might just discourage the next great app from being made in the first place.

Which prompts venture capitalist Fred Wilson to declare the following:

I believe that software patents should not exist. They are a tax on innovation. And software is closer to media than it is to hardware. Patenting software is like patenting music.

Do you agree with Fred? Is the idea of being able to freeze the rest of the world out of a simple software function an evil or a boon? As he notes with regards to the Lodsys/Apple imbroglio, the former "Didn't even 'invent' the idea. They purchased the patent and are now using it like a cluster bomb on the entire mobile app developer community." Is this the exception, or the rule? Should we axe software patents? [via A VC]

Photo: Shutterstock/Tan Kian Khoon


Comments

    Yes, get rid of them. Algorithms are discoveries in mathematics, not inventions. What would happen if Newton could have patented his theory of fluxions (now known as calculus), or if Maxwell could have patented electromagnetic waves?

    Actually, hardware patents should go too. I'd hate to see the day where someone makes a discovery that leads to a far superior processor or transmission method, only to patent it and be the only one allowed to develop it. Competition, combined with the sharing of ideas and discoveries leads to improvements and innovation, while patents just allow for monopolies and complacency.

    Good for us, bad for big business to abolish software patents. Who will governments look after, the people or big business? Yeah...

    I believe some form of patent should still exist. Some companies, such as Apple pour immense effort and resources in coming up with genuine new ideas. We need some mechanism to protect that.

    But software is fundamentally different, it moves substantially faster and it should be treated accordingly. Maybe software patents should last a maximum of two years. If, by that time, a company hasn't effectively gained a market lead with their new idea, they probably never will

      Apple design some very nice looking stuff, but "genuine new ideas" aren't their forté.

    I like the "with a time limit" idea. And certainly don't believe that patents should be transferable. As with Lodsys, we're all aware of Men At Work being sued for a tiny bit of their song sounding a bit like "Cookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree" and the copyright owners trying to sue Men At Work/their label for everything they ever made on the song. Of course, these guys only purchased the "Cookaburra..." copyright a few years ago.

      The maximum life of any patent is 20 years. Less for pharmaceuticals.

    Software patents should be illegal. Copywrite does apply to code, you cant patent works of fiction. So why can you patent OSX.

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