Software patents - what are they good for?

Problem

It’s safe to say that there is much disagreement among engineers, lawyers, and policy makers over whether software patents even make sense, that is, whether the ability to patent software actually does more harm than good to our innovation society and economy.

Solution

Congress should hold hearings and provide a study examining the issue. The study should include a review of relevant economic data and should take into account viewpoints from all parties affected by the patent system, particularly those who oftentimes do not practice before the Patent Office and who do not deal with litigation and licensing until they are facing the threat of a suit themselves.

Camilo Martin
Freelance
Ourinhos, SP
Brazil
Posted Jun 25, 2012 3:41 pm
  • Software developer / engineer
  • Internet user
My work involves code. Better code is better because it runs better. I want to create better code and that's what I try to do.

I do not care about patents, and just a bit about copyright - those things won't really bring food to my table. I just want to code.

For whoever patents and copyright were created for, it is not for content creators or developers, I do not see them meant to help me.
up
421 thumbs up.
2Pac Killuminati
Your mama
Tetovo
Macedonia
Posted Jun 24, 2012 10:27 am
  • Venture capitalist / investor
  • Internet user
Fuckk off all you bitches illuminaties fuck off ypu barac obama i know your really name is Barry Soetoro i read old books about you bitch fuck off all off you ...soon as i gett more information im gonna writte a book against you
up
421 thumbs up.
David Lee
United States
Posted Jul 14, 2012 9:09 am
  • Internet user
Slide to unlock and universal search are pretty obvious. A smartphone is pretty useless if you can't unlock it. It lets you access your phone at the swipe of a finger, nothing more. Without this, it defeats the purpose of touchscreen phone. Similarly, with universal search, it's a really efficient way to find what you need on your phone without having to dig through menus or confusing lists.

What should happen during these hearings, as the solution suggests, is that people with technological fluency (such as computer programmers, smartphone app developers, etc.) should work together with Congress to analyze any software patent that Apple has filed and used against companies to sue them.

I strongly agree with the fact that the patent system needs reform and with Samsung's arguments. However, Apple should not be filing petty, obvious patents and then suing other companies for infringing on those obvious, common-sense features of smartphone operating systems. It hurts innovation and competition, which will ultimately limit consumer choice.
up
419 thumbs up.
Bob Hernon
Bellevue
WA
United States
Posted Apr 12, 2013 2:19 pm
  • Software developer / engineer
  • Venture capitalist / investor
  • Internet user
Please revise #7 to use "PROMOTE THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE AND USEFUL ARTS" instead of "BENEFIT OUR ECONOMY". Property rights should be an inherent aspect of the individual (whether intellectual or physical property), not a monetary asset of the population at large for the legislature to toss in the trash if it doesn't benefit someone financially. "Benefit the economy" is how courts abuse eminent domain and stomp on my tangible property rights, and how lawyers will confuse simple-minded congress members.
up
395 thumbs up.
Daniel Dobkin
R2 Semiconductor (but this suggestion is not endorsed thereby!)
Sunnyvale
CA
United States
Posted Oct 23, 2013 8:12 pm
  • Patent owner
  • Software developer / engineer
  • Internet user
Folks: In view of the tremendous and astonishing influence of the open-source movement in software, please consider the following suggestion. At least for individual inventors, it should be possible at the time of grant to lay a patent open to the public, forgoing all rights to litigation for that grant and any continuations (and being forgiven the issue fee). In return, the USPTO will examine the art covered by the patent 5 and/or 10 years after grant and determine if the patented invention is used commercially. If so, the inventor(s) will receive a cash payment from the PTO appropriate to the impact of the invention, the latter to be funded from increased fees on late-year annuities for large organizations (which, of course, has other benefits). This addresses the complaint that some individual inventors have that exclusion of non-practicing entities will leave them in the lurch.

Patents are government-administered monopoly grants and have little or nothing to do with the free market; substitution of cash grants for grants of rights does not increase or decrease intrusion of government in the marketplace, but does encourage support of the community and discourage litigation.

Thanks for your consideration.
up
394 thumbs up.
Terry Ackey
United States
Posted Jun 20, 2012 7:12 pm
The whole point of any patent system is to give an inventor a time-limited monopoly in exchange for teaching the public about her invention. If software patents are abolished, software companies would likely require their employees to keep all inventions as trade secrets. Trade secrets can be maintained indefinitely (like the recipe for Coke or KFC's 11 herbs and spices).

Corporations won't be publishing their trade secrets out of the kindness of their hearts. They won't be allowing their employees to speak freely about their latest technology at conferences. Even more resources would be devoted to reinventing and reverse-engineering competing software.

Although some developers may feel more "free" to "innovate," the collective result for society will be less innovation, not more, due to reduced sharing of ideas out of fear of losing trade secrets.
up
379 thumbs up.
Michael Chermside
Capital One
Ardmore
PA
United States
Posted Jun 24, 2012 9:46 am
  • Software developer / engineer
  • Internet user
Several others have commented on why software patents are harmful -- that no serious software can be written which does not violate many (even hundreds) of patents so they prevent innovation and give a huge advantage to deep-pocketed organizations or those that exist only to sue and produce no actual products. But I would like to address the other end of this dilemma: why software patents provide few benefits.

Patents serve only one purpose: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts". Few constitutional powers have such a clearly-stated intent, but patents do not exist to enrich inventors (although that is fine as a side-effect), to promote the United States in international trade, or for any other purpose. So let us ask: do software patents (as contrasted with other patents) promote the progress of science and the useful arts?

No. I have worked in the software industry for 20 years, and I have never seen a time when a single advancement was made because it could be profitable if patented and licensed to others. I have seen many innovations (some inadvertently re-inventing something for the third or more time), but all were made because the software was needed to solve a problem or produce a product. In some cases, a patent was obtained (or applied for, or at least considered) but only after the invention and generally because the patent might be helpful if the company were sued for patent infringement. Conduct a poll: ask 100 software developers, and I predict 98% will have seen the same as I have.

Nor are software patents needed to protect the inventor from deep-pocketed competitors who produce without bothering to invest in development. In some industries (like medical drugs and devices) that is a serious concern, but not in software. Individuals and companies are (legitimately) concerned about source code being used directly without authorization, but that is protected legally by copyright. Stealing the "idea" without the implementation might allow a competitor to bring an equivalent product to market within a few years of the first-mover. For drugs, that would eliminate most potential profits, but in software a couple of years is an eternity. Furthermore, the first-mover advantage is significant in software: $1 billion for Instagram was not because of their patented inventions (as far as I know they didn't have any), but because of their first-mover advantage.

Finally, there is little difficulty in drawing lines separating software patents from other patentable innovations. Prior to Bilski, the definitions were clearly understood, and it would be possible for Congress to return to such a state if desired. In short, sofware patents do NOT achieve the fundamental purpose that all patents are intended to achieve, and they could easily be eliminated.
up
262 thumbs up.
Mark G
United States
Posted Jun 23, 2012 12:11 am
  • Software developer / engineer
  • Venture capitalist / investor
... the problem with software patents is that they are far too simplistic. Consider Amazon's "One Click" ... being able to patent something so ridiculously simple and so obvious is the foundation for trolling. You talk about stifling innovation -- imagine you're in a start up and you develop a software product. Then you get a letter asserting that you infringe on a patent someone else holds for, oh, let's say ordering with a single click and now you get locked into patent payments. Talk about stifling innovation!
up
234 thumbs up.
Pete Rose
Associated Press
South Charleston
WV
United States
Posted Jun 21, 2012 9:13 pm
  • Internet user
I would like to offer a suggestion for an additional proposal...
Require that patents cover (protect) a complete, working invention, not bits and pieces of inventions. In other words, if someone would want to patent a new word processor, it would have to cover the entire working word processor program as a whole. No splitting it up into bits and pieces and suing world plus dog because some feature or method or procedure in the patent resembles some feature or method or procedure used in some unrelated program. For instance under this proposal Sam Plaintiff can't sue Joe Programmer because his web browser program pushes processor register values to a stack before calling a system function and pops them back to where they came from on return, and Sam's program does the same thing. [BTW this is just normal programming procedure, it's how you preserve processor register values when you call a subroutine or some other function, but it's the sort of thing patent trolls (serial litigators) frequently sue over.] Under current law, if any little bit or piece of your program resembles any little bit or piece of somebody else's patented program, you're infringing, even if your program as a whole is totally unrelated to the program your program infringes. And that's all that's needed for some troll to bring suit against you.
up
234 thumbs up.
j washington
Merriville
IN
United States
Posted Jun 21, 2012 8:56 am
  • Software developer / engineer
  • Internet user
i am a firm believer that software patents are ludicrous, how we got away from software falling under copyright and only patenting the algorithms I have never completely understood. Software is easily repeatable (by intention or accident) and most programs are common sense in the end, unlike what chemical, bio-tech create.

The problem I have with this axiom is that the government commissions studies but many times fail to act on them. The shining example is project Socrates, would our economy and industries be in the shape that they are in if our elected officials acted on the studies findings .
up
233 thumbs up.

Pages

Michael Chermside
Capital One
Ardmore
PA
United States
Posted Jun 24, 2012 9:46 am
  • Software developer / engineer
  • Internet user
Several others have commented on why software patents are harmful -- that no serious software can be written which does not violate many (even hundreds) of patents so they prevent innovation and give a huge advantage to deep-pocketed organizations or those that exist only to sue and produce no actual products. But I would like to address the other end of this dilemma: why software patents provide few benefits.

Patents serve only one purpose: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts". Few constitutional powers have such a clearly-stated intent, but patents do not exist to enrich inventors (although that is fine as a side-effect), to promote the United States in international trade, or for any other purpose. So let us ask: do software patents (as contrasted with other patents) promote the progress of science and the useful arts?

No. I have worked in the software industry for 20 years, and I have never seen a time when a single advancement was made because it could be profitable if patented and licensed to others. I have seen many innovations (some inadvertently re-inventing something for the third or more time), but all were made because the software was needed to solve a problem or produce a product. In some cases, a patent was obtained (or applied for, or at least considered) but only after the invention and generally because the patent might be helpful if the company were sued for patent infringement. Conduct a poll: ask 100 software developers, and I predict 98% will have seen the same as I have.

Nor are software patents needed to protect the inventor from deep-pocketed competitors who produce without bothering to invest in development. In some industries (like medical drugs and devices) that is a serious concern, but not in software. Individuals and companies are (legitimately) concerned about source code being used directly without authorization, but that is protected legally by copyright. Stealing the "idea" without the implementation might allow a competitor to bring an equivalent product to market within a few years of the first-mover. For drugs, that would eliminate most potential profits, but in software a couple of years is an eternity. Furthermore, the first-mover advantage is significant in software: $1 billion for Instagram was not because of their patented inventions (as far as I know they didn't have any), but because of their first-mover advantage.

Finally, there is little difficulty in drawing lines separating software patents from other patentable innovations. Prior to Bilski, the definitions were clearly understood, and it would be possible for Congress to return to such a state if desired. In short, sofware patents do NOT achieve the fundamental purpose that all patents are intended to achieve, and they could easily be eliminated.
up
262 thumbs up.
Mark G
United States
Posted Jun 23, 2012 12:11 am
  • Software developer / engineer
  • Venture capitalist / investor
... the problem with software patents is that they are far too simplistic. Consider Amazon's "One Click" ... being able to patent something so ridiculously simple and so obvious is the foundation for trolling. You talk about stifling innovation -- imagine you're in a start up and you develop a software product. Then you get a letter asserting that you infringe on a patent someone else holds for, oh, let's say ordering with a single click and now you get locked into patent payments. Talk about stifling innovation!
up
234 thumbs up.
Austin D
United States
Posted Jun 22, 2012 11:48 pm
  • Software developer / engineer
Injecting politics in it won’t help.
up
232 thumbs up.
Pete Rose
Associated Press
South Charleston
WV
United States
Posted Jun 21, 2012 9:13 pm
  • Internet user
I would like to offer a suggestion for an additional proposal...
Require that patents cover (protect) a complete, working invention, not bits and pieces of inventions. In other words, if someone would want to patent a new word processor, it would have to cover the entire working word processor program as a whole. No splitting it up into bits and pieces and suing world plus dog because some feature or method or procedure in the patent resembles some feature or method or procedure used in some unrelated program. For instance under this proposal Sam Plaintiff can't sue Joe Programmer because his web browser program pushes processor register values to a stack before calling a system function and pops them back to where they came from on return, and Sam's program does the same thing. [BTW this is just normal programming procedure, it's how you preserve processor register values when you call a subroutine or some other function, but it's the sort of thing patent trolls (serial litigators) frequently sue over.] Under current law, if any little bit or piece of your program resembles any little bit or piece of somebody else's patented program, you're infringing, even if your program as a whole is totally unrelated to the program your program infringes. And that's all that's needed for some troll to bring suit against you.
up
234 thumbs up.
Arthur Gleckler
Sunnyvale
CA
United States
Posted Jun 21, 2012 8:14 pm
  • Software developer / engineer
  • Internet user
The purpose of patents is "... to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts...." We have strong evidence that software patents are not needed to motivate people and organizations to produce amazing, useful innovation: software patents were not granted for the first few decades of the field's history, and a huge fraction of the great discoveries and inventions in software come from that time. Since we can see that great progress happens quickly without patents, and since software is already protected by copyright, there's simply no need for software patents. Furthermore, we have ample evidence that they hinder progress rather than promote it.

Please work to eliminate software products entirely.
up
478 thumbs up, including yours.
j washington
Merriville
IN
United States
Posted Jun 21, 2012 8:56 am
  • Software developer / engineer
  • Internet user
i am a firm believer that software patents are ludicrous, how we got away from software falling under copyright and only patenting the algorithms I have never completely understood. Software is easily repeatable (by intention or accident) and most programs are common sense in the end, unlike what chemical, bio-tech create.

The problem I have with this axiom is that the government commissions studies but many times fail to act on them. The shining example is project Socrates, would our economy and industries be in the shape that they are in if our elected officials acted on the studies findings .
up
233 thumbs up.
Glen Peterson
United States
Posted Jun 21, 2012 8:51 am
This is a great idea to study the impact of software patents. But your other 6 points are policy ideas (proposed legislation) and this one is not. I would split this off into separate proposal from the others ideas.
up
498 thumbs up, including yours.
Terry Ackey
United States
Posted Jun 20, 2012 7:12 pm
The whole point of any patent system is to give an inventor a time-limited monopoly in exchange for teaching the public about her invention. If software patents are abolished, software companies would likely require their employees to keep all inventions as trade secrets. Trade secrets can be maintained indefinitely (like the recipe for Coke or KFC's 11 herbs and spices).

Corporations won't be publishing their trade secrets out of the kindness of their hearts. They won't be allowing their employees to speak freely about their latest technology at conferences. Even more resources would be devoted to reinventing and reverse-engineering competing software.

Although some developers may feel more "free" to "innovate," the collective result for society will be less innovation, not more, due to reduced sharing of ideas out of fear of losing trade secrets.
up
379 thumbs up.
Thorsten Rapp
Boston
MA
United States
Posted Jun 20, 2012 4:30 pm
  • Academic
  • Internet user
As someone who follows news on patents because of my opinion that they shouldn't exist, I am of the opinion that this proposal be the most heavily backed, although I believe the statement should be reworded strongly indicate the general opinion among the people well informed about the damages caused by software patents. A good link to read for those not well informed about these damages is this article. http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2011/09/study-patent-trolls-have-cost-innovators-half-a-trillion-bucks/
up
488 thumbs up, including yours.
Bill Applet
VK Engineering
Los Angeles
CA
United States
Posted Jun 20, 2012 2:26 am
  • Software developer / engineer
For an invention to be useful to society, it needs to be duplicated. When physical objects are duplicated, jobs are created. Raw materials are collected and transported. Labor is required, etc. The inventor's profit is limited.

But when software inventions are duplicated, they are duplicated at virtual zero cost. Thus no jobs are created or other normal benefits to society. The inventor's profit is unlimited.
up
514 thumbs up, including yours.

Pages

First
Last
JavaScript license information