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Software patents Monopolies for Ideas and Algorithms By Eric Driggs Intellectual Property: Their intellect, Their property? Intellectual Property: Your intellect, Their property? Assertion: Without laws to protect intellectual property, most people wouldn’t pay for it. Corollary For software companies to be profitable, they need intellectual property laws. Copyright Good You control who gets to copy your software and how they pay you for it. SW Patents Bad Monopolies for algorithms Cause greater net $ harm than benefit. Copyright Patent People pay pay to People a to use your use your code algorithm Copyright For art, literature and finished works. Automatic and free ($35 optional registration) For 95 years Patent For inventions and processes Expensive (avg $5k-$20) Usually need a lawyer Takes years before granted. For 20 years Patent Eligibility 1) Useful 2) Invented it first (no prior art) 3) Not obvious 4) Not law of nature, algorithm. Whoah! If you can’t patent algorithms, how do you patent software? Simple: You patent the process of using the algorithm (basically the same thing) Algorithms: The basic building blocks of all programs. “The basic algorithmic ideas that people are now rushing to patent are so fundamental, the result threatens to be like what would happen if we allowed authors to have patents on individual words and concepts... Algorithms are exactly as basic to software as words are to writers, because they are the fundamental building blocks needed to make interesting products.” (Knuth, Donald) Software Patents per Year from 1981-2007 45,000 40,000 35,000 30,000 25,000 20,000 15,000 10,000 5,000 0 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 S our c e : ht t p:/ / c om m ons. wi k i m e di a . or g/ wi k i / I m a ge :U S _ gr a nt e d_ sof t wa r e _ pa t e nt s. png obt a i ne d f r om U S P TO we bsi t e da t a Does your code violates any of 300,000+ sw patents? Each program becomes a land mine of liability. IBM Revenue 2007 (Millions USD) 100,000 90,000 80,000 70,000 60,000 50,000 40,000 30,000 20,000 10,000 0 Gross Software Patent Licensing Millions $ 98,000 12,900 135 Software Companies Earn most of the money by selling software licenses (protected by copyright) Earn low % from patent licensing. Why patent software? Protect self against lawsuits. Cross-license patents with big companies. Prevent others from copying your ideas. Make money suing others. Patent Trolls Toll please, $650 million. RIM NTP RIM v NTP NTP got patents for wireless email, even though other people did it first. NTP’s patents were revoked, but not until they won $650 million from RIM. Obvious patents Microsoft: Page up/Page Down Amazon: 1-click checkout EOLAS: Browser plugin EOLAS Won $521 million from Microsoft for Active-X in Internet Explorer. They can still sue other browser makers / web designers. Oh yeah, they weren’t the first to do plugins. Tim Berners Lee on EOLAS’ patent “A patent whose validity is demonstrably in doubt ought not be allowed to undo the years of work that have gone into building the Web…. The Web functions only on the strength of its common standards” (Letter to USPTO) Java Model Railroad Interface Bob Jacobsen publishes first version in 1998. It’s free and open-source (GPL). Matt Katzer Applies for a patent for JMRI’s functionality 3 days later without any working code. Reverse engineers and steals Bob’s code for his own program. Matt Katzer pt.2 Sues Bob in 2003 for patent infringement. Bob is still trying to demonstrate prior art to the court’s satisfaction. Social Contract + Act Utilitarianism: Public gives up rights to copy inventors for 20 yrs. Inventors have incentive for R&D and can recoup investment faster. “The promotion of the progress of science and the useful arts is the main object of the patent system, and reward of inventors is secondary and merely a means to that end. (United States v. Masonite Corp., 316 U.S. 265 (1942)) Contract Broken Software patents stifle innovation instead of encouraging it. Software patents should be reformed or eliminated. Kantian Hard to justify SW Patents. No categorical imperative in monopolies. Greed != Duty or Obligation The Future . “When I think of the computer programs I require daily to get my own work done, I cannot help but realize that none of them would exist today if software patents had been prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s… If present trends continue, the only recourse available to the majority of America's brilliant software developers will be to give up software or to emigrate.” (Knuth, Donald. USPTO letter) Changes More $ and people for USPTO Let public search for prior art before award patents. Too easy to sue for patent infringement. Conclusion Algorithms are ideas, so shouldn’t patent them. Software patents encourage litigation, not innovation so get rid of them.
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