Software Patents

This editorial was originally published on Jan 30, 2014. It is being re-published as Steve is out of town.

I highly dislike the current patent system in the US. I think awarding patents for an idea like “1-click purchasing” is a poor practice that discourages innovation. There are numerous problems with our patent system, not the least of which is that it can stifle new ideas and prevent small companies from building on similar ideas that are, well, what I’d all common sense. I don’t quite share Richard Stallman’s view of software patents, but I do think we have fundamental flaws in the way we handle this intellectual property.

I do, however, think that software has value, and the work we do as software engineers deserves compensation, as noted in this post. We should have some patents, and we should reward those that create truly innovative, and not common sense, ideas in the digital world. How we define those, and how we measure innovation isn’t clear to me, but I do think that non-trivial ideas deserve protection.

Our legal systems around the world are slow to catch up to the digital world, and may never do so. As quickly as we can debate patents, copyright, trademarks, and more, the digital world grows, expands, and changes to stretch and challenge our thinking of how the world works. It almost seems as though digital ideas and software defy analogies and explanations that we can relate to the real world.

I don’t know how I’d change patents, but I don’t want them to go away completely. I do, however, know what I’d do with copyright. I’d change it back to the original system we had, granting 14 years exclusivity to creators, with a single option to renew for 14 years and that’s it. The world certainly changes too fast to wait 95 years to use someone else’s work.

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