On software patents

Slashdot again has a story about software patents. This time I also chimed in in the comments, and I also decided to blog this.

I wouldn't say that the problem with software patents is that the product is trivial to copy or distribute, or that software is an expression of an idea, therefore it should be covered by copyright.

The problem is that most of the software patents are obvious solutions to their problems. A patent is about a clever solution to a problem. How to change oil to movement? Engine - patentable. How to quickly sort an array of items? Qsort, should be patentable. How to compress data well? LZW was patented. These are not trivial algorithms. How to make it more convenient for users to shop? One-click. Fucking obvious.

A software solution should be patentable if it couldn't be produced by a moderately skilled programmer in a reasonable time, given a description of the problem. Students and hobbyists and OSS volunteers and small software firms are often cited as victims of software patents. But they are likely to infringe on patents not because software patents are evil, but because so many of them are obvious solutions that get replicated without thinking.

Also, the evolution of software is so fast that I'd reduce the term of patent monopoly, but I'd still grant software patents.

Posted at 2112 on Thu, Feb 22, 2007 in category Ideas | TrackBack | Comments feed
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