06.14.11

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What Software Patents Bring to Society

Posted in Patents at 11:33 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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Summary: How patents on software algorithms smash progress in the field

SOFTWARE PATENTS are nothing but trouble to everyone but patent lawyers/trolls and monopolists. What is it that such patents actually bring to an industry? What about the fabric of society? Let’s look at a preliminary list:

  • Patent trolls abundance
  • Incentive to non-practising entities including patent hoarders
  • Researchers being fenced out or faced with barriers of appropriation
  • EU patent (unitary patent), which increases damages and scale of the patent menace
  • Distrust among public figures (e.g. due to software patents in the USPTO)
  • Patent deals with Android/Linux royalties
  • Removal of features from Linux-based devices, using patents
  • Suppression of inclusion or development of features, e.g. ZFS
  • Reducing the speed of software development (patent reviews, surveys, licensing, etc.)
  • Increasing uncertainty and doubt among software developers, discouraging the occupation
  • FUD campaigns based on software patents (claiming Linux to be disrespectful or prone to litigation)
  • Suppression of GPLv3 adoption (which impedes TiVoisation)
  • Reduced trust in politics and politicians, who are subjected to heavy lobbying and disinformation
  • Increased cost of products that the public buys
  • Excessive preoccupation/overburdening of public courts, which deal with petty patent feuds rather than real offences
  • Encouragement of software cartels that pool patents to make up a thicket
  • Discouragement of standards that have patents applying to them (including submarine patents)
  • Derivative works de-emphasised
  • Misuse of taxpayers’ money (e.g. NASA auctioning of patents)
  • Distraction from technical skills due to bureaucracy and unavoidable complexity associated with otherwise-unnecessary skills
  • Wasted effort due to reimplementation and patent workarounds
  • Reduced staffing of developers and increased staffing of lawyers (and patent applications-geared professionals), thus less market for programmers
  • Decrease in the number of programming languages and frameworks (duplicity and inspiration as a violation)
  • Syntax plurality, which puts more learning burden on developers
  • Increased tension and distrust between companies and respective developers
  • Degraded access to multimedia (codec patents for the most part), impeding information access especially in developing nations
  • Reduced interoperability and resultant inefficiency
  • Code and pseudo-code turned to legalese/text, harming the teaching of technical skills

Any more? Any biases noted? How can it be objectivity improved to overcome bias?

Disclosure: from a professional point of view, I have no vested interests in patents except that they impede my work. I work in algorithms research, software development, Web development, systems administration/monitoring, and also media and fitness on the side.

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A Single Comment

  1. slave5tom said,

    June 14, 2011 at 10:50 pm

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    Excellent article to add some perspective on software patents. Monopolists try to use patents to create a scarcity where one does not exist. The best explanation I have read on this subject is from a book called “Against Intellectual Monopoly” by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine. http://www.dklevine.com/general/intellectual/againstfinal.htm. The authors articulately outline the barriers to innovation that patents cause–much to the detriment of society. They go on to debunk all of the Monopolist’s arguments (without an incentive or exclusive right, innovation will not occur – incorrect because innovation tends to occur most rapidly in unregulated industries, where knowledge is shared and rapid improvements can occur – such as with open source software). Basically, patents reward a lucky few, who have the means and influence to acquire more patents and enact favorable legislation to the detriment of everyone else, who must pay monopoly rents (inflated prices) for substandard products or services. Many alternative models to generate innovative ideas are possible once we can look beyond the rhetoric and propaganda of the Monopolist hollow arguments. Consider, for instance, the X-prize to stimulate the space race and the development of the Linux system, created in a free and shared environment, where ideas build upon other ideas in a continuous improvement process.

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