Geek / Technical Politics/Government

Part 2 of Software Patents? No Thanks!

I wrote previously about software patents in response to an article on Gamasutra. Gamasutra also had a Question of the Week, and the responses show that most people are clearly against software patents.

The authors of the previous letter wrote a response to the feedback. In it, they defend themselves as just the “messengers” and for the most part I can understand that they believe in their work. They make a good point that regardless if software patents are good or bad, currently they exist. I don’t believe they are hear to stay because there is nothing intrinsically permanent about them.

But then I read items like the following:

As we mentioned above, we are the messengers, encouraging developers who come up with legitimate video game inventions to protect, or at least give some thought to protecting, those inventions because that’s their legal right.

Not to get picky, but I don’t remember encouragement for legitimate video game inventions. I do remember reading that you can “patent everything under the sun”.

Also, they present a paragraph of philisophical questions. Can there be novel and innovative software? Shouldn’t someone be able to get a patent for such software if they could get it for a machine? If software can’t be patented, but the algorithm is implemented in a machine instead, is that somehow patentable?

I note that none of the questions are: Isn’t an algorithm in software simply math, which isn’t considered inventable so much as discoverable? I seriously believe that if software patents existed when computers were new, the for loop, if statements, and arithmetic functions like addition would have been patented.

And then the last few lines are the kind that upset me the same way their previous letter did:

Do we all somehow have a “right” to copy computer programs? Have you ever gotten upset at someone copying your work?

Once again, they tried to imply something that just isn’t the case. Getting rid of software patents doesn’t somehow grant everyone the right to copy computer programs! That’s called copyright infringement (and even then, there are some who believe that software can’t legally be copyrighted either), which has nothing to do with software patents. Do away with software patents, and all software is still protected under copyright unless it was explicitly placed into the public domain by the author. Whether your code is proprietary or open source, it is protected by copyright. No one can copy it without your explicit permission.

While I don’t believe these people can be equated to “ambulance chasers”, I would respect these “messengers” if they wouldn’t be so blatant in trying to confuse the issue and muddle the waters. Software patents and copyright law are confusing enough as they are.