Software Patents are not just a bad idea, but could be illegal too. The supreme court of USA (Case 545 F.3d 943, 88 U.S.P.Q.2d 1385) ruled that Software is mostly “mathematical algorithms which by themselves are abstract ideas that are not patentable”. I am particularly concerned with non-value software patents – which neither have a mathematical algorithm nor a solid basis for patent. Most of the software patents filed these days are mostly about merging two technologies. This is not an idea at all. What is so revolutionary here? And considering these software patents such as this, this, this and this (c’mon, a patent for WHITE SPACE? This is crazy), it is apparently clear that patents are applied not to protect the intellectual property but to easily extort money from other business houses. Such Patents are at best an attempt at extortion. These are mere common sense in the name of “innovation”. I agree intellectual property would have to be protected. But it needs to be really intellectual. Most of the time, the organization seem to focus on the quantity (number of patents) than the quality (that causes a real impact). Innovation is more linked to creativity in problem solving rather than the number of patents.
The fallacy in Software Patents
If somebody patents the left shift operator for multiplication by two, is that alright ? The core idea in most of the software patents borders on this. It either could be a logic that many would tend to use or it could be the only way to solve a particular problem. If this is patented, it is plain extortion and is not healthy at all. Turing award winner Donald Knuth(read the letter here) and even ultra capitalists like Bill Gates were firmly opposed to the idea of software patents (saying Microsoft would not have grown to this size if software patents existed when the company was set up). Say if someone patents the thought that oxygen is required for sustenance of human life, it would mean that all of us had to pay royalties to that idiot who patented it. Software patents are similar in nature. If you have an amazing game changing idea which could give birth to a new lot of market, it would somewhat justify the need for the software patent. Such a game changing idea would most likely be accompanied by several other hardware structures which could be patented – leaving the Software alone. But patent trolls trying to participate in the rat race for software patents by focusing on the number alone, would lead to catastrophic consequences and an eventual downfall of the entire software industry and software science.
This is partly due to the influence of inefficient managers in an organization, whom out of their own selfish goals, tries to extract sufficient number of software patents irrespective of the value addition to the product. This harms the organization in the long run – the spend on applying and sustaining these patents over runs any diminutive benefits it may offer. Many employees could be selfish in proposing non value added ideas purely for selfish gains (as companies usually have reward policies) and visibility. They may tend to play with the words and squeeze upon another idea which may actually be the intended purpose of the original “idea”. This way they stand to gain one more patent based on the same idea. And most of the time, these ideas could be pure common sense. Or it could be suggested by someone else during unofficial discussions – for which the employee in question may try to take credit. There are certain heartless third rated employees who may lack the skill required for development and hence try to avoid working at the actual product by pretending that they are busy “inventing” – thereby earning the goodwill of those inefficient managers. So there is a good amount of wasted effort, time and money – all of which may cost the organization dearly. There are actual cases where few people pool up and discuss about how to create an idea – but only when they are stuck up with a problem in the course of them working on the development of the product. But a pool of chronic low performers doing this early on even before actual development / problem description (purely for the sake of visibility) is a laughable attempt and though you may come out with an idea or two this way – it will certainly be of a low quality one. Additionally it provides a velvet blanket to those inherently low performers so that they could also have a software patent in their name. That way these low performers think that they have joined the “elite” club and therefore are immune to working on the product. The inefficient manager tries to justify their useless presence in the team by attributing their so called “innovative” skills. This not only harms that organization but could harm all the other organization where this low performer is able to gain entry due to one or two software patents in his resume. These things happen across most organizations and can be entirely eradicated by minimizing the stress on software patents and maximizing stress on innovation through creative problem solving.
Abolishing Software Patents
Abolishing software patents by law is clearly the need of the hour. There has been a huge number of petitions received by the president’s office regarding abolishment of software patents. Many big corporations have extended support to such a legislation. Several Countries like India, New Zealand, Philippines, South Africa, Australia (to an extent), Germany and others have abolished software patents by law – it is not possible to apply for a software patent in these countries. A handful of industry based organizations (not the Free Software Foundation types, but industry allied organizations) like the Electronic Frontier Foundation are working towards eradication of software patents. Even a company like Microsoft would support such a scheme of abolishing software patents given the amount of money every organization loose over application of such patents and for patent related legal issues. Additionally useless and generalized software patents put immense pressure on small businesses and individual innovators. They do not have the resource to fight against a bigger patent troll. This way real innovation in software industry is getting killed by software patents – most of which may not add any actual value to the product.
Software Patents have infected the software industry in pandemic proportions and needs to be eradicated in full – for the sake of real innovation and betterment of the industry.