[PLUG-TALK] Software Patents

Rich Shepard rshepard at appl-ecosys.com
Sun Feb 13 12:46:22 PST 2005

On Sun, 13 Feb 2005, M. Edward (Ed) Borasky wrote:

> The lobbyists for IBM, Sun, Microsoft, Intel, HP, Red Hat ...

   Intel is probably looking at hardware, not software and it's obvious where
Microsoft is spending its money. I wonder if Red Hat, IBM, pubpat, and the EFF
are on the (IMO) absurd ones mentioned in the Register article.

> Seriously, though, quite a few "software patents" have opened up, as the
> owners realized they couldn't defend them, or it wasn't worth the effort
> to defend them even if they could, or a superior open alternative existed.
> Now, if you *really* want to go after someone, how about patents on
> pharmaceuticals that couldn't exist without the "generosity" of the
> American taxpayer via the National Institutes of Health?

   With regard to pharmaceuticals, machinery and other hard goods there are
very sound arguments both for and against patents. The system used to work
until it was (ahem!) "adjusted" not that long ago. The software patents are,
I believe, in the same class as Lotus' lawsuit against Borland for
QuattroPro having the same "look and feel" as 1-2-3. The analogy used then,
and it's still valid today with regard to expression of ideas, is that of
controls on automobiles. Suppose Ford had patented the placement of pedals,
instrument dials (and even _which_ instrument dials), steering wheel and
other interactions between driver and vehicle. Other manufacturers would
have had to come up with different designs. If you think people drive poorly
now, imagine if we grew up in an environment where every vehicle had
different controls in different locations! This gets to the heart of your
next point.

> The point is, our Constitution *clearly* defines rights to what we now
> call "intellectual property", and it will require a Constitutional
> amendment to change that. Given the notable lack of success of both
> conservative-sponsored and liberal-sponsored amendments in the past 30
> years or so, I'd say intellectual property and its associated "battery of
> white-lipped attorneys" is with us for a while.

   We have protection of intellectual property via copyright and trade
secrets. These worked very well, too, until the RIAA extended them to
infinity to protect their vested interests. F/OSS is licensed under the GPL
(BSD or other such license) but they are all copyright by someone or some
institution. This is at the core of the mad SCO disease from which they are
slowly dying. I can find no justification for software patents since the
copyright and trade secret laws work just fine.


Dr. Richard B. Shepard, President
Applied Ecosystem Services, Inc. (TM)
<http://www.appl-ecosys.com>   Voice: 503-667-4517   Fax: 503-667-8863

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