Tech world widely reviles software patents

Comments following former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz’s excellent article on patent threats among Microsoft, Sun and Apple demonstrate widespread disgust with our broken patent system, especially regarding software patents.

Virtually everyone posting agrees software deserves copyright protection but not patent protection. And most are angry that software patents are strangling tech innovation:

In the 60s, 70s and most of the 80s, there was no such things as ‘software patents.’ …[S]oftware [programs] were covered by Copyright, not patent (and that is still the case in most of the rest of the world).

Yet Apple, and many other still came up with new and innovative product[s]. Actually, if software patents had existed in the early 80s, Apple probably could not have done Lisa and the Macintosh (Xerox would own patents on most of any existing GUI, from [W]indows to mice to menu bar). And Microsoft would not even exist at all.

Apple and Microsoft ‘borrow’ concepts from Xerox, and later sue each other and everyone else under the sun.

Copyright should be enough. Owning an implementation of an idea is fine, owning the idea itself should not be possible.

[L]arge companies have enough patents to cover almost everything, which means that small startups will never be able to compete; their brand new shiny patent will simply garner a response of “Oh, you have that patent? Well, we have these patents..”. That’s not a system that anyone should be proud to be part of, and it does nothing to encourage meaningful competition. Software patents are a disease.

Password-authenticated Key Exchange has some major advantages over the standard password logins we know. It makes online fraud much harder and could have a substantial impact on phishing. There are prototype implementations for Mozilla and it could be used to make password-based WiFi or VPN much more secure. Yet, because of patents, they found little use. There was even a likely-to-be-free variation called SRP( but some company simply announced “we might have a patent on that” and suddenly nobody dares to support this protocol, though many patches for major use-cases existed.

[It should be that] Everyone gets to see and build on everybody else’s great ideas. The people and companies that innovate still win, because they’ll still always be one step ahead of everyone else. And the companies that add nothing to the existing idea pool still lose, or at least have to make their money doing something other than innovating– such as adding great customer service. In other words, nothing changes, except that the whole ludicrous software patent system disappears.

A much easier and more generic approach is to limit the time of exclusive use of the patent. In todays society, with a good idea you should be able to launch your startup within 2 – 5 years and make some money.

Idea: multitouch navigation

Invention: The way Microsoft’s Surface computer does it Invention: The way the iPhone does it Invention: The way an Android device does it

You don’t profit from the idea … you profit from its implementation.

Apple [should not be able to] claim dominion over the concept of multitouch navigation, just over their implementation of that (old) concept, which may be better or worse than any other manufacturer’s implementation.

Patent is not appropriate for protecting software.

Software “patents” should ALL be converted to copyrights, “IP patents” should be discarded (there’s no “there” there).

This is one of those blog reads that gets me terribly dismayed at creating a wonderful tech startup. If it becomes successful enough, it may just get parasited down by patent trolls.

Software patents, copyright, DRM – all these are based on broken legislation that needs to be changed and everybody in the tech industry knows it.

Posted by James on Wednesday, March 10, 2010