Thursday, 26 April 2007

Software patents and monkeys

Last week in the pub I had a conversation with a software patent attorney. He seemed like a good guy and he had passed eleven of the twelve tests necessary to be an attorney over here in the UK, so he was close. He seemed to know his stuff (another programmer friend of mine asked him some awkward questions and he wasn't phased by them) and clearly came from the point of view that software patents were necessary.

See, I'm a developer and I don't think they are. So we had an interesting discussion and it was good to talk to somebody coming from the opposite point of view. I guess you could say that you would expect me to support software patents as I create software for a living, but this isn't the case at all. I believe in Intellectual Property and copyright - that is if I create some software it becomes copyright to me or the company I'm working for that is paying me to create it. This isn't my issue at all.

I believe that software patents hold up innovation. There tend to be only so many ways to solve a problem, especially when interfaces are discussed - and interface design is so very important because it is the bridge between the human and the machine. So when I read this on Slashdot Apple Sued For Using Tabs In OS X Tiger it really just reaffirmed my position. For Apple to be sued for using tabs in its interfaces - such an integral part of a computer interface - is ridiculous. As is this recent news story Microsoft accused of patent infringement with .NET which describes the patent as "a system and method for generating computer applications in an arbitrary object framework." - a phrase so generic that it covers practically any object oriented programming environment. So if we were to take these two software patents seriously, we wouldn't be able to use tabs in interfaces or create object oriented programming frameworks any more, two serious blows against software in general.

This is all without mentioning how Compuserve / AOL owns the GIF format and BT owns hyperlinks.

How much more ridiculous can software patents get? Is the US patent office run by a team of monkeys who are trained to just rubber stamp everything? It sure seems so!

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