12 November, 2013

Patenting inventions vs. patenting code: Where to draw the line

November 12, 2013 — Just when one thought the software patent wars were over, a few weeks ago the unthinkable happened. Google was outbid a couple of years ago by a consortium of companies calling themselves Rockstar for some patents that Nortel — a known patent troll — had possessed — and then sued. They were patents that certainly predated Google's existence... well, when it comes to the filing date (rather than publication) anyway. However, the irony is they have no real invention to back them.

People who create these kinds of litigation companies do it for one purpose and one purpose only: to see how far they can push the broken patent system for the sake of pure greed. Sorry guys, but greed is greed. There's a clear fine line that people have crossed, over innovation-stifling software patents that shouldn't be given the grant to begin with.

To be very fair to the pharmaceutical companies: What I'm lambasting certainly isn't patents in general. That's been settled by the fact that industries like the pharmaceutical industry actually benefit from patents, because the patents have visible, tangible inventions (chemicals with medical benefits) to support them. Yes, patenting chemicals is fine. Patenting code, however, isn't.

Remember how Richard Stallman appeared in the "Patent Absurdity" video? How he stated perfect facts about how the use of patents in music, the ability to patent certain note sequences, would be completely detrimental to it? Well, even in the multi-billion-dollar modern record industry, that claim has merit.

The record companies are highly competitive, with countless labels all serving their niches, not to mention ordinary celebrities, like Madonna and certain hip-hop artists, founding their own record labels at will. They're also making very large multi-million- to billion-dollar profits on the music they produce. The irony? Music still isn't patentable! It may be copyrightable, but not patentable. And this is probably the best example I can throw out there of why copyright is good enough for software.

When you cross that line from copyrighting things that should be copyrighted to patenting AND copyrighting the same item, you've gone from a legitimate inventor to a Scrooge. Not the least bit cool, and unless action, like what some people in Congress are considering with the proposed Innovation Act, is taken quickly, the tendency for corporations to want to use patents to create artificial software monopolies could go so unchecked that the consequences for the entire software industry could be dire.