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Why software is different

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Revision as of 13:54, 27 November 2009 by Ciaran (Talk | contribs)

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Software is different to traditional fields of engineering in many ways.



"[s]oftware patents are more than twice as likely to be litigated as other patents" - Bessen & Meurer, at 22.

The 2008 Berkeley Patent Survey

The 2008 Berkeley Patent Survey revealed big differences between software companies and biotechnology companies in their use of patents.

How patents on different domains affect society

One thing to keep in mind is that plenty of things are excluded from patentability. Being excluded doesn't mean that software is special.

For the manufacturing of cars, you have to consider how patents will affect:

  1. the cost of mass production
  2. the impact on quality/safety of what's offered to citizens
  3. the impact on the economy overall

Campaigners against software patents are usually not general experts on those topics, so we might not know if innovations in car manufacturing should be patentable or not.

For software, there are similar questions to the three above, plus there is the fourth question of individual liberty and the effectiveness of communities.

This question isn't pertinent to car manufacturing because individuals and communities usually don't manufacture cars.

If someone patents a method for making a car, that doesn't reduce people's liberty. Making cars requires a lot of cash and materials, and there are already many laws that places regulations and restrictions on making cars. So people already excluded. Adding a patent problem doesn't change anything.

For one thing, software is mass produced by individuals and groups who don't get paid directly for that work (or do it for non-commercial reasons). Adding the cost of the patent system is unfair to these people.

Communities write great software (a community wrote most of GNU/Linux). People should continue to have their right to participate in the development and distribution of software, and to continue to benefit from the work of the vast community that develops the software that people use. Patents would create problems for individuals' liberty, and for the general software development which society as a whole benefits.

Pointing out general failings and costs of the patent system can be useful because it lets me make the argument: "patents are massively inefficient, therefore they should only be applied where we're absolutely sure that they're worthwhile". Some people think the whole patent system should be abolished, but this is a minority opinion among anti-swpat campaigns.

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