Monday, June 20, 2011

Why "software" patents are bad

David Bolton has an essay on About.com, discussing why software patents are bad. Some excerpts:
The idea of a patent is to give the inventor time to make money from it before others can use it. Many of the items we use each day have been patented and made their inventors a lot of money. The light bulb, the vacuum cleaner, and windscreen wipers are all well-known examples. Each took their inventor time to develop. James Dyson made 5,127 prototypes before he perfected his cyclone vacuum cleaner.

But when it comes to software, it is not applications that are generally patented but algorithms like the infamous Unisys LZW patent. Before the patent was known, Compuserve developed the gif format for images. Until a couple of years ago, if you wanted to write software that used gif files you had to licence the compression algorithm from Unisys for about $5,000.
[...]
So if you are a small company, one day you might get approached by a lawyer. “Our client asserts that your application xyz infringes one or more of my client's patents. They demand that you either licence those patents from my client- at cost of say $50,000 per annum or cease selling your application.

Even if you decide to contest this, you'll need a war fund of at least couple of million dollars. If you haven't got this, cough up or stop selling.

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