In Europe the fight for software patents have always been kept at bay. This week though in Germany one of the European strongholds broke down. A German court declared patents on software legal! Although my country does not deal in this kind of behavior yet it seems to be going that way…
This new found legality of software patents gives an open invitation to everyone who wanted to patent the way basic programming stuff to basic interaction practices. HTC and Apple had a recent clash that was based on those kinds of ideas.
Why do we fight this kind of patenting? Why is it so bad? Or is it!?
What is worthy of a patent?
If you are an Apple fanboy… look away for a minute…
How does an egocentric company like Apple come up with the idea to patent this: Unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image. This is way to basic of a design pattern to be allowed to ever has passed as a patent! If I would invent a device to help user put in data into a computer, I would call this the Button! I would patent this device as: A downward pressuring gesture on an object to give input into a device. I would only ask 0.01 dollar cent per use of that patent. Let me get back on that!
So, is this a problem of how complex a patent should be? I think it is. If you would try to patent a device that could be used to move object in a rolling motion (lets call it a wheel), then the patent bureau would probably ask you If your head was on the correct way. The problem here seems to be that a technique like a wheel is well understood by anyone and seen as common knowledge. No patent will even be allowed to apply to those kinds of ideas. But as technology becomes more complex and is put in a different context the normally so distinct border becomes really vague… The patent by Apple is nothing more then an digital and touch screen interpretation of the sliding lock people have on their white fence used since the dark ages…
Problem: who will determine if a patent is valid or just plain bullshit?
Are patents that bad?
Not all patents are bad! The post-it glue patent is one of those patents! That glue is an invention that goes beyond anything regular. If you would invent a sliding fence lock with an addition that made it better I would grant it a patent. That is the whole idea of patents. A patent should reward you for inventing something unique and innovative. Even if that would be expanding on an existing idea like a wheel!
Patents are actually good for any new invention. In a sense software development is just like inventing stuff. So in a good way patents are protecting inventors from loosing their money right from the starting blocks. It is not strange that only a couple of ideas really make it to success or even just make enough money to pay the start-up money back. So it is good that when an inventor has something truly new and innovative they can profit from it. This helps investing in bright people with bright ideas to do what they do best.
Another good thing is that patents have an expiration date. What is good about that? Well… that means that the inventor has time to earn money from the idea. But after a while the idea would be available to others that could run with the idea and maybe improve on it. This creates a healthier competitive situation for the market and allows for inventive ideas to become common ideas that could be used for new innovations.
All in all… patents are not such a bad idea if you look at it that way…
Why am I making so much noise about it?
In software patents there are some crucial mechanisms that do not seem to work in this new segment of technology. There are a couple of reasons why software patents do not fit software as they would do for many other inventions:
- Speed: The speed at which software is developer is far greater then any other type of invention. Distribution and production is a lot easier then regular shipping and production of physical goods. Everything is fast paced, profits and all. The expiration should have been kept in line with that, It didn’t! It takes way to long for a software patent to expire and create a healthy market environment. If we would have had this since the beginning we would still not be able to use a folder structured system by now.
- Natural comparison: The sliding fence lock is I think a fitting example that was “copied” by Apple to create a new patent. This was just applying new technology to an old idea. Comparing filing cabinets to the folder structure and files in a computer is the same thing. Taking an existing idea and just applying new technology for the idea. Not enhancing the idea, just applying it. These kinds of ideas should never become new patents!
- Relatively new field: IT is relatively new field as it comes to all technology fields. It is a new segment that is still growing rapidly because of a few major discoveries in the late 19th and early 20th century. Helping that to grow to a level it is now has always been the lack of a lot of patents. IT has always had a more open nature. The beauty of this is that new open basic ideas engage other new ideas to be built upon that. Building even more enhancements to be build upon. Some very specific ideas that have patents do not hinder this growth. But because the sector is so new a lot basic technologies are still being created.
With that said I do not believe that we can go without software patent forever. People need to earn money because that is what makes the world go round. Are we ready for software patents? problem is… what about all those unclaimed idea? is Apple now showing us how vulnerable this is?
just some food for thought…
ow… and I almost forgot… I just cost myself over $1 in patent costs… How about all those other people typing, clicking….. wait a minute….. YOU OWE ME MONEY!
hmmm….. what if I would patent the way you patent!?