Saturday, 24 March 2012

Intellectual-property rights: software patents

The purpose of intellectual-property rights is to encourage the creation of new intellectual property.  The cost to us all is that they impoverish us by restricting the use of non-rivalrous goods.

How does this apply to software patents?  Are they necessary to encourage people to write software?  Absolutely not.  I have never met a programmer with the slightest interest in patent protection other than resentment of the difficulty of trying to avoid infringements.  Are they necessary to make software patent lawyers rich?  Very probably.  The only other defence I can find of the system is that it lets rich countries (the US) extract rents from less rich countries.  We can live without that.  And I'm not even sure there's a net benefit to the US, given the amount of effort US companies put into suing each other over alleged patent infringements.  Bill Gates wrote (p5) in a Microsoft internal memo in 1991
 If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented, and taken out patents the industry would be at a complete standstill today
Perhaps the most famous example is Amazon's "1-click" patent.  Would Amazon have developed the technology if no patent protection had been available?  Of course they would.  The effect of the patent was that Barnes & Noble had to add an extra click to their on-line checkout: presumably many other sites did the same to avoid being sued.  Nothing good resulted and the internet was made slightly worse.

Let's abolish software patents now.

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