Thursday, February 21, 2013

Software Patent Reform

Recently, President Obama participated in a Google+ Hangout where he was asked about his views on software patents. You can watch it on YouTube. It was refreshing to hear that he understands patent trolls are harmful and more patent reform is needed. However, it does not appear that he completely understands how much damage software patents can do.

Patents make sense when seeing an idea through to its fruition requires requires a significant risk. New drugs and new hardware often have such requirements. The protection therefore must be equative to the risk. Most software ideas that are patented do not meet this criterion.

Software CEOs with shareholders but who also don't happen to agree with the idea of patenting software (like myself) are put in an awkward position. Because software patents exist, they make a company more valuable and are required in some situations to protect the company. At Real Software, we have applied for patents on technology developed for Real Studio even though we disagree that they should exist because we have a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders and want to protect our customers as well. Software patents are an evil we must deal with as long as they continue to exist.

It is my hope that the President, Congress and future leaders will continue to examine and refine the patent process to protect those that deserve protection and stop protecting those that use it to stifle innovation or extort money from smaller companies who can't afford to defend themselves even when they are in the right. I encourage those of you in the US to contact your representatives in Congress and ask them take part in this important discussion.


GTGeek88 said...

The most egregious example would probably be the Amazon One-Click patent. Smartly, the Europeans have refused to patent it. There is nothing magical about that technique, yet Amazon got the USPTO to patent it to the detriment of many other companies.

Geoff Perlman said...

@ GTGeek88 - I agree. That's the worst example of stupidity in patenting. European governments seems to be more intelligent when it comes to patents than the US.

Lars Jensen said...

> Software patents are an evil we must deal with as long as they continue to exist.

Well said -- we have to play the game even though we know it's bad for everyone.

(To Amazon's credit, Jeff Bezos has said that they don't think they should have been able to patent 1-click ordering either.)

Geoff Perlman said...

@ Lars Jensen - If Jeff Bezos really felt that way, why doesn't he offer 1-Click licensing for free to anyone in perpetuity? I'd like to see him put his money where his mouth is on this one.

Lars Jensen said...

He starts to answer that in this post from 2000:

(I love where he says patent reform "could take 2 years or more." Oh, Jeff...)

In the patent wars, unilateral disarmament isn't necessarily in one's self-interest. But he has at least been vocal in his criticism of the state of affairs. As with all things legal, change is glacial at best.

Maciej G. said...

"Patents make sense when seeing an idea through to its fruition requires requires a significant risk"

That's a fairly dumb and self serving statement. In short reply: "says who?!" One's significant risk is someone else's loose change.
Oh and Europeans govs rejected the patent not on its merit but just because it is a software patent. That's just a policy call.