It’s time to put an end to software patents. Instead of helping, they hurt software inventors and hamper technical innovation. Software patents assist big corporations like Microsoft, Google, IBM, and Cisco while hindering garage startups and independent inventors, as consumers pay billions to support this anti-competitive infrastructure.
Please do not tell me that software patents protect the interest of software innovators. I’m a software innovator and I know better. For over 35 years I’ve invented, designed, and developed software. Virtually my entire livelihood comes from my original, patentable ideas, and the uncontrolled expansion of software patenting has only made independent innovation more difficult and more expensive.
The common mythology is that patents are a shield for the small-time, independent innovator, protecting the little guy against the predations of the big, moneyed corporation, allowing him or her to get compensated for his invention. Nice idea, but in reality the exact opposite is true.
It isn’t so much that software patents curtail innovation—stopping innovation would be like trying to stop sex or music or breathing—but it drives independent innovators out of their garages and into the research arms of big companies where the returns for invention go to the corporation, and not to the individual inventor.
Patents are not cheap, but not prohibitively expensive. They cost about $50,000 and take a year or two of patient filing and adjudicating. But a patent is of no use unless you are capable of defending it. That is, when someone infringes on your invention, you have to take them to court, even though this can cost millions. But if you don’t sue, you can lose the patent. For a one-man-garage-shop, that is out of the question, but not so for a big corporation, who likely has an entire department filled with intellectual property litigators.
The software patent landscape is not level. All inventors are not equal, and the current patent laws merely serve to tilt the playing field even further.
2010-04-14: Here’s a relevant website: End Software Patents.