Re: extropians-digest V3 #82

Chris Crayton (
Sat, 12 Sep 1998 19:04:50 -0500

At 07:45 AM 9/9/98 -0700, you wrote:

>I think the idea that copyright law instead of patent law
>should protect an operating system is wrong. A operating
>system is a key technology without which, all the software
>written for that operating system won't run.

As a software developer, I tend to disagree. Copyrights exist to protect the expression of an idea, and patents exist to protect the actual thing. Consider an senario that actually happened a few years ago.

Compton's Multimedia applied for a software patent on a system for search and retrieval of multimedia information. Multimedia information, in the context of the patent, as the electronic form of text, graphics, and photographic images. The patent, read one way, protected only the exact implementation of Compton's Multimedia Encyclpoedia. Read another way, it protected any program which stored and searched for information in digital form, the only form computers understand!

If IBM had patented the Operating System (it invented it in the 1950's) then there would only be the IBM OS. If WordStar had patented the use of computers as word-processing systems, there would be (God forbid) only WordStar.

>And if patent law applied, then Microsoft would have to
>publish their technical information (source code) and their
>rights to the patent would eventually expire.

This is true now. In order to register a copyright with the government, Microsoft has to release the source code. Copyright registration is not necessary to prosecute someone from using copyrighted materials, but it is necessary in order to get punitive damages.

As someone who makes a living writing software, I think software patents are Evil. If you are first to write something, then the way to maintain your viability is to constantly improve your product. Software patents take that away: I can write turn out a poor product with impunity, the patent ensures that I have no competition.