Re: extropians-digest V3 #82

Michael Lorrey (
Mon, 14 Sep 1998 14:01:31 -0400

Chris Crayton wrote:

> 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.

There are several types of patents. There are 'concept' patents, which is what you are describing, as well as 'design' patents and 'system' patents (a specialized type of concept patent). Concept patents are, of course the most powerful types, and can on occasion be used as a means of technological stagnation. Design patents are weaker and are only as good as the design they protect. Design patents promote technolgical advancement, as the competition will try to come up with a more competetive design than the present state of the art.

The reason why copyrights are more practical for software is that, like with books or other publications, allowing a type of 'concept' patent for software is stupid and unreasonable. For example, nobody in their right mind would allow a patent on the concept of mystery novels, or the concept of the classified advertisement. Likewize, allowing patents on concepts like operating systems and word processors is similarly stupid. So, a copyright is extremely similar to a design patent, but gives the added advantage of protection/royalty earnings for 75 years after the authors death. It promotes technological innovation.

> 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.

Depends on whether you have a design or concept patent.