Very good discussion by me of Intellectual Property Rights ;-)

Tim Bates (
Tue, 22 Dec 1998 13:27:47 +1100

hi all and Hal F,

I ( argued that

>>Software patents [give] older people a right to earn a living off of
>>younger people (who because they are younger will come up the solution
>>later). It is wrong.

Hal asked if my reasoning would apply to other patents as well, right?

Yes. I think that copyrights and trade secrets are the only just protections.

Hal then noted that
>Patents are not supposed to be issued on obvious technology.
>[relevant law cited]

Note though that this is obvious _based on prior art_.

The big problems are
1. Defining obvious (an impossible task unless you specify obvious to whom),

2. The relationship to prior art.

Take the example of a postal system - i mail letters to you. Along comes the Internet. Someone patents the notion of Internet email. Now, there was no prior art: no one had ever sent Email before. However, the net is "obviously" a good medium for mail. Can I patent email? You bet. It is only legendary efforts by richard stallman and his coleagues to expose prior art in these matters which have saved us from a world in which Email and the net are patented inventions for whcih royalties must be paid.

You might laugh, but real patents comparable to this are printed up every week in the New Scientist. I am shocked at what people are patenting. People really should have a look at these things and see if they really want the 50 years leading up to singularity to be in the hands of 10 big patent holders.

Personally, I think it is disastrous that Qualcomm "own" code division telephony. This single patent family is costing the world billions of dollars in lost bandwidth because people simply can't/slash won't pay Qualcomm for their CDMA algorithms. Patenting code division multiple access is like patenting E=mc^2. It is not "obvious", but it is the only way that it could be.

I wont say it CDMA and other schemes are a public good because i don't believe in the public good, but I will say that these solutions are such that any member of the public should be allowed to think them up and use them for themselves. Freedom of thought is a basic right.

>Software patents are relatively new, and there have been a number of
>mistakes made. .. This doesn't make software patents any more "criminal"
>than other patents, but it does mean that we have had to live with some
>bad decisions.

There should be no software patents whatsoever. I argue that there is nothing in software which is not obvious, it is all "obvious". No patents = no living with bad decisions. Why the heck do you trust the government, government clerks at that, to know what is best for you?

Hal, this last comment you make below, is, I think, highly instructive:
>Don't forget, though, that patents only last for 20 years, while copyright
>can go on for 100. Many of the controversial software patents will
>be expiring in the next few years. In my own field, cryptography,
>the patent on public key technology expired last year, and the patent
>on the RSA algorithm expires in September of 2000.

How do you defend patent expiry if it is a right? To me, if patents are justified, they should last forever. Just like when you buy some land, it is not yours for 50 years. It is yours, period. The fact neither of us thinks that patents should last in perpetuity suggests that patents are property but are rather a state tool arrived at by trading off the interests of one power group against another. The losers are you, me, and innovative companies.

Antitrust is a similar trade off made to appease weak companies in the face of innovative companies. That is the paradox: the people who need patents are the dumb companies. The smart ones are moving too fast. They may use patents, but they woudl be richer stil in a world free of patents.

Just as with patents, I do not believe that we should have any anti-trust laws. These two issues are related as follows. I believe that companies like MS should be able to enter into any contracts they like and do whatever they like with their code, APART from patenting it.

People can compete sucessfully agaisnt MS. The open software foundation for instance:

The largest online companies in the world run apache Linux is scaling into enormous ventures. php3 beats asp into a hole in the ground. Round trip XML makes the office suite advantage disappear.

The only thing that can stop this, IMHO, is software patents: the threat of physical force against those who build better software from those whose software is inferior but who have purchased patents.

In just the same way, the only thing that can guarantee microsoft dominance on the desktop is similar coercive edicts such as that issued by the Government of the United States forbidding its employees from buying Apple computers. The laughing point is that having forced their own employees to by windows, they are now sueing microsoft for selling too much windows ;-)

all my very best,