[OT] Free software versus software idea patents

Steven D'Aprano steve+comp.lang.python at pearwood.info
Tue Apr 12 19:56:50 EDT 2011

On Tue, 12 Apr 2011 13:43:00 -0400, Terry Reedy wrote:

> Anyone here who does not understand how absurd software patents can get
> should contemplate the following (based on a real patent from about 20
> years ago, when CDroms were new.
> A Methods for Ensuring that the Correct CDROM is in the CDROM drive.
> While the correct cdrom is not in the drive:
>    Display a message asking the user to insert the correct CD.
> Buried in a page of verbiage, that was it, completely obvious and
> unoriginal.

There's no doubt that, for some reason, the US Patent Office has an 
institutional blind-spot in certain areas. As the joke goes, you can take 
any existing patent, scrawl "on the Internet" over it in red crayon, and 
they will grant you a patent on it.

But I'm also sure that if you look hard enough, there will be hardware 
patents that are as inane. For the longest time, you could patent 
perpetual motion machines. Now you can patent perpetual motion machines 
so long as you don't use the words "perpetual motion" or "free energy".

The real question should not be "how bad are the worst patents?", or "how 
good are the best patents?", but "overall, does the patent system make 
things better or worse in general, and how can we reduce the harm done in 
favour of more good?".

(I'll also point out that there's remarkably little evidence that 
*hardware* patents promote and support innovation and invention, even 
though it is conventional wisdom that it does. People on *both* sides of 
the debate are amazingly resistant to the idea of evidence-based policy.)

>> That is what made the last Supreme Court decision (from this argument
>> in part) so important... because for the first time the U.S. Supreme
>> Court is beginning to buy it ... in part.
> What might help lawyers understand the obsurdity of software patents
> would be to have them contemplate the possibility of patents on laws and
> legal arguments, so that a legislature could not write a law, nor a
> lawyer submit a legal brief, without possibly having to pay royalties or
> violate a patent.

That would be a patent on a business process, which is allowed. In fact, 
as I recall, at least one lawyer has made an attempt to patent a business 
process relating to law.

Too-lazy-to-google-for-it-ly y'rs,


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