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I have to admit to some amusement in watching the two permathreads on
the patent issue go on. The political divide very definitely exists in
cyberspace, and it is this intersection of software and the ownership
of property (which is what a patent represents) where those divisions
are most clearly delineated.
The challenge of software patents ultimately comes down to the
question of what does it mean to "own" an idea? To my way of thinking,
ideas cannot exist in a vacuum; the invention of the computer could
not have existed in the form that it did without the invention of the
vacuum tube, the Jacquard loom, alternating current, ad nauseum.
Patents existed originally as a mechanism for governments
(specifically the English Government) to insure that certain
industries (the mechanized weaving and textiles industry) couldn't be
exported to competing countries during the early 19th century, and
such patents included the notion that people could be detained or even
killed to protect such state secrets.
As such, patents have always been anticompetitive, though they are
usually presented as exactly the opposite. This has become even more
exacerbated by the ability to buy or sell patents as if they were any
other asset. If a person working for a company receives a patent, they
are usually obligated to sign over that patent to the company (by the
argument that the employee was being paid for such work, thus reducing
innovation to the level of all other forms of labor). If they leave
that company, those patents will not leave with them unless they had
been very canny in negotiations. Indeed, if a person is fired from a
company, they may not even be compensated beyond their previously
earned salary for their innovation, while the company in question is
able to make millions off of that and similar patents.
Software development is, ultimately, controlled innovation - a
software developer (unlike nearly all other professionals) is
typically required to innovate on a daily basis. In only comparatively
rare cases do software developers get to keep the fruits of their
innovation; far more often they will receive wages that, when actual
time versus "in-seat" time is calculated, place them fairly low down
the totem pole in comparison to most other professionals. I'd argue
that for most of the programmers working today on Longhorn, Microsoft
will likely be making $100 return on investment for every $1 spent on
compensation - with the resulting IP owned by Microsoft to boot. Not a
bad return for a shared office, a few cola machines and strategically
placed foosball games.
(This isn't singling Microsoft out as exceptional, by the way - if
anything, they DO treat their employees remarkably well in comparison
to the cubicle farms of other companies)
Ultimately, I think that the issue of patents is one of the primary
driving factors in the Open Source movement, which, when you dig
deeply enough, also has a fundamentally economic basis. Frivolous
patents, such as this one, only serve to emphasize the basic
inequality that the patent system imposes on developers, and so its
perhaps not that surprising that the creators of that code are
beginning to fight back.
-- Kurt Cagle
On 6/6/05, Rick Marshall <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> Karl Waclawek wrote:
> > Michael Kay wrote:
> >> No one has a right to sit back and say "that's our territory for the
> >> next 25
> >> years, you're not allowed in". If ideas could be protected like that,
> >> Microsoft and Amazon would not exist, and Seattle would be a poorer
> >> place.
> > Totally agree.
> > In addition, if an idea is used by someone after it has been
> > publicized by someone else, that still does not mean that
> > the idea has been stolen!
> > More often than not, ideas are re-invented rather than stolen,
> > and the more obvious a patent is, the easier it is to re-invent.
> historically that seems to be the case - someone has a law regarding
> this. and it's not just limited to liebnitz/newton, or the tragic case
> of tesla (a seminal study on just how broken the system has been for
> nearly at least a century).
> in general, as a group, we move towards certain ideas. it is the
> collective that invents. individuals express the invention, but it is a
> community of ideas. go check out the academic community a bit closer as
> they race to publish before the next guy - just for the glory.
> so what is it about the hubris of business that makes it think it's
> ideas and inventions are solely their idea?
> i think this is the biggest weakness in the system, and the second
> biggest weakness is that you can't stop other people having your ideas.
> berners-lee didn't invent markup or hypertext, just put it together well
> (and i suspect as part of a much bigger effort), C followed bcpl (or
> b?), unix from multics, xml from the shortcomings of sgml and html.
> time to go back to newton (1675) "if i have seen further it is by
> standing on the shoulders of giants"
> > Now, why should someone who puts a lot of effort into his/her
> > work not be allowed to reap the benefits, just because someone
> > else made the same effort earlier? What is so fair about that?
> > Karl
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