14 May 2007

A Ray of Sunshine

Here's a fascinating post about software patents from Greg Papadopoulos, Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President of Research and Development at Sun. He has lots of surprisingly sensible things to say on the subject (i.e., he more or less agrees with me), together with the following comment that offered a truly fresh take on the subject (not something that happens often):

Patents are a far more blunt instrument than copyright, and tend to teach far less than code. I just don't know of any developer who reads patents to understand some new software pattern or idea. Remember, the limited monopoly we grant a patent holder is in exchange for teaching others how to do it so that when the patent expires everyone is better off (the length of time of the grant is another issue. How long is two decades in software generations?)

Of course! This is the real test of a patent: if it doesn't teach anything to people who ought to be hungry for knowledge it reveals, it's almost certainly trivial or obvious.

Brilliant, Greg. (Via Erwin Tenhumberg.)


Anonymous said...

I'm a programmer. Two big reasons I don't read patents are that a) they're written to be as hard to understand as possible (this seems to make it easier to get them accepted) and b) it increases my liability: if I violate a patent, and it can be proven I read it, even if I couldn't understand it, I'm going to be punished harder than if I'm ignorant of the entire thing.

Glyn Moody said...

Which, of course, is further proof that the system is broken. Patents are granted as a quid pro quo of revealing technical information; if you daren't look at patents because you risk punishment, that quid is clearly no longer there, so the pro quo shouldn't be either.

(Thanks for dropping by, Lars - I hope you are well.)