On Software Patents

Fred Wilson says what we are all thinking about software patents right now. Though I agree largely with what he is saying, I don’t think abolishing software patents is the solution. Wilson’s first point is:

First of all, the idea of a transaction in an application isn’t novel.

I fully agree that it currently is not novel, but when this patent was granted that was not the case. As a result a patent was granted, that’s not a broken system — it is a short sighted one.

The solution to such a problem is not abolishing the system, rather refining it — perhaps just by shortening the period of time that software patents are upheld.

Second, Lodsys didn’t even “invent” the idea. They purchased the patent and are now using it like a cluster bomb on the entire mobile app developer community.

This is what irks most people, but it will hurt just as bad if the original inventor comes after developers. Don’t confuse the fact that quite often the “real” inventors are the ones that go after people, it just so happens that this is not the case with Lodsys.

The fact isn’t that patent trolls shouldn’t exist — it’s that the patent system is so egregious that in order to protect patents inventors must rely on patent trolls. It’s that, as a society, we are not rewarding inventors for these inventions and instead are forcing them to do what ever they can to make money (selling patents to patent trolls).

This is the whole “pay teachers more money” argument, but in this case replace teachers with inventors. If we embrace this and seek to reward these individual instead of cribbing their work — that’s when things change.

Third Apple and Google, the developers of the iOS and Android app ecosystems (and in app transaction systems), did license the Lodsys patents but that is not good enough for Lodsys.

Plain and simple: I don’t think that is a fair or accurate statement to make. We don’t know the terms the license that Apple or others paid to Lodsys and the understanding that went with that. Is it shady? Yes, absolutely. Is it wrong? That’s for a judge to decide.

The patent system is very much broken, but abolishing it is not the solution. You don’t abolish traffic by ridding the world of roads and highways. This is no different, it’s time to make a change — but that change is not abolishing software patents, that change is modifying the rules surrounding them.

Originally posted for members on: June 1, 2011
Follow along on RSS, App.net, or Twitter.
~I would appreciate it if you considered becoming a member.~