Lawyers love patents. Engineers crave patents. Businessmen have mixed feelings. Visionaries hate them.
Patents are an amazing concept. They give a new meaning to ideas and their conceptualization and ownership. I think the American intellectual property preservation/regulatory system is the mainstay of its hitherto tremendous technological lead, as well as the entrepreneurial spirit at the academic as well as corporate level.
Software patents have always been the cause of huge debates. Almost no academic personality likes them. Open source developers disdain them wholeheartedly, citing innovation stagnation as a reason to not enforce them. From a theoretical point of view, software patents do not make much sense. Software is an idea expressed in a language. As such, it is more of a literary work than a process. At the same time, it is not entirely a piece of literary work as software more often than not helps achieve something. It is a means to an end to some real life problem. As such, software patents fall under a gray area, and some descretion is to be observed when enforcing patent rules.
For example, I think it is very logical to patent an encryption algorithm because an algorithm is actually a process. It is unique, and actually is an innovation that has the potential to change the computing/tech world for years to come. On the other hand, patents like that protecting the “innovation” of one click purchasing are pretty darn stupid…in my opinion. Are we actually celebrating innovation by granting such patents?
I came across this great webpage at MIT discussing the good and the bad about software patents. It is surprising what kind of ideas are being patented as software innovations in the present times. This is some sort of reverse evolution.
At the same time, I feel that we need to congratulate companies like Microsoft and IBM that actually use their patent portfolios to fortify their innovative endeavors rather than stymie creativity by others. For personal developers and open source projects, these big “patentors” hardly pose any roadblocks.
Patents are the artillery of big companies. That is the only way they can mark boundaries in this extremely volatile industry. In a way, software patents also help overall innovation in the form of diverse products from different companies. Patent attorneys remain happy, too.
I just hope that some sort of system is developed that inhibits false/stupid/ridiculous patents from being considered, much less filed.