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June 21, 2005

Richard Stallman on Software Patents

Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation has written (another) article criticizing software patents. Stallman makes several arguments against software patents: (1) patents cover "ideas," and therefore are broader than copyrights and more easily used to stifle innovation than copyrights; (2) software patents are frequently granted on software that is at best a trivial improvement over existing software; and (3) the ability to obtain a software patent without writing any actual software makes it easy for patent trolls (he calls them "patent parasite companies") to extort money from true innovators. Stallman's solution: ban software patents.

Stallman's arguments strike me primarily as arguments against patents in general, although they may have some particular empirical force in the software context.

I wonder what Stallman would think about a patent on a mechanical device that was designed by software? Or a patent on software whose only function is to design hardware? Or a patent on an electrical machine whose only function is to write software? Would such patents be "software patents" and should they be allowed?

I agree with Stallman that software raises some difficult problems for patent law, but for different reasons. And attempting to address these problems by banning "software patents" outright will only cause as many problems as it solves.

Posted by Robert at June 21, 2005 4:22 PM
category: Software Patents

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