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Automating Invention is Robert Plotkin's blog on the impact of computer-automated inventing on the future of invention and patent law.

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October 31, 2005

Defining "software"

I often find people defining computer hardware as the "physical" part of a computer and software as either the "intangible" part of the computer or as "instructions" stored in the hardware. Although there's nothing wrong with these definitions per se, they leave out something important and might actually impede our ability to understand the importance of computer programs in the future.

I think it is worthwhile to think of hardware as the fixed part of a computer and software as the variable part. I like to use the following analogy: hardware is to software as a drill is to a drill bit. A drill is a drill; it doesn't change. To make the drill perform different functions, you attach different bits to it. The drill is fixed and the bits are variable, just like hardware and software, respectively. When you buy a computer, you buy the fixed hardware, which you can make perform different functions by attaching (installing) different software to it.

What I find useful about this analogy is that it makes clear that we are not talking here about the physical form taken by the drill and its bits -- both are quite physical. And the same is true in the case of hardware and software -- both are physical if what we are talking about are components of a physical computer. The web browser that you are using to read this blog is physical; it consists of electrical signals in your computer. Even if you take issue with the physicality of electrical signals, tomorrow's molecular computers will convince you that software is a physical thing.

Therefore, if the law is to treat software differently than hardware or anything else, the difference must stem from something other than the fact that software is not "physical." I've tried elsewhere in this blog to explore what else makes software different, and the implications of those differences for the law.

Posted by Robert at 4:24 PM | Comments (1)
category: Philosophy of Computing

October 27, 2005

Symposium on the Future of Intellectual Property Rights in Software (Part 2)

The symposium on the future of intellectual property rights in software at the Centrum voor Wiskunde en Informatica (CWI) in Amsterdam was a great success. There is now more information available on the symposium web site, including abstracts of the presentations and CVs of the speakers.

What struck me about the symposium was the diversity of the audience, which included, among others, in-house patent attorneys, proprietary software company owners, open source programmers, government officials, law professors, and computer science professors. This kind of interdisciplinary dialogue is exactly what is needed to advance the debate on IP protection for software. My hat goes off to Prof. Paul Klint, Prof. Jan Bergstra, and everyone else one who made this event a reality.

Posted by Robert at 5:55 PM | Comments (0)
category: Software Patents

October 16, 2005

Symposium on the Future of Intellectual Property Rights in Software

I will be speaking later this week at a Symposium on the Future of Intellectual Property Rights in software at the Centrum voor Wiskunde en Informatica (CWI), the national research institute for Mathematics and Computer Science in the Netherlands.

The goal of the Symposium is to explore ways to fix intellectual property law, particularly patent law, as it applies to software. My talk is entitled "Reinventing intellectual property protection for software" and will provide a vision for the future of intellectual property protection for software.

I plan to blog from Amsterdam (if technology cooperates) to provide more details on the symposium and related topics.

Posted by Robert at 11:46 AM | Comments (1)
category: Intellectual Property Law