Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Why Software is not Patentable

I'm a systems administrator and programmer in real life. Over the many years that I've been working with computers, I've come to love open source software and to despise software patents. Patents, in general, can be problematic but software patents bring out the worst members of society: patent trolls.

Patent trolls are individuals or companies that buy up a handful of patents then use them to sue the pants off of everyone in the world. You'll also see companies such as Apple and Microsoft do the same thing. Their target, of late, has been Google and Linux; specifically Android. Apple and Microsoft hate Android because it allows any company that wants to get into the mobile market to do so without having to pay license fees. Their goal is to use the patent system to force a cost onto mobile device makers. (In addition to the vast number of Android phones, the Nook is also Android based.)

There's a catch, though. Mathematics and algorithms are not patentable. Software is a collection of algorithms and, therefore, should not be patentable.

This article provides a detailed factual explanation of why software is mathematics, complete with the references in mathematical and computer science literature. It also includes a detailed factual explanation of why mathematics is speech, complete once again with references. My hope is that it will help patent lawyers and judges handling patent litigation understand these fundamental truths, so they can apply that technical knowledge to their field of skill.

It's a pretty lengthy post but well worth the read. Remember, it was a conscious choice by the inventors not to patent the technologies, algorithms and software that went into building the Internet. Business flourishes and consumers benefit when software is free from patents.