Chris J Powell

Free the Code – Why Software Patents are well…Junk

With the impending release of the Samsung Galaxy SIII to North America (June 21) Apple has taken it upon itself to request an injunction to prevent what itself calls “the most extensively preordered piece of consumer electronics in history.”

I am all for fairness in business but I looked at the two Patents that Apple claims to have been violated:

U.S. Patent No. 5,946,647

Filed in February 1996 and covers: System and method of performing an action on a structure in computer-generated data

The”Field of Invention” of the Patent: This invention relates generally to manipulation of structures in computer data. More particularly, the invention relates to a system and method for performing computer-based actions on structures identified in computer data.

U.S. Patent No. 8,086,6604

Filed in Dec 2004 and cover: Universal interface for retrieval of information in a computer system

The “Field of Invention” of the Patent: This invention relates generally to manipulation of structures in computer data. More particularly, the invention relates to a system and method for performing computer-based actions on structures identified in computer data.

I do not profess to be an expert in Software Patents but both of these Patents at the very top level could  be applied to ANY and EVERY smartphone on the market today as they are very generic and incredibly broad in the scope that they cover.

I really think that going just for Patent Reform here in North America is not enough.  I don’t advocate the abolition of Patents nor do I think that all Patent Lawsuits are money grabs but as was sited in a recent article by Timothy B. Lee over at Forbes.com one of the biggest issues with Software Patents and links back to a Legal Review on Patent Reform.

My favorite statement from this short article is:

But a property system that exposes anyone who enters a particular industry to unavoidable and potentially crippling legal liability should also offend our sense of justice.

In looking to the Legal Review on Patent Reform that he and co-author Christina Mulligan wrote I must say that while Patent Law when applied to Software is broken, and almost unrepairable for reasons sited in the paper:

The legal research required for all software-producing firms to stop infringing patents would cost more than the entire revenue of the software industry. Even if firms were willing to pay the bill, there simply aren’t enough patent lawyers to do the work. Firms infringe software patents because they don’t have any other choice.

I say that we Free the Code, and Free the Legal system of these nuisance legal debates.  If it was found that at the base line of the code that was used to compile and build the Samsung Galaxy SIII and other devices like the HTC One X (which also found the wrath of Apple) that the code itself was word for word copied and not contributed back to the author (ie Copyright) then there should be recourse but to find that out would mean violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that prevents individuals and companies from pealing back the layers of proprietary software code…hmmm…that becomes a bit of a conundrum!

Keep in mind that the Patent Industry has itself made many many people very wealthy (mostly the lawyers) as sited here again from the Patent Reform Review:

For example, in a widget industry in which 30,000 firms had one patent apiece and could review one patent per hour, each firm would need to hire around 15 full-time patent attorneys, for a total discovery cost of almost a billion billable hours.  That’s a lot, even for deep-pocketed widget companies.

Imagine the impact on innovation when for every creative thought a person has…and innovative next step there had to be multiple search queries tabled and legal ramifications implied and applied to ensure that the functions created did not violate any existing Software Patents.  Had this system been as broken as it is today, there would not have been room for the creation of an HP, Microsoft, or even Apple as they all “borrowed” from other creations to build and develop their empire and this is now exasperated by being a Global Economy.

Is there room for fairness in business…absolutely.  Is there room for both Siri and “S Search” to co-exist in the world…well most cars have 4 wheels and get you from Point A to Point B and there seems to be multiple ways of building a Car around that initial concept so Let’s All Just Get Along!

Cheers,

Chris J Powell

2 thoughts on “Free the Code – Why Software Patents are well…Junk

  1. “I say that we Free the Code, and Free the Legal system of these nuisance legal debates” This would never fly with lawyers – too much money laying on the table for infringements. I’m with you though – free the code…

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