Securing Competition and Innovation Dynamics in the Software Sector – Effectively Limiting the Granting of Patents on Computer Programs

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Many patent reform proposals to ban software patents include keeping patents for software that is non-general purpose. This German Bundestag proposal calls upon the German government to keep patents for computer programs that serve as a replaceable equivalent for a mechanical or electro-mechanical component. The New Zealand proposal is similar in that it excludes software as an invention in terms of patent law except when the software is deeply connected with non-general purpose hardware.

Operating systems that do less and are more focused on groupings of tasks could be useful for reducing modal errors from switching contexts. These types of innovations would thrive without software patents prohibiting the diversity of distribution. This would enable a wave of human focused computer interfaces. As computing devices become smaller and more affordable it becomes reasonable to have multiple devices dedicated to different tasks. Computer security guides recommend only to run one service for a server so that if the system is compromised other services are not affected. I believe there are similar benefits for a human-computer user interface that would enable greater freedom for creativity.

Both the German and New Zealand proposals to ban software patents use examples of a washing machine as non-general purpose hardware; software used to operate the wash cycles is deeply connected with the hardware and thus would still be considered a patentable invention. The patents around video codecs I believe serve another good example. Mozilla developers have pointed out that the H.264 video decoding can be implement in hardware on mobile devices for increased performance, and it can also be implemented in software. A ban on software patents wouldn’t prevent the patents of H.264, it would only ban the software implementation of the patents of H.264. I believe that the laws for copyright and patents should distinguish infringement based upon hardware and software distribution.

Still after more that twenty years of personal computing a significant proportion of people do not understand the importance of everyone being able to publish an operating system, even if a small portion of society uses that freedom, we all benefit. I ask you, will patents on software ever end, or will each revision of an operating system implement new patents that extend the length of time of expiration another 20 years, and so on indefinitely?