There’s an interesting article by Richard Stallman on software patents in The Age/SMH IT section this week. It looks at the pending EU vote on software patent legislation, and points out the differences between patents and copyright — something some of the EU legislators seem to be confused by.
Examples of spurious patents already granted by the EU include those for a progress bar, and accepting payment by credit card. I’m reminded of the patent application an Australian put in a coulpe of years ago for… the wheel. Clearly there is no basis for giving any party the rights to such basic concepts.
You need copyright to protect investment in IT, and I’m not convinced that no patent protection should be available for software authors. But a line in the sand needs to be drawn so that the whole IT industry isn’t crippled by being unable to use and re-use established ideas. Perhaps the code/algorithms should be patented — but the concepts not.
Or at the very least, given the speed at which the tech industry works, the patents should have a much shorter lifespan.