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LWN.net Weekly Edition for June 13, 2013
A report from pgCon 2013
Little things that matter in language design
The FSF needs pragmatism
Posted Jun 29, 2010 16:30 UTC (Tue) by ccurtis (guest, #49713)
Consider paragraph 5 as what the supremes (or at least the politicians in congress) are thinking, and as what needs to be addressed in order to affect software patent change.
Unfortunately, software is thought of as "IP", which includes such dissimilar concepts as trademarks, copyrights, and patents. This puts software in the same category as books, music, movies, and other "concept property" - which have the backing of organizations like Disney, the MPAA, RIAA, and other groups who will fight mercilessly against any perceived weakening of their positions in these fields.
Today, this group would also include Monsanto (gene patents, BT, etc.) and tomorrow there will be even more powerful companies with close ties to legislators working to strengthen these "protections".
To your question "Do I think other countries care about these US laws?" Of course not, and to which I clearly stated that China does not. And also said, "thus ACTA" (via the WIPO and WTO). The goal is simply to brow-beat the world into conforming with US protectionist measures.
To cmccabe, yes, I do understand that the U.S. is still a major exporter. But these guys in government are old. They remember huge factories in the U.S. and tangible exports of commodity goods. Vast numbers of these factories now sit idle, rotting away. Virtually any consumer product bought in stores here is made in China - from television sets, to computers, to cell phones, or to any Apple product.
So what is replacing those factories? Software. Movies. Genetic Engineering. Nanotech. In the US we still design and innovate, but as soon as something is ready for market, production is shipped overseas. And what are we left with? These intangible ideas. But the ideas get shipped away along with the ability to produce the goods.
So what do people use to keep their revenue streams? "IP Protection". Because, clearly -- if we tell someone they can't do something, then they won't. (... not). So this huge convoluted web is formed where countries get punished for "stealing" ideas that were GIVEN to them so they can produce goods. It's insanity.
The only thing really protecting U.S. ideas for goods shipped overseas is marketing. Why do people buy Apple? Marketing. Why Microsoft? Marketing. Why buy a name brand toothpaste when the exact same factory also produces a store-brand knockoff for 1/3 the price? Marketing.
So am I claiming that the solution is for software people to improve their legal marketing? I make no such claim, but it can't hurt.
Perhaps the right thing is to show that software clearly -- clearly -- does not belong with these other concepts. I believe the same argument for software should hold for biology, so there may be common ground with those fighting gene patents. Ultimately both of these are "programmable logic" fields not dissimilar from the "logic" and "mathematics" fields.
One problem we have to address, I think, is that, for example, chemistry is discovery, but applied chemistry creates novel (patentable) materials. Biology is discovery, but applied biology can create novel life features (right now we're at the cut-n-paste stage, but eventually biology will be used to manufacture novel things ... like trees that breathe carbon dioxide and exhale bicycles or gasoline). Applied logic/mathematics is software. Certainly there is novelty in this: the first spreadsheet program, for example. Why should this not be worthy of patent protection?
Now, this is a huge topic better suited for other venues, but just some random data follows. Hollywood makes about $10 billion annually, both in domestic and foreign sales . This accounts for about 1% of U.S. exports, which are about $100 billion a month .
Exports related to computers have about doubled since 1989 (= ~10% of exports), while gross exports (non-inflation adjusted) have tripled (now = ~7%). I don't know how movies are categorized (X40140 appears to be 1/2 the reported number) but that number has increased ~4x, and they are "well protected" IP-wise, thanks to CTEA, etc. And ergo, better protection = more $$.
But on the flip side of things, the FTC has said, effectively, that they do not care about a company's patent rights  - refusing to allow them to raise their prices. The patent is still valid, but the patent holder's rights have been limited. I don't know how this case has progressed through the courts, if at all, but it would be a very interesting ruling if upheld.
Posted Jul 8, 2010 23:37 UTC (Thu) by Wol (guest, #4433)
That's actually easy to answer. All it is is a ledger book (the idea dates from the 1800s, if not earlier) done using a computer.
Where the novelty lies is in all the naysayers saying "it can't be done", and the visicalc guy (can't remember his name) pulled it off. HOW he did it might be protectable, but that's subject to protection under copyright, not patent.
At the end of the day, software is maths. The program (as supplied on tape, floppy or CD) is just one big number. And if you combine that with a general purpose computer to make a word-processor, or spreadsheet, or database, the result is not (or shouldn't be!) patentable.
If you've got dedicated hardware (like a crypto-chip, say) then yes, patent the cryptochip. But if someone then makes an emulator that runs on a pc, tough. They've worked round your patent, as the patent system quite clearly says is legit.
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