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why software is different

why software is different

Posted Nov 15, 2012 23:21 UTC (Thu) by pboddie (guest, #50784)
In reply to: why software is different by dlang
Parent article: Phipps: Stop patent mischief by curbing patent enforcement

I think you're mixing up a few things here: who decides what gets funded, who does the work, who actually pays for the work, and who gets the reward, along with whether the work generates more revenue than it cost, and whether the preceding factors encourage more or less progress in the field concerned.

You can have various public/private combinations of these things, some being more controversial than others, such as the public paying for the work and then the specific employees concerned profiting from patents that have been filed. You can have policy delegated to the market, albeit with government-backed guarantees for revenue generation, which is what patents effectively are. You can have policy determined by both public agencies and private institutions; the quality of policy decided by the former need not be worse than that of the latter (contrary to the ideology of certain political schools).

Nobody is advocating the elimination of private research, and I think it is worth entertaining the idea of incentives for such research that don't involve monopolies for entire classes of endeavour, which is what patents have proven to be at least in software. Meanwhile, an analogous situation to pharmaceutical patents might be that of the granting of exploration rights to various oil and gas companies.

Certainly, a difference between oil exploration and software is that the rights granted to participants are clearly delimited in the former case, whereas only copyright provides a similar level of clarity in the latter case. If oil exploration rights were handed out like software patents, everyone would be drilling the same oilfields and spending a lot more time in court.


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why software is different

Posted Nov 15, 2012 23:46 UTC (Thu) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

please point out ANYWHERE that I have said that patents are a good idea for software?

The conversation above was about drug research, where patents tend to be fairly narrow ('use of this compound', frequently further limited with 'for this purpose')

I think that the 'public pays, private patents earn rewards' is fundamental abuse of the system, and all public grants should include a clause stating that the results of the research should be publicly available at no cost (I would say cost of replication, but in today's world that's so close to zero that it's better to just say 'no cost' rather than leaving the door open for abuse)

People are not advocating the end of private research, but they are advocating the end to the way that private research pays off. Unless other reward mechanisms are created, that's effectively the same thing.

why software is different

Posted Nov 16, 2012 0:54 UTC (Fri) by Cyberax (✭ supporter ✭, #52523) [Link]

>I think that the 'public pays, private patents earn rewards' is fundamental abuse of the system, and all public grants should include a clause stating that the results of the research should be publicly available at no cost
That's actually exactly the case with the NIH grants.

The problem is, the distance from a promising drug candidate (a typical academical result) to a working drug is a couple of billions of dollars and 10 years of work.

why software is different

Posted Nov 16, 2012 1:10 UTC (Fri) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

In that case, the drug company should reimburse the government for the research costs when they decide to take on the rest of the process.

But the typical case of 'public funding, private patents' is not in the drug field, it's in other fields where the researchers doing the research get the patent in their name and then sell it.

whoever funds the research should get the patent, they can then sell or license it to industry for implementation.

why software is different

Posted Nov 16, 2012 1:14 UTC (Fri) by Cyberax (✭ supporter ✭, #52523) [Link]

Why? That's the task of academia - producing new results. You can download NIH result papers and go on creating your own drug in a garage. It's not uncommon that several companies might try to use a lead from the same paper.

And the final drugs rarely look anything like the first version of drug.

why software is different

Posted Nov 16, 2012 11:29 UTC (Fri) by pboddie (guest, #50784) [Link]

On the topic of different incentive structures, I came across this explanation of the division of financial responsibilities for oil exploration in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea. Again, it's not exactly analogous to either software or drug development, but there are parallels (and a lot of money involved).

why software is different

Posted Nov 16, 2012 11:08 UTC (Fri) by pboddie (guest, #50784) [Link]

please point out ANYWHERE that I have said that patents are a good idea for software?

I didn't think I claimed that you did.

People are not advocating the end of private research, but they are advocating the end to the way that private research pays off. Unless other reward mechanisms are created, that's effectively the same thing.

I was just saying that there might be something other than patents that also rewards people and even works better than patents. This is worth exploring because even if we eliminate patents on software right now, we'll end up having a discussion in a few years about why software isn't subject to patents, and then we're back where we started. By widening the discussion to the general topic of rewards for discovering things, we can acknowledge that patents do not themselves have a monopoly in this field, either.


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