March 11, 2012 in Daily Bulletin
Timothy Lee took a look at the difficulties that small software developers encounter in staying clear of litigation. Highlights include:
- Patents normally protect concrete, material things such as a specific machine design or a manufacturing process. Copyrights normally protect intellectual property, things like movies and music. Software is strange because it can be both patented and copyrighted, since it straddles both worlds.
- You infringe on somebody’s copyright if you intentionally duplicate somebody else’s work. This means it’s hard to infringe on a copyright unless you have the meaningful intent to do so. In contrast, it’s possible to infringe on somebody’s patent entirely by accident, without any malicious intent.
- As a software developer it’s impossible to know if your software is infringing on any patents. There are countless lines of code in any piece of software, and just a few of the lines could violate of any of the hundreds of thousands of software patents.
- This has led to the rise of “patent trolls” – firms that produce absolutely nothing of value. All they do is hold onto patents and then sue other companies as soon as they see any signs of infringement.
- Larger companies can withstand this. But smaller companies are crushed by giant patent behemoths which include not only patent trolls, but companies that produce legitimate products as well, such as Microsoft.
To read specific instances of patents making the life of independent software developers difficult, individual patents that have been granted to companies, what the politicians have to say about it, and what this means for Silicon Valley, click here.