Software Developers’ Culture Works Against Patenting

Many software developers have the mistaken belief that software is not or should not be patented. Many believe that copyrights are sufficient to protect their ideas.

Patents are reserved for the ideas behind the software. The big picture is patentable, but the code required to make the big picture a reality may not be.

The people who think copyrights completely protect the software and patents are the hard core hackers who believe that the only true documentation for a program is the source code itself, nothing else is required.

The contrast between patents and copyrights is stark. Copyrights protect HOW it works, but the patents protect WHY. Copyrights protect the hacker’s statement “The Only True Documentation is The Source Code,” while patents protect the idea of “Why Did We Do This in the First Place?”

Many programmers tend to revel in the elegance, simplicity, and flexibility of their code, and rightly so. These aspects, some of the most sacred and revered in programming circles, are often better protected by copyrights than patents. Thus, it is easy for them to dismiss patents as a useless means of protection.

When viewed from the business standpoint, a copyright merely protects blatant copies of a CD full of software. A company’s bold innovation with a completely new product can be stolen by creating a detailed specification and sending it to a group of Indian programmers to code. This completely bypasses a company’s copyright, but not its patent.

This is where patents are useful: protecting the Big Ideas behind a product, and protecting the investment a company has to make in the education and marketing of the idea. From a software developer’s point of view, the investment is in the code, but that is only a portion of the business investments. Education, creating a market, distribution, customer development, and many other business investments are protected more by the patent than the copyright.

If software patents were not enforceable, the world’s programming resources will be used to get around copyrights by having software re-coded in India or any other third world country, rather than writing new, innovative software.

The software monks I know are some of the most creative people on the planet, and from them some of the most important innovations have sprung. Their culture and lack of education in the patent system have made them easy prey for the activists who wish to weaken our patent system. When they fully understand the patent system, and how it protects their innovations and works to their benefit, they will be some of the most ardent supporters of patents.