Trolls vs. Visionaries: The Problem with Software Patents

Though a seemingly booming industry with unimaginable possibilities at the hands of an increasing group of developers, software writing and production is a business hindered by nasty legal binds. The creative minds of designers are unable to yield products without first having to dish out the cash and time needed to wade through possible legality issues. The story of software developer Aaron Bannert has exposed the ever-expanding problems surrounding software patent laws. The article “Software patents are too vague and abstract, says U.S. government report,” summarizes Bannert’s encounter with a patent infringement lawsuit over a mobile app he produced. The opinion of writer Joe McKendrick is obvious from as early in his piece as the title; something needs to be done about the “overly broad, unclear, or vague” wording used in patents that allow patent owners to leech off of software producers (Article).

The information indicating the exact patent Bannert has “infringed” cannot be accessed, but under Section 101 of title 35, of the United States Code, states that, “Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter… may obtain a patent therefor ” (Code). Under this code more and more software patents are issued each year, and in turn has caused “the number of defendants (in software infringement legality cases) to increase by 129 percent between 2007 and 2011” (Aaron). Bannert’s infringement does not involve anything truly “damaging,” but is the product of what the cyber world calls “patent trolls.” Patent trolls usually do not manufacture or sell their patented product, and may not be affiliated with any of the original “invention” of the product. Patents are sometimes auctioned off, and are then used, not as a way to protect a design, but to demand a collection of royalties.

In light of reading Lessig, Kant, and Milton, the question of intellectual property as it applies to Bannert’s case and the issue of patent infringement as a whole can be analyzed regarding enlightenment and the “sharing of ideas.” I liken the use of patents on software to Kan’t explanation of nonage. The effect of patents on the innovation of software creators is like the use of a worn-out dogma on a world that has outgrown use for it. Kant writes, “Dogmas and formulas, these mechanical tools designed for reasonable use–or rather abuse–of his natural gifts, are the fetters of an everlasting nonage.” To realize the true potential of the world’s rising computer geniuses, we must shake off poorly worded, outdated software patents. Lessig questions why we would “burden the creative process…and innovation more broadly- with rules that seem to have no connection to innovation and creativity.” I agree that the use of patents as a way to siphon money from an innovator is an absurd misuse of law, and a burden if not an uncompromising barrier to the creativity and technological innovation. Patents limit the betterment of ideas by putting them in the hands of a few owners. Milton writes, “as for regulating the Presse, let no man think to have the honour of advising ye better then your selves have done.” Advancing technology is this age’s mass-print. Leaving the honor of deciding what will and will not be produced up to the will of men who may or may not even plan to use what they “own,” and did not create what they own, is holding innovation at the mercy of those who do not seek to better society, only to hoard money.

Aaron Bannert Article

United States Code

Lessig: The Future of Ideas

Milton: Areopagitica

Kant: What is Enlightenment?

Local (Columbia S.C.) Story Involving Software Infringement

(Very interesting, even if you are not particularly “into” software programming or law.)

New Zealand Bans Software Patents


One thought on “Trolls vs. Visionaries: The Problem with Software Patents

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s