[Fsfe-ie] Paul Graham's essay on software patents

Fergal Daly fergal at esatclear.ie
Wed Apr 5 23:53:27 CEST 2006

Oh also I don't buy the secrecy thing (I read this last night so
memory was a bit foggy). Yes, the idea of a patent is that the
invention becomes public after a certain amount of time and the world
progresses. Without patents, inventors would keep their inventions
secret. For the vast majority of patented software, secrecy is useless
anyway because the solutions are so obvious that once you know what
problem was solved if you have any sort of a clue you can solve it

There's only one situation where software companies might keep a
solution secret and that's for very complex solutions to genuinely
difficult problems. This is the only area where I can actually see
some justification for sw patents. Some problems are genuinely
difficult and some solutions are genuinely original and not repeatable
by someone ordinarily skilled in the art. Data mining, AI and crypto
would be examples (although Crypto is a bad example because a secret
crypto algorithm is not so valuable). The problem is that these ideas
are rare in comparison to the number of ideas being produced and if
the price for ensuring they become public knowledge is the awful mess
that is currently sw patents then that price is too high.

So yes, patents do promote openness which can speed progress but if
Amazon had kept the magic behind one-click ordering a secret I think
we might have figured it out for ourselves,


On 4/5/06, Fergal Daly <fergal at esatclear.ie> wrote:
> I thought it was odd how he declared patent trolls to be irredeemably
> evil without any argument. If you fundamentally disagree with sw
> patents then of course they are evil but they are just a rather
> unpleasant symptom of the underlying disease. If you agree with sw
> patents then they are just a result of the transfer rights that come
> with "property" - without the right to transfer your property freely
> you cannot have a market (in fact your property may lose it's value
> altogether unless you are free to sell it to whomever you ike).
> So basically I don't see how you can condemn patent trolls but not
> condemn patents,
> F
> On 4/4/06, Ben North <ben at redfrontdoor.org> wrote:
> > http://www.paulgraham.com/softwarepatents.html
> >
> > Interesting insights into the role patents play in the world
> > of software start-ups.  Doesn't address how they affect free
> > software.
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