The Problem With Software Patents

Question: Why are software patents so controversial?

\r\nJustin Frankel: There are a lot of people who are for them and a \r\nlot of people are against them.  It seems that most of the people who \r\nare for them are essentially IP holding companies who just sit around \r\nand wait with patents and wait until technology actually gets \r\ninteresting, using something that could potentially be covered by these \r\npatents, and then they sue people.  And they don't... generally they \r\ndon’t sue small companies, they sue Microsoft and IBM.  And of course, \r\nIBM and you know, like all these big companies have their own patents \r\npools and they use them as leverage against other companies with \r\npatents. 
\r\nBut I just, you know, I think there are so many problems with it.  The \r\nbiggest problems are that you have people patenting things that are \r\nessentially math, which is what patents are not supposed to be even \r\nabout at all.  And the... I mean, there are other problems.  There are \r\nno—I don’t know.  It’s—I’m usually drunk when I give this explanation, \r\nand it comes out so much smoother. 
\r\nI just think that they are a big problem largely because you can \r\ninfringe on them without knowing that you do and as a small company you \r\nhave like very little—you don’t have resources to go and research \r\nwhether or not you do.  I could write a 100,000 lines of code and for \r\nall I know, 50,000 of them infringe on various things.  And I wouldn’t \r\nknow that.  And normally if you infringe someone's like trademark, for \r\nexample, if they don’t enforce it it's to your advantage, because they \r\nstart to lose their rights.  Whereas patents, if they don’t enforce it \r\nfor ten years, they can come and sue you for the ten years that you’ve \r\nbeen making money on your patent, and you're completely screwed.  So, \r\nthere's no incentive for them to actually go and try to legitimately \r\nlicense it. 
\r\nIt's really the kind of thing where there are probably some middle \r\nground where it makes sense to have things be patentable. Obviously in \r\nmany places it does make sense.  But thinks like software and people \r\npatenting DNA, it’s at the point where you have things that are so \r\nabstract that they really should belong to everybody.  And no one's \r\nreally making viable businesses on software patents.  The only thing \r\nthey’re doing is extorting money out of other people.  And the people \r\nwho have the most software patents probably don't even want them to \r\nexist; they’re forced to do it to cover their own asses. 
\r\nRecorded on June 21, 2010
\r\nInterviewed by Jessica Liebman

The developer behind Winamp and the gnutella network thinks that we shouldn't be able to patent something that is essentially just math. Software, like DNA, is so abstract that it should be everybody's intellectual property.

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