Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Folly of Software Patents

Software patents issued in the last 20 years have often struck me as ludicrous ring-fencing of blindingly obvious functions that are too trivial and commonplace to deserve proprietary protection, sponsored by "patent trolls" whose primary "business" function is to demand royalties from those deemed in violation of the troll's patent "rights." I've actually done "expert witness" work regarding one such patent (in support of those opposing it), but I'm glad to see some highly qualified professionals who agree with me on this.

See for instance Vivek Wadhwa of Tech Crunch: Why We Need To Abolish Software Patents, and Brad Feld, managing director at Foundry Group: "Abolish Software Patents", who spoke on "Re-examining the Patent System"some time ago at a conference at Silicon Flatirons, a center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado.

On the other hand, I am definitely NOT in the everything-open-source-all-the-time camp a la Richard Stallman of the Free Software movement and the GNU Project, which derives from the hacker culture. So I have somewhat mixed feelings about the UK High Court ru Steve ling against statistical giant SAS in its litigation of tiny UK upstart World Programming Ltd (WPL). The best resolution is that suggested by Steve Miller in KDNuggets, who says it's way past time to move beyond either of these options. "The base SAS language, be it either the SAS or WPS dialects, is dated, over 30 years old. After 20 years with SAS, I made the switch to R ten years ago and have never looked back. Object orientation trumps macros every time, just as powerful vector/matrix/array functions/operators trump 'do loops.' Even SAS diehards acknowledge there's no comparison between the graphics capabilities of R and SAS. I just completed a predictive modeling project where I experimented with Generalized Additive Models, MARS, Support Vector Machines, Random Forests, Boosted Linear Models and Boosted Trees - all of which were developed by the R community and are available for free."

This is often the case with software patent issues. By the time they reach the litigation stage, both sides have become outmoded in the ever-surging tide of technology.

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