"if you're against software patents, you're against patents in general..."

Posted by Stephen M. Nipper at April 6, 2006 03:07 AM

Put this on your "to read" list: Are Software Patents Evil? by Paul Graham

This is, by far, the best essay I have ever read on software patents and patent trolls. While you/I may not agree with every point he makes, he does an excellent job of explaining the issues and arguing his points. Well worth the read.

He does say one thing that makes me twitch funny: "We tell the startups we fund not to worry about infringing patents, because startups rarely get sued for patent infringement." Yikes...not the kind of statement I want quoted against me in a deposition. ;)

I also encourage you to read two of his other essays: How to Start a Startup and How to Fund a Startup.

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Mack Says:

April 6, 2006 10:37 AM

This essay is bullshit although it is from Paul graham.

"if you're against software patents, you're against patents in general" is a logical fallacy

Howard Says:

April 6, 2006 10:40 AM

I absolutely agree that the article is largely bullshit, and the title you guys chose for this post is even more so. If you want to know why, just take a look at some of the well-reasoned comments on this article at reddit:

Paul Graham is a very articulate and smart guy, and he's one of the few authors I agree with almost 100% of the time. This one, however, is waaaaay off the mark. Software patents DO kill startups, all the time.

Nipper Says:

April 6, 2006 10:53 AM

>"if you're against software patents, you're against patents in general" is a logical fallacy

Perhaps. I think his point is more that many of the people who are vehimately anti-software patents are actually anti-patent in general (but may not know it or admit it)...they don't want to hear anything about software being patentable (under any grounds) and the reasoning they use (as they apply it to software) shows they don't think there should be patents at all.

His point being that IF (and that is often a big IF) the software IS novel and non-obvious (again another big IF), THEN it should be patentable like any other invention.

Of course, his writing speaks for itself...

Matt Norwood Says:

April 6, 2006 05:13 PM

"if you're against software patents, you're against patents in general" is a logical fallacy

Not only is he wrong, but he even admits it by the end of the essay.

His position seems to be:

1. There's no reason to distinguish between software patents and other patents.

2. Oh, but software patents in practice get used completely differently from other patents.

3. Oh, and using software patents to build a product is a completely different process from using other patents to build products.

4. In fact, the process by which a software patent gets turned into a product is so dependent on the specific design skills of the development team that it's incompatible with the explicit legal requirements of the US patent statute ("one reasonably skilled in the art could make or use the invention from the disclosures in the patent").

5. And by the way, software patents are only ever put to anticompetitive purposes, namely using them as a club for incumbents to keep new innovators out of the market.

In other words, he refutes his own thesis while making a strong case for banning software patents. He seems like a very confused man: he recognizes the stupidity and corruption of the world in which he's created his company, and he's trying desperately to rationalize it, but the truth keeps slipping in despite his best efforts.

George Says:

April 7, 2006 11:54 AM

"If you are against patents on breathing air, you are against all patents"

"If you are against patents on doing the tango, you are against all patents"

"If you are against patents on walking down the sidewalk, you are against all patents"

"If you are against patents on plotlines, you are against all patents"

"If you are against patents on perpetual motion devices you are against all patents"

The line of reasoning is beyond fallacious it's downright ridiculous. The only ones who seem to agree with it are those who are already so blinded to their own IP-maximalist theology that they don't even consider the argument, or those who are too intellectually lazy to think it through.

And it wasn't even the main point of Paul Graham's essay, which was that, in his experience, software patents haven't hurt any of his startups... yet.

Douglas Sorocco Says:

April 8, 2006 09:10 AM

Wow - that comment makes me twitch as well. I am in Kayton's Advanced Opinion class right now and a lot of time was spent on wilfull patent infringement. I can imagine that his clients now have a huge target on them re: wilfull infringement and trebling of damages. I know that I will always look to see if he is involved in any way with a potential infringer. Also, his quote is inaccurate in my opinion - start ups are frequently targeted for infringment in order to stop them. Also, why would you want to build a company on a technology that there is a cloud over? I can't imagine VCs would accept that statement in their due diligence work? Any thoughts from our friends reaing this in the VC community...

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