Jun 13

I have been trying to compare software with other stuff but to my great disappointment I could not find anything that has the complete set of attributes that software does. Really, just think about it for a second or two. You have a computer. A computer is a general purpose machine. On it’s own it’s pretty much useless. By loading a program or a set of programs to it, you can turn it into something useful like a typewriter, a game machine, a music player and many more. Software is not something you can really come in physical contact with. You can not see or touch it. It is simply electronic pulses that can be interpreted by a computer as ones and zeros. This is why it is so easy to share software as the only cost of reproducing it is the cost of the media.

Originally software was written in machine language, a bunch of ones and zeroes. The increasing complexity of software made it impossible to continue programming in machine language, so new ways of representing a program where invented in order to make a program easier to write, read and understand. The program must then be compiled into the machine language so a computer can run it. Unfortunately, it is impossible in many cases to reverse engineer the compiled version back to the original program, as much information that is not relevant to the machine is not preserved. Of course, a skilled software engineer could read a program in machine language and determine what is doing, but this is a very difficult and time consuming task which is nearly impossible to complete for the whole program, given the complexity of modern software. An even more difficult task is to change it.

The Proprietary Software Industry has taken all those things into account and created a business model that uses every attribute  of software for it’s own benefit, with actual goal to maximize profit. This is unfair because many freedoms that you have when you buy other items are taken away simply because they managed to convince the rest of the world that this it is how it’s suppose to work and there is no other way.

When you “buy” a proprietary software you are not actually buying the software but a license to use it. Although in many cases the physical package of the software convinces you that you actually bought something that belongs to you, in reality what you get is someone’s permission to use a piece of software. This does not explain why they will not give you the source code of the program, so you or someone else can verify what it does or doesn’t. For sure, a buyer would complain if a feature was missing from a software, but what about something extra, something that is not in the list of features, something that the program is not supposed to be doing or you don’t want it to do. It is certain that you have no way of knowing what that thing you didn’t buy really does. Many people will take a leap of faith for such software companies and say “They are not going to do that, after all they are professional companies right?”. Right or wrong the point is that you cannot tell. Still, this does not explain why they do not give you the source code. They will probably say that they are protecting their own property from being stolen, but come on, we are in the 21st century. If every software company is enforced by law to release the source code of it’s software, you can cross check every software ever existed for copied code so I suppose they will be more protected this way. Plus the source code is protected by copyright law as any other piece of work. Where is the problem then?

More over, by not having the source code you can not make any changes to improve an existing piece of software (that is, if you normally could, but you could easily find someone to do them for you). This is perfectly normal, considering that you didn’t buy the program, but a license to use it. But why didn’t they let you buy the software in the first place? After all buying something gives you many more rights than just a license to use it. The software industry will probably say that they do this in order to protect their software from illegal distribution. If you buy a software, then you can make copies of it and sell them or give them away illegally. Well, first of all this is actually happening today, and secondly, buying something like a book for example, does not give you the right to reproduce it and sell it.

Another important thing we should mention here is that to write a software, the only thing you need is what you already have if you are reading this article on-line. Yes this is right, you just need a computer. In theory anyone with a computer can write software. The big software companies created an additional level of security to prevent this, by introducing patents to software. By this, they managed not only to have the monopoly for their own software, but also stopping anyone else from developing something with similar functionality.

Most people have become familiar with the computer world within this proprietary software industry so they never got to know what freedoms they are entitled to and so they never ask for them. This article is not about free software, although many ideas in this article are similar. This article is about the rights and respect that the computer user deserves, and have been taken away from him without even knowing it.

You should always seek your freedom or it will be taken away and you will not even notice that it is missing.

Share

10 Responses to “Why Software is not treated fairly”

  1. Ray Subs says:

    I strongly feel that software should be able to be patented and that strong patents help to minimize patent infringement and improve patent enforcement. I believe software creators should be able to make money on their creations just like anyone else in this country!

    I found some great information on this very topic at http://www.generalpatent.com/patent-infringement

  2. Guy de Enpassant says:

    > I strongly feel that software should be able to be patented and that strong patents help to minimize patent infringement and improve patent enforcement.

    And I believe cat protection laws help to avoid cat theft and improve cat retention. DUH! Don’t post things like these, Ray Subs… this is offensive even to medium-IQ people.

    > I believe software creators should be able to make money on their creations just like anyone else in this country!

    Well, I believe software creators should work hard just like anyone else… and stop being greedy Scrooges.

  3. TDTwister says:

    Ray,

    Thank you for your comment. Everybody is entitle to its opinion although I realise that you made the critical mistake to compare software with everything else “just like anyone else in this country!”.
    You could get more information on why software should not be patented in this site: http://www.nosoftwarepatents.com.
    The following site show how many patents are “violated” from a simple webshop http://webshop.ffii.org/. Do you real think that shopping card, picture link, pay with credit card etc. are worth the patenting?

    Thank you!

  4. TDTwister says:

    Guy de Enpassant,

    I think your responses should help people understand why software patents are not good for the software industry.
    I know many people who are actually misinformed about what patents in general are, when they should be applied and why software patents are only helping big software corporations to enforce a monopoly.
    After explaining all this if they have the same opinion at least you will know that you have done the best you could to help them.

    Thank you for your post.

  5. Nevyn says:

    I’m not sure the blanket statement “software patents are bad” are going to help. The fact remains that proprietary software still exists and have more money. Thus, they’re able to influence laws a lot more easily.

    The main problem for me is that it slows down technology. If everything is a derivative of something else, then we need those other things to build upon.

    Technology wouldn’t be where it is today if it hadn’t been for IBM not patenting the BIOS. It meant that the BIOS could be replicated and thus we have the cheap PCs we all enjoy today. Imagine a world where this hadn’t happened. We instead end up with 2 Apple like companies. Neither is able to get ahead of the other due to pricing (it’d be in their best interest to keep pricing high as there are only two real players in the market). Saturation levels of computers in the home would most likely be fairly low due to price, and even if it wasn’t low, you’d have a whole lot of under powered computers as the price to upgrade or replace would be far too high. Software would then have to be written to accommodate slower machines. MS probably wouldn’t be the power it is today and would be tightly coupled with IBM. The internet would be for those few that could afford not only the computers, but the internet. Because the internet wouldn’t have reached the saturation levels it has today, internet access would be expensive due to a large outlay to reach fewer people. ISP’s would be far and few between.

    Fine – if you want to make money from your software, make money from your software. But for crying out loud – don’t try to stifle technology for your own pockets. These patents have much bigger implications than your wallet.

  6. TDTwister says:

    Nevyn,

    Software patents are as a matter of fact a very important issue. Nevertheless the point of this article was not to discuss the patent issue but the minimum rights that a computer user should have. Unfortunately the discussion went off course. I believe that the minimum rights that a computer user should have are much greater and far more important issue than software patents.

    Thank you!

  7. Jose_X says:

    [Ray Subs] >> I strongly feel that software should be able to be patented and that strong patents help to minimize patent infringement and improve patent enforcement.

    Do you feel that types of exercises should be patentable and that these patents should be strong so that people are arrested if they perform your exercise without authority from you?

    This would mean if your exercise is basic (like rotating the ankle), then it couldn’t be used in any other type of exercise without your permission.

    Is this also how you feel about people’s use of pajamas? No more unauthorized pajama parties or it’s directly to jail without passing go.

    Patents on usages, where the patents would affect many citizens and not just a few odd inventors in arcane high cost areas, is a mistake: it infringes on many people’s rights and does not promote the progress of science and the useful arts.

    It’s like the other commenter said, make money like everyone else: by working, not by being given king royalty rights over what people do and how they do it.

    BTW, for those that don’t know, people are justifying the patenting of software as a way to *use* a computer (as a “process patent”).

    Remember folks, for every patent you take out to rudely prevent others from doing “your thing” (or at least not without tipping you), there are hundreds of thousands more patents taken out by others to prevent you from doing an awful lot more things.

    As if this wasn’t bad enough (that you gain 1 but lose 300,000), some of these people are more experienced in writing patents than you are so they are blocking you off really really well from things you’ll really want to do. Their patents are better than your patents in many cases.

    Do you even have one patent or 10,000? Patents are expensive to get and maintain. You can’t compete against the Deep Pockets. This expensive game is fine so long as it only rudely affects people and companies with big wallets (as is the case for industrial process patents).

    Many great comments here http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20090922030639824#comments but I cover the above in the reply “Not all processes should be patentable”

    .. and also another comment from which I’ll quote:

    *****
    Let’s look some key differences between software inventions and traditional
    inventions.

    Can I copy/paste a new machine or process (of the traditional kinds, eg, a
    building) and reuse it, manufacture it, distribute it, all within seconds or
    minutes and at essentially $0? Of course not. Not even close.

    Are there millions of people that could effect this manufacture/distribution for traditional inventions while adding their own twist/innovation on top? Of course not. So we have a large number of software inventors and inventions. And we know there is an opportunity cost to patents that is proportional to the number of inventors because we are barring EVERYONE so that A SINGLE ONE could have monopoly control. Aside from this, we end up with a greater number of inventors whose Constitutionally protected liberties are being infringed with every patent out there. [Noninventors effectively don't suffer the abridgment of liberties they were never exercising.]

    The low cost of software use, distribution, etc, means that we have a lot more people willing to work on software without expecting or demanding patent protections. Why? Because patents aren’t needed to cover huge costs, for example. Because the value that comes from sharing (from the individual’s perspective: magnifying his/her input many many fold) can be tapped when we don’t have a patent system to get in the way.

    Look at all of these negatives with software patents, and we haven’t even looked at how awfully general they are. The Speedy Gonzales to the patent office writes up general invention claims (that could have been derived by listening to the grape vine) and then gets a 20 year monopoly control over the work of many geniuses likely already working out the trickier details. That makes no sense except if you have very few inventors. [With few inventors, you are unlikely to have many able or wanting to leverage your invention to derive the trickier points]. Note, that coming up with a broad patent claim tends to SIMPLICITY the broader (more powerful) is the patent claim. This is backwards. We are currently rewarding greater the easier the invention: broad claims cover the most ground and give the fewest details — all patent claims are horribly broad by nature, btw. [Yes, anyone can still patent the trickier points, but they may not even be able to use these value-add inventions because of the core general patent owned by Speedy Gonzales.] We are penalizing the smart and hardworking (and who have high standards) to the benefit of the potentially “cheating” and less knowledgeable Speedy Gonzaleses.

    The high costs of patents (in time and money) ensures many will not seek them, even for defensive leverage purposes. For example, many developers in the FOSS world and many otherwise ordinary individual users adding their little bits here and there don’t seek patents for the most part, in part, because of the high costs in money and time and because of the lack of interest in creating/leveraging such broad anti-social monopolies. Why should those that don’t try to hurt/block/take away from society and from individual inventors (by taking out patents) be penalized? It makes sense to have patents be automatic so that the most generous aren’t penalized for their generosity [I'm assuming that the professor isn't really in a position to know my mind as I earlier sarcastically assumed he could.] Of course, granting patents automatically, as happens for copyright, would quickly show the gargantuan folly of the system when you have many inventors.

    Overall, the brokenness of the patent system means many don’t seek them. These fair-minded people are being wrongly penalized every time their inventions are leveraged by those who then go and exploit patent monopolies against the former group.

    The Internet was a game changer. We need to communicate this to the courts. [Even invention types that can't tap into the Internet fully, eg, to clone and distribute for $0, still benefit greatly from it (collaboration, etc). Perhaps some traditional patents should not be awarded today because of the growing opportunity costs of these monopolies.]

    Costs and leveragability are key concepts of software. It makes software like math, literature, and related copyrightable works.

    My position is that software patents are essentially Unconstitutional, if to be Constitutional requires that these monopolies “promote the progress of science and useful arts.”
    *****

  8. Jimmyfj says:

    Technology is one thing that just isn’t possible to slow down, patents or not.

    @Nevyn – If IBM hadn’t made the BIOS free, another technology would have emerged shortly after. IBM, I believe, could not patent BIOS due to prior art, which this link should inform you, if you care to read the book:

    http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/taoup/html/

    Reading that book will inform you that the PDP10 and PDP11, among others had BIOS functionality, and thus prior art has been around since WWII.

    Patents are not a good idea in any area whatsoever. It’s no good for humanity and serves only the purpose of enriching large companies on behalf of the free market and the small companies and enforces corporate taxes on consumers.

    Imagine the US actually beginning to obey the Universal Treaty of Human Rights so that the market was an even playing ground for all of us? No THAT’LL be the day.

    Fortunately I live in the EU where software patents does not fly. Thank God for that.

  9. Jose_X says:

    >> Technology is one thing that just isn’t possible to slow down, patents or not.

    I can tell you from personal experience that I have shun certain areas of development solely because of patents I was told existed. Thank goodness I don’t spend my time reading or researching for patents. Ignorance is bliss.

    The people that worked on OGG+friends could have worked to advanced the art further or worked on some other area or implementation instead of reimplementing and redesigning many existing things solely to bypass patents. It essentially means you can’t optimize but are forced in how you contribute. It also means that if you can’t find a better way, many people will be stuck working with the (sort of) patent-safe but less efficient way.

    Opportunity costs: what if Einstein had stayed working in the patent offices and ignored physics? Wouldn’t that have slowed down technology by slowing down our understanding in various areas of science? Wouldn’t having one fewer person contributing in their area of greatest interest and specialty not hurt? Now extend this to all people negatively impacted through patents. A patent hand-cuffs all but one for the sake of that single one.

    Some patents are difficult to avoid or much time is consumed going around.

    Every patent creates barriers. Of course these barriers “slow down” technology. You have a smaller pool of contributors able to leverage what exists.

    In fact, a monopoly means that for every person that gets exclusive access, billions more are denied. At least thousands of those billions denied would have otherwise contributed or contributed more usefully.

    Patents can be used to prevent software from being distributed easily even if ultimately it is allowed indirectly (through the “graces” of the patent holder or through legal loopholes).

    Patents are just too broad (at least in the US). I don’t know if people realize how broad they are. I didn’t until I started looking a bit more carefully and realized that the invention described is not what is used to define boundaries but instead it’s the extremely less detailed (much more broad) claims (which are composed of a single sentence each) that define scope.

    Copyrights for too many years are problematic, but patents (on, eg, software) are much worse. The creations of many end up infringing the extremely broad patent claims. 20 years is an awfully long time.

    Keep in mind that to come up with insight for new inventions, you need to have implementations around from which you gain experience, insight, and resolve many issues (software apps are the analog of laboratory experiments). The less accessible these implementations are, the fewer people will be gaining insight and have a realistic potential to contribute maximally.

    Keep in mind that with FOSS many contributors don’t work as software devs full-time. If these can’t leverage the products for economic gain, they have less incentive and ability to contribute. If they have to pay for licenses, it greatly limits their usage and collaboration.

    The software situation to date has (nonoptimally) worked because few lawsuits have been levied directly at the majority of software devs (I did mention the indirect problems) in most cases, and because many of the larger corps have pledged to use numerous patents to defend large areas of, eg, FOSS (ie, much of what you might find in a Linux distro).

    Why can’t we just formalize this condition by making all users of any FOSS immune from all patents? We already have copyrights and trade secrets which are a more fair/targeted approach to protections. FOSS is a great contribution to society — if patents don’t get in the way (more so with very broad patents).

  10. Matt K. says:

    Think of software and think of a CAR (automobile).

    What if FORD patented the Combustion Engine. Does that mean only FORD can make cars that do not need a horse or a steam engine?

    now, take it a step further. What about patenting THE WHEEL? If Ford patented the wheel imagine what impact that would have on anything that uses a wheel.

    Now take it the FINAL step, Patenting a GEAR. Now all clicks, the wheel, anything that uses gears to operate now have ot pay a royalty to Ford, cuz they own the Patent to The Wheel and The Gear.

    SOFTWARE IS NO DIFFERENT.

    Imagine you patent an HTML form, or even the submission process. You now get to sue every single website ever made! So you think this is SANE?

    now lets say you try and patent the idea of POINTERS (using in computer programming )… now everything that uses a pointer is in violation of your patent. This CAN NOT WORK.

    What I think the author of this article failed to mention is that Software can not be properly applied to anything tangible, THEREFORE what you are saying is that Software can be applied to ANYTHING.

    Software, can be thought of as Architeure and building design.

    Software can be thought of as Biological organizms in the way the CPU coupled with I/O and all the complexity of a computer system, is like having a living thing. It may not be ‘alive’ in the true sense, but it can certainly be similar enough to be comparable.

    I myself have asked this same questions, what can software be compared to.

    Well it can be compared to anything… software I believe most closely related to ‘Consciousness’ itself. One COULD write a program so complex, with enough speed and memory and large enough database with complex enough If and ELSE statements along with algorithmic for and while Loops, to arrive to a living thing.

    Chew on that for awhile.

    Software is much like this intangible thing that CONTROLS the 1’s and 0’s and pulses than as a whole create what is known as EMERGENCE. Look that work up, Emergence, it is a fascinating concept.

Leave a Reply

preload preload preload