The Nonsense of Software Patents

I am Software Developer and my opinion is that Software Patents are not only Nonsense but also counterproductive!

There are not infinitely many ways to program something. Computer Science Theory already shows that for many problems there are only few methods to solve the problem with programming in a reasonable way if they are solvable at all. And then there are best practices in programming which simply evolved from many programmers coding a huge amount of code and trying to make everything more manageable.

On the other hand there are the software companies who try to claim every idea as theirs to gain control over their competitors or even a part of the software development universe. This turns programming more and more into a run through a minefield and I am already sure that one day when I finally think that I get a big success with one of my programs there comes one of these big patent hoarders and wants its part of my cake because I violated some sort of broad spread patent.

As I can read on Heise Online today this time someone tries to get his piece of cake from our dear competitor Microsoft. It seems that the Canadian company i4i holds a US Patent No. 5,787,449 which describes the separate manipulation of architecture information and data of a document within the same file.

Not that I am not a little bit mischievous that it hit Microsoft, one of the biggest supporters of software patents and rigorous enforcer of his own “rights”, but I have to state that I am a little bit astonished that such a patent is possible after all! I mean, the patent was filed in 1994 but at this time we had already the Java Programming language since 1992. And together with this language came the famous JAR-file which is an zip-archive enhanced with a metadata file. This metadata file describes the “architecture” of the jar-archive and can be manipulated independently from the class files which normally constitute the data. It becomes even more obvious that this method is common sense when you examine the usage of ear- or war-archives because with the appearance of J2EE the usage of XML-Files within the archive for configuration and architecture description of the data within the archive went a huge step further.

Since 2006 the Open Document Standard is specified, which actually does what every smart programmer would do without any guidance. It packs together the formatting information and the data of a document into one archive, the exact same path which was already prepared by the jar-archives.

So, especially in direction of Microsoft, I would like to ask: Does anybody else have the same impression as I that software patents are really counterproductive an therefore should be forbidden?

I for myself have never in this business seen a striking innovation where I would have agreed that this should be protected by a patent. But I am only about 20 years in this business. Perhaps this point is still to come.

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