Why software patents are bad for Java developers
Open source software advocates in Europe have achieved a stunning victory in the European Parliament yesterday when the Computer-Implemented Inventions directive on software patents was rejected.
It was a battle between small software vendors and open source advocates and European Information Technology and Communications Association (EICTA), an industry group representing big vendors such as Microsoft.
You can read about the campaign here:
There are many reasons why Java developers both in Europe and outside Europe should oppose software patents:
Software patents effectively place restrictions on what Java developers can develop – on ideas. If you think about that for even a few moments, it’s as absurd as patenting naturally occurring gene sequences.
At the moment, a Java developer can start coding and produce something interesting of commercial value. The start up costs are minimal. At the current rate of issuing software patents in the US, it won’t be long before a Java developer has to do legal searches and negotiate patent licenses prior to distributing even the most basic application.
Software is already well protected through copyright (and trademarks) which cost nothing and are pretty much automatic. If software patents become standard practice, then the cost-of-entry to the Java market will increase substantially.
Software patents can and will in the future be used to create or protect monopolies. Just wait until Windows market share is threatened and watch Microsoft’s army of lawyers claim a few hundred patent violations. Preventing competition will become perfectly legal.
Already, even the suggestion of a patent violation can hurt the share price of a technology vendor. This puts customers, who don’t want to risk getting caught up in court cases. Which means that large players with large patent collections will become the only safe source of software. This will hurt innovation and diversity, which are two key strengths of Java.
It is very difficult to search for software patent violations – which means its almost impossible to guarantee that no patents have been violated. This increases the risks involved in developing new software products.
Large US sofware and technology vendors have formed cartel-like cross patent licensing agreements. These agreements excluse small and even medium vendors, and certainly have no place for open source software. Even a successful independent software vendor with several patents and $10+ million in revenue is completely at the mercy of major software vendors with thousands of patents.
The developing world is looking to Java and open source as the solution to its software needs (Brazil is a high profile example). This whole strategy is threatened by software patents.
Perhaps the worst long term result of allowing software patents is that innovation will be blocked because software is generally incremental and builds on the current state of the art.
You can find detailed research on the effects of software patents here: