Republished: Software Patents Raised Again in the UK

Originally Published on November 2007


No, it's not MS doing it, but the issue of Software Patents is being raised again in the UK. Four small companies are raising the issue at the High Court, claiming that the current UK laws do not fall in line with EU rules, and are therefore stifling innovation.

The Register carries some details on this but the short version on the story is that these companies do not believe that the ban on patents for disks and downloads is correct. As they correctly state, Copyright protection does not grant the protection that a patent does, but I believe this is a good thing. Patent law in the US has caused the rise of the 'patent troll', companies that create nothing but patents, and then sue other companies for infringing their patents.

The mess in the US should be enough to tell everyone that software patents are bad, bad news. Many believe the patents themselves stifle innovation, there are just so many patents filed (many of them obviosu things) that you cannot create anything without risking infringing upon someone elses patents. This is not a situation we want to see in the UK, software is not an invention. It may be difficult to write, it may 'invent' a new concept, but at the end of the day it is nothing more than a set of instructions telling a device how to act.
If the software for a washing machine had been patentable, then there could only be one brand legally selling washing machines in the UK. This would have left the consumer paying far more than in todays reasonably competitive market.

The whole concept of patents was to encourage innovation, by allowing you to maintain a government approved monopoly on your invention for some time. Where software is concerned, the opposite happens, people are wary of starting or releasing new projects in case a patent has already been granted. Hopefully the High Court will find against the plaintiffs, but until then, things are going to be tense in many programmers houses.