Wednesday, April 10, 2013

And they're patenting food!

As a computer engineer, I've been a longtime opponent of software patents, but there are other areas where patents are not beneficial to society either, such as Monsanto's patenting of seeds. They're famous for suing farmers and for generally using intellectual property law to throw their weight around in the physical world of living organisms. And it isn't just Monsanto--other companies have collectively patented the human genome in the U.S..

So Avaaz has a petition going right now against Monsanto's moves in Europe. Please sign it!

And don't forget, the popular idea that patents benefit small inventors is a myth. In reality, patent litigation is very expensive and vastly easier for large companies to use than small ones or individuals; also, as you'll see at the link, individual patents are sometimes easy to circumvent, depending on how they're written; but large companies have large patent portfolios to increase the chances of having some patents that are hard to circumvent, and patents that, while easily circumvented, the defendants were unaware of, so that lawsuits can be launched against accidental perpetrators (the latter case is more common).

And here's a paper from two economists arguing that patents should be abolished entirely. I haven't read it yet, but I know I'd be more receptive to that idea than Mr. Baylis's proposal that people should be jailed and given a criminal record for infringing a patent.

I have never patented any of the programming ideas I've come up with, and hopefully I never will. I want my ideas to be used to benefit the world, not as obstacles for other programmers to "find a way around". And there are lots of computer scientists in academia who also publish papers for the good of mankind--not as a tool for personal profit (which the patent system rarely provides anyway, see above). Certainly it would be nice if there were monetary awards for inventing and innovating--but these rewards should be given for ideas that are freely shared, that actually enter widespread use in society, not for ideas that are locked away in some patent written in legalese, ideas that people can be punished for using even accidentally.

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