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August 10, 2011
Obvious Troll is... um... Uninformed
Commenter Gareth Simpson pointed me to Mark Cuban's next blog entry on the topic of patents. To say that it's cringe-worthy is a polite understatement. I suppose people worth two billion dollars are equally as entitled as you and I to spew uninformed commentary over the Internet, but geebus.
Cuban's prescriptions for patent reform include abolishing software patents. This is a topic that has been debated at least since the first software patent was granted. I am myself a software patent holder, but I have mixed feelings on the topic. Patents are presently the best form of intellectual property protection available. Contrary to Cuban's one-sentence dismissal the protection offered by copyright is quite weak. I still believe we need a new form of IP protection for software; however, I have to agree that the advances in information science fundamentally challenge the notion that software (information) is different from hardware. Generally, patenting hardware is uncontroversial but then people opposed to software patents must also answer the question of why a program expressed as a custom chip is afforded a different protection than a program expressed as a block of C++ code.
Regardless of which side of the debate you find yourself on (or flip-flop across as I tend to do) Cuban's curt dismissal of the complexity of the issues comes across as ignorant.
Then again, he also wants to abolish "all process patents." I'm going to take a wild guess (since he doesn't bother to state) that what he means are business process patents. Unless he's also opposed to all biological, chemical, and mechanical transformative processes being patented, in which case I find myself wondering what the hell he thinks could be patented. So let's credit him a little bit.
Abolishing business process patents is a less-well-studied suggestion, but not terribly original. The problem I see is that a business process isn't necessarily that different from a software process - certainly every maker of workflow software would like you to think they can encode your business processes in their software (see for example the open-source ProcessMaker if you aren't familiar with this stuff). If we think business processes can be encoded in software then they can also be encoded in machines and now we're back in the weird world of saying "well, yes, you can patent a machine that carries out steps A B and C but if you have human beings doing it then you can't patent it."
Again, I think reasonable people can debate this issue and come out on either side, but you can't just hand-wave them away.
I would love to do a similar dissection of Cuban's opinions of the "benefits" of eliminating these forms of patenting, but I have more interesting things to spend my time on, like Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup.
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