When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

15 February 2008

The (patent) claim vs. the reality

Philip Greenspun has some useful and interesting thoughts on Internet software patents:
A basic theory of human endeavor suggests that the smartest people who will ever work in a field are those who work in that field when it is new. When a technology is new and exciting, it attracts the best people that it will ever attract. No modern oil painter has ever developed the skill of Vermeer or Rembrandt, guys who pioneered the use of paints that were then new. In computing, among the pioneers were Alan Turing and John Von Neumann. Can we honestly look at Windows Vista and say "Whoa, the guys who built this are way smarter than Turing and Von Neumann"?

If programmers get dumber every year, how come we're smart enough to keep discovering clever new things to patent, things that those pioneers in computer science didn't dream of? We can buy all of our books on amazon.com and the early Internet pioneers couldn't go shopping online because they weren't smart enough to envision online shopping, right?

The answer is that the early Internet pioneers did envision essentially every service available on the present-day Internet. They wrote about it and distributed those writings to tens of thousands of people. They demonstrated prototypes, sometimes to rooms full of more than 1000 people, and distributed films of those demos. The only reason that we believe ourselves to be innovative is that we are too lazy to go to the library and read what was done in the 1960s.

If those old guys were so smart, why didn't they build amazon.com, eBay, and Google? Well, many of them died before the 50,000th person obtained Internet access. There wasn't much point in having an online store when there were only 50 or 100 computers on the Internet.

Read the whole thing. You wouldn't want to miss his timeline of Net innovations. :-)

Internet Software Patents (Philip Greenspun, 15 Feb 2008)

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