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Is The Lone Coder Dead? 809

Posted by timothy
from the rms-played-by-anthony-hopkins dept.
CyNRG writes "The little guy. The one-person software company. Can it still exist today? That's me. I'm once again, after many years, writing my own commercial software to sell. A few things have changed: the patent feeding frenzy. This is my main concern. My perception is that one must verify that you don't infringe on any patents when developing new cool software, and that the explosion of patents granted by the USPTO has reached epic proportions. If this perception is true, then that makes it almost impossible for the Lone Coder to create something new that doesn't infringe on other patents. The amount of money required to perform the due diligence research seems like it would be greater than the amount of money needed to develop the software, or even the total revenues that the software could ever generate. Please someone tell me I'm wrong!" Is he?
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Is The Lone Coder Dead?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:37PM (#10838051)
    I just heard some sad news on talk radio - The Lone Coder was found dead in front of his home computer this evening. There weren't any more details. I'm sure everyone in the Slashdot community will miss him - even if you didn't enjoy his work, there's no denying his contributions to programming culture. Truly a geek icon.
    • by $alex_n42 (679887) <druid_noi AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:50PM (#10838658) Homepage Journal
      'ees not dead, 'ees pinin'
    • by starm_ (573321) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @11:02PM (#10838729)
      I just heard that apparently the lone coder isn't dead after all. He just moved to another country.
      • by dbIII (701233) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @12:46AM (#10839373)
        He just moved to another country.
        RSA developed overseas mainly due to silly US encryption laws - their customers traded with people overseas so there was no way they could legally give their customers a decent product with a US produced product. Other places may have to do the same due to silly US patents. The lone programmer probably can't keep up with the patent mess.

        Lone programmers still exist in specialised areas, the company I work for buys some geophysics software from a one man company.

      • by cshark (673578) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @01:12AM (#10839524) Homepage
        Wouldn't you if you could?
        American IP laws have been getting gradually worse for the better part of a decade.

        But seriously,
        With a couple of exceptions I can think of. Namely the e-commerce shopping cart patent, there hasn't been much of a threat to smaller development houses. I'm not saying it's not there, but I don't know if it's as bad as people think it is.

        Small software houses pose problems for IP lawyers. First, they don't have any money. They barely make any money. They might make enough for the initial developer to get by, but when you're talking about the kind of money these companies are looking for, that's nothing. They'll spit at it.

        Secondly,
        Smaller firms are a lot more likely to find pro bono defense. There are a couple of non profit organizations like the EFF that are set up to do just that. Then there's the problem of groups of smaller companies banding together to cover legal costs. Any way you cut it, the smaller the firm you go after, the more likely you are to end up in court. Might sound good if you have genuine innovation at risk. But if you hold several hundred questionable patents on business processes, it's bad news.

        If I were a patent hording firm, I would be going after the Sonys and IBMs of the world. That's a sure bet.
    • The Details (Score:5, Funny)

      by PetoskeyGuy (648788) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @12:49AM (#10839393)
      LoneCoder [slashdot.org] does indeed appear dead. LongCoder started posting to slashdot in early 2000. His 7 short comments receiving a score of 1 each caused him to take a 4 year break from posting to slashdot.

      A carefully worded post praising Suse Linux netted him a score of 4 he briefly basked in his own reflected glory. Unfortunately his very successs was also his downfall. Unable to handle the thought of another 1 point post after gaining acceptance for the first time through /. moderators, LoneCoder took his own life.

      On his computer were found many text files containing various drafts of "In Soviet Russia", "Imagine a Beaowulf", and other unposted commemts along with his predictions on their possible scores.

      He leaves behind No Friends [slashdot.org], No Foes [slashdot.org], No Freaks [slashdot.org], and No Fans [slashdot.org], and no forwarding email.

      Remember his final words: SuSE rules!! [slashdot.org]
  • Of course not (Score:5, Informative)

    by mordors9 (665662) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:37PM (#10838059)
    Your real goal though is to write something, get it patented and then sell it for millions to the big boys.
    • by doi (584455) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:53PM (#10838211)
      Shit, don't bother writing it first, just patent something!
      • Re:Of course not (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Grax (529699) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:55PM (#10838692) Homepage
        Now you understand. Our patent system doesn't require you to invent anything. Only to think of something. If thinking of things made you an inventor I would be a pretty serious inventor. (I still think that the line painted in the street to show you if you are too close to the intersection to stop if the light is yellow is a good idea.)

        The current trend is to take obvious ideas and add the phrase "on the internet" and boom, new invention.

        Old Idea. "I want to buy something"
        New Idea. "I want to buy something on the internet"

        Old Idea. "I want to auction something"
        New Idea. "I want to auction something on the internet"

        Old Idea. "You can find things with a table of contents"
        New Idea. "You can find things with a table of contents on my web site, which is on the internet"

    • Re:Of course not (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Flyboy Connor (741764) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @04:42AM (#10840271)
      Your real goal though is to write something, get it patented and then sell it for millions to the big boys.

      Except what will happen is something like:

      Microsoft: "You have a patent we need."

      Lone Coder: "OK. It'll cost you a million bucks."

      Microsoft: "Forget it, we're going to use your stuff without paying."

      Lone Coder: "Then I'll sue you."

      Microsoft: "But our defense will be that our code is a tiny but significant bit different from yours. So we're not infringing."

      Lone Coder: "I'll get a really good lawyer who'll show that you actually ARE infringing."

      Microsoft: "That will take years. Lawyers are expensive. In the meantime, we believe that you are infringing on several of our patents. So we're going to unleash our army of lawyers onto you. Can you really afford the legal costs?"

      Lone Coder: "You bastards."

      Microsoft: "Now now. There's no need for ugly language. We're your buddies. We're here to help you! If you just sign over the rights to your patent to us, we will allow you to continue using it yourself. Of course, when our new blockbuster software comes out, your market is destroyed, but until that time you will be able to make a living."

      Lone Coder: "Arghhhhhh!"

      Microsoft: "And you pay us a million dollars, just so that we won't have our lawyers start sueing you for infringing our patents, as soon as we have thought up a couple that you probably are infringing."

      Lone Coder: *whimper*

  • I hope not ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by smoyer (108342) <smoyer64@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:38PM (#10838064)
    That would be the end of innovation in the U.S. and would cause an even greater shift of technology jobs to oversea markets!
    • by turnstyle (588788) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:06PM (#10838332) Homepage
      I'm [turnstyle.com] a fellow lone coder [turnstyle.com].

      It's not easy -- you have to stoop to doing stuff like adding gratuitous links to your Slashdot posts.

      This isn't going to be a popular sentiment here, but I'd say that the GPL and P2P generally make it tougher to make a living.

      • This isn't going to be a popular sentiment here, but I'd say that the GPL and P2P generally make it tougher to make a living.

        I agree with you completely on the GPL. From the perspective of anyone who depends on writing software to make a living, it is an especially obnoxious proprietary license. It differs from typical proprietary licenses only in that the "proprietor" hires anybody who wants to work for it, pays them absolutely nothing, dumps all its products on the market for free, and will refuse to se
        • by Saeger (456549) <farrellj&gmail,com> on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @11:05PM (#10838745) Homepage
          From the perspective of anyone who depends on writing software to make a living, it is an especially obnoxious proprietary license.

          Funny - I make my living by writing, integrating and providing valueadd support for BSD & GPL'd solutions (mostly web-based).

          Most software is a commodity now so it's just the reality of the situation that providing services around opensource is more efficient than the ol' model of selling a piece of shrinked-wrapped artificial scarcity, or a license for same.

          --

          • Funny - I make my living by writing, integrating and providing valueadd support for BSD & GPL'd solutions (mostly web-based).

            The BSD license does not resemble a proprietary license. Neither does the Apache license, and people make plenty of money building on and supporting both Apache-licensed and BSD-licensed solutions, even though they are not as aggressive as the GPL.

            The Apache and BSD licenses are truly free licenses. The GPL looks like a free license, and enjoys the reputation of a free license,
            • It's a strange commodity that makes you lose rights to your own work if you attempt to incorporate it.

              Sorry, but I'm not in the camp that thinks the GPL is somehow bad because it lets you stand on the shoulders of giants while requiring you to do the same (if you distribute). You're not losing any "rights" by not being able to exploit the commons.

              --

            • by Craig Ringer (302899) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @01:43AM (#10839642) Homepage Journal
              Regarding the Apache and BSD licenses, I tend to agree.

              When it comes to the GPL, I agree that is a restrictive license, and "less free" than the BSD/X11/MIT/Apache licenses. I can't say I agree with the rest, though.

              GPLed works generally belong to no one person or organisation, true. This doesn't always have to be the case (take Asterisk or all FSF software, for example) but generally is. The difference is that I don't see how that's a problem, if all authors/contributors have decided that that license is appropriate for their work. In fact, surely it's much the same as a distributed group of people working on closed source software - the codebase doesn't belong to any one of them - except that the GPL developers let you use their work under a different set of conditions?

              You do not lose the rights to your work if you incorporate GPL code. You will generally have the option, much the same as for any other copyright infringement, of removing and rewriting that portion of the code. You may have to pay damages or settle for other remedies, especially if the copying was knowing. The difference between the GPL and a proprietary license is that it offers you the /option/ of releasing your work under the same license as another way to escape the infringement. Sometimes that might be appropriate, but when it isn't it just comes down to another copyright infringement / license violation case.

              The point is that in many ways the GPL is just another proprietary license, it just gives you different options and a different set of restrictions. Many find it much easier to agree with than other licenses, many others find it impossible to accept. So what? Your own view undermines your complaints - if the authors of GPL works had wanted their work free for everybody to use however they wanted, the would've released under the BSD license or similar. Complaining that they didn't has as much validity as if I complain that your work isn't released under the BSD license, because I want to use it in my work without offering you any compensation.
            • by YellowBook (58311) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:07AM (#10840329) Homepage
              It's a strange commodity that makes you lose rights to your own work if you attempt to incorporate it.

              The GPL can never cause you to lose any rights to your own work; only to derivative works of other works that you would not have any right to incorporate without the GPL. Now, if you incorporate GPL'ed code into something you've written, you still only own the part you wrote, not the whole shebang. And if you release your work under the GPL, and someone contributes improvements to it, you only own the part you wrote; you have rights to the contributions only under the GPL.

              Complaints about the GPL "taking away my rights" basically amount to the vocalizations of people who want to use other people's work without abiding by the terms (based on giving back to the community) that the author of that work set. Basically, GPL-hatred is a kind of looter-mentality.

      • You're the brother of Mike Matthews! The Big Muff Pi and Guitar sytnh are the best guitar pedalboxes ever :) Not that he'll care, but say him "thank you so damn much" from me!

        Anyway, GPL proliferation made living off coding more difficult. There was a small paper written by Stallman himself where he discussed this, and pretty much ended up agreeing that yes, as software becomes a comodity, programmers will get paid less - this compensated by other benefits from open source licensing. I just can't find
      • Software is a comodity, rarely a luxury product anymore.

        Most programmers do not realize that their role has changed in many instances from IT Designer or Engineer to IT Quick FIx or Janitorial Service.

        If you do not understand the nature of software today do not expect to receive sympathy for a vision of the wolrd that is contradicted by day to day reality and facts.

        The only thing copyright infringers can't copy is your personaly lended support. The more software you write and release under open licensing
  • I am not a lawyer (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Elwood P Dowd (16933) <judgmentalist@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:39PM (#10838079) Journal
    Due diligence?

    Patent enforcement is the job of the patent holder. You do not need to do "due diligence" unless you are basing your design on someone else's patented product. Or you are attempting to publish your own patent.
    • Re:I am not a lawyer (Score:3, Informative)

      by ghettoboy22 (723339)
      I think that's exactly his point. You need to conduct due diligence to make sure YOU AREN'T infringing on someone's patent, less you want to get sued for millions if it's found you are infringing.

      Remember, ignorence is no excuse in court.
      • Re:I am not a lawyer (Score:5, Informative)

        by groovemaneuver (539260) <groovemaneuver.gmail@com> on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:49PM (#10838171)
        Remember though, you'll get fined TRIPLE the damages if you knowingly violate a patent, versus 1 x damages if you unknowingly violate. Ignorance isn't protection, but it would appear to be a helluva lot less expensive.

        Damned if you do. Damned if you don't.
      • Re:I am not a lawyer (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jaoswald (63789) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:54PM (#10838687) Homepage
        Due diligence is only worthwhile if you want to make a patent of your own. Using it as a guide to "what not to do" is a total waste of time.

        Look, all the patent does is allow someone to sue you if they believe they can prove in court your work infringes the patent. This requires several steps to have a real effect on you.

        1) They have to notice you
        2) They have to care somewhat about what you are doing and analyze it in some detail to determine it is in their patent library
        3a) You have to be perceived as a threat to be shut down
        3b) alternatively, you could have deep pockets to be emptied.
        4) They have to contact you/make the first move
        5) They have to decide to sue you
        6) They have to be successful enough in court to
        7a) bankrupt you
        7b) make you empty your deep pockets
        7c) make you stop and do something else.

        At many points along the way, the process can break down in your favor.

        - A lone coder can easily stay under the radar while making a comfortable living for one person.
        - Unless they hear about your product, and are able to gather enough information, they won't know it infringes their patents.
        - If you are successful enough to have deep enough pockets that a patent-holder notices (and patent holders have to be big enough to spend many thousands of dollars to file a defensible patent, not to mention R&D for real innovation), or to be perceived as a threat, you've made enough money to hire a good lawyer. Or, enough money to give up without a fight and retire on your savings.
        - When they contact you, you can counteroffer. Lawsuits are risky. Maybe you can create a win-win situation which they would prefer to a possible lose-win situation favoring you. You probably have some code they would like, or skills they would find useful. Offer to come work for them, or license the code to them, or some other kind of collaboration.
        - If they decide to crush you instead of accepting the offer, you can just walk away. Agree to cease & desist, and move on. If you don't have enough money to walk away, they what the hell are they suing you for?

        Patent holders are either

        1) huge companies that don't care about the little ants scurrying around beneath them unless the ant looks like its going to grow into something big. Then, they would rather buy it than crush it.
        Mostly, they get patents to cross-license as protection or to protect their market niche from the other huge companies or *aggressive* startups.

        2) small companies looking for a big company to sue for violating a patent. They are an ant themselves, looking to take down one of the elephants. Other ants don't have enough money to make enticing targets.

        Neither of these cases really cares about crushing some lone coder just for the savage thrill.

        Plus, (IANAL) the damages they can get are related to the profits they would have had but for the infringement. If you are some small potatoes guy, the revenue you suck away would be tiny, unless you are obviously going against some cash cow like Microsoft Office or iTunes Music Store or a commercial data base. Creating a commercial product dedicated directly to putting MS out of business is obviously asking for trouble. But is also beyond the lone coder.

        Don't waste psychic energy worrying about the remote risk that a patent lawsuit will crush you. You'll have plenty of other reasons to fail, anyway. Life is too short to worry about this kind of thing before the C&D warning shot comes over the bow.
        • Re:I am not a lawyer (Score:5, Interesting)

          by dourk (60585) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @12:30AM (#10839276) Homepage
          Unrelated to software, but a similar situation from my industry:

          Honda has a patent regarding the routing of the front brake line on their motocross bikes. Yamaha is forced to use an alternate (longer) routing to keep from infringing the patent, which ends up decreasing sensitivity on the front brake.

          Suzuki ignores the patent. Honda doesn't care. They aren't nearly as concerned about losing sales to Suz as they are to Yamaha.

          And I have a bunch of short brake line kits for those yams, if anyone wants better brake feel.
        • Re:I am not a lawyer (Score:4, Interesting)

          by solprovider (628033) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @01:45AM (#10839647) Homepage
          I fit the definition of the "Lone Coder". While I have a long history of working on teams to write software, several companies have rejected funding my "Really Good Ideas(TM)". I built the programs anyway. I believe (and hope and pray) I have the business sense to bring the products to market without getting sued to oblivion first. Then I hope to free (as in "release the source code under the GPL") the programs before lawsuits force my company into bankruptcy. I want to:
          - make the world a better place.
          - get rich.
          - continue having fun with computers.
          I hope the world (the US court system and the idiots with a bankroll for lawyers) let me.

          Taking your points:
          1. They notice me.
          My first products are built on software from IBM. I hope the partnership with IBM develops so they:
          - Won't sue me. (I am helping to sell their products too.)
          - May assist in my defense against lawsuits. This is a long shot, but I can dream, right?

          2. Realize I am violating a patent.
          Given the state of patents, I assume every new program violates many of them, including anything I write. So I assume I will get sued. Today, there is no chance that a "Lone Coder" could market anything without getting sued.

          3a. Need to be a threat.
          One of my programs obsoletes most of what MS has said Longhorn will do. That should count as a threat.

          3b. Deep pockets.
          We are in negotiations to license one of my programs for several million dollars. Does that count as "deep pockets"?

          4 & 5. They make a move and sue me.
          Are you kidding? There are too many "companies" producing nothing but lawsuits for me to even hope I have a chance to not be sued.

          6. The courts.
          Of course the courts will allow them to sue me. What else are the courts for?

          7a & b. Bankruptcy, Broke
          I hope to have enough money to survive the smaller players. I hope to make partners to survive the big players (MS). Declaring bankruptcy is the last line of the business plan. We expect it.

          7c. Do something else.
          Always have a Plan B. Mine involves an estate somewhere warm with swimming pools. That will not advance the state of computers, but at least I have a plan.

          == Points in my favor? ==
          - Stay under the radar?
          I want to improve the world. I don't worry about developing ideas unless they have the potential to produce millions of dolllars. That is not a good plan for staying under the radar.

          - Lawyers?
          I have a good IP law firm. While I expect them to defend me, and keep the cases in court as long as possible without any impediments to my business, they are expensive, and eventually the cost of the lawyers will eat all the profits. At that point, I'll quit.

          - Counter-offers
          They are only good when the other "company" has something to lose. If they are suing for the hope of a big win, it will be difficult to buy them off. Cross-licensing is useless when the other company only produces lawsuits, since lawyers will not pass laws allowing patents restricting lawsuits, and none of my patents would be relevant.

          - Big companies
          If MS sues me, I am releasing the software as open source. That is the step in the business plan just before going bankrupt.

          - Small companies
          I like your comparison to ants, but a few million dollars will seem like much money to an ant. Why should they take on an elephant when they can retire by stepping on another ant?

          Don't assume a "Lone Coder" cannot be a threat to the big guys. Linus managed to create the only violable threat to MSWindows. One of my programs threatens most of the business software sold today. Yes, Linux involved many other people before it became a real threat, and I expect to hire other people before my programs are brought to market. But the ideas were first developed by a Lone Coder.

          I agree with your last point. Our first goal is to make money. Then we need to polish our other programs and bring them to market. Then we'll wait until lawsuits bankrupt us. Hopefully I will still have Plan B.
      • Re:I am not a lawyer (Score:4, Interesting)

        by cshark (673578) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @12:03AM (#10839128) Homepage
        There is of course another way to get around just about any patent that no one ever seems to talk about. Set up shop in Sealand [sealandgov.com]. For those not in the know Sealand is an abandonned British military platform about the size of a football field in the middle of the ocean. And it just so happens that it is located in international waters. Established in 1967 by some British guy with a boat, it provides the ideal setting for those not interested in complying with IP laws. This is because they don't have any. None, natha, zero. They don't honor anyone else's either. Which is handy. If I am not mistaken, Havenco [havenco.com] is located there as well.
        • Uh huh. The problem is that you can't go there personally because they don't let people over there as a rule. And what's key when you're getting sued is where you are, not where you'd like to be.

          Not to mention that no one takes Sealand seriously and would bother respecting claims of sovereignty anyway.
        • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @03:00AM (#10839968) Journal
          Setting up shop on Sealand can mean a lot of thing - physically, virtually, or legally.

          Physically, I doubt that Sealand can hold many a lone-coder, for they are just the size of a football field, in the middle of nowhere.

          Virtually, maybe I can get my domain / website to be hosted there, and no one has the legal right to confiscate my server. But this still doesn't offer enough protection.

          So we go to the third option - Legal

          Unless Sealand is a internationally recognized sovereign country, anything registered there, whether be corporate entity or not, will NOT be recognized anywhere else.

          The money made by corporation registered on Sealand - if they offer that - will be deemed "black money" in the rest of the world, and legal agencies from the Tax Department to FBI will harrass you whenever you transfer money out of your Sealand account into your local account.

          So ... let me ask the gurus here --- Is there any way for people like us - lone coders - to be offered any protection from the fascist law firms out there ?

    • Re:I am not a lawyer (Score:5, Informative)

      by geek42 (592158) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:45PM (#10838137)
      And yet if you invest time and money into producing a product, only to find that it relies on a patented method, you might quickly find your investment going down the drain - or rather, the fruits of your labour going to the patent holder.
      • Re:I am not a lawyer (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Audacious (611811)
        IANAL2!

        Actually, as per previous talks about patents, a lot of today's patents are based upon previous patents with slight changes here and there. Therefore, always base your product upon expired patented items. Really though, patent infringement on many of today's things should be easily avoided. After all, more than six million patents have been given out since the founding of the US. How many of those do you think are still valid? (Even at Microsoft's threatened 3000 patents this year - that is sti
    • Re:I am not a lawyer (Score:3, Informative)

      by SendBot (29932)
      You do not need to do "due diligence" unless you are basing your design on someone else's patented product.

      That's kinda the point. With all the ridiculous software patents, it's a minefield in which you could unwittingly step on an existing patent unless you do some research beforehand.
    • Re:I am not a lawyer (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anthracene (126183) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:20PM (#10838449) Homepage
      Patent enforcement is the job of the patent holder. You do not need to do "due diligence" unless you are basing your design on someone else's patented product. Or you are attempting to publish your own patent.

      That makes sense, doesn't it? Looking up and citing other work in the field is certainly the way that academic publishing works. Unfortunately the unintended consequences of patent law make it such that it doesn't work out that way.

      When I was (forced by my boss to be) applying for a software patent, my boss told me to look around for other things that might be similar to what we'd done. And as soon as the patent lawyers heard that he told me that, they went through the roof, and immediately told me to stop. Here's why:

      Patent law says that you're legally required to reference any potentially overlapping work that you know about in your application. If someone can show that there was something that you knew about and didn't cite in your application, it's grounds for revoking the patent. It's very hard to write laws that talk about what someone ought to know or be aware of, though, so you only have to include things that you are actually aware of. But the more citations you include in your application, the greater the chance that the examiner will reject the application because of one of those related patents you cited. (You can see where this is going...) So, from a legal standpoint, the best situation is one where you honestly have no knowledge of any other work in the field, so you can submit an application with no citations. So you never do any kind of "due diligence" searching when you submit a patent, because all it can do is decrease the chances that it will get granted.

      So you really probably shouldn't ever read patents (see my other post in this article about why it's a bad idea for programmers to look for infringing patents). Which is kind of strange and sad considering that one of the main points of the patent office was supposed to be to provide a legally protected way to publicize information about technology to encourage further growth and development.

      IANAL, either. Just a disappointed observer, discouraged at how terribly out of control our patent office and patent law has become.
  • You're wrong. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Frennzy (730093) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:39PM (#10838081) Homepage
    Feel better?

    Seriously though, the one good thing I can think of about all this ridiculous IP litigation is that it actually can drive a good 'lone coder' to really innovate as opposed to create the same old mouse trap in a different way.

    In either case, good luck to you. Make us proud.
  • Yes! (No) (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JanusFury (452699) <kevin.gaddNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:39PM (#10838085) Homepage Journal
    Well, I'm not exactly an expert, but it seems to me that he's just over-reacting. The threat of patent infringement to a one-man development team seems to me like it would be miniscule compared to much larger threats like running out of money or being unable to accomplish your goals.

    From what I've seen of the software market today, one-man teams still seem to be a way to make money. You just have to find the right market, and avoid overextending yourself - do a good job on the things you can manage, instead of trying to do everything and doing a crappy job of it. I've seen lots of developers succeed by marketing shareware or selling software over the internet (especially as far as indie games go, for example Starscape).
    • Re:Yes! (No) (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Quinthar (8712)
      I agree with this post, and I will add that being sued for patent infringement is a problem that you should be happy to have (in the same sense that your servers crashing from unexepctedly high demand is a happy problem).

      If you're being sued, hopefully this means you've actually created a product that was successful enough to get noticed. That's the hard part. Defending yourself from a patent suit, while expensive and shitty, isn't nearly as hard as creating a product that matters in the first place.

      -da
  • Bittorrent (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jerometremblay (513886) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:40PM (#10838090) Homepage
    Take Bittorrent for example. Does anyone know if he actually lives of it or not?

    If that kind of success is not enough, I don't know what is.
    • Re:Bittorrent (Score:5, Insightful)

      by chris_mahan (256577) <chris.mahan@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:53PM (#10838210) Homepage
      Probably not. But I bet his resume/cv will climb to the top with this:

      ==Skills==
      *Bittorent: Imagined, designed, coded, deployed, and now maintaining the Bittorent protocol and OS-independent Python client. 12 million users since 2003; 500,000 gigabytes of transfers per day on average.

      ==Objective==
      Build a world-class, industrial-grade extranet messaging and collaboration protocol for your company.

      ==Requirement==
      $180,000/yr, total combined annual work hours not to exceed 2300. Cost of living adjustment based on consumer index no later than April 1 of each year. Choice of location.

      I tell you, if this guy works for a company 4 years and costs them $1M, they will have gotten themselves a bargain. This guy is cheaper than an average team of 4.

  • by chris_mahan (256577) <chris.mahan@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:41PM (#10838092) Homepage
    Coding software to sell is dead, for all the reasons you mentioned.

    What's a coder to do?

    Code away on an open source project, gove away all your hard work.

    THEN...

    Offer your services as an implemetation and customization consultant for said open source software for businesses.

    Implementations are not fun, but pound for pound, you get serous cash. Especially if you wrote the software to begin with. You can charge the most.

    • by kinema (630983) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:55PM (#10838229)
      What about writing open source software on contract? This is how companies like Namesys (ReiserFS) exist. Reiser4 development was paid for by DARPA, SuSE and Lindows.
    • Consulting sucks (Score:3, Interesting)

      by putaro (235078)
      Blech - the great thing about selling a software package, say targeted for home users/SOHO, is that your income is not limited by the number of hours you put in. You also don't have to go hang out at customer sites, spend you time on the phone trying to close contracts, find yourself changing features so that you can land that "big contract" (which then never shows up).

      If you like doing those things, consulting is fine, but it's a really different lifestyle and business than selling a product.
    • You write a custom app. Release it in 1 year. Market it. 6 months. Release v2. Market it more. Release v3. People start talking about it. yadda, yadda, yadda... How do you eat while spending the years it takes to get a good open source project to get even used? How many more years before it develops a cult following, and admins start installign it? Jesus, something like Apache took a fucking decade before it paid to be an Apache consultant. That's a long time being homeless, while hoping that yo
    • A VERY small company I worked for had a product they sold for about $500. Companies would routinely buy it and then ask for several months worth of customization. On average, that little $500 item would generally net about $35-50k. So, you're right, they could just give the thing away and it wouldn't make an ounce of difference, except that they might have more customers.

      I hear they're having financial trouble these days. Wouldn't it be ironic if that worked.
  • by failrate (583914) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:41PM (#10838098) Homepage
    Llamasoft is still just one guy in his house. He has a support crew, but he's really only the one guy, and he's putting out a title for GameCube soon.

    So... no. That said, I know lots of other people that have two-three person teams that make a nice bit of cash here and there from coding.

    As long as your code is good, it doesn't crash, and my grandma can use it without resorting to profanity, you'll make a nice piece of money.

    Not alot, but maybe enough if you hire a good enough marketer.
  • Economist article (Score:5, Informative)

    by grandmaster_spunk (203386) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:41PM (#10838099)
    The Economist has a timely opinion piece about the patent problem in their most recent issue.
    http://economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?stor y_id=3376181" [economist.com]
  • Not to worry... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dustismo (643898) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:42PM (#10838112) Homepage
    As long as your source is 'closed', you shouldn't have much to worry about. Cause how is anybody supposed to know that you used a patented algorithm in your code unless they reverse engineered it--which is illegal according to the DMCA. Go nuts.
    • Re:Not to worry... (Score:5, Informative)

      by tpgp (48001) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:01PM (#10838288) Homepage
      As long as your source is 'closed', you shouldn't have much to worry about. Cause how is anybody supposed to know that you used a patented algorithm in your code unless they reverse engineered it--which is illegal according to the DMCA. Go nuts.

      Hmmmmn,

      1) Some algorithms are easy to spot - you don't need the code.
      2) Some patents cover business methods & possibly looknfeel.
      3) The DMCA does not make all reverse engineering illegal.

      I think patents are definitely a problem for all small software shops - closed or open.
    • Re:Not to worry... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by douthat (568842)
      What if I used the 1-click shopping "algorithm" in my code? People wouldn't have to reverse engineer to determine that I've infringed on Amazon's patent.

      My point being that he may be building some software that infringes on someone's patent, but he doesn't realize it. If one didn't realize that Amazon patented 1-click shopping and included it in some software package, he would still be liable for damages, even though he didn't know about the patent.

      What he's asking can't be solved by security-through-obsc
    • Re:Not to worry... (Score:5, Informative)

      by bee-yotch (323219) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:02PM (#10838306) Homepage
      First of all, it's not usually the 'algorithm' that's patented, and that's the problem. Instead it's things like double clicking and other rediculous concepts. If it was an algorithm there wouldn't be a real problem with software patents as it's usually trivial to implement the same thing 1000 different ways.

      Second, according to the DMCA reverse engineering is NOT illegal. Breaking copy encryption is.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:43PM (#10838118)
    As I understand it, if you run across a 'possible' infringement and decide to go ahead and then some court deems that it is an infringement, then you knowingly have perpetrated the deed, and the penalty is greater than just simply going ahead and writing the code and letting the chips fall where they may. At that point you won't have knowingly infringed.

    Oh yes and sell out to the big boys, get that indemnification and let them worry about the suit.
  • by Richard (5962) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:46PM (#10838145)
    Spiderweb software is a 10-year old gaming company that only has one coder (President Jeff Vogel).

    See http://www.spiderwebsoftware.com/ [spiderwebsoftware.com].

    Thomas Warfield, author of Pretty Good Solitaire, Pretty Good Majongg, etc., is also a Lone Coder.

    See http://www.asharewarelife.com/ [asharewarelife.com].

    See generally discussion on "micro-isvs" at http://www.microisv.com/ [microisv.com].
  • Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Spyky (58290) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:47PM (#10838148)
    But just because software has grown so large (and the computing power needed to run simple applications has increased at the same pace). For most applications, it's simply not possible to have a single person write it from start to finish. If they did, the software would be 5 years out of date when they finished.

    It's the same as any other mature industry. A single person can't really build a car from scratch either. At least not one that has any hope of competing with the product of a large design team.

    I mean I don't like software patents anymore than most people on Slashdot, but your argument doesn't appeal to me.

    -Spyky
  • Dada Mail and Myself (Score:3, Interesting)

    by skazatmebaby (110364) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:48PM (#10838164) Homepage
    Well, I've been working on Dada Mail (formely Mojo) [dadamail.org] since I started college (graduated last summer)

    It's basically fed me for the past three years now; I work on it primarily alone - it's also open source, I make money on a "Pro" distribution, selling an advanced downloadable manual, installation and consultation services.

    Very incredibly low overhead for me to run the "shop", and it's still somewhat fun to do.

    Oh and I graduated in art - no CS (or math, sans an accounting class) background.

  • by Realistic_Dragon (655151) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:49PM (#10838168) Homepage
    ...when you can write some software to do it automatically?
  • by kompiluj (677438) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:59PM (#10838275)
    He just has to buy the relevant patents [com.com].
  • 1. Well, "lone coders" can't afford the legal work of performing patent searches. This is true. But you know what? I think small or even medium-sized corporations probably can't afford it either.

    2. Even if you ARE clear of existing patents, what if a big company decides to fight you in court? Again, a small or medium-sized company could never afford to fight this.

    3. Then again, it's not always in some big company's interest to shut you down or sue you out of existance. Often they probably just want a chunk of your profits. (and a chunk of zero is still zero, so they don't make money if you fold, either)

    What a fucking country.
  • by Lucas Membrane (524640) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:07PM (#10838349)
    Several things have lessened the role of the lone coder down to just about nil:

    1. Marketing costs are high and price per unit that users are willing to pay are not high. Unless you've got way into six figures to for advertising and marketing, forget about getting your sales out of two figures.

    2. This means that you've got to sell high-priced apps. And the best shot at these would be business-specific custom or semi-custom apps for medium-sized companies (big companies have IT shops to write their own custom apps). I used to do pretty well at that sort of thing. Unfoturnately, medium-sized businesses usually by now have some fool who can do just about as good with Excel or Access as you can do with whatever you lone code with. So why wouldn't they let their in-house code monkey enjoy a little job enrichment by writing the app instead of paying you thousands of dollars to write it?

    3. Computers are everywhere now, and everyone knows of their risks. Few companies will trust a lone coder with anything important because of all the computer risks associated with 1-man project.

    There are still a few that do it, but most of the ones who I've known to be successful in the past are moved on now.

  • by Bombcar (16057) <racbmob@@@bombcar...com> on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:14PM (#10838393) Homepage Journal
    With lasers on its head!

    No, really. If you incorporate (for $800 or so), then the worst that can happen is that your little company is made non-existent.

    At least I don't think they'll pierce the corporate veil over a small company. It's simply not worth their time.
  • by Moken (780202) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:17PM (#10838415) Homepage
    As long as there are freeware compilers and notepads, there will always be the Lone Coder. Despite the patenting and the proliferation of giant projects with thousands of coding slaves behind them, there's always room for individual innovation. Look at all the concepts that people have discovered by themselves... from General Relativity to the modern day convenience of BitTorrent. That will *never* change... at least not until we all become thoughtless automatons.
  • by jhoger (519683) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:17PM (#10838421) Homepage
    A. You should not do patent research (treble damages). Don't feel bad... big companies don't do this research either, for the same reason.
    B. As a small operation, you're not the target of infringement lawsuits.
    C. If you're doing closed-source software, they probably won't be able to tell you're infringing unless it's some patented video or audio codec implementation.

    Keep in mind that you don't go straight from infringement to a lawsuit. The patent holder may well just want you to take a license, which can be negotiated as a royalty paid to them on copies of the software you sell.

    If you can't afford a license, or they won't sell you one, you will have to rework your code not to use the patented idea.

    The sky isn't falling. There are all manner of different liabilities that can pop up for any business at any time. There is no way to predict it. That's what insurance and indemnification are for.

  • Write Games (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hords (619030) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:23PM (#10838473)
    I've been in the same boat. I've had some ideas on software I wanted to write, but have worried about patents. Software should only be protected via copyright in my opinion. Software patents should be banished. They are helping the monopolies more than the little guys.

    This has led me to thinking of developing games. I've never once seen a video game patent case. Are games immune from patents? They are software, and really it seems like pretty much the same thing to me. For example, Tetris was really unique for its time, but now there are hundreds of clones. What really is different between an inventive form of gameplay vs. some of the foolish software patents that are out there now? Really, I want to know why this is so different! Please any comments welcome. :)
  • by gtoomey (528943) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:28PM (#10838511)
    This shareware spam filter made Nick Bolton $3.5 million [computerworld.co.nz] in 2003 and now he employs 28.
  • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:28PM (#10838517)
    really, I was told this by lawyers at a very very very large networking company I once worked for. DO NOT INVESTIGATE if you are using someone else's IP. if you investigate, then you are (ironically) setting yourself up. if, otoh, you blindly develop and then, later on, it comes to your attention that you did something 'wrong', its easier to get out of that than the other way around.

    what's the phrase, 'its better to ask forgiveness for an act than to ask permission, beforehand'.

    IANAL, but this is almost exactly what the big corp lawyers told us, when we gathered at a group meeting and were asking about how to go about developing code that doesn't infringe.

    no, temper this with the fact that they have a team of lawyers which is bigger than your whole company. so I'm not sure their advice still sticks. ymmv..
  • by HangingChad (677530) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:30PM (#10838529) Homepage
    Why would any company spend hundreds of thousands to sue you? Even if they won what would they get? A ticket to stand in line for the bankruptcy hearing with the other unsecured creditors? There's no margin in suing you...nothing personal.

    A more likely scenario is you build something that's moderately successful and shiit-for-brains-we-don't-produce-anything-but-lit igation company comes after you, and probably a bunch of bigger fish, for royalties. More likely they'll go after the big fish first, then you smaller players later.

    The way to beat these kinds of cases is 30 or 40 of you team up to mount a collective defense. FIghting one little company is easy, fighting the Borg is whole different deal. If it's an abusive patent with prior art worth fighting you stand a good chance.

  • Check Out X-Plane (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RobL3 (126711) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:37PM (#10838584)
    One of the best flight sims in the world is basicly the work of one guy (OK, he's gotten some help recently). Of course he did accidently upload all of his code to an ftp server by accident one night when he was drunk. And he's a bit, um, unique (comes with the territory I guess). But still, he's made enough money to drive a sweet car and own one of the best private aircraft available today (and own a Segway). So, yeah, it's still possible to live the lone coder dream...
  • Neyer Software (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MarkPNeyer (729607) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:40PM (#10838594)

    My dad is a one man coder. He sells software used for statistical analysis, at quite a pretty penny, too. As far as he's explained it to me, he's been selling more or less the same software for 15+ years now, but he keeps making new versions because changes in windows will occaionsally make his software stop working, so the people who need it just go buy a new copy.

    I don't know how much he makes annually selling the software, but I assume it's probably not enough to support a family with.

  • by crazyphilman (609923) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:59PM (#10838711) Journal
    Not to be the wet blanket of this party, but...

    A) Large companies, who hate small developers with an awe-inspiring passion, have patented everything under the sun, so even if your project is successful, you're going to get the shaft sooner or later;

    B) If your project IS successful, someone's going to come along and yank it right out from under you. Maybe you'll be sued for patent infringement and sign your stuff over in the settlement, or maybe Microsoft will integrate a competing product with Windows, making you irrelevant, or maybe a college kid just as smart as you will come out with competing freeware -- you'll get hosed one way or the other;

    C) Anyone who IS interested in your product is going to download it off a pirate site anyway. Think I'm kidding? I can't tell you how many times I've heard some doofus consultant laugh "But I never pay for software! Windows is free, man." I tell them that I religiously pay for everything, that it's a matter of professional courtesy -- and they almost cough up their livers laughing at me. THIS IS THE MARKET YOU'RE IN. You can't make money in it.

    Given these basic facts, what should a programmer do? Here's MY position; I see two possibilities, which you can blend a bit if you like:

    Possibility Number 1: You write open-source software, you GPL all your stuff, and you sign over the copyrights to the FSF, who have many, many lawyers. You might not make any money doing this, but you get to use your software without restrictions, forever. Also (tasty) you get to seriously annoy the suits who'd like to make money off your stuff. It's no longer possible for someone to take it from you.

    Possibility Number 2: the hacker model: you keep all your cool stuff to yourself, and you trade it with your close friends for their cool stuff. You guys are now the only people with this cool stuff. It's like the force; you are different and have secret abilities that the herd isn't aware of. It's fun and interesting. You meet other groups of people with their own cool stuff and trade; thus you become the Ham Radio operators of the programming world.

    The lone developer isn't going anywhere. He's just going back to the garage and hacker groups he came from.

    Perhaps -- just perhaps -- this is a Good Thing.

  • I'm still here! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by chochos (700687) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @11:22PM (#10838844) Homepage Journal

    I have a software company with two other guys. Each one of us is in a different project. I'm handling a project all by myself, writing custom software for a client, and I get to do some small projects from time to time too.

    We use open source where we can and contribute back where we can. I'm starting an open source project, writing (yet another) CMS, this one with technologies I'm familiar and feel comfortable with. We plan to use this on some projects with a small web design company, so they can sell a dynamic web site and later we can get to support it (directly or through them, it's all good).

    I like to think that the future of software development will be something like mechanics are now (at least here in Mexico). You can take your new or fancy car to the dealer for small repairs and maintenance, but almost everybody takes their car to some small shop run by a couple of guys who know their stuff. They get their clients mostly by word-of-mouth recommendations. Some mechanics try to rip you off, you don't go back, but if you like their work, you'll recommending them to people you know.

    So I think there will always be big software companies, making big projects and writing huge complex applications, like SAP and such. Big corporations can make business with this big developers. But many companies will go to the smaller development companies that use open source and run a small shop, to cut costs without sacrificing quality and having more direct contact with the people who are going to write their software.

    So maybe the lone coders will not make big big bucks like before, but we can still make a living and enjoy our work.

  • EUROPE!!! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fuzzums (250400) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @11:48PM (#10839022) Homepage
    Come to Europe! Things aren't that bad overhere. Yet...

    The new IP-laws will lake just a little longer to pass, now that 10 new countries joined the EU. They need to negotiate and vote over it again.
  • by ExileOnHoth (53325) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @12:25AM (#10839247)
    Just a few days ago Slashdot posted a link to the saga of mp3 player Audion, by a small 2-man development shop [panic.com]. In the end, the program died, but the developers' story is really very inspiring. [panic.com]

    Thrill to their tale of almost being bought out by AOL in 1999 [panic.com]. Weep at their account of being told offf by Steve jobs at Macworld [panic.com], as he developed a new program (itunes) that would eventually devour our heroes.

    And yet, in the end, the developers' attitude and story inspired the heck out of me. Yes, one guy, working alone, with the right idea, at the right time, can make it big.

    Don't blame big government for your fears. Just come up with something brilliant and take the plunge. And see what happens.
  • Lone coder (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jkirby (97838) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @12:57AM (#10839446)
    If you ar a lone coder and you are not worth at least 100 million dollars, no one will sue you. The legal costs of a patent suit would cost more than they could get from you. I am reminded of the old saying: "You can not get blood from a turnip"
  • by nullset (39850) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @01:10AM (#10839508)
    If you look for patents you may be violating then ignore it, you'll be charged with willfull infringement and forced to pay 2-3x what it would be otherwise.

    So my 'not a lawyer' advise is don't look for patents until someone comes knocking on your door.

    --buddy
  • You are not alone (Score:3, Interesting)

    by museumpeace (735109) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @02:18AM (#10839798) Journal
    ...and you have some venerable company in Dan Bricklin [bricklin.com].
    The bad news is ,neither of you are likely to get rock-star rich from your spiffy new idea. As for the idea-sewer that the USPTO has become: take advantage of it. The barriers to filing were lowered and you can stake your claim easily enough...just try to make your money before you get sued. The examiners have been forced to leave the real work up to the courts but by the time the process reaches that stage, you should have sold your company and gone on to the next thing. Dan Bricklin would say to just forget about patents alltogether [satn.org]
  • It's even worse. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by John Sokol (109591) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @01:39PM (#10843743) Homepage Journal
    I several occasions I have written code and posted it opensource, binary, BASIC (way back when) or just used it at an ISP or something, then find someone filed a patent based on seeing my Code!.

    First Byte inc. Filed a Patent on playing PWM Audio on the PC internal Speaker, I assume after disassembling my binary (written in Assembly) that I had posted on Compuserve(the copy a bug I had in that code into there patent). They then started suing everyone who had also dissembled my code and started using it in there products. Finally I become an expert witness for Activision and had to sign an affidavit stating that I had prior art to help get the First Byte patent overturned! And a few companes liscenced the code official from me. http://www.dnull.com/zebraresearch/ (code is posted)

    The same is true for much of the code I have done. Some of the first audio and video(in and out), on Apple II, CoCo , PC , C64, Lisa, Mac.
    Multimedia over BBS's , Multi-tone audio out of 1bit output (1983)(AKA, polyphonic ringtones),
    LCD oscilloscope (1986),
    Streaming audio over IP now called VOIP , portable compressed music player (1987),
    TCP/IP over Spread Spectrum RF and Laser(1988),
    Streaming Video over IP Lan in (1989),
    Streaming video across Sun Microsystem global IP WAN, TCP/IP over Laser (1991),
    Internet Banking web site(for Wells Fargo 1992)
    Livecam (1994),
    Content Distribution Networks , fault tolerant web server, Single threaded web server and web server with compressed log files output(1995) ,
    Error Correction over IP, CCTV DVR, Streaming audio over JAVA(1996),
    Parallel processor Video Compression and HDTV streaming over the Internet (1999).
    Silent computers and water cooled blades(2000),

    There was even a company that threated to sue me after stealing my code outright! They just changed the authorship names. Fortunatly I had left hidden in the code in the server if you gave it the right URL from a browser it reported my name as the author. I never managed to stop them from selling there version of the product though.

    Can't talk about the newer stuff since I have started to file patents So I don't get prevented from using my own stuff.

    My biggest problem is how do I protect myself.
    Seems like whenever I try to publish something, someone else borrows it, (or at least the concept) and puts it out farther and faster then I can and takes the credit for it. I know I just plan suck a PR and getting the word out , but still.

    I at least want to be able to prove original authorship and invention for the ideas and concepts. And it seems anything less then filing patents one each one has been ineffective.

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