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Software Patents Programming IT Technology

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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  • 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 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]
  • Re:I am not a lawyer (Score:3, Informative)

    by ghettoboy22 (723339) <scott.a.johnson@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:45PM (#10838134) Homepage
    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 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.
  • 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].
  • Re:I am not a lawyer (Score:3, Informative)

    by SendBot (29932) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:47PM (#10838147) Homepage Journal
    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:Bittorrent (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:47PM (#10838153)
    from the site:

    "I maintain BitTorrent for a living. This is my only job."

    what's not clear?
  • Re:I am not a lawyer (Score:5, Informative)

    by groovemaneuver (539260) <groovemaneuver@NOspAM.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.
  • You are not wrong (Score:2, Informative)

    by klingens (147173) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:53PM (#10838220)
    Sorry for the bad news, but the reality is that, in the US, you are screwed as the "little guy" doing commercial programming (and Free programming too).

    This is why in Europe both, the free software community and the small and middle sized corporations are all fighting hard to prevent software patents: http://kwiki.ffii.org/SwpatcninoEn [ffii.org]
    The Linus defense http://uk.builder.com/manage/work/0,39026594,20276 078,00.htm [builder.com] of not researching what patents you might infringe will help you a bit by possibly avoiding punitive damages when/if you get sued, since you can claim not to have infringed willfully on a patent. But it won't decrease your lawyer bills for defending yourself in the slightest and neither will it decrease the future licensing costs. So if you are stepping on any big corporation's toes or are in the same business as another, failing company (*cough*SCO*cough*), it is highly likely you might get sued successfully for infringement

  • by kompiluj (677438) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @09:59PM (#10838275)
    He just has to buy the relevant patents [com.com].
  • 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: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.
  • Re:Bittorrent (Score:1, Informative)

    by lo2p (750971) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:03PM (#10838317)
    The guy works for blizzard now... He's the one responsible for blizzards new way to distribute games throught bittorrent.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:41PM (#10838600)
    You should not be looking out for potential infringement of your code on other peoples patents. If you look hard enough ($$$) you will find something that you *may* infringe, depending upon the interpretation of the claims, and *if* the patent is valid. Both of which can only be settled after a long and painful ($500k->$5millon) lawsuit.

    So, dont look, start coding, and go nuts.

    If you create a good product, people will buy it, and you will make money. The problem comes when you become successful, because someone either wants to buy you, or put you out of business. And in either case, all those patents that you ignored come up to bite you in the ass.

    The only way you will have an exit strategy is if your product was good enough (i.e. pulling in enough $$$) that it forced the acquirer to ignore the potential patent problem and buy you anyway.

    Luck.
  • by Sancho (17056) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @10:56PM (#10838695) Homepage
    Stop the FUD, no one's been sued for "listening to bootleg music". Everyone who was sued was found because they were DISTRIBUTING bootleg music. Big difference.

    And they didn't sue a 12 year old child, either. The ISP account wasn't in the kid's name, it was in the parent's name. If the parent isn't monitoring the kids, they deserve what they get.
  • by Grey Ninja (739021) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @11:06PM (#10838746) Homepage Journal
    It's actually Team America: World Police. That scene had me splitting my side. ;)
  • Re:Bittorrent (Score:5, Informative)

    by Justus (18814) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @11:11PM (#10838779)
    Actually, that's Valve you're thinking of--you know, the company distributing games over Steam.

    Blizzard is the one using bittorrent to distribute its patches, and their implementation of it is exceedingly poor.
  • Willful Infringement (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @11:16PM (#10838806)
    I don't know enough about the current trends to know if the lone coder is dead, but I do know a bit about infringement on patents.

    If you're going into something, you probably don't want to do research into patents to see if other people's patents cover it. If you do do research, make it a point to make it look like you didn't. Even if you see someone's patent and decide that your work doesn't infringe, you can still get hit with the 3x damages for willfull infringement if a court decides that you actually did infringe upon the patent. The best bet is to just go for it and then claim ignorance after the fact, and try damn hard to argue your case against them. That way you won't get hit with the willful infringement and you still have a slight shot in the dark of getting out of it.
  • Not at all (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @11:33PM (#10838915)
    The Lone Coder is far from dead. With credit card processors such as Kagi, it is easier than ever to make commercial products. However, most LCs probably work on a contract basis for former employers producing in-house software that is never widely published. (Come to think of it, that's what most of the Organization Coders are doing also.)

    Recently I was asked to do a bit of business research in a certain area of software; I went to download.com and the other usual places and discovered that the niche market for a certain utility was handily covered by 4 or so products, which upon investigation through whois and finding the owners of various LLC's from various State's Secretary's of State turned out to all be Lone Coders. All of them were real people who would answer email and two were willing to chat on the phone.

    One issue raised in this post is that the existence of so many patents puts a huge financial burden on the individual who does something new, because "due diligence" requires them to do a lot of research.

    I question this. I've read a lot of patent law ( http://uscode.house.gov/download/title_35.php ) but I don't recall seeing any such requirement.

    The phrase "due diligence", in Law, generally refers to giving the same diligence to certain tasks involving other people's money that you would give to the same task involving your money -- an example would be a company officier who cares so little for his shareholder's money that he doesn't ask for multiple bids when renovating the company's building, but he gets 4 bids and bargins with all of them when he uses HIS money to renovate his own house. Does it even make sense to talk about "due diligence" when you are a Lone Coder, by definition risking your own time and money ?
  • by goon (2774) <goonmail AT netspace DOT net DOT au> on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @11:48PM (#10839026) Homepage Journal
    and a good article [economist.com] from the economist [economist.com] giving more examples of homebrew coders and how they fit in.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @01:22AM (#10839568)
    Check out Tim Bray on software patents [tbray.org].

    His basic conclusion is that every significant piece of software infringes on some patent, so get over it.
  • 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 ?

  • by Ilgaz (86384) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:22AM (#10840371) Homepage
    http://www.hamrick.com/ [hamrick.com] Ed Hamrick, Author of Vuescan, supports 100+ scanners/cams HIMSELF. I licensed Vuescan while having Canon's own scanning software. It was simply better.

    http://www.lemkesoft.de/ [lemkesoft.de] Adrian Lemke, Author of Graphics Converter.

    You meant single coders, those guys are single coding. I know more like 2-3 coder guys/gals , also use/buy their software.

    What about RAR "labs"? We know its a single guy coding (Alexander Roshal) .

    If people buy the stuff they use, there will be many more "lonely coder" guys.
  • by KingOfBLASH (620432) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @08:31AM (#10840841) Journal
    Watch out! I incorporated in Nevada for something like $160, because i was told that was the way to go. Then the Nevada Department of Taxation told me that they charge $250 a year, + $25 per employee, after I had been incorporated for a year (it's paid in arrears so I couldn't back out). Plus they inform you after you're in your second year, so you now owe $500 + $50 per employee. Plus things get a little more complicated than that. Remember to consult a lawyer before doing anything -- particularly something you heard on slashdot!
  • by kelnos (564113) <`ude.llenroc' `ta' `32tjb'> on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:25PM (#10847152) Homepage
    Now, I'm all for open source, but I don't release my stuff under the GPL because I want to give it away. Fro all things, I stand on the shoulders of others that have gone before me, I'd like to keep doing that. But with the GPL, there are many times where I cannot leverage the 'free' code because my boss won't let me use it, or I don't want to give all my hard work away for free (sometimes this is appropriate). In all such cases I have to find alternatives - the GPL free and open and use-me-all-you-want-I-give-to-society isn't any use to me all of a sudden. That's bad because people don't get the benefit of open source any more.
    Well that's too bad for you then. Basically you're saying that you want to release *your* code however you want, but you don't feel that people that release GPLed code should have the same right. They've decided that they want their code to always remain open. They don't want it incorporated into a proprietary product. Who are you to be pissed off at them? All you're showing is that you don't want to respect another coder's licensing terms, and "steal" his/her code to incorporate into a piece of software that could become proprietary/closed-source.
    Maybe I just don't like licences telling me what I can and can't do with my work.
    If you have a BSD licensed program, and you want to incorporate GPLed code, you can: you just have to license the *collective work* as GPL. The collective work is no longer *your* work. You're doing the release, but the entire package does not belong to you. If you want to use someone else's code, you have to listen to what they say you can and can't do with it. If you don't like it, then don't use their code.

    At any rate, all of *your* code is still BSD, and if someone wanted to create a BSDed fork of your code, they'd only have to remove the GPLed code and either leave the functionality out, or write (or obtain) a BSDed implementation. If you later find some BSDed code that does the same thing the GPLed code does, you can simply swap them, and you suddenly can release the entire package as BSD, not just your portion of it. Note that this does not somehow make the *collective work* "your work", but it does follow the licensing agreement of all the component parts.

    I'll easily agree with you that licenses like BSD, MIT, the old X11 license, etc., are more "free" than GPL. Personally, all of the code I release is GPLed (or LGPLed). I'm selfish. Some of us want to maintain a little more control of our code.. Is that so wrong? Is it so wrong that we've put hours of our free time into some of this stuff, not getting paid one whit for it, but still want some amount of control over what people do with it? You apparently don't care what people do with your code, and I applaud you for being so selfless. But some of us do, and as long as we have some form of copyright law, you are bound to respect that.

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