Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
The Almighty Buck Patents Software

Critic of Software Patents Wins Nobel Prize in Economics 235

Posted by Zonk
from the wise-man-in-multiple-ways dept.
doom writes "You've probably already heard that the Nobel Prize for Economics was given to three gents who were working on advances in mechanism design theory. What you may not have heard is what one of those recipients was using that theory to study: 'One recent subject of Professor Maskin's wide-ranging research has been on the value of software patents. He determined that software was a market where innovations tended to be sequential, in that they were built closely on the work of predecessors, and innovators could take many different paths to the same goal. In such markets, he said, patents might serve as a wall that inhibited innovation rather than stimulating progress.' Here's one of Maskin's papers on the subject: Sequential Innovation, Patents, limitation (pdf).
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Critic of Software Patents Wins Nobel Prize in Economics

Comments Filter:
  • It's the Swedish Bank's Prize in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Nobel's estate doesn't recognize it, and there is much evidence that the old man would have been horrified to see the dismal science being rewarded.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by MoonFog (586818)
      Easy mistake to make since they are listed on the Nobel Prize's official web page [nobelprize.org]. They are listed as receiving a price in economics though, not a Nobel price in economics, even though they are under the "Nobel Prizes" banner.
    • by jkrise (535370)
      It's the Swedish Bank's Prize in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Nobel's estate doesn't recognize it..

      Okay, I can see where you com from. We'll call it the SBP-Nobel Prize... just like GNU-Linux, does it make you happy now?
  • by neokushan (932374) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @08:49AM (#20993891)
    The similarities between software development and Evolution are striking. As this article states, software tends to progress slowly, building upon the previous generation, improving on it and occationally adding new features to give it the advantage over it's competition.
    But when a software product progresses with little or no competition to speak of, it's innovation stops, it gets bigger, slower and more bloated.
    • by jimstapleton (999106) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @08:58AM (#20994009) Journal
      I'd argue that software in general tends to get bigger, slower and more bloated.

      Typically, new releases of software tend to have more features - these added features are what cause the bigger-slower-bloatier effect, as the take space to store, time to execute, and not everyone wants them. I don't know of one piece of software that has managed to avoid this fate.
      • by AlXtreme (223728)

        Typically, new releases of software tend to have more features - these added features are what cause the bigger-slower-bloatier effect, as the take space to store, time to execute, and not everyone wants them. I don't know of one piece of software that has managed to avoid this fate.

        How about Netscape -> Mozilla -> Phoenix?

        I'll give you that Mozilla Firefox currently is comparable in bloat (and features, in many cases) to Netscape, however Phoenix and the earlier Firefox releases were a dream compared

        • But, in most cases, weren't these either

          (A) re-writes of the code base
          or
          (B) takeing a minimal functionality codebase/toolkit (i.e. Gecko), and adding fewer features than the competition?

          In the case of (A), you can argue it's not really the same software any more, just a conceptual child. For B, it is at least larger than the base app, just better implemented in terms of size/speed/bloat than the competition.
      • by foniksonik (573572) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @10:21AM (#20995131) Homepage Journal
        Have you looked at DNA lately? In the ancient bacteria, fossil fishes and fungi of the world the DNA is svelte and cleanly coded.... all streamlined to do a few tasks very efficiently, then move forward a few billion years and you get rats and primates.... all bloated with junk and things like consciousness that are completely unnecessary to survival, just bells and whistles really.

        I'm not sure what it is you're arguing against.. sounds like you're agreeing with parent post 100% ;-p

        p.s. so when is the bloat in our software going to self-actualize and become our computer's soul? I hope it's not based on Windows... what a freakin mess that would be, all freaked out about security, indecisive and completely self-conscious about being genuine... ugh it probably WILL be windows, that sounds like 99% of the people I know.

        • Reread my post, your comment, while partially ignorant of biology and genetics, is also completely irrelevant to my point.

          You are talking beginning point and end point - which is irrelevant to evolution by the way. I was discussing the process.

          Oh, and the stuff you see in in many multicelluar organisms (like conciousness), is not bells and whistles. There is junk DNA, but even it often serves a purpose (especially if you consider evolution).
        • Have you looked at DNA lately?

          Not... since surfing porn before breakfast, I guess...

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by allcar (1111567)
      At risk of starting a religious flame war, software engineers like to think that they design software. Evolution, as we know, requires no designer, but simply proceeds by trial and error.
      • actually - software development is trial and error also.

        The difference is not the trial and error part, but the fact that in evolutionary theory, the trials are random, in computer software design, the trials are not (and are usually kept unless the error is considered really bad)
    • by asliarun (636603)

      The similarities between software development and Evolution are striking. As this article states, software tends to progress slowly, building upon the previous generation, improving on it and occationally adding new features to give it the advantage over it's competition.
      Hey, that sounds like my relationship! Since it is not intelligent design, it is probably evolution.
    • by Comatose51 (687974) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @09:19AM (#20994271) Homepage
      Yochai Benkler[sp?] called it the "Shoulder of Giants" effect in his book the "Wealth of Networks". He noted that innovations is one of those processes where the output serves as an input for the next cycle, meaning when you innovate your discovery can be used for more innovations. Needless to say, he argues against patents and this is coming from a law professor who gained an incredible insight into open source software development. Highly recommend his book.

      In the "Myth of Innovations", the author, who I forgot, also talks about innovations are not inevitabilities but as a tree with different ideas branching off. A lot of them will be pruned and turn out to be failures in their environment but a few will survive. His insight was that innovations are more like trees, not lines, and their success depend on the environment they were developed in. The right solution for the wrong problem is still a failure. The two makes it sound awful lot like evolution like you mentioned.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by knight24k (1115643)

      But when a software product progresses with little or no competition to speak of, it's innovation stops, it gets bigger, slower and more bloated.
      I guess that explains Vista.
    • I would say software more closely resembles "intelligent" design. Unless you are talking about my software, in which case it could best be described as "I hope no one sees this" design.
    • My main contribution to "discussions" with creationist is that in my experience as a programmer, complex (software) systems are a result of evolution rather than intelligent design.
    • Most technology progresses slowly. As people understand the technology they figure out ways to make it better. Examples include cars, airplanes, electronics and nuclear weapons. Software is hardly unique in this regard.
    • I am in the minority here, but I think the biggest problem with software patents is how long the patent term is compared to the progress of the art. In the United States, you get twenty years from filing. Imagine the progress made in the software in that time frame and compare it to the progress in the field of airplanes, or carpet manufacture.

      Much of scientific progress is evolutionary, which is fitting in some way. Everyone stands on the shoulder of giants. Watson and Crick didn't just discover the struct
  • by should_be_linear (779431) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @08:56AM (#20993989)
    since when geniuos minds play any significant role in politics? I imagine politician thinking "This guy would would give me half a million if I support software patents BUT there is this famous research study... Oh god, if I only could support both!".
  • In such markets, he said, patents might serve as a wall that inhibited innovation rather than stimulating progress.

    Do I get a Nobel Prize for saying "No shit, Sherlock!"?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by AusIV (950840)
      He didn't get a nobel prize for researching software patents. He got a prize for research into a new Economic theory, it just happens he's applying that theory to his research of software patents.
  • (emphasis mine)

    He determined that software was a market where innovations tended to be sequential, in that they were built closely on the work of predecessors, and innovators could take many different paths to the same goal. In such markets, he said, patents might serve as a wall that inhibited innovation rather than stimulating progress.

    ...That still leaves the opposition with plenty of wiggle room; they don't exactly sound like the words for an open-and-shut case...

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The USofA makes a lot of money selling its IP to the rest of the world. Getting countries like China to play nice with our copyrights and patents is a 'big deal'. It is therefore unlikely that Uncle Sam will soften his position on either. Mickey Mouse will be copyrighted forever. Ridiculous patents will still be granted and enforced. Patent trolls will continue to get rich.

    The trouble with the above is that innovation will move to other countries and America will be left behind. I can easily envisage
  • by zullnero (833754) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @09:35AM (#20994461) Homepage
    Is mindblowing to the average person. This is the sort of paper that really needs to be distributed as much as possible (but rewritten to be understandable to the layman), because there really needs to be a great deal of political support for such an exemption from the patent process here. The biggest problem is that the software industry has already defined a piece of software as a patentable product, similar to a car or a monitor, and the general populace believes that to be true. However, you don't make a new car by tearing out the carburetor of a 1995 Ford, clean it up, add a couple parts from a 2002 Chevy to it, and stick it into your new car. However, that is precisely how software is generally made. There's your layman's explanation right there.
    • by pipatron (966506)

      This is the sort of paper that really needs to be distributed as much as possible (but rewritten to be understandable to the layman)

      There's your layman's explanation right there.

      So write it up into a nice form and publish on your blog! (you do have a blog, don't you? It is the year 2007 after all).

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Darren Bane (21195)
      You say that "the software industry has already defined a piece of software as a patentable product". This is only the _American_ softare industry--if you want to destroy your own international competitiveness, nobody will stop you. Software patents are illegal in Europe (although we're fighting hard to keep it that way).
    • However, you don't make a new car by tearing out the carburetor of a 1995 Ford

      Incidentally, the last new production carbureted car sold in the US was the 1990 model year of the Subaru Justy [wikipedia.org].
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Husgaard (858362)

      Yes, this paper is mindblowing, and more people should know about it. But this paper is also theoretical, so it can be disputed by IP fundamentalists as having little to do with the real world.

      But Research on Innovation [researchoninnovation.org] has a lot of other interesting papers.

      In particular I like the paper AN EMPIRICAL LOOK AT SOFTWARE PATENTS [researchoninnovation.org]. This paper is an empirical investigation of the effect it had on innovation in the IT industry when software patents were legalized in the US.

      From the abstract:

      We find evidence

  • by idontgno (624372) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @10:52AM (#20995665) Journal

    On the side opposed to software patentability, an eminent Nobel-prize-winning economist.

    On the side supporting software patentability, we have Steve Ballmer.

    Which side seems more credible to you? I'm going with the Nobel-winner myself. Even if Dancing Monkeyboy meanaces me with chairs while screaming "DEVELOPERS!" at me.

    • On the side opposed to software patentability, an eminent Nobel-prize-winning economist. On the side supporting software patentability, we have Steve Ballmer. Which side seems more credible to you?

      Agreed. Though I note that even if roles were reversed, and Balmer was pulling for OSS while a Nobel winner promoted patents, I'd dismiss the Nobel winner's position(if all I had to go on was WHO was making the statements, as opposed to lines of reasoning). So my agreement is not that with the idea that *I'

  • So are there any documented cases where patents (or copyrights) did actually enhance "progress of science and the useful arts", as the US Constitution phrases it?

    All the histories I've read say that when patents have had any measurable effect at all (and most don't), the effect has been to block both progress by everyone and profit by the patent holders.

    But this could be a result of biased reporting, similar to the general case that bad news tends to get reported but smooth operations aren't considered news
    • May I direct you to the example of Silicon Valley and the numerous start up companies there. Patents help maintain that ecology of inventors, business folks, and investors.

      Most companies can't just start in a garage and bootstrap themselves into being a large corporation without someone investing. Investors are reluctant to invest if some third party can just copy the technology. So what's a start up to do? Ah-ha! Patents! That's right, a large number of start ups rely on patents to assure investors t
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @11:06AM (#20995933) Homepage Journal
    Even though TV is packed with "business news" shows, I don't expect to see this strong argument against SW patents even mentioned anywhere near people who determine the rules that govern inventors, who drive the entire economy.

    All we'll ever hear about is "incumbent economics", which is how the rich always get richer, despite the actual economic values.
  • Sequential Innovation, Patents, and Imitation

    by James Bessen and Eric Maskin c 1999

    Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article for noncommercial use are permitted in any medium provided this notice is preserved.

    Working Paper 11/99

    Abstract: How could such industries as software, semiconductors, and computers have been so innovative despite historically weak patent protection? We argue that if innovation is both sequential and complementary -- as it certainly has been in those industries -- compe

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll

Working...