The other day I read an article from a major CMS commentator kasthomas about how he applied for a software patent. I strongly disagreed with his approach, but I was too busy getting ready to release our 4.2 version to comment.
Some background: The software industry has a problem with patents, in that many "obvious" patents are getting passed through, and then companies can be litigated against for breaching the patents. Because of the obviousness of the patent, breach is often entirely unintentional and the company breaching is quite likely to come up with the idea independently. Software is produced in more of a cottage industry than things that usually have patents are (physical machines), so it's a lot easier to implement ideas and there are a lot more people involved in the market – in other words, an invention in software is far less meaningful than an invention in hardware, and it's far harder to check you're not breaching patents.
Since I read the article he has had a barrage of criticism and I feel I really should add to that, especially as many of the commentators there are anonymous ("anonymous cowards" as the saying goes). I honestly think patents like the one he was granted are appalling, and that the kind of immoral behaviour (that's my honest view) of those who are involved is going to cause this industry some really serious damage. It's already been a serious problem that can only get worse. Do people remember when suddenly you had to click Flash applets in Internet Explorer to make them play?
I should be nice to all people who are in the business on commenting on CMSs, but I have to take a stand here and make my opinion known even if it loses us some potential media/consultant friends.
The "just playing the game" attitude to morality is never acceptable, just like it isn't acceptable to "just follow orders" (that's a horribly exaggerated analogy, but the point holds I think). People who support a system for these kinds of obvious software patents are as culpable as: those who created it, those that encourage filing of the patents, and those that abuse the patents. Just like people who willingly work in a munitions factory are as culpable as the soldiers and generals (again a horribly exaggerated analogy, but this annoys me). Doing it for your kids is not an excuse.
At ocProducts we could have dozens of patents. We have done some serious innovating over the years. Things like our Theme Wizard with it's innovative colour maths approach to quick themeing, or the way the quick installer uses a loopback FTP tunnel, or the whole OcCLE virtual filesystem concept. I have not pursued filing patents for moral reasons (and I have to admit, economic reasons too – it's expensive).
I feel the burden of the decisions of the generation above me (I'm in my 20s). For years I did not have a car so as to not cause global warming – I only got one earlier this year when I really needed one – and it annoys me to see attitudes of people like Jeremy Clarkson (pretty typical of the generation above, just louder). I have avoided patents as described above. I have avoided imposing false sanctions over our software use by keeping ocPortal Open Source (it was always freely downloadable). The recent economic problems, and problems in the UK with house prices affect me dearly, but it's all caused by the greed of the generation above ("oh I bought my house for just a few years wages, but now I will smile when I can sell it to new homebuyers for half a million pounds"). I just wish all people would take a stand for doing what is right.
No more obvious software patents