Ethical differences between Copyright and Patent

A few weeks back I finally finished my report on the ethics concerned with software copyright and software patents. The report was written in Dutch, but here is an English translation of my conclusion. Do note that perhaps some specifics do not apply to your legal zone. The report was written based on the current legislation in the Netherlands. But those details are not the point anyway, it’s about what software ownership is based on.

Copyright and patent legislation regarding software both have their own advantages and disadvantages. The question is which emphasis is considered more important. The speed of development or the possibility to maximise the profit gained by a single innovation. Because software development is a field where innovations happen at an incredible rate, the question rises whether or not software patens might have an adverse effect. History shows that most software innovations are in fact very small incremental developments. Very few revolutionary ideas have been developed since the eighties. There is a steady stream of developments with small innovations. Illustrative to this point is the fact that there have not been any mayor paradigm shifts like with the more classical sciences. Software innovation is mostly driven by combining existing concepts, inhibiting the possibility create these new combinations can prove to be deadly to the rate of software innovation.

Because software development creates no tangible results and proceeds on a different rhythm, it is important to review suitability of existing mechanisms regarding patents before applying them to software. Patents and copyright have always been about increasing the rate of innovation, not about maximising profit. In the end freedom of knowledge and the potential for benefits will determine the rate at which innovations occur.

A major part of my article is about tracing the ethical foundations upon which copyright and patents are based. Also a blog posting triggered me to finally write this post.