I was recently pointed to this comment by John Carmack, co-founder of Id Software, regarding software patents. I thought he gives a beautifully concise explanation as to why the vast majority of software engineers would prefer it if software were not patentable:
Before issuing a condemnation, I try hard to think about it from [a Lawyer’s] point of view — the laws of the land set the rules of the game, and lawyers are deeply confused at why some of us aren’t using all the tools that the game gives us.
Patents are usually discussed in the context of someone “stealing” an idea from the long suffering lone inventor that devoted his life to creating this one brilliant idea, blah blah blah.
But in the majority of cases in software, patents affect independent invention. Get a dozen sharp programmers together, give them all a hard problem to work on, and a bunch of them will come up with solutions that would probably be patentable, and be similar enough that the first programmer to file the patent could sue the others for patent infringement.
Why should society reward that? What benefit does it bring? It doesn’t help bring more, better, or cheaper products to market. Those all come from competition, not arbitrary monopolies. The programmer that filed the patent didn’t work any harder because a patent might be available, solving the problem was his job and he had to do it anyway. Getting a patent is uncorrelated to any positive attributes, and just serves to allow either money or wasted effort to be extorted from generally unsuspecting and innocent people or companies.
Yes, it is a legal tool that may help you against your competitors, but I’ll have no part of it. Its basically mugging someone.