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The Standard: Governement Property: Software Patents

Nov 03, 2000, 21:59 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Lawrence Lessig)

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"Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington devoted the Oct. 14 Republican radio address to a question that has been strangely absent from the current presidential campaign – how best to keep innovation alive in the technology sector. Most of the senator's address was devoted to defending his home-state innovator, Microsoft (MSFT) . But in the course of his defense of the software giant, Gorton articulated a principle that is far more fundamental – and absolutely correct."

"Republicans don't want software developers to have to check in with the federal government every time they get a new idea," said the senator. "We understand that the best role for government is to allow our workers to continue to create new and better products that enrich our lives – free from the federal government's heavy hand of regulation."

"For here it really is the case that "software developers have to check in with the federal government every time they get a new idea." Under current law, they – or, more likely, their lawyers – must determine whether underpaid and overworked bureaucrats in Washington have issued a 20-year monopoly covering their "new idea." If this monopoly has been issued, then the software developer must get the lawyers to license the invention, or find a way to invent around it. And no doubt, if the developer chooses to invent around it, the lawyers will again have to review the result to assure that no infringement remains. Thus the nature of the patent cycle: a process created by lawyers that benefits only one group with any real certainty – lawyers."

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