Software Patents should be banned

I was reading through the party policy on software patents and was quite shocked to see that it appears that the party is supportive of them. See

Patents on programs must reflect the uniquely dynamic nature of the software industry, and durations should be shorter than those applying to other patent types. Functional claiming (which patents the end result of software) should be abolished, as it removes the capacity for the free market to create newer and better approaches.[55][56][57][58] A larger fee should also apply for software patents to fund additional scrutiny and a raising of the threshold for obviousness and prior art.

I really don’t see how this can be an acceptable stance. Patents are evil. The argument that they ‘protect’ businesses/institutions is just terrible. When new breakthroughs in science are made that provide life saving treatments to people with cancer - and the poorest suffers can’t afford, or don’t have access to, the treatments because some multinational owns the rights - I am left dumbstruck as to how we could ever allow that to happen. A fertility company shouldn’t own a child because their DNA is a modified version of their parents.

Software patents, utility patents, biological patents, etc, are all the same - they are pure evil. If you take the case of 3D printing, which only recently has become a reality and is starting to make it’s way into schools and homes. You may ask what was the new technology that enabled their development. Answer, over 30 years were lost due to patents being sat on. A glue gun that moves in 3d space has been possible for decades - but yet only now are we able to benefit. Thankfully, a large set of 3D printer manufacturers are pro open-source and free-software.

In the IRC channel, it was suggested that certain cases, such as requir[ing] signficant R&D - eg codecs, compression, could be justified. Well, I argue that that is rubbish. And the reality is that in terms of codecs and compression, we already have highly suitable alternatives available. An example of why we don’t have better voice-over-internet is because of Skype and their patents. Their control of key patents relating to the streaming of audio/video has only had a negative affect on the people and communication software.

In reality, everything can be reversed engineered. It is only a matter of time. Patenting software only leads to alternative solutions that indirectly do the same thing, and force upon the people potentially less optimised software until the patent expires or a better one comes along. Why contribute to global warming with the excess power loss caused by spent CPU cycles when the alternatives are used.

If you intend to make a stand, go all in. Join in New Zealand’s wisdom (New Zealand bans software patents) and demand that they be outlawed. A sequence of commands cannot be owned.

IMO it’d be fairer to say that “the party supports reforming the patent system” than “the party is supportive of patents” :wink:

Did you read the full policy text? In summary it aims to:

  • Reduce patent duration and prevent misuse of patents
  • Reform software patents
  • Abolish patents on genes and living organisms
  • Abolish patents on pharmaceutical drugs

Personally I’d be quite happy to see the patent system reformed out of existence, especially software patents, and the party has previously stated that software should be completely excluded from any type of patentability. Maybe someone from the policy development committee can comment further.

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Agreed, particularly since the policy seems to contradict the PR you linked.

It’s my personal opinion that patents should be done away with in their entirety (or at the very least, limited to physical inventions only - no (and I say this as a software developer) software / business process patents), so if an amendment were raised to change the policy from reform to outright abolishment, I’d be in favour of it.

Thanks, I hadn’t see the full policy text. It might be worth linking to the full policy texts from the excepts in the wiki to make it easier to find while browsing the overview.

Maybe I should have been more clear, but my focus in this thread is specifically software patents. I understand that they party disapproves of gene/pharmaceutical patents, but took issue that that was not the case with software patents. The discussion of other patent types was just to support the view that they are negative to society.

While I’m not supportive of any patents, I can see how reducing duration and adding greater preventative measures against patent misuse is a worthy near-term goal. In terms of software patents, this is not enough. Right now, taking the reform approach indirectly conveys a soft disapproval (“we think they could be better”) - and the companies fighting for software patents will bulldoze anyone who seems on the fence.

Each platform item that has a detailed policy does in fact have a link to that policy. See for example.

It does, sorry. I must of missed it. is a good place to find them all.


Thanks for caring enough to read our policies and respond.
I am the current Policy Development Officer and I was heavily involved in the development of our Patent policy.
Also, in the interests of disclosure, I am a Software Engineer of many years.

The Wiki:
The wiki does have links to the full text at the end of each major section (e.g. Patents), but I think it could definitely use links to sub-policy elements for each chunk (e.g. Software Patents). It’s confusing the way it is.
I will get that fixed.

Policy is not a Negotiation Position:
In reference to your “conveys a soft disapproval” comment, our policies as written are not a negotiating position.
Negotiation can wait until we’re in a position of power to actually do something. They do represent our best thought out position, based on evidence, logic and the combined wisdom of the party members.
To get to the point of being official policy, it has to go through a great deal of debate, first amongst a working group, then amongst the whole Policy Development Group, then in front of a full congress of the members and finally be accepted by a majority anonymous vote of the whole membership.
Having evidence based policy is a core principle of how we do this.
Reducing policies to negotiation position would unduly reduce them to simplistic rhetoric.

Software Patents:
We strive to do better than the “Software patents are evil. Evil things must be banned, therefore software patents must be banned.” kind of logic.

Consider what patents are supposed to be for, as opposed to the current actual behaviour.
They are supposed to:

  • provide a temporary monopoly in exchange for public disclosure.
    Disclosure is very important. Without disclosure, inventions do not get into the public domain. They may be lost forever.
    Open source is one way around this. I love open source, but it doesn’t suit all business models. It tends to be great for common layers (things we all share like O/S or Databases), but not so much for full applications or applications that are part of a broader solution (e.g. embedded applications or big infrastructure).
  • provide protection to small innovative inventors and start-up businesses against giant corporations that would otherwise just take the ideas and use their existing wealth to take the resultant market share.
    I get that this is not what is happening, but that is why it needs to be reformed. Without this protection, companies will be forced into ever greater secrecy around their technology, leading to indefinite monopolies rather than limited term monopolies.
    It’s really tough for software start-ups in Australia. We’re actually just starting to work on policy for how to more generally improve that situation.

We specifically recommend:

  • Reducing patent duration to 10 years (or 5 for “innovation patents” with lower threshold for inventiveness), to address the modern speed of innovation churn.
  • Note that software patents would explicitly fall into the “innovation patent” category.
  • Requirement to demonstrate active use of patents or else lose the protection, to address the patent trolls issue.
  • Exclude non-commercial infringement as a concept, to free up open source and home use conflicts.
  • Protection for independent invention, just because that’s fair.
  • Much higher fees for software patents, specifically to fund the required discovery process, to determine whether it is truly innovative, original and not obvious to “someone experienced in the art”
  • One thing I would like to add to this, is that implementing a concept in software that already exists IRL,should never count as innovative.
  • No functional claiming – You wouldn’t be able to claim the outcome, just the method, thereby allowing competition, but also, excluding things like Amazons “One Click to Purchase” patent.
  • Stronger requirement that the patent must be a compete disclosure,
    just because disclosure is a key part of the bargain.

I think the essence of the policy, is that Patents are supposed to be a agreement between the public, as represented by the government and corporations and that the public interest side of this deal should be much more strongly represented than it has been.

In the case of pharmaceutical drugs and medical patents, we went further, because it was apparent that an entirely different incentive scheme was required. Specifically, we thought that the current scheme tends to encourage evergreen patents on non-cures that you have to take for your entire life, rather than one-off cures that just fix the problem.

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I should also add, that policy development in PPAU is strongly encouraged to be an open, transparent process.
If you want to change our current position, then you are very welcome to come along to policy development meetings and make your case.
Alternatively, you can make your own proposal for policy change in front of an annual PPAU congress yourself.


Perhaps I am atypical, but I actually prefer this wording to outright banning of software patents. Far better to aim to get the concept back on the rails (i.e. legal protection of a monopoly with a longer-term view to feed the concept into the public domain) rather than fruitlessly rail against the train-wreck that greedy misdirection has led us into at the current point in history?

@Andrew: Thanks for your reply.

TLDR: The future can be great. Let’s stop fighting the changes and embrace it to build a better future.

Well the ‘evil’ argument can easily be expanded upon to be more specific. The core failure of patents is that they are presented as an aid for greater innovation and community development, while in reality exist only as a power play to control consumer freedoms. Either way the system is broken when the mega-corporates just end up buying innovative companies and hoarding the patents for themselves - serving only their continued monopoly. The innovator may be protected in some idealistic way, but the community certainly isn’t.

In response to, “provide a temporary monopoly in exchange for public disclosure”, I’d argue that things that never make it into the public domain are simply unimportant. And irrespective, while there is a strong push in software, an extremely large majority of internal and propriety things never do make the public domain. Tom the glass cutter made some special machine that uses orange lasers for a smoother cut - the existent of a patent system won’t make him more likely to share. He is better off using an internal company agreement to protect his process.

In response to, “protection to small innovative inventors and start-up businesses against giant corporations”, I’d simply argue that success is hard to replicate. And that is just a fact of life - there is no magic, works every time method. The truth is that large companies do try and steal/replicate smaller companies - but the more likely outcome is that they just buy them out. While another common practise is for the big company to just sue the smaller one - more money = more time = the little guy is at a disadvantage.

The sole objective of large corporations is greater market share - aka. monopoly. By design, this means that they don’t care about niche, highly customised or specialised. They just want nooses, and strangleholds on the market. History has proved that monopolies essentially fall over when they become too irrelevant (think Yahoo). What they provide becomes too generalised, and people tend to seek after something that better suits their needs. Companies like Microsoft, Google , IBM, are all becoming extremely unfocused, such that the importance of their products and services going forward can more easily be disrupted through smaller and more niece innovations. And this needs to be the sweet spot for new innovators who seek success. Companies who don’t adapt, die.

The scope of ‘software patents’ seems to be been expanded to include all forms of patents in this thread, so I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at their origins. For some brief history, the following links may be of use.

Wikipedia - Patent

“in order to stimulate invention"

Wikipedia - History of United States patent law

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”

What’s important to understand is that often, when ‘solutions’ such as patents are created and become law, they have no mechanism to review their relevancy and continued ability to address their original goal. Which there in lies the problem - we are moving into a new world of possibilities, and old broken systems that may have once had merit are now simply the wrong approach going forward. The dynamics have changed - there is no fix to make ‘patents’ work again. A new solution and a new way of thinking needs to be established that is inline with the present and the future.

I think a common mistake made, is when we try and solve problems that simply don’t exist - or ones that are poorly understood. Generally, in new business, this leads to product and/or service failure, due to a business plan without any real customers. A semi-comical example is a toaster with WiFi; it may sound cool, but when it costs $50 more and has no real life advantage, the marketplace will squeeze it out. It will be a dud.

What is clear that certain things cannot easily be replicated - even looking forward into the near future of computing. Books, articles, etc cannot easily be machine written. Skilled jobs, such as the medical profession and product design. Arts and creativity take considerable effort to produce. Education requires highly adaptive teachers. Many more examples exist. While inventing out the need for a humans to physically control a metal press machine can have significant impact on jobs and communities in the short term, the global change is coming, and fighting it will only make things worse. Instead we need to focus on new way that we can create value and stimulate job growth.

The future is one where replication is becoming easier, faster and cheaper. The obvious example is of China, as a powerhouse manufacturer of clones and replicas. If you consider how easy it has become to copy information (think USBs, the internet), and how easy it is to replicate objects (with 3D printing), it becomes obvious as to just how futile patent-like restrictions are in protecting ‘inventors’. In the end a country with strict patent laws loses out by the more efficient and free one.

The world is moving forward, and we are moving into a stage where we can all benefit greatly from sharing with each other. In the end, restrictions placed on what can be ‘shared’ will simply be ignored by people. But do we just accept that it may take 50 years or more to reform, and accept all of the stifled progress as collateral? The space race spanned 20 years. The Internet is 20 years old. We are about 5 years into having every device embedded with some kind of processor/connectivity. I don’t see how we can throw that future potential innovation away - especially when we are facing such grand challenges of our global population at scale.

Nature has a way of self-balancing everything out. We can remain the ones trying to fight change, or we can embrace it and take with it the grand benefits.

The reasons I brought this up on the discussion boards is to help evaluate whether the Pirate Party reflects my personal political beliefs, and if are they the best channel for me to strive to re-establish lost freedoms. I understand that a party has members, and the members have ultimate control. But I also know for a movement to succeed, it needs strong and unified direction. And sometimes that requires a new way of looking at old problems.

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I actually wouldn’t mind if, in order to get the patent, the software company had to open-source (not free/libre source mind you, just publish the source) the code to get the patent. You still keep copyright after the patent expires, but to get the patent, the code is available and is no longer secret.


Regarding “public disclosure”, you have made a statement that you think that “things that never make it into the public domain are simply unimportant”, but the only argument you put up was based on Tom the glass cutter, where his new technique never needs to leave his factory. Software on the other hand, is almost always out there in the wilds where it can be disassembled, reverse engineered, copied etc. If there’s no protection in law, then the incumbent, money’d corporations will just take your code and out-compete you just because $.

Regarding “protection to small innovative inventors and start-up businesses against giant corporations”, I don’t get your argument at all. Sure, it’s hard being a start-up, but that’s not a reason to make it harder by taking away what protections they do have. Some small businesses actually want to be bought out by a big corporation, then go do another new thing. This really suits some people, but it’s a choice they can make, as opposed to having their business stolen out from beneath them. The other side of it though, is that by eliminating the opportunities for patent trolls, and placing a lot more of the challenge up front, it should make it a lot harder for big $ Corps to challenge them later when they are successful.
If you just look short term, it looks like it’s all big business beating out small business. However, in the long cycle, new businesses, selected by competition, slowly becoming the big guys and change the industry.

Regarding the monopolies and market share by big $ Corporations, that’s why we made the terms shorter.
Five years for the entrepreneurial little guy to make his stake, but also 5 years until the big guy finds his competition can use all his stuff (that he’s disclosed in Patents and was forced to make reproducible for the patent to be accepted) and how he has to compete by providing better service and price.

I’ve worked in start-ups and I’ve worked in large corporations.

  • The start-ups are great at innovation, but they would not get funded if the investors didn’t think they could get some protection on the software. It’s borderline gambling as it is.
  • The big corporations are institutionalised and slow to innovate, so they like to do the market-share/monopoly/rent-seeking game, just because it’s easier for them. They need pressure on them by making that harder, so they have to go compete on service and price and maybe to innovate occasionally, but not in some radical move that just cuts them off. There would be millions unemployed if that happened.

TL;DR Evolution, not revolution.

OK, so why isn’t copyright sufficient to meet the incentive needs with regard to software? You create something innovative, you own the copyright on your implementation of it, you keep your incredible new algorithm secret, you release proprietary software and make money off it for as long as you can. If someone rips off your implementation, you set your killer attack trained lawyers on them.

Why does someone need a software patent when they can do all the above with copyright? What am I missing?

(My perspective on this, BTW, is possibly skewed as I am employed to work on F/OSS, and my employer makes their money off subscriptions/support/consulting/etc. - I have worked for proprietary software companies in the past, and have no desire to do so ever again.)

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Sorry, the Tom argument was weak. I don’t plan on bringing him out again. RE: “Disclosure is very important. Without disclosure, inventions do not get into the public domain”, I guess my real argument is that if something never makes it into the public domain, then so be it. The most likely case it is that wasn’t valuable (progressive and/or economically). I don’t see how “provid[ing] a temporary monopoly in exchange for public disclosure” is of any value. I actually don’t have any real world examples. And I think that just aids my point. This is a non-problem, and patents don’t help.

I think the reality you mentioned of small/new businesses being agile and big companies being sluggish is all the protection that is needed. I think that it is clear to innovators and leaders that throwing money at a problem never yields greater results. I think the nature of innovation here is good enough protection through it’s inherent properties. But I would certainly appreciate good examples to disprove this to be the case.

I’ve been a co founder myself, and not once did I see patents as a for form of protecting myself. I wouldn’t have had the capital or time to sue someone anyway. And the cost (and time) of patenting was also prohibitive. You are right that some companies exit strategy is to sell - that is that fine. I’ve sold one of my companies to a larger one in the same market space. I also see no reason why two competing startups should be subjected to a patent race, patenting all they can. I do however understand that patents presently are important in seeking funding and external investment. In that regard I don’t have a known solution.

I am 100% with you in making patents less abrasive. But I don’t believe that is enough. I think the past 10 years has proved just had badly software patents negatively impact the everyone - even corporations. Admittedly, much of that is filtered down from US based law, but we must protect our interests and be a global leader in showing a better way forward.


You know how version 2 of a system, made in less of a rush, and with fore-knowledge of all the dumb things that were wrong in the first implementation, is almost always massively better? Coding is fast when you already know exactly what it should do.
Well, that’s what I’d be doing if I was a big business, wanting to take the start-up solution and make my own.
Copyright can not protect from that. Patents can.

F/OSS is a great thing. Good for you. Keep up the good work.


I’ve been in 3 start-ups, usually in software engineer/architect roles.
Two out of three had significant patent protection that was a pivotal early protection. One in early wide area broadband networking, the other in very recent Internet of Things.
The third got some patents later, but they were a stupid waste of money, because silly people.

Another interesting practice I’ve seen involving patents, has been in the development of very high end video codecs. H.265 is the amalgamation of technologies from dozens of corporations. They all compete in a forum to demonstrate that their own patented code should be included because it’s better. The result is far better than anything that any of them could produce individually. The only basis on which they accept this level of sharing, if that they have Patent protection on the stuff they put forward.
The decoders are always free.
The encoders cost $ in inverse proportion to how much of your own stuff is included, but the encoders are all implemented in hardware because software implementations would be way too slow. By the time that our 5 year patent time frame ran out, software implemented encoders would probably be OK given Moores law.

We are open to alternative proposals, but for areas like this, we need solutions that look at entire ecosystems. Systems based solutions, structured to maximise many different outcomes and differing business models.

We are also looking to actively engage members in policy development…
Sounds like you have experience in the world.
Wanna collaborate?

One of the best outcomes of discussing these topics openly is the sharing ideas side. I don’t have all the solutions, nor am I knowledgable in every aspect. Which is where platforms like this can really help.

Re: H.265, I don’t know a whole lot about it. I can see how in that case some form of protection can enable a company to release their code as free software (ie. under GNU GPL), while using commercial licensing as their business model. In essence, I don’t can’t see a problem with that. I can also see how institutions, including academia, can benefit from a similar kind of protection to recoup R&D and fund future research. But really that seems to be an edge case, and not reason enough to force patents on software as a whole.

I think a common happening is upon a group doing something impressive, people want more. And in turn, this brings new opportunities and financial prospects. And I think that there is likely a way where we can enhance that effect; thus removing the need for protection in the first place. Someone saying your work is there’s, when you have proof it was your work, just makes them look stupid. The right incentives are the key to prosperous systems.

Regarding collaboration, I’m happy to discuss and share ideas. But at this point I have a lot of thinking thats needed to refine my ideas and attempt to draft any solution. I also need to become more familiar with the party polices at large. I’m glad you guys are open to ideas, so I’ll do my best to try and contribute.

Hey Alex,

Nice to hear you are interested re: the collaboration.
Our policies rarely, if ever, just get written straight up from some individual who just already had their ideas well sorted.
The reality is an iterative and collaborative process, bashing ideas out on Etherpad pages together with a few people.
Sometimes for complex policy choices, we form MAUT tables like this one for Drug reform: whereby we can collaboratively discover the details of our differences of opinion and weigh up many factors concurrently.
We’re usually also trying to find good sources of evidence relating to the topic also, preferable not just opinion pieces, but serious research. You’ll notice these cited on the policies. There’s even a citation guide.
Eventually, it all comes together and stabilises, then a policy proposal pops out.

Longer term we have much greater aspirations for significantly stronger participative democratic processes.
You might like to read:
Polly is our proposed project to achieve this. That’s long term, but many of the principles laid out in those requirements still apply nicely to how we do things today.

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