copyright | MIT Center for Civic Media

HOPE X: Can You Patent Software?

Can You Patent Software?

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Ed Ryan, Patent Attorney

Will be talking about the Alice v. CLS Bank decision. So can you patent software? Short answer: yes.

In the US, the power to issue patents comes from the Constitution, and is meant to encourage innovation. Patents involve a trade: you get a monopoly on making something for a limited amount of time, but you have to tell us how you made it. It's common wisdom that patents are good, but Ed asks if that really holds up for software.

He argues that being secretive over ideas in tech is wasteful and that the main benefit of software patents is to allow people to talk about their ideas without the need for secrecy.

Software is usually patented as a "process" or a "machine." However, laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas can't be patented. When you patent the basic building blocks of an industry, you in effect own that industry. Software patents go against the long-held ideals of sharing in open source.

Improving the interface to disabled YouTube videos

One seldom discussed effect of Warner Music Group's locust-like raid on the YouTube community is the loss of video metadata. When access to a video is disabled for reasons of alleged copyright infringement, users see a page like this:

Typical message for a disabled YouTube video

The video is not the only thing lost, however. Along with access to the video, YouTube disables access to all accompanying information: the title, tags, description, comments, related videos, response videos, ratings, and number of views. While S.512(c)(1) of the DMCA certainly compels the wise service provider to disable the allegedly infringing video, they could do so without ripping a node out of the network like a bandage from a hairy knee!

Imagine instead that the pages for disabled videos were rendered like this mockup: