Home > Apple, Idiots, Videos > Software patents are dirty scum.

Software patents are dirty scum.

This is Walt Mossberg; shut up.

In a move that came as no surprise yet sent a record number of industry observers to the emergency room with a broken wrist because of how fast and how hard they hit themselves in the face with the palm of their hand, Facebook was awarded a patent this week for “the feed.” For those of you who aren’t hip to these things like I am, the feed is Facebook’s name for the list of activities you see when you log in to Facebook.

You know where all your notifications get shown, and messages about who’s friends with who, who’s asking you to play some goddamn online game, asking for a trinket or a treasure or something? That’s the feed. It’s a list of information relevant to the user. You know, like every other list of information a user gets presented with when they go to practically any website in the world.

Let me just say straight away that I think the US Patent Office is scum, and that software patents are dirty scum. Are you with me so far? It boggles the mind that Facebook could be awarded a patent for something so obvious and ubiquitous as a list of information relevant to the user in a social context. What this patent means is that if Facebook wanted to, it could shut down half the internet because they now own the rights to everybody else’s core functionality. It’s insane! All software patents are insane, because the language of the patent can be general and doesn’t need to specify the way the thing was made, in what environment, or what language. Anyone who programs will tell you that just because you’ve achieved a result doesn’t necessarily mean you did it in a specific way; if you write a program in a different language, that represents a completely different challenge, and it should be regarded as such. The fact that it isn’t shows that nobody handing out software patents has any idea what goes into writing software.

Because a software patent — and, really, patents in general — can refer to the end result very vaguely, plus can be awarded without, you know, actually having built the goddamn thing, you run into serious problems, like people patenting hypertext several decades after others invented it in a specific way, and people getting patents for products other people have already brought to market.

But this is the system we have, right? It’s a stupid zero-sum game, but because there’s money riding on it, everyone takes part, because who wants to be the jerk who goes all noble and doesn’t lock down his creation, only to have someone else file a patent for it, so that the person who’s actually developed a certain piece of software has to pay royalties to some goddamn patent squatter? That’s right!

So the stupidity of the patent system means companies lock down every single thing any of their developers ever do, just in case they decide at some point to bring whatever they’ve done to market at some point in the future, or because it’s close enough to their plans that they don’t want anyone getting anywhere near it. When companies like Apple do this, since they’re fantastic and have amazing ideas, it do two things:

One, it makes it so that other people can’t develop whatever it is they’ve worked on, which is a goddamn shame because even though there’s probably a good reason why Apple doesn’t make products out of everything they patent, so many of them — like physical object recognition on your computer monitor, a list of contacts on your phone’s lock screen and a rubber dock that conforms to fit any device you shove in it — are so amazingly cool that it would be great to see other companies be able to make them, even though their executions would be subpar, since they’re not Apple.

Two, it makes idiot bloggers write about all of these patent filings as though it means anything, as though it necessarily reflects anything other than Apple covering its bases, and getting the greatest value for their R&D dollar, and it makes idiot bloggers say stupid stuff like this:

A patent filed seven years ago for a solar powered media device was uncovered today. Ecologically sound AND fantastic, Apple is sending a clear signal to batteries everywhere: your days are numbered! Subscribe to my newsletter!

Dear blogosphere: Searching through public patent information and “discovering” a filing from half-a-decade ago does not give you any special insight into what Apple’s plans for the future are, and claiming so is pretty pathetic. Just take your hands off the keyboard, get out of your mother’s basement, and step outside. See that big ball of brightness in the sky? That’s the sun: you should stare at it until the world goes away, so you can’t bug me with this piddly crap any more.

In conclusion, the patent system, which is supposed to encourage innovation, can lead to innovation stifling, and can lead to idiot bloggers really chapping my ass, neither of which I like. Unless I’m paying extra for the latter.

This has been Walt Mossberg: shut up!

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