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LM

Although a majority of commentators in the open source community oppose software patents, I can safely say that your opinion is shared by many IT professionals. The reasons why software patents receive so much opposition in the open source community range from the metaphysical to the practical. I know a large number of open source advocates who would answer the challenge of your final sentence by agreeing that there should be no patents of any kind.

Others object for implementation reasons. As one who occasionally writes on this topic, I would say that my biggest objection to software patents is that they are often ill-defined in a way that tends to inhibit innovation. Yes, ideally software patents are "algorithm patents," but a surprising number of them are actually more like very vague descriptions disguised to look like algorithms.

Another problem is the term "novel" that you correctly state as a requirement for a software patent. Software engineering is a very complex field, and the task of evaluating software patents to determine if they are truly unique and original requires lots of time and expertise. In the US, which is known for its support of software patents, the government does not provide adequate funding to do the job well, and consequently, lots of patents are filed that shouldn't be.

A final problem is that software patents only offer protection if you invest lots of money in defending them. Some of the big companies that talk at length about the importance of protecting their "Intellectual Property" knowingly (or unknowingly) violate the patent claims of other companies routinely. Even if your company were able to secure a patent for the algorithm, you would be in position of having to defend it, which could cost millions of dollars and, in the end, you might lose.

Please send your comments and suggestions to letters@linux-magazine.com

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