Thursday, July 25, 2013

A call to arms

I've been using the "frontier" metaphor to describe the encroachment of "intellectual property" into the realms of, basically, all human intellectual activity. Land grabs, gold rushes, robber barons, absentee landlords, bandits, battles and casualties - it has all of these. It even has the US cavalry, in the form of patent courts.

Now I'm privileged, and delighted, to be able to see, in detail, how a frontier skirmish can play out.

Joel Spolsky has rated highly in my list of personal heroes for about as long as I've been involved in the sordid world of commercial software. He's a man of many right-thinking opinions, strongly held and defended with an articulation that I can only envy. Among these is the opinion that, of the 40,000 US software patents granted every year, approximately - in round numbers - 40,000 reflect a level of innovation that "any first-year student learning Java should be able to do as a homework assignment in two hours", and should be rejected out of hand if only the patent office had access to a few relevant subject-matter-experts.

Being a great proponent of "getting things done", Joel set up a website to create precisely that access. And now he advocates swatting bad patents one by one.

40,000 a year. That's more than 100 a day.

Joel illustrates how you can demolish a particularly crap patent in just 15 minutes of work. I think that's optimistic, for a variety of reasons. And AskPatents is not that heavily trafficked, and a lot of the threads it does have are non-specific queries that are only marginally better than spam. It's a good start, but I don't think it'll scale.

But if you want to make a difference - stick your finger in the dyke, ignoring for a moment the other 39,998 holes all around you - get on over there now. Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

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