For Immediate Release 12/14/94 By David A. Burton President Burton Systems Software PO Box 4157, Cary, NC 27519-4157 Tel: 919-481-0098 or 919-233-8128 Fax: 919-233-0716 email: email@example.com
Burton surveyed professional software developers who attended the Software Development '94 East trade show, in Washington, D.C., October 4-6th. Visitors to Burton's booth were asked about two controversial areas of intellectual property law: patents on computer software, and copyrights on the "look and feel" of software user interfaces.
The results were startling. By lopsided margins ranging from over 2:1 to more than 10:1, the software developers said that both software patents and look-and-feel copyrights impede software development and should be abolished.
"The U.S. Constitution authorizes patents and copyrights to promote the progress of science and the useful arts," said Dave Burton, President of Burton Systems Software. "Yet the people responsible for that progress say that both software patents and look-and-feel copyrights do just the opposite. That's quite an indictment of the current law."
By 79.6% to 8.2%, the computer programmers said that granting patents on computer software impedes, rather than promotes, software development (the remaining 12.2% were undecided). By 59.2% to 26.5%, most went even further, saying that software patents should be abolished outright. (Current U.S. law allows the patenting of computer software algorithms, but many other nations do not recognize such patents.)
The programmers are even more strongly opposed to copyrights on the "look and feel" of software user interfaces. By 85.7% to 8.2%, they think that such copyrights impede, rather than promote, software development. By 77.6% to 14.3%, they want to abolish such copyrights.
Patents and copyrights grant inventors and authors legal monopolies, providing increased financial profits as a reward - and incentive - for advancing "the useful arts." The results of this survey are especially striking because it is the developers of new technology, the very people that Burton polled, whose financial interests are supposed to be protected by patents and copyrights.
Most software developers do not oppose all software copyrights. There is broad support for basic copyright protection of computer programs, which prohibits directly copying computer programs without the author's permission. Nearly all commercial software is copyrighted, and most programmers agree that such protection is necessary in order for software development to be profitable.
However, software patents and look-and-feel copyrights go well beyond this, to prohibit other programmers from independently writing even programs that are similar to the protected program. Such constraints are strongly resented by many in the software development community, who long for the "good old days" when they were free to write whatever programs they wanted, without fear of lawsuits.
In recent years, a wave of such lawsuits has shaken the industry, involving companies like IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Lotus, Borland, and many others.
"Software patents and look-and-feel copyrights make lawsuits inevitable," said Burton, "because developers can never be sure just what they may legally write. Until the government started issuing software patents and look-and-feel copyrights, we operated under a very simple rule: if you wrote it, it was yours. But now it takes a lawsuit to answer the question of who owns your computer program."
By David A. Burton 12/14/94 President Burton Systems Software PO Box 4157, Cary, NC 27519-4157 Tel: 919-481-0098 or 919-233-8128 Fax: 919-233-0716 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
56 people filled out the survey, but 7 indicated that they were not programmers. The remaining 49 constitute a rather small polling sample, but the results are so lopsided that we think they are worth reporting, anyhow. By margins ranging from more than 2:1 to over 10:1, professional software developers say that:
WHO ARE THE RESPONDENTS Q: Are you a programmer and/or a manager of programmers? 87.5% (49 people) said they were programmers, or "both" or "yes." 9.3% (5) said they were managers, not programmers. 3.6% (2) were neither programmers nor managers of programmers. SOFTWARE PATENTS Q: The U.S. Constitution authorizes the government to issue patents and copyrights "to promote the progress of science and the useful arts." Do you think software patents promote or impede software development? The 49 programmers said: Impedes: 79.6% (39) Promotes: 8.2% (4) No clear answer: 12.2% (6) The 7 non-programmers said: Impedes: 1 Promotes: 5 No answer: 1 Q: Many other countries do not allow software patents. Do you think the USA should abolish software patents? The programmers said: Abolish: 59.2% (29) Don't abolish: 26.5% (13) No clear answer: 14.3% (7) The 7 non-programmers said: Abolish: 0 Don't abolish: 6 No answer: 1 "LOOK & FEEL" COPYRIGHTS Q: Do you think "look and feel" copyrights promote or impede software development? The programmers said: Impedes: 85.7% (42) Promotes: 8.2% (4) No clear answer: 6.1% (3) The 7 non-programmers said: Impedes: 4 Promotes: 2 No answer: 1 Q: Should the USA abolish "look and feel" U.I. copyrights? The programmers said: Abolish: 77.6% (38) Don't abolish: 14.3% (7) No clear answer: 8.2% (4) The 7 non-programmers said: Abolish: 4 Don't abolish: 2 No answer: 1 PATENT SEARCHES Q: Do you do patent searches before publishing/selling your software? The 49 programmers said: Yes: 6.1% (3) Sometimes: 18.4% (9) No: 67.3% (33) No clear answer: 8.2% (4)