The United States Vs. The European Union: An Ethical Analysis of Software Patents

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The United States Vs. The European Union: An Ethical Analysis of Software Patents


Patents have become a major part of technology in our society. The overall purpose of patents is to promote the disclosure of innovations so that others may make improvements based on those new technologies, while at the same time rewarding those who came up with the invention. They give the inventor of an innovation a monopoly of their innovation for a limited amount of time. After the time period has expired, anyone is free to use the innovation as they wish. Patents have worked well over the past century, enabling innovators to make technological improvements that would have been impossible without the help of prior inventions. Software Engineering is an engineering field that is very new relative to the other areas of science and engineering. Software Engineering is very different from any other kind of engineering. Ethically it is unreasonable to be able to apply the old patent laws to this new field of Software Engineering, without making any modifications to the laws. Software patents are not wrong entirely, in that it is still good to provide rewards to those who innovate. According the United States patent system, ideas are not patentable, while innovations are patentable. Software engineering blurs the line between ideas and innovation, in that software can be viewed as both an idea in the sense that it is a series of mathematical expressions, or it can be viewed as an innovation in that it can be delivered as an executable product. If patents are to be issued for software, a different system of laws governing software innovations needs to be established. The discrepancy on how to treat patents in software is illustrated by the opposing stances of the United States (who issues software patents) and the European Union (who does not issue software patents).

History of Patents

The main idea behind patents is to promote technological innovations. For there to be technological innovation for society as a whole, two things must happen. First, people must be able to study other people's innovations in order to further technology in society, because they can use the ideas of others to make even greater innovations. Second, people must have incentive to innovate. The most obvious solution to the first idea would be to make all innovations public, so that as soon as someone invents something, others are free to build off of it to further technology.

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