Soft and Hard Tech Wars: Patents vs. Copyrights

By Owings, Julie A. | Business Credit, January 1992 | Go to article overview

Soft and Hard Tech Wars: Patents vs. Copyrights


Owings, Julie A., Business Credit


There is a war going on, but it is not being fought with guns or nuclear weapons. It is being fought with testimonials and money. The war is the fight for the right to use patents and copyrights on computer hardware and software.

Filing an Invention

When someone creates a new invention, it is likely that person will want some kind of protection against others who claim the idea was theirs.

In the United States, copy protection of this sort is divided into two categories. The government examines the invention and decides whether it is a "writing" or a "discovery." If it is recognized as a writing, it is sent to be considered for a copyright. On the other hand, if the invention is recognized as a discovery, it will be considered for a patent.

Important differences exist between copyrights and patents. First, a copyrights, in most cases, lasts longer than a patent - the author's lifetime plus 50 years. A patent only lasts 17 years. Second, a copyright goes into effect immediately after it is granted. The average wait for a patent is three years. Finally, copyrights are usually free, while the price for patents averages $10,000.

The Software Controversy

The differences are spelled out clearly and work, for the most part. However, lawsuits are breaking out across the world it comes to copy protection for computer software.

The trouble is that computer software can't be easily separated into the category of copyrights or patents because it actually belongs to both. Written out, software is a list of instructions and therefore is considered a writing. But when put to use, it acts as a machine and could be recognized as a discovery.

Congress concurred that computer software is a mental process and such process could not be patented. Thus, software fell into the legal premise of copyrights. This decision worked well and actually boosted the technology industry because copyrights gave opportunities for competition.

However, in the early 1980s, software inventions began to mysteriously receive patents instead of copyrights which overturned many laws. This brought on the software battles.

The problem with software being patented is that basic innovations that were created years ago and are used in almost every program are now being legally copy protected, even though these programs were not the first to use them. This means that new software being invented cannot use these basic tools. …

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Soft and Hard Tech Wars: Patents vs. Copyrights
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