Monday, October 08, 2012

Software and plumbing patents

Gary S. Becker,a Nobel laureate in economics, and Richard A. Posner, a prolific and renowned Federal Judge, are co-authors of a blog, in which they discuss a wide variety of topics.

The patent and copyright systems was a recent topic, and both men commented on software patents.

Posner wrote "pharmaceutical drugs are the poster child for patent protection" -- expensive to develop and cheap to copy -- and the "problem of excessive patent protection is at present best illustrated by the software industry."

Becker agreed, writing "I admit it is not clear where to draw the line between what should and should not be patentable. However, one can start by eliminating the ability to patent software."

I recommend their posts on patent and copyright as well as the comments that accompany them.

Professor Becker says it is not clear where to draw the line as to what should be patentable, but you know innovation when you see it.

Here are two examples. I agree with judge Posner that issuing a patent on the idea of swiping the screen to turn your phone on is "silly" -- incremental and obvious. Contrast that with the LDR 506 7041BK sink trap.

I've used a pipe wrench and plumber's tape to install and adjust a lot of sink traps over the years, but this morning I installed an LDR trap with no tools, no plumber's tape and little effort. You assemble the trap and snap the parts together with a twist. They click into place, there are no leaks and the assembly costs only $4.95. That is a patent-worthy invention.