The Microsoft FAT patent scares me. In the past, I didn’t like software patents because patenting algorithms didn’t make any sense to me as a mathematician. But patents that prevent reverse engineering are directly harmful, too: those are my pictures on my digital camera, and it’s none of Microsoft’s business if I want to upload them to my Linux box. And then there’s this Microsoft patent application, which really is ridiculous.

Sigh. Should we just throw out the whole idea of patents, or are they actually helpful anywhere? Software patents are bad, even evil. Pharmaceutical patents are definitely used for evil: people die because of those things, people live in poverty because of these things. Maybe those are the areas where patents are currently getting abused the most; I’m getting increasingly dubious about the whole idea, though.

And I’m pretty dubious about the idea of copyright, too. Let’s give the whole thing up and start again. At the very least, let’s try to make sure we’re allowing the fewest protections consistent with the notion that their purpose is

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

Setting the whole prior art issue aside, does anybody seriously believe that patenting the idea of IM’ing smiley faces serves to promote the progress of science and useful arts? Or even useless arts?

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