Intellectual-Property Panel Tackles the Issue of Patents

Some at the ACT's Intellectual Property and Technology Summit touted the importance of IP as crucial to development; others said software patents shouldn't exist.

CAMBRIDGE, Md.—Does intellectual property protection policy promote or inhibit innovation?

A panel at the ACTs (Association for Computing Technology) Intellectual Property and Technology Summit here discussed that question.

"Defining innovation broadly, I think IP is in support of development," said Keith Maskus, an economics professor from the University of Colorado.

"I believe IP does promote innovation; where it doesnt is where the system breaks down," said Dana Colarulli, government relations and legislative counsel for the IPO (Intellectual Property Owners Association).

"IP is critical to robust development; its the currency of ideas," Colarulli said. "IPO believes IP promotes innovation, and we need to have a balanced system and look for ways to invest."

Melanie Wyne, director of public policy at the CompTIA (Computing Technology Industry Association), said, "We support strong IP protection for software, both here in the U.S. and abroad."

Wyne said that having worked for a software startup, she knows the value of patents.

"The second question venture capitalists ask you after Whats your software do? is How many patents do you have?" she said.

Larry Rosen, former general counsel for the Open Source Initiative and a leading open-source supporter, said, "Im here to represent the attitudes of many, many, many people around the world who think that for the software industry, patents are not the creative engine; they are the caboose."

Rosen noted that patents typically come long after the fact and "serve as a disincentive rather than an incentive" to innovation.

"So with respect to software patents, they shouldnt exist," Rosen said, particularly patents for standards.

"Patents that cover industry standards are far more dangerous than others, because they allow companies to put up toll booths on the information highway."

Rosen said patents in industries that feature high costs of development and long lead times, like the pharmaceutical industry, are more understandable, "but not in software. Software is obsolete by the time it gets out the door."

He said software typically has 18-month development cycles.

"There is a lot of investment to start a company, but the tiny amount of time it takes to do the programming is nothing like the time it takes to build a business out of it, and theres no reason the patent system should have to protect that," Rosen said.

Next Page: Industry standards at issue.