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Mitch Kapor's Congressional Testimony on Software Patents

Testimony to a congressional hearing.

Mitch Kapor
Founder of Lotus

I want to thank the Committee for this opportunity to testify on some of the intellectual property questions surrounding software. This is an area that I personally find fascinating and provocative - so please excuse me if my testimony ends up leaving you with more questions than answers.

With no joke intended, software has been very, very good to me. I was fortunate enough to find a collaborator to craft an innovative piece of software called Lotus 1-2-3 - and that software evolved into both an industry standard and turned Lotus Development Corp. into one of America's most successful software companies.

Because it is impossible to know what patent applications are in the application pipeline, it is entirely possible, even likely, to develop software which incorporates features that are the subject of another firm's patent application. Thus, there is no avoiding the risk of inadvertently finding oneself being accused of a patent infringement simply because no information was publicly available at the time which could have offered guidance of what to avoid. Please, require publication of patent application within a short period of their filing.

The period of patent protection, 17 years, no longer makes sense in an era when an entire generation of technology passes within a few years. My recommendation would be to consider substantially shortening the length of protection.

Most importantly, it is my heartfelt belief that many of the increasing number of recently issued software patents, concerning, for instance, fundamental techniques and artifacts of user interfaces, should never have been granted in the first place because of their failure to qualify as either novel or non-obvious. Some patents appear to preempt automation of common functions such as footnoting. This to me is like allowing a patent on the round steering wheel. The breadth of claims being allowed in these matters, is, in the words of Brian Kahin, Adjunct Research Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, "often at a level of abstraction that is shocking to the uninitiated."

If some future litigant is successful in upholding rights to one of these "bad" patents It will require expensive and time-consuming litigation, whose outcome is frankly uncertain, to defend the rights of creators which should never have been challenged in the first place. If I speak very bluntly here, it is only because I am deeply concerned that a single bad patent court fight with a negative outcome, like a major environmental accident, could have catastrophic effects. I don't think we can afford the risk.

 

I obtained this transcript from the internet. In an email on Saturday, 29.Jan.2000, I wrote to obtain more info (is it accurate, is it still policy, etc.). I also show his response.


Statements and Policies on Software Patents

Adobe Systems Statement On Software PatentsAdobe Systems Statement On Software Patents: Opposition to software patents in a statement at a Public Hearing on Use of the Patent System to Protect Software Related Inventions, Wednesday, January 26, 1994 at the San Jose Convention Center.  (software_patent_adobe)

Autodesk Statement On Software PatentsAutodesk Statement On Software Patents: Opposition to software patents in a statement at a Public Hearing on Use of the Patent System to Protect Software Related Inventions, Wednesday, January 26, 1994 at the San Jose Convention Center.  (software_patent_autodesk)

Borland International Statement On Software PatentsBorland International Statement On Software Patents: Opposition to software patents in a statement at a Public Hearing on Use of the Patent System to Protect Software Related Inventions, Wednesday, January 26, 1994 at the San Jose Convention Center.  (software_patent_borland)

IBM Statement On Software PatentsIBM Statement On Software Patents: Support for the system in a statement at a Public Hearing on Use of the Patent System to Protect Software Related Inventions, Wednesday, January 26, 1994 at the San Jose Convention Center.  (software_patent_ibm)

Intel Statement On Software PatentsIntel Statement On Software Patents: Support for the system in a statement at a Public Hearing on Use of the Patent System to Protect Software Related Inventions, Wednesday, January 26, 1994 at the San Jose Convention Center.  (software_patent_intel)

Microsoft Statement On Software PatentsMicrosoft Statement On Software Patents: Support for the system in a statement at a Public Hearing on Use of the Patent System to Protect Software Related Inventions, Wednesday, January 26, 1994 at the San Jose Convention Center.  (software_patent_microsoft)

Mitch Kapor's Congressional Testimony On Software PatentsMitch Kapor's Congressional Testimony On Software Patents: Opposition to software patents in congressional testimony by Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus.  (software_patent_kapor)

Oracle Software Patent PolicyOracle Software Patent Policy: Well written. Reportedly "withdrawn", but worth reading.  (software_patent_oracle)

Silicon Graphics Statement On Software PatentsSilicon Graphics Statement On Software Patents: Support for the system in a statement at a Public Hearing on Use of the Patent System to Protect Software Related Inventions, Wednesday, January 26, 1994 at the San Jose Convention Center.  (software_patent_sgi)

Software Patent HearingsSoftware Patent Hearings: In January and February of 1994, the U. S. Patent Office held hearings on the use of the patent system to protect software related inventions. This is the text of the Federal Register notice.  (software_patent_hearings)

Sun Microsystems Statement On Software PatentsSun Microsystems Statement On Software Patents: Not opposition but not outright support either. Call it "concerns". A statement at a Public Hearing on Use of the Patent System to Protect Software Related Inventions, Wednesday, January 26, 1994 at the San Jose Convention Center.  (software_patent_sun)

Synopsys Statement On Software PatentsSynopsys Statement On Software Patents: Opposition to software patents in a statement at a Public Hearing on Use of the Patent System to Protect Software Related Inventions, Wednesday, January 26, 1994 at the San Jose Convention Center.  (software_patent_synopsys)

Taligent Statement On Software PatentsTaligent Statement On Software Patents: Support for the system in a statement at a Public Hearing on Use of the Patent System to Protect Software Related Inventions, Wednesday, January 26, 1994 at the San Jose Convention Center.  (software_patent_taligent)

Time Warner Cable Statement On Software PatentsTime Warner Cable Statement On Software Patents: Not opposition but not outright support either. Call it "concerns". A statement at a Public Hearing on Use of the Patent System to Protect Software Related Inventions, Wednesday, January 26, 1994 at the San Jose Convention Center.  (software_patent_timewarner)

Videodiscovery Statement On Software PatentsVideodiscovery Statement On Software Patents: expressions of the problems for a small firm. A statement at a Public Hearing on Use of the Patent System to Protect Software Related Inventions, Wednesday, January 26, 1994 at the San Jose Convention Center.  (software_patent_videodiscovery)

Wind River Systems Statement On Software PatentsWind River Systems Statement On Software Patents: Opposition to software patents in a statement at a Public Hearing on Use of the Patent System to Protect Software Related Inventions, Wednesday, January 26, 1994 at the San Jose Convention Center.  (software_patent_windriver)

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