Inventions Must be Novel and Nonobvious, Not Complex
In August I debated the impact of software patents at the Computer
History Museum (you can watch the debate here).
I asked members of the audience how many were programmers or had
written software. A large number of hands went up. I then asked
those people to put their hands down if they thought what they did
wasn't creative and that anyone could do it. I was really surprised
when a large percentage of hands went down.
I've been thinking about that, and I've come to three conclusions.
First, many programmers just aren't very good at what they do. Many
of them have simply learned to copy others' code (see
Is Googling Replacing Programming?) or maintain someone else's
code. Second, many programmers underestimate their abilities. Programmers
tend to be introverted and not ones to brag about their skills.
Of course there are exceptions, but programming is generally a solitary
Third, many programmers believe that to be patentable, something
must be very complicated. But that's not true. Section
102 of the U.S. Patent Act states that an invention must be
novel, and Section
103 states that it must be nonobvious. There is no requirement
that it be complex.
Many inventions are very useful and yet also very simple. Searching
Google, I found almost 4,000 patents involving paper
clips. I found 27,000 patents with the word "needle"
in the title and over 9,000 patents for kinds of spoons.
There are nearly 600 patents involving rubber
bands. Some recent patents include a water
sprinkler for dogs (USPTO # 7,997,229) and a waterproof
cover for a camera (USPTO # 7,991,274). My point is that some
inventions are simple and some are complex, but they all are novel
and no one else thought of them. If you tend to dismiss software
patents, remember that what makes an invention patentable is not
whether you could have done that, but whether you actually did.