January 24, 2013

The First Software Patent

The latest episode in my PBS Digital Studios series “INVENTORS” is about Martin Goetz, the man who got the first every software patent. There’s a good chance that you’ve heard about the current controversy over software patents, but you may not know why we have software patents to begin with. Here’s the story:

I found it especially interesting that today software patents in the hands of patent trolls are said to stifle innovation in small companies, but the first software patent was a tool that enabled a small company to compete against a big corporation. That seems to me more in the spirit of what patents are for.


The first patent was for something that couldn’t compete against free software. Now free (and commercial) software is besieged by patent trolls with no end in sight.

The sad thing is I remember this patent being issued (it was controversial).

This wasn’t really the bad one. The XOR patent (for blinking a cursor on a CRT) was the start of patent trolling.

The sad part was my worst nightmare about software patents was quite tame compared to today’s reality.