Subject: Re: Why software patents are bad
From: Russell Nelson <nelson@crynwr.com>
Date: Fri, 17 Sep 1999 16:06:41 -0400 (EDT)

L. Peter Deutsch writes:
 > > I presume that open source software is good for society -- better than
 > > closed source software.  If I'm right, then software patents are bad
 > > for society, because it's easier to find patent infringements when the
 > > source code is available.
 > 
 > I don't think this line of reasoning holds up at all.  Consider: "I presume
 > that companies whose employment conditions are out in the open are better
 > for society than companies who hide their employment conditions.  If I'm
 > right, then worker protection laws are bad for society, because it's easier
 > to find violations of them when the company isn't hiding their employment
 > conditions."

Different reason entirely for the different laws.  Patents prevent a
public goods problem.  Once someone creates an idea, absent a law,
they cannot capture enough of the benefit to recover their investment
in creating the idea.  Or at least that's the theory.  A worker
protection law decreases the risk borne by an employee, so the
employer can pay them less, or work them harder ("I'm not paying
workman's compensation for you to work carefully!" -- a real quote).

Workers are sentient, code is not -- not yet anyway ("Help, help, I'm
being held prisoner in a proprietary program!").  Patents exist to
protect ownership rights over property.  People don't need worker
protection laws because they're not property.  In the general case, if
you force one term of a relationship constant, you just cause other
terms to change to values which are not to either party's choosing.

-- 
-russ nelson <nelson@crynwr.com>  http://russnelson.com
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