The History of Software Patents

Martin Campbell-Kelly


This seminar is intended to place the current debates about software patents in the historical context of patenting in the information technology industries.
The first computer-program products were sold in the mid 1960s when software patents were not generally allowed, and as a result trade secrecy became endemic to the software industry. Software products were also protected by copyright, but in practice this offered little protection against most forms of appropriation by reverse engineering or cloning. By the early 1980s a series of landmark cases led to the acceptance of software patents. It is argued that this development was consistent with the patenting of algorithmic inventions that long predated the invention of the computer. In the 1990s, business method patents were accepted. Again, this development was consistent with the "virtualization" of inventions that long predated the Internet. Although patents offer similar benefits to the software industry as for other technological industries, there are some old and new disadvantages.
Tuesday 6th March 2007, 14:00
Robert Recorde Room
Department of Computer Science