I’m not a fan of patents, and neither is this guy, they can be way too dangerous. Todays patents are broad enough that they could include just about anything. So, the first question of the new year is this: should software patents go?

I’m sure there are two main camps in this debate: those who have patents, and those who don’t—perhaps the issue isn’t so black and white, it probably isn’t, but these two parties are probably representative of the majority of opinions. Before I begin, I want to explain that I’ve had a few debates about this with an economics professor at school—they all ended in a draw.

Patents are dangerous. A patent is the idea that I had the idea first and you shouldn’t copy it, in fact if you do you either have to pay me for it or I’ll sue you. One problem when two people have the same idea, who gets to use it? Answer, whoever patented the idea first. But there is an even greater problem with patents: they prohibit progress.

Patents were instituted to “protect” intellectual property. The idea is somewhat honorable, we don’t want someone else to benefit more off of your idea than you do, but this philosophy does more harm than good. It ends progress since others cannot use that idea, or better yet, improve it—if they do, they are punished.

I admit that it may be harmful to no longer grant patents, that would have some negative connotations too, but I do think that patents are granted for too long. In the United States, a patent is generally granted for 20 years. This is especially too long in the technology arena, where things change so fast.

Another huge problem going on in the patent office is what types of patents are awarded. You can get a patent for anything. Allow me to explain with an example: Recently I took a class. While designing the user interface of our software it seemed the professor was constantly harping on use to “not use lists” in our software. The problem is, everything is a list—everything. From the chapters in the bible to the departments in Walmart the easiest way to represent data is to right it all in a list. The problem with lists is that things are confusing when there is too much information, especially when they are really long. So UI designers need to find an easier way to represent data, my idea was a circular menu. The home button in the middle, sub elements around the middle—a few months later I read in the news that this idea was patented.

Patents, if there are to be awarded at all, should be limited to how things are implemented, not they way a menu is designed. What is the world coming to?

What are you thoughts? Tell me how you agree or disagree.