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Changes in company policy over time

Many of the biggest advocates of software patents today, campaigned against software patents ten or twenty years ago. This can be used to show that companies do not use software patents to help them grow. They only use them to protect themselves against competition after they have become successful.

One of the best sources of documentation for this evolution of company policy is the statements at the:


Change: From no interest, to worldwide lobbying for software patents.

The number of patents granted to Microsoft:[1]

  • 1987: 1
  • 1990: 5
  • 1995: 77
  • 2000: 1,296
  • 2005: 3,955

This could be seen as an indication that Microsoft didn't need patents to get from zero to dominant, but once in a dominant position, they filled their patent portfolio to entrench their position and protect them against competition.

Bill Gates

Change: From saying they stifle competition, to saying whatever it takes to convince politicians software patents are good.

From Bill Gates on software patents:

If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today. I feel certain that some large company will patent some obvious thing related to interface, object orientation, algorithm, application extension or other crucial technique. If we assume this company has no need of any of our patents then they have a 17-year right to take as much of our profits as they want. The solution to this is patent exchanges with large companies and patenting as much as we can. Amazingly we haven't done any patent exchanges that I am aware of. Amazingly we haven't found a way to use our licensing position to avoid having our own customers cause patent problems for us. I know these aren't simple problems but they deserve more effort by both Legal and other groups. For example we need to do a patent exchange with HP as part of our new relationship. In many application categories straighforward thinking ahead allows you to come up with patentable ideas. A recent paper from the League for Programming Freedom (available from the Legal department) explains some problems with the way patents are applied to software.[2][3][4]


Change: When they were selling computers, they were against software patents. Today they sell a lot of software and lobby worldwide for software patents.

According to Timothy B. Lee:[5]

In 1972, IBM was the world's largest computer company. When the case reached the Supreme Court in 1972, IBM filed a brief opposing the patent — and software patents in general.

Until 1968, IBM had given its software away for free to customers who purchased its hardware. In the company's view, allowing patents on software would "have the inevitable effect" of "stifling developments in computer programming" — thereby limiting the market for IBM's expensive mainframe computers.

IBM also argued that copyright protection was a better fit for the software industry than patents. "The need for protection against copying is very real," IBM conceded. "Copyright achieves the basic purpose of preventing one who has made no investment of time or money in creating a computer program from appropriating the program by copying it."

The 1972 case at the US Supreme Court was Gottschalk v. Benson.

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