copyright coveres specific arrangements of words (or source code), not ideas
What SAS wanted was a patent....
SAS has lost an important copyright case in the High Court in London, although SAS insists it has not lost at all. The software giant sued Worldwide Programming Ltd - a small UK firm - for breach of copyright and breach of license conditions. SAS said WPL had breached its license relating to SAS Learning Edition in order to …
"What SAS wanted was a patent."
A patent is not supposed to cover an idea, but in software which can be written in a multitude of ways and languages, that's exactly the effect they would have. To prevent anyone from, say, having overlapping windows regardless of the code used to do it is to in practise prevent anyone from exploiting the idea of overlapping windows, which is far more than patents are supposed to do.
Because of the nature of software as a code converted to machine code, copyright in fact already grants all the protections that a patent does to a physical invention.
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Don't expect SAS to take this one lying down. There's a lot of very serious money at stake on this one, and many companies will be rather reluctant to make the jump from SAS to the WPL system unless the future of the latter is secure and they won't, themselves, be vulnerable to legal action.
Of course there are compatibility issues, and WPL does not cover the entirety of SAS, but there are plenty enough users who could move to make a difference. In many cases IT shops are locked into expensive licenses for relatively small applications (how many SAS licenses were sold off the back of MXG for mainframe capacity planning/performance analysis?).
I'm also wondering what the position will be in the US - it could well be that the WPL system could end up being illegal there but not in the rest of the world given the US line on software IPRs.
...until I thought about it a little.
This is a dangerous decision in a lot of ways.
Yes, it asserts that what software does cannot be covered by copyright. Without that you would only have a single application for each task, and nothing would ever get done. That's a good call; well done, that man.
However, I can see this decision being used in the future as justification for software inventions to be governed by patents in Europe and possibly other parts of the world too. That's possibly not so good.
I do think software should be governed by patents - let me finish - software developers and software companies alike do need some way to protect their inventions. I do not believe the current patent system is up to the task though:
1) Currently the time taken to reach a decision regarding a software patent (in the US) is too long. A review board for software patents needs to be able to make a decision within weeks.
2) The types of things considered patentable should be better defined. The vast majority of software patents out there really shouldn't have been granted in the first place. (Amazon's one-click cart is a good example here - nobody shops on Amazon because they can do it with a single click. It doesn't give them any real advantage over their competition.)
3) And finally, the duration that a (software) patent lasts for is absurdly long given the rate at which software evolves. Software patents should not last longer than five years - if that - in my opinion.
When this case is brought up in the future as a justification for software patents in Europe though, none of the above will be considered. *When* software patents arrive here, they will most likely follow the existing patent system, and we'll (software developers) be no better off than our stateside counterparts. Which is why this is such a dangerous decision.
Initially, copyright was for a mere 14 years. It got extended again and again until today's properly mind-boggling "life + 70 years". It can be extended farther than that, since all copyright lobbyists work for companies that do not "die" and would fervently wish for "life + as long as we own it".
Create a software patent thingy and you will simply open the door for the same shenanigans. It took only one stupid judge to grant companies the same rights as people, and that was before the time companies had big money to impress senators and anybody they needed to buy.
As long as software patents do not exist, all that big money can only be spent on trying to make it exist. The problem stops there. If, however, you open the door only a crack, you'll be giving a toehold for big money to open that crack wider until they can pass a bulldozer through it.
And they will.
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