Re: W. T. F.
Just to add my support to what others here are saying, COPYRIGHT is very clearly the correct protection for software, and that means ALL software, from closed, proprietary stuff like Windoze, through to FOSS like the Linux kernel or GNU utilities. Even the GPL licenses, which give you, the end user, almost complete freedom to use the code in any way, except that you must not restrict anyone else's freedom, are founded on copyright law. But we don't want to get into a pointless flame war about licenses here, all I am saying is that every single line of code produced anywhere, unless it is expressly put into the public domain (not recommened, unnecessary, and not recognised by the legal systems in a number of countries), is covered by copyright law. It can be officially registered as such in some countries, relatively cheaply, to make enforcement in the courts simpler, but like any other piece of writing, the mere act of creating it confers protection automatically in many countries, although putting at least the (C) symbol, owners name and date in every file is advisable. This is simple, efficient and effective.
Patents, on the other hand, are a legal minefield.Software is the ONLY fileld of endeavour which has, due to an incorrect court decision, become supposedly protectable by BOTH copyright and patents. Everything else is one, or the other. Why would software alone justify double protection? Patents cost money to obtain, in one country, and vast sums of money worldwide. The patent system is hopelessly broken in the US, where, as we know, Apple effectively obtained a patent on a rectangle with rounded corners, something that has been known and used for centuries, if not millenia. Very recently, Amazon has been awarded a patent for photographs taken against a white background. We could dredge up TENS OF THOUSANDS of imbecillically stupid patents on software or business processes, which should never have been granted. It is actually illegal of the USPTO, because a patent MUST contain something which is novel (rectangle with rounded corners?) and not obvious to someone who is skilled in the art (which rules out almost all minor incremental advances in software, leaving about 10 to 20 genuine advances, such as the assembler, then the high level language and compiler, then the multitasking OS, then virtual memory, possibly a hardware patent, then the GUI concept, and a few other odd things, all of which are now over 20 years old, so would have lapsed by now), so NONE should be granted patents. The USPTO needs to be brought into line with what US and international law requires. (Meanwhile certain despicable people in the EU are trying, yet again, to sneak software patents through, it is a world-wide problem, no disrespect to the US intended, the problem is political and beaurocratic in nature, not national, but the US, having more lawers per capita than anywhere else, succumbed to the problem first).
The fundamental reason why software MUST be treated like any form of writing, such as a book, is its method of creation. Most software (over half) is created not by large corporations but by individuals, whether developing a small but necessary utility program for sale, or some FOSS tool, or an engineer at work just solving an immediate problem by making a quick and dirty tool, and lots of similar circumstances, i.e. negligible funding, or oversight by "management", just individuals doing what is expedient, or what they feel the urge to do. Exactly like writing a book, the creative spirit of the individual is at work.
Then there is the barrier to entry to consider. To invent something like a new medicinal drug may take very little, or many millions or billions, but the testing to have it legalised for use will most likely run into billions. Prototyping a novel machine will take tens of thousands, up to millions, and will need expensive machine tools, or expenditure with sub-contractors who have such things. Making a new model of car costs maybe a billion. Patents, RIGHTLY, allow an inventor of something genuinely novel to claw back his costs and earn a living, if the invention is successful, so the reward has to be set high, and it is right to have patents, and license fees if others want to use the technology. But if an individual in any even moderately developed part of the world has the inspiration to write a book, he or she needs (leaving out the obsolete and inefficient methods such as typewriter or manuscript) a cheap PC, and as a baseline some free software. The rest is pure inspiration and hard work. Now what does a prospective software author need? Starting point, a cheap PC, some free software, lots of inspiration, and hard work. Exactly the same as writing a book.
So, teh barrier to entry being similar, the means of protecting the work, and providing rewards, can reasonably be expected to be similar. I don't hear authors demanding patent protection for their works! Indeed, it would be a VERY BAD THING, because any slight resemblance of one plot in another would result in one publiching company suing the other. There could only really be one book of each generic type, fictional or even non-fiction. VERY BAD!
Yet we have, for some years now, suffered the deranged rantings of various current, former (in one case a proven dangerous incompetent) and in some cases deceased, supposed leaders of the software industry, ranting and rambling about patents being necessary. Note that most of these individuals seem to have deep psychological problems. The only reason that they would want software patents is so that, every time they feel like it, they can sue a competitor for infringing some aspect of a patent that should never have been granted, on some feature of their buggy product that had been in common use for several decades, and whose method of implementation was common knowledge to many thousands of programmers or engineers (and even at least one judge). It is a business method, sue your competitor for patent infringement, when you can't beat him by fair competition. In the case of a small competitor, who can't afford 10 million in legal fees, sue him out of existence, then use the product of his hard work freely....
The people who do that are not businessmen, but SCUMBAGS. Software patents should never have been allowed, and ought to be expunged from the legal system as soon as possible. They hinder innovation, the very thing that patents were supposed to (and do, in the right circumstances) encourage.
Enough said, I think. Let us hope that software continues to enjoy proper copyright protection, but definitely not patent protection, which is just plain wrong.
Oh, and the Google code copying was not as straightforward as it seemed, and the offending code was subsequently removed, so the whole thing was blown out of all proportion. In other parts of the world, where perhaps the lawyers are not paid as much, or not as greedy, the case would have been quietly settled in private, possibly with a small cash payment. Large businesses do themselves no good at all by creating a public spectacle in court over mere trivia, and compared to teh original fanciful allegations, the few lines of code were indeed mere trivia.