The U.S. Constitution said that American inventors could protect their unique inventions with something called a ‘patent’. In 1953, the Patent Act was introduced and it stipulated that we also needed to protect unique “processes” leading to the creation of a specific product. At the time, the Patent Act was referencing industrial or mechanical processes—physical actions leading to the production of a unique item, points out an expert in the video below. What they weren’t considering part of the concept were basic software processes or mathematical algorithms, since we obviously didn’t have those in 1953. However, since the Patent Act is still the same as it was at its inception, and the courts have been structured in a certain way, patent trolls have been running rampant requesting (and receiving) patents on basic mathematical and software processes that are a part of their businesses. What does this mean? It means the death of innovation and progress.
To hear Ben Klemens, author of Math You Can’t Use, tell it, we’re taking mathematics, slicing up basic principles, and letting companies patent those basic principles as if they came up with the concepts themselves simply because their company applied meaningful variables to those open-ended principles. Allowing patents to be granted on certain laws of mathematics means that if anyone ever improves upon them again to, perhaps, offer a better product or service, the company with the patent can rightfully take aim at that company and sue them.
Having a unique invention is one thing, but patenting basic software or mathematical processes and calling them your own is quite another. It doesn’t just hurt the individual or entity that improves upon a specific software process or has an idea for something better, it commodifies the basic laws of our system of knowledge and makes them legally resistant to change or improvement. People should be given free rein to innovate using the same set of (mathematical or otherwise) tools—without fear of being sued by a company who was first in line to receive a patent on something that the entire world understands to be a basic part of math.
Although the video is long, I encourage you to watch it, and learn more about what’s happening within the world of U.S. patents.