In case you haven’t heard, the fight between Motorola and Apple just got real. Google is set to attempt to stop the sales of the products Apple has become known for (iPhone, iPad, MacBooks etc.) claiming that they have infringed on seven patents held by Motorola, the information giant’s latest acquisition. This is on the heels of Apple’s win in a case against Samsung for patent infringement in which Samsung lost. This sparked a great debate between myself and one of my best friends about patent law and it’s application to modern technology and software.
Currently, computer code itself is treated like language and therefore cannot be patented only the concepts, processes and algorithms may be patented. In UX we tend to strive for what’s best for the user and many times that means there needs to be some amount of consistency or at least “frame of reference” that helps hold the system to other systems that the User may have already encountered together. Standards if you will.
Before we get too deep into this I have to warn you I’m a UX professional, self-proclaimed technogeek, and trained developer but not a lawyer. I took an Intellectual Property: Policy and Law Course in college and know just enough to be dangerous.
So where do you draw the line? It’s my belief that money must be made and if you invent something your right to own that idea for a period of time should be protected. Current patent law states 20 years. In the words of blogger Stephen Burch “Twenty years in the software world is equivalent to two eternities in the physical world.” (see Software and Patents the Ideal Solution) I agree. By modern production standards 20 years in my opinion is too long even for physical manufacturing let alone technology. Current law basically provides a monopoly for the inventor and forces people to literally reinvent the wheel (even if it is the mouse wheel) rather than piggybacking on existing knowledge and inventing something newer and better.
But enough about law. How do you feel about your personal designs and developments? At what point do you feel they should be considered part of the wealth of knowledge that we as a people have obtained rather than your personal strides. For me I think 5-7 years from publication. That includes a couple to get the engine going, a few to generate good revenue and maybe an additional 2 to reinvent and move forward with the next idea before the generics flood the market with cheaply produced replicas.
Tweet me @UX_life or comment here and tell me what you think.