What If VisiCalc Had Been Patented?

from the innovation dept

Dan Bricklin, the creator of the first spreadsheet program, VisiCalc, has been mentioned in a number of articles recently concerning the issue of software patents, and he's now speaking up about the basic question of what would have happened if he'd been able to patent VisiCalc. He's responding to someone who suggests that the lack of a patent on VisiCalc slowed innovation by making everyone just copy VisiCalc. Bricklin responds smartly (of course) by pointing out that this wasn't true at all. First, plenty of others tried to come up with other, completely different systems to replace spreadsheets -- and none caught on. At the same time, Lotus and Microsoft took what Bricklin (and others) did early on and made them even better and more useful for the market. It all goes back to the same thing we've spoken about in the past. There's a big difference between invention and innovation -- and it's the innovation that helps the economy. However, patents protect invention, not innovation. While a lack of patents may have kept some money out of Bricklin's pockets, it did allow for more focused work on making the spreadsheet better for the market -- and in the end that helped the economy much more, by letting competition and the market drive innovation, rather than a government granted monopoly.

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  1. identicon
    Ken Dakin, 9 Dec 2006 @ 2:45am

    Visicalc patentability

    Visicalc would not have been patentable because of "prior art" - namely the 'Works Records sysyem' developed at ICI around 1974 (five/six years earlier).It had backup/recovery/multiple shared users/security and remote data update all built in to the original specification. It also prevented many illogical operations to take place (eg multiplying inches by inches or kilograms by pounds - think mars lander!).See Wikipedia article "spreadsheet"

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