Julie Samuels has a fantastic piece over at Wired using the Oracle v. Google case to explain why patents simply don't make any sense in the software world
For starters, software often does not require the type of heavy investment that should result in a 20-year monopoly. Instead of expensive laboratories or years of testing for FDA approval, for example, you often just need a coder and a computer. Even complex programs don’t require 20 years of exclusivity to recoup their investment. Software patents are often not even necessary for successful businesses: Facebook and, yes, Google — never relied on software patents to grow their early businesses.
Software patents are also notoriously vague and difficult to understand, making it impossible for small inventors to navigate the system without expensive legal help. And that brings us to the most dangerous aspect of software patents: litigation.
It turns out that software patents are nearly five times more likely to be the subject of litigation as other patents. In fact, lawsuits surrounding software patents have more than tripled since 1999, and they have become part of the price of doing business in America. Take Spotify. After realizing much success in Europe, Spotify launched its U.S. product in July, and just weeks later it found itself facing a patent suit.
Of course, tons of software developers recognize this implicitly. I know an awful lot of software developers in Silicon Valley. I can't think of a single one who thinks patents are a good thing or even remotely useful (and this includes many developers who have
patents). In development circles, it seems that nearly everyone thinks patents are a waste of time and money. And that's because software doesn't work the way that the patent system envisions.
Perhaps most troubling, the patent system fails to recognize how people create and use technology. Software is fundamentally situated as a building-block technology. You write some code, and then I improve upon it — something the open source community has figured out. Google’s use of Java in its Android OS also demonstrates how innovators create, by making its own product and and incorporating some elements of the Java language (which, incidentally, Java’s creators have a history of supporting). And when those two come together, it results in an incredibly popular product, here the Android OS.
It's the difference between an idea and actually bringing that idea to market. That difference is always ignored or underestimated by patent lawyers -- but developers know the difference. The patent system wasn't designed by software developers, though. And it shows.