About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Bill (Gates) wants it all

Bill Gates and Microsoft want it all, while at the same time blatantly denying the status of quasi-monopoly that they obviously have. The New York Times reported that the software giant has filed applications for thousands of patents on minute details of their software algorithms, unhappy that their products are protected "only" by copyright law.

To patent an algorithm makes no sense for a variety of reasons. First, it stifles innovation by other companies for decades. Second, algorithms -- like genes -- ought more properly be thought of as being discovered, not invented. Imagine if someone were allowed to patent the procedures for, say, extract a square root from a number. (I know, nowadays genes can be patented, but that makes no sense either.)

Thomas Jefferson was the first overseer of the US Patent Office, and he thought that patents should be granted only on rare instances, precisely to balance the necessity for an economic incentive to inventors against the possibility of a monopoly of ideas and, consequently, of products. Exactly what Microsoft is attempting to establish.

Gates' company has recently even resorted to scare tacticts to discourage corporate users to switch to open source software, hinting that they would be more vulnerable to piracy -- an assertion for which, of course, there is no empirical evidence.

Please, consider helping to limit Microsoft's power. Go to OpenOffice and download their excellent, free, software, perfectly equivalent to MS's products. And while you are it, get a Mac...

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