This is too good of a brawl to pass up, so I'm going to put on my flamesuit and step in. Despite all this back and forth about patents in general, what's relevant is the specific case of software patents.
Suppose software patents were abolished and developers went back to relying on copyright for protection. Then just like they used to before software patents became popular, developers would have to win solely by having the best implementations of ideas in actual code, rather than by having exclusive rights to a broad idea, which is what many software patents end up granting in practice. Would that be such a terrible thing?
Imagine if WebCrawler had gotten a broad patent for a "method and interface for performing internet searches" in which they locked up the idea of providing a text box for entering a search query and performing a full text search on an index of web pages, without specifying how the index is to be structured, how to actually match the query, etc. Then WebCrawler would have been essentially the only one allowed to iterate on the idea of a search engine, because any conceivable implementation of a search engine would embody those claims. Where would search engines be today in that alternative universe?
Instead, the search engine market evolved in a Darwinian fashion in which the players competed largely on the quality of their code, the efficiency of their algorithms, and the robustness of their hardware infrastructure, so that the fastest and most accurate search engines won out. Most software sectors have developed in a similar manner. For example, the makers of video editing software compete not by using patents to lock out competitors, but by trying to make their software more visually attractive, better performing, and feature rich. The software industry seems to have done just fine competing this way. Why do we suddenly need software patents?
Copyright prevents others from stealing your code, but it does not prevent others from independently coding a better implementation of your idea. Since it's the particular configuration of algorithms and their realization in code that ultimately determine the functionality of a software system, copyright would seem the most appropriate method of protecting individual work while promoting innovation in software.
With how broad software patents are these days, what incentive does one have to make the best possible implementation if one can just get a patent on the high level function and effectively block others from making their own implementations?
Edited by d4NjvRzf - 4/17/14 at 10:51pm