The Coming Showdown Over Software Patents

Time was, a bunch of programmers could go into business by developing a software package that improved on an existing one. The main caveat was that they not violate any copyrights--meaning they couldn't copy the actual lines of computer commands from an earlier program. Since there are thousands of ways to write most programs, copyrights didn't often get in the way. Take, for example, the so-called ROM-BIOS, a copyrighted program that served as a bridge between the IBM personal computer's hardware and software. To make a legal PC clone, a programmer had to mimic the functions of the IBM software without actually copying it. It wasn't always easy, but dozens of them succeeded, giving rise to a giant market for PC compatibles.

To continue reading this article you must be a Bloomberg Professional Service Subscriber.