The Coming Software Patent Crisis: Can Linux Survive?

Bogus software patents pose a genuine threat to computer industry innovation. In this column, University of Virginia professor and author Bryan Pfaffenberger contemplates what's going to happen when open-source authors start getting hit with patent infringement lawsuits -- and the picture isn't pretty.
For Further Reading

Aharonian, Greg. 1998. "17,500 Software Patents to Issue in 1998", Internet Patent News Service.

Bender, David. 1997. "Recent Developments in Software Patents". Paper presented at the 1997 World Computer Law Congress, Washington, D.C., April 24-25, 1997.

Garfinkel, Simson L. 1997. "Patently Absurd". Wired (Available online at). Contains several examples of highly questionable software patents. Excellent review of the fundamental issues.

Heckel, Paul. 1992. "Debunking the Software Patent Myths". Communications of the ACM, June, 1992. Available online at . The author is an active proponent and defender of software patents.

Irlam, Gordon, and Ross Williams. 1994. Software Patents: An Industry at Risk. The authors are affiliated with the League for Programming Freedom.

Lash, Alex. 1996. "Small Patent May Have Big Impact", CNET News.Com. Readable introduction to the debate concerning the recently overturned Freeny Patent.

Longest, Brian L. 1999. Software Patent Resource. Major resource on software patents, including news and debate (pro and con). 1999. "Patents and Mozilla.Org". Netscape successfully defended itself against a Wang patent infringement lawsuit.

Oldenburg, Todd P. 1995. Are You in Danger of Getting Sued? The Pros and Cons of Software Patents, and Some of the Problems They Have Caused".

Perens, Bruce. 1998. "Preparing for the Intellectual Property Offensive", LinuxWorld.

Ritter, Terry. 1991. "The Politics of Software Patents", Midnight Engineering, May-June: 29-35. The author defends software patents and is sharply critical of the League for Programming Freedom's position (see Irlam and Williams).

Tysver, Daniel A. 1996-1998. "The History of Software Patents," BitLaw: A Resource on Technology Law.

Tysver, Daniel A. 1996-1998. "Patent Requirements", BitLaw: A Resource on Technology Law.

Bryan Pfaffenberger is an author and professor who teaches in the University of Virginia's pioneering Division of Technology, Culture, and Communication. His forthcoming books include Linux Clearly Explained (Morgan Kaufmann) and Mastering GNOME (Sybex).


Free Dummies Books
Continuous Engineering


  • What continuous engineering is
  • How to continuously improve complex product designs
  • How to anticipate and respond to markets and clients
  • How to get the most out of your engineering resources

Get your free book now

Sponsored by IBM

Free Dummies Books
Service Virtualization

Learn to:

  • Define service virtualization
  • Select the most beneficial services to virtualize
  • Improve your traditional approach to testing
  • Deliver higher-quality software faster

Get your free book now

Sponsored by IBM