Table of Contents


When writing about data compression, I am haunted by the idea that many of the techniques discussed in this book have been patented by their inventors or others. The knowledge that a data compression algorithm can effectively be taken out of the hands of programmers through the use of so-called “intellectual property” law seems contrary to the basic principles that led me and many others into this profession.

I have yet to see any evidence that applying patents to software advances that art or protects the rights of inventors. Several companies continue to collect royalties on patents long after their inventors have moved onto bigger and better thing with other companies. Have the patent-holders done anything notable other than collect royalties? Have they advanced the art of computer science?

Making a software product into a commercial success requires innovation, good design, high-quality documentation, and listening to customers. These are things that nobody can steal from you. On the other hand, a mountain of patents can’t keep you from letting these things slip away through inattention or complacency. This lesson seems to be lost on those who traffic in intellectual property “portfolios.”

What can you do? First, don’t patent your own work, and discourage your peers from doing so. Work on improving your products, not erecting legal obstacles to competition. Secondly, lobby for change. This means change within your company, those you do business with, and most importantly, within the federal government. Write to your congressman and your senator. Write to the ACM. Write to the House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property. And finally, you can join me by becoming a member of the League for Programming Freedom. Write for more information:

League For Programming Freedom
1 Kendall Square #143
P.O. Box 9171
Cambridge, MA 02139

Table of Contents