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Form the adage "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door". This saying has been around for a hundred years or more and is one of the underlying principles which drove the United States into becoming an economic powerhouse. During the first part of the twentieth century the United States entered a period of progress only recently duplicated. Names like Ford, Edison and Bell brought to the world wondrous inventions which have changed our world forever.

Controversy has surrounded these inventors and the true origins of their innovation. However, few can deny that they all had an impact on the age. Ford built a better automobile, Bell a better system of communication and Edison improved upon more day-to-day objects then he ever invented from scratch. This trend has continued, it's the evolution of invention, and it is a driving force in technological progress.

In the 1970's the computer revolution began and the "build a better mouse-trap" game became even more prominent. Upon the shoulders of giants, sterling figures arose, Jobs, Gates, Wozniack. Using tools which floated around the industry, built by scientists in labs and students in universities, and, improving upon them, forged commercial empires.

Let's jump a few years ahead shall we?

These empires have grown so powerful that they've been able to influence legislation to ensure their continued existence. The biggest piece of all of this (albeit arguably) was the creation of Software Patents. Software is a unique commercial entity. While it performs a function similar to a physical object (typewriter, stereo, etc..) it's properties are more akin to printed text (hence for the majority of it's lifetime computer software was covered by copyright, not patent, law). Source code is a wondrous thing. Two programs that perform an identical function can look absolutely nothing alike when viewed as source code, even when programmed in the same language (any perl programmer will attest to this in spades). They can accomplish the same final results from the same input, but the loops they go through in the processing of that information can be dramaticly different. When you register a software patent you can prevent another entity from writing a piece of software that accomplishes a certain task (now these have to be pretty specific). In a sense you could stop someone from building a better mousetrap by patenting "technology for catching and killing mice in a single operation" and "catching mice while keeping the mice alive". In two patents you've got the mousetrap game cornered.

Unlike a physical mousetrap, the workings of software are hidden from the average user of that mousetrap. With software little else between the input and the output can be discerned, and hence practical software patents can really only cover those two aspects of a program, without that the patent wouldn't serve much use, and there wouldn't be a problem. We've seen this essential battles being fought, "look and feel" lawsuits and Amazon.com's "One-click shopping" patents. The manufacturers of moustrap's don't want you to build a better one, so they've taken legal recourse to prevent it.

Happy Hunting. ~

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