The Gospel of Software Patenting

Gerardo Con Diaz

This talk argues that patent law played a crucial role in the transformation of software into a commodity in the late 1960s. It contends that software firms started to consider selling their programs because their programmers began to believe in what I call the “gospel of software patenting.” By this, I mean the expectation that patent law would enable them to sell their programs without the need to rely on the nondisclosure agreements that they normally incorporated into their leasing contracts. Advancing this gospel among academic and corporate programmers was a patent lawyer named Morton Jacobs, who would later become the first lawyer to a secure software patent for a software firm. At the gospel’s core was a simple promise: by selling a program, a firm was not necessarily relinquishing its intellectual property rights over it.