Rupert Goodwins, whom I adored already, noticed our software patents language, and he has some well-crafted words about it:
Taking as a starting position that pure software should not be patented, a group of Groklegals set to work on a legal statement to that effect. One public consultation and thirty drafts later, the statement is available for comment.
It is a solid piece of work, written in the light of the previous definitions that the UKPO workshops found unacceptable. Those interested in what defines and separates software, information and their carriers should go and read through the closely argued details on Groklaw, but the end result is clear. You can only patent things that make physical changes in the world: these can contain software, but that software is not of itself patentable.
He goes on to explain, by an example, how our definition would play out, and he totally gets the line we were trying to draw in the sand:
If I were to invent a device for finding mushrooms in a forest — as a mycophile, this an idea I've actually spent some time on — then it would doubtless contain software. For example, I could develop an algorithm that sorted and counted spores in an air sample through video analysis, but all the patent would care about would be a black box that produced a spore analysis to ring a bell, point an arrow or whatever. That would be strong enough to protect my invention — even if someone came up with a different way to sort spores — but wouldn't stop anyone else from using video analysis to check for dandruff or cocaine particles at parties. That seems to sensibly encompass the balance between protection and disclosure that the patent system is designed to strike.
The Groklaw team working on this project are now absorbing everyone's comments and suggestions, and we'll have a revision as soon as we are able. If you have anything further to add, now is the time.
I really enjoy the way Goodwin writes, and if you enjoy good writing, too, I recommend you hop on over and read his entire article. Since you helped come up with the definition, you might as well savor the glow, knowing that all the effort was appreciated.