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You know, I heard PG argue this in his software patent article, and I don't buy it. In the end, necessity is the mother of invention. Software engineers invent things because they need them. They would not, by default, either try to keep it as a secret or patent it.

Let's take the funny example of Amzon vs B&N on the one-click system. Do you think Amazon would not use the one click system if it were unpatenable? In the case of modern software patents, keeping it a secret is equivalent to not using it all. Since you invented it in the first place, I find this outcome to be excessively unlikely.

You are also suffering under the misconception that a lone programmer or programming pair would be incapable of standing up to big markets with a software invention. If his invention is really worth it's muster, he can come out with a profitable product that blows big companies out of the water. I've seen it happen before.




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