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Patents

Patents are a form of Intellectual Property, but like with most forms, that statement doesn't tell you much.

The basic idea of a patent is a State Sponsored, Short Term, Temporary, Monopoly to innovators in return for Sufficient Disclosure of the invention or innovation so that it is not lost to the state in the event of a disaster.

In any good implementation, there is a set of stuff you are not allowed to patent, including mathematics (ie 2+2=4) and discoveries (ie the electron). They also usually don't allow the patenting of stuff that already exists or that is blindingly obvious.

Unfortunately, most patent systems are seriously broken in the implementation of the idea, often with many of those aspects being broken both individually, and collectively. By far the worst is the US Patent Office, but few are working well.

While there may be some arguments in favour of some patents in the field of pharmaceuticals, there is a massively weaker case for them in the fields of software and business methods.

Here is an article on Groklaw that explains convincingly why Software is Mathematics, and therefore in the general case should not be patentable.