Software Patents

Here’s a remarkably apt bit of news for this blog:

Apparently Commodore-Amiga owed $10M for patent infringement. Because of that, the US government wouldn’t allow any CD-32’s into the USA. And because of that, the Phillipines factory seized all of the CD-32’s that had been manufactured to cover unpaid expenses. And that was the end.


That’s an unusual assertion: Commodore brought down due to a patent infringement? Their downfall is typically - and, in my opinion, more accurately - attributed to their complete misunderstanding of marketing and the Amiga computer. So what was the patent they infringed?

So, the thing that finally brought the original Amiga house down was the XOR patent! The XOR patent covers the use of the machine language XOR (exclusive-or) operator to make a cursor blink in a bitmapped display.

The XOR patent, eh? Using XOR to draw a cursor to the screen. Must be a fantastically inventive idea, that. Not something that the average programmer wouldn’t come up with in a few seconds of the top of his head. No way.

Here’s a quote from one of my Woopsi blog posts back in October 2008:

The cursor isn’t drawn yet, as it’s a bit tricky. A rectangular XOR box the size and width of the character at the cursor position is probably the easiest option.


That’s a throwaway comment in a throwaway paragraph in a post about creating a timer gadget. The idea is so mind-numbingly trivial that even a decidedly average programmer thinks it barely worth mentioning. Yet this single, simple idea is blamed for the downfall of a multi-million dollar company.

Dear America,

Your patent system is screwed.