It has been pretended by some, (and in England especially,) that inventors have a natural and exclusive right to their inventions, and not merely for their own lives, but inheritable to their heirs. But while it is a moot question whether the origin of any kind of property is derived from nature at all, it would be singular to admit a natural and even an hereditary right to inventors. It is agreed by those who have seriously considered the subject, that no individual has, of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land, for instance.|
By an universal law, indeed, whatever, whether fixed or movable, belongs to all men equally and in common, is the property for the moment of him who occupies it, but when he relinquishes the occupation, the property goes with it. Stable ownership is the gift of social law, and is given late in the progress of society. It would be curious then, if an idea, the fugitive fermentation of an individual brain, could, of natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable property.
If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.
That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.
Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody. Accordingly, it is a fact, as far as I am informed, that England was, until we copied her, the only country on earth which ever, by a general law, gave a legal right to the exclusive use of an idea. In some other countries it is sometimes done, in a great case, and by a special and personal act, but, generally speaking, other nations have thought that these monopolies produce more embarrassment than advantage to society; and it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are as fruitful as England in new and useful devices.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Isaac McPherson, 13 August 1813
Why should you own something just because you were the first to do it? What a silly thing to base monopolies on.|
It's like saying you can't run a construction business because all you can compete on is the quality of your work... "My competition can build roofs, and walls, everything I can!?How will I ever survive without a way to lock out all competition and force customers to deal with me?"
So write your damn program the way you'd attach drywall and get on with business. Your competition might copy you but that's business. You came out with a red widget, now everyone wants red. Red wasn't your invention, neither was painting, you just applied known techniques in a new area and made some easy money. Congrats.
The problem is people who want this easy money to be guaranteed for life...
There is no inherent right to demand payment for your ideas after you've released them. Patents are nothing more than a legal construct designed to encourage innovation, and patents expire for that very reason: they are artificial and deprive people of the natural right to implement what they know (i.e. the patented the material, which they may read). Furthermore, mathematics cannot be patented, and the legal basis for software patents (which amount to patents on mathematics, like it or not) is extremely shaky, and yes, you do have a right to use someone's mathematical discoveries without paying them (unless they call it an algorithm and get a patent on it, in which case you cannot exercise your right for 20 years).|
Seriously, this bizarre notion that you have a natural right to forbid other people from using your ideas needs to be dropped. Patents are not a natural right; if they were, they could not expire, any more than your rights to live or speak freely can expire.