TechDirt has an article on historical arguments about patent law that’s worth reading:
Discussions On The Abolition Of Patents In The UK, France, Germany And The Netherlands, From 1869
This is excerpting from an book written in 1869 that sounds like it was written today. I particularly liked this bon mot:
We acknowledge that the man who first constructed a hut was perfectly right in making good his claim against those who would have deprived him of it, and that he was justified in vindicating his claim by force. He had employed his time and strength in building this hut; it was undoubtedly his, and his neighbours acted up to their natural rights and in their own interests in helping him to oppose the intruder. But there ended both the right of the individual and that of the community.
If this first man, not content with claiming his hut had pretended that the idea of building it belonged exclusively to him, and that consequently no other human being had a right to build a similar one, the neighbours would have revolted against so monstrous a pretension, and never would have allowed so mischievous an extension of the right which he had in the produce of his labour….
And if, in our day, imitation of an invention is not generally considered as guilty an act as robbery of tangible property, it is because every one understands the difference between an idea and a thing made or done.
I am pretty anti-patent, and not really pro-copyright. I think that copyright is OK only if the period for copyright is really limited, to 30 years or less (maybe 15 years with one extension that can be filed). And for patents, we probably shouldn’t have them. But if we feel we have to, then patent lifetimes need to be pretty short. I don’t see the need for software patents at all.