CSE 4/510 & PHI 498, Spring 2004

Position Paper #3: What Is a Computer Program?

Last Update: 11 March 2004

Note: NEW or UPDATED material is highlighted

For this position paper, I would like you to evaluate the following argument:

  1. A special-purpose computer (i.e., a computer that does just one task) is essentially a hardwired computer program.

  2. Such a hardwired computer program is a machine.

  3. Machines can be patented.

  4. Therefore, such a hardwired computer program can be patented.

  5. The printed text of a computer program is a "literary work" (i.e., a piece of writing).

  6. Literary works can be copyrighted.

  7. Therefore, such a computer program can be copyrighted.

  8. Nothing can be both patented and copyrighted.

    • Note: This premise is a matter of law. You must accept it as true.

  9. There is no computational or other relevant difference between the hardwired computer program and its textual counterpart (except for the different media in which they are implemented, one being hardwired and the other being written on, say, a piece of paper).

  10. Therefore, computer programs can be both patented and copyrighted.

To help you evaluate this argument (which we'll look at in more detail in lecture later this semester), here are some extracts from some relevant websites:

  1. From the official US Patent Office definition of "patent":

  2. The Patent Office definition of "invention":

  3. The official US Copyright Office definition of "copyright":

  4. From the same website:

Copyright © 2004 by William J. Rapaport (rapaport@cse.buffalo.edu)
file: 510/pospaper3-2004-03-09.html