CSE 4/510 & PHI 498, Spring 2004
Position Paper #3: What Is a Computer Program?
Last Update: 11 March 2004
material is highlighted
For this position paper, I would like you to evaluate the
- A special-purpose computer (i.e., a computer that does just one
task) is essentially a hardwired computer program.
- Such a hardwired computer program is a machine.
- Machines can be patented.
- Therefore, such a hardwired computer program can be patented.
- The printed text of a computer program is a "literary work" (i.e., a
piece of writing).
- Literary works can be copyrighted.
- Therefore, such a computer program can be copyrighted.
- Nothing can be both patented and copyrighted.
- Note: This premise is a matter of law. You must
accept it as true.
- 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).
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
- From the
official US Patent Office
a property right granted by the Government of the United States of
America to an inventor "to exclude others from making, using, offering
for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or
importing the invention into the United States" for a limited time in
exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is
The Patent Office definition
any art or process (way of doing or making things), machine,
manufacture, design, or composition of matter, or any new and useful
improvement thereof, or any variety of plant, which is or may be
patentable under the patent laws of the United States.
The official US Copyright Office
Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United
States...to the authors of "original works of
authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and
certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both
published and unpublished works.
From the same website:
Copyrightable works include the following categories:
- literary works;
- musical works, including any accompanying words
- dramatic works, including any accompanying music
- pantomimes and choreographic works
- pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
- motion pictures and other audiovisual works
- sound recordings
- architectural works
These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, computer
programs and most "compilations" may be registered as "literary works";
maps and architectural plans may be registered as "pictorial, graphic,
and sculptural works."
WHAT IS NOT PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT?
Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal
copyright protection. These include among others:
Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression
(for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or
recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have
not been written or recorded)
Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or
designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering,
or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents
Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts,
principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a
description, explanation, or illustration
Works consisting entirely of information that is common property
and containing no original authorship (for example: standard
calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers,
and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common
Your position paper should be approximately
|1-2 typed pages, double-spaced (i.e., about 250-500 words),
to class on the due date.
This paper only needs the title "Position Paper #3", your name, the
date, and the course number (410, 498, or 510) at the top of the page.
For general assistance with writing (including my preferred method of
paper preparation and format, as well as advice on grammar), see my
website "How to Write".
For general guidelines on how to evaluate an argument, see the newsgroup
"Subject: POSITION PAPER 2 -- ANALYSIS & GRADING" or the website
Thinking Core Concepts" (also see its
table of contents).
DUE AT THE BEGINNING OF LECTURE, THURSDAY, MARCH 25
Copyright © 2004 by
William J. Rapaport