CSE/PHI 4/584, Spring 2007

Position Paper #4:

What Is a Computer Program?

Last Update: 26 March 2007

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) in the sense of the copyright law.

  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:

To evaluate this argument, you must state whether the argument is valid and you must state whether and why you agree or disagree with each premise Remember:

This means, of course, that you have to evaluate each premise and each (sub-)argument, and, as usual, I also want you to evaluate the conclusion independently of whether you think that it follows validly or doesn't follow validly from its premises.

  1. Your position paper should be approximately

  2. Please bring to lecture on the due date and to recitation that week.

  3. At the top of the first page, please put the following information in the following format:

    Position Paper #4                 YOUR NAME
    DATE DUE                 CSE (or PHI) 484 (or 584), Monday (or Wednesday)

  4. 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". As before, no abstract is needed for this position paper, but you do need to give full citations to any sources that you cite.


Copyright © 2007 by William J. Rapaport ( rapaport@cse.buffalo.edu)