CSE/PHI 4/584, Spring 2007
Position Paper #4:
What Is a Computer Program?
Last Update: 26 March 2007
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) in the sense of the copyright law.
- 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published and unpublished works."
"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
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:
- Only single statements (like premises and
conclusions) can be true or false; for our purposes, it's enough to say
that a statement is true (or false) if you agree (or disagree) with it,
because I'm not asking you to convince me that a statement really is true
(or false); I'm only asking you to convince me that you have a good
reason for agreeing (or disagreeing) with it.
And only arguments can be valid or invalid. An argument is valid if
it's impossible for all of its premises to be true while its conclusion
is false (and it's invalid otherwise).
For our purposes, to determine whether an argument is valid,
you must suppose (or make believe) "for the sake of the
argument" that all the premises are true (i.e., that you agree
with all of them), and then consider
whether you would
have to logically agree with the conclusion. To determine whether an
argument is invalid, try to imagine
some way the world might be so that the premises are true but the conclusion
Finally, only arguments can be sound or unsound. An argument is sound
if it's valid and all of its premises are true (in which case, its
conclusion will also have to be true). For our purposes, we'll say that
an argument is sound if it's valid and you really do agree with all of its
premises (in which case, you really have to agree with the conclusion).
- You are logically obligated to believe the conclusions of sound arguments!
So, if you ever come across an argument that you think is sound, but whose
you don't believe, then either one (or more) of the
premises is false, or it is invalid [i.e., there is some way for the premises to
be true yet for the conclusion to be false], or both.
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.
Your position paper should be approximately
to lecture on the due date and
recitation that week.
At the top of the first page, please put the following information in
the following format:
|Position Paper #4
||CSE (or PHI) 484 (or 584), Monday (or Wednesday)|
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.
DUE AT THE BEGINNING OF LECTURE, MONDAY, APRIL 2
Copyright © 2007 by
William J. Rapaport