Unsung innovators: Marty Goetz, holder of first software patent
Also challenged IBM's software monopoly
Computerworld - In 1965, Marty Goetz filed the first software patent in history -- sparking a 15-year controversy about whether that should even be allowed. In the 1960s, he led a challenge against IBM's monopoly, in particular its bundling of various software programs as part of its operating systems.
That business practice, in which all the major hardware vendors of the day engaged, had the result of locking out software innovators.
"If you really wanted to sum it all up, my story is not about software patents; it's really about software protection," says Goetz, now retired and living in New Jersey.
While patenting software seems straightforward enough today, 32 years ago, it was a groundbreaking idea. Goetz, already a veteran programmer with stints at Sperry Rand Corp. and IBM, began working for Applied Digital Research (ADR) when it started up in 1959.
While there, he worked on a number of programs, among them a method of helping mainframes sort through data more quickly. His friend, lawyer Mort Jacobs, "convinced me I could get patent protection for my new sorting technology.
"It was a radical idea that slowly seemed to make more and more sense," says Goetz. "I knew what IBM did with bundling software into its hardware, and I wanted to protect my program," he says. "Plus, Mort convinced me -- and this is true -- that software and hardware are interchangeable."
Marty Goetz, holder of the first software patent
Software, after all, was a set of instructions put together to do a task, that task being an invention, Goetz and Jacobs agreed. So on April 8, 1965, Goetz filed for the patent. He received it three years later -- on April 28, 1968 -- as U.S. Patent No. 3,380,029 for "Sorting System."
He kept going. Goetz then filed a patent for a flowchart product he produced called Autoflow. He says it was a huge step ahead of what IBM was offering its customers for free at the time. Users could actually print their flowcharts out on printers, rather than having to hand-draw boxes, as IBM's software had required. That patent, filed in December 1965, was granted in October 1970.
But controversy was afoot. Trade journals and the general press started writing stories wondering whether the patentability of something as seemingly intangible as software was even possible. Goetz says in his memoirs (download PDF) that prominent journalists at the time, including Patrick McGovern, chairman of Computerworld parent company International Data Group, questioned whether hardware makers would voluntarily unbundle software from their hardware -- leading to unbridled competition and the beginning of a whole new market.
- 15 Non-Certified IT Skills Growing in Demand
- How 19 Tech Titans Target Healthcare
- Twitter Suffering From Growing Pains (and Facebook Comparisons)
- Agile Comes to Data Integration
- Slideshow: 7 security mistakes people make with their mobile device
- iOS vs. Android: Which is more secure?
- 11 sure signs you've been hacked
- HP HAVEn: See the big picture in Big Data HP HAVEn is the industry's first comprehensive, scalable, open, and secure platform for Big Data. Enterprises are drowning in a sea of data...
- Piecing Together the Business Intelligence Puzzle Business intelligence (BI) technology collects and analyzes company data, delivering relevant information to corporate decision-makers in an effort to produce favorable outcomes.
- Harness IT -- An Introduction to Business Intelligence Solutions Learn the key selection criteria required to provide your organization with the capability to address structured data, unstructured data and mobile demands so...
- Business Intelligence Shows its Smarts Today's Business Intelligence (BI) tools provide a new way to think about data with self-service capabilities and user-friendly analytics that can be used...
- Cloud Knowledge Vault Learn how your organization can benefit from the scalability, flexibility, and performance that the cloud offers through the short videos and other resources...
- Testimonial: Cystic Fibrosis Trust Peter Hawkins, the Head of IT for Cystic Fibrosis Trust, discusses the role CommVault's Simpana software platform plays in improving the company's information... All Data Center White Papers | Webcasts