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Should software be patented?

Logical Images

It’s taken 13 years, but upstate company Logical Images has finally received a patent for the software that runs their visual diagnostic system, VisualDX. The tool’s used by physicians to lower the rate of diagnostic errors.

The company says the patent was vital to their commercial viability and the protection of their product, but not everyone thinks software should be patentable.

It’s a debate that’s been going on for decades, and with the increasing amount of software on the market, it’s becoming even more of a hot topic.

Software’s traditionally protected by copyright, but as software becomes increasingly pervasive developers are looking more towards patenting their products. Patents effectively block anyone but the holder from doing anything with the software for 20 years.

Logical Images CEO Art Papier says, although it took more than a decade, a patent for their system was worth the time and money.

“There’s ideas that we’ve patented that we felt were very unique and important to our business. And when you think about a small company trying to compete in this global market place you need protection for ideas.”

The VisualDX diagnostic system allows physicians to enter things like patient symptoms, medical history and recent travel. It then provides a list of potential diagnoses, accompanied by images.

It’s a bit like using a search engine, but instead of having to sort through thousands of images with each search, this system is optimized for diagnosis and narrows down the list to the most likely illnesses.

Papier says it can help physicians diagnose exotic conditions they’ve never encountered, as well as different strains of very common conditions.

He says that’s what makes their product worth protecting. Additionally, Papier says, a patent discourages larger companies from poaching their idea and also reassures their investors.

However, attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Daniel Nazer says software patents can harm innovation instead of encouraging it.

“The patent office is issuing far too many, really low quality, really vague and over broad software patents that actually end up becoming land mines for everyone who wants to innovate in that space.

Nazer says while small companies may think a patent will help them, they may find that they’re contributing to a hard-to-navigate system that will do more harm than good.

WXXI/Finger Lakes Reporter for the Innovation Trail
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