Moving to Freedom, .Org(on)

John Carmack: Patents Considered Horrifying

Typhon (gutenberg.org)

I just finished Masters of Doom by David Kushner, a book about John Carmack and John Romero. When the story is well told, I love books like this about people who have done great things.

I don’t play games much these days, but I loved doom and Quake, and have admired Carmack in particular for his apparent programming virtuosity, his views on patents, and his support of free software. (I also thought Romero was pretty cool, and gained a greater appreciation for his work from reading the book.)

On patents, there was this from his days at Softdisk:

Al had never seen a side scrolling like this for the PC. “Wow,” he told Carmack, “you should patent this technology.”

Carmack turned red. “If you ever ask me to patent anything,” he snapped, “I’ll quit.” Al assumed Carmack was trying to protect his own financial interests, but in reality he had struck what was an increasingly raw nerve for the young, idealistic programmer. It was one of the few things that could truly make him angry. It was ingrained in his bones since his first reading of the Hacker Ethic.

All of science and technology and culture and learning and academics is built upon using the work that others have done before, Carmack thought. But to take a patenting approach and say it’s like, well, this idea is my idea, you cannot extend this idea in any way, because I own this idea — it just seems so fundamentally wrong. Patents were jeopardizing the very thing that was central to his life: writing code to solve problems. If the world became a place in which he couldn’t solve a problem without infringing on someone’s patents, he would be very unhappy living there.

—David Kushner, Masters of Doom

And another patent quote, not from the book:

The idea that I can be presented with a problem, set out to logically solve it with the tools at hand, and wind up with a program that could not be legally used because someone else followed the same logical steps some years ago and filed for a patent on it is horrifying.

—John Carmack

(I found that on this page, but the page it links to for the source doesn’t contain the quote.)

It’s reassuring to have someone as accomplished as Carmack on the good side of the fight.