Patents were originally designed for new physical inventions. Their use
for methodologies and algorithms extended the concept into the realm
of ideas, which many people regard as deeply suspect. The patenting of
natural phenomena like genes (which are pre-existing parts of Nature
like politicians and pond scum), is meaningless and intellectually void,
although legally enforceable in the USA and elsewhere.
Copyright subsists automatically in anything you create, but in some
countries (notably the USA and France) you cannot enforce this unless
you register your interest. Copyright persists for a number of years
after your death (EU: 75, diﬀerent elsewhere) in order to let your
descendants beneﬁt from sales of your work.
Copyright is for the physical form of intellectual expression like books,
newspapers, works of art, web sites, or computer programs. It exists to
prevent others stealing your work and selling it. You can quote snippets
of other people’s work without permission, such as a line of a poem, or
abar of music, or a sentence from a novel, provided you say whose it is
and where to ﬁnd it: otherwise you need to ask permission beforehand.
Copyright already provides more than adequate protection for
computer programs, making the use of patents for them unnecessary
Intellectual Property identiﬁes you as the owner of the thoughts and
ideas which may ﬁnd their physical manifestation in patentable
inventions or copyrightable publications. Even if you sell oﬀ your
patents, and for long after your copyrights have expired, you can still be
seen as the person who dreamed up the idea, and some countries (eg
the UK) allow you formally to assert your right to be so identiﬁed,
regardless of what happens to the book or the gizzmo.
You should always acknowledge the intellectual property of others,
especially when you use it in furtherance of your own aims. Pretending
that someone else’s smart ideas are your own is probably a worse
oﬀence than trying to patent ﬁre, water, the wheel, or XML.
P Technique for reducing complex sequential and parallel
processing requirements to a set of components which can be
completed under program control. The term is taken from the Unix
facility for redirecting the output of one command into the input of