Martin Goetz, who joined the computer industry in its infancy in the mid-1950s as a programmer working on Univac mainframes and who later received the first U.S. patent for software, died on Oct. 10 at his home in Brighton, Mass. He was 93. The New York Times: His daughter Karen Jacobs said the cause was leukemia. In 1968, nearly a decade after he and several other partners started the company Applied Data Research, Mr. Goetz received his patent, for data-sorting software for mainframes. It was major news in the industry: An article in Computerworld magazine bore the headline “First Patent Is Issued for Software, Full Implications Are Not Known.” Until then, software had not been viewed as a patentable product, one that was bundled into hulking mainframes like those made by IBM. Ms. Jacobs said her father had patented his own software so that IBM could not copy it and put it on its machines.
“By 1968, I had been involved in arguing about the patentability of software for about three years,” Mr. Goetz said in an oral history interview in 2002 for the University of Minnesota. “I knew at some point in time the patent office would recognize it.” What Mr. Goetz called his “sorting system” is believed to have been the first software product to be sold commercially, and his success at securing a patent led him to become a vocal champion of patenting software. The programs that instruct computers on what to do, he said, were often as worthy of patents as the machines themselves. The issuance of Mr. Goetz’s patent “helped managers, programmers and lawyers at young software firms feel as if they were forming an industry of their own — one in which they were creating products that were potentially profitable and legally defensible as proprietary inventions,” Gerardo Con Diaz, a professor of science and technology studies at the University of California, Davis, wrote in the 2019 book “Software Rights: How Patent Law Transformed Software Development.”
Further reading, from Slashdot archive: Recipient of First Software Patent Defends Them (2009).
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