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The concern that has been expressed in the computer industry about software patents is examined. Programmers fear that patents will be granted that monopolize basic concepts (such as pull-down windows or the use of menu bars) or algorithms that programmers need to write effective software. The Patent and Trademark Office seems to be willing to issue virtually any software patent presented to it, and it lacks facilities to search out the prior art in the field. The problem is worsened by the fact that patent applications stay on file in the Patent and Trademark Office in secret for about three years before patents issue on them and are published. Businesses could be established on products that suddenly become infringing when a patent springs into existence. The author suggests that, although the concerns are legitimate, they are somewhat exaggerated and that some of the problems can be solved by moderate institutional changes. Some of the problems, however, may resist solutions. He discusses the problems, and possible remedies, in the context of four cases in which the Supreme Court has decided software patentability, each time in the context of a review of a decision of the Patent and Trademark Office's denial of a patent to an applicant