I went to a debate tonight. It was on whether software patents should exist. The decision has recently been made in New Zealand not to allow software patents.
Truth be told, it was almost painful. The first 20 minutes was a couple of us sitting around wondering if: I had time to go outside for a cigarette, a friend wondering if he had time to finish his dinner and a third complaining about the unpunctuality of New Zealanders. I pointed out that New Zealanders, when compared to Indians (An Indian wedding normally starts at least 1/2 an hour after the advertised time) are actually not that bad.
The host eventually decided to kick things off. He wasn't terribly prepared and struggled a little bit. Things like the perspective of his audience (that his left is actually our right and vice versa) and having to interrupt himself to check on the order of the speakers. He also seemed to have trouble with the terms "Affirmative" and "Negative" - he seemed to forget the context of the moot.
Anyway, the team representing the side in favour of not having software patents made a grave mistake right off - they didn't define the moot. In this debate, that would have been a huge advantage.
I would have defined it thusly:
The lack of software patents does not seek to limit patents in other areas. A business process or mechanical process is still patentable. Why is this important? Because it goes some way to explain what a software patent is. A software patent is a patent on software. That's it. Period. You can still patent those other things and implement them in software. Those processes are still protected, thus the software is still protected.
A software patent either patents a process such as Amazon.com's "one click check out" or an algorithm such as Skype's patent on a codec for encoding/decoding voice and or video. It is our contention that these are either ridiculous, or well protected under copyright.
There were a few points missed from this team. There was talk about the cost of filing a patent but nothing said about the cost of defending against claims of patent infringement, the cost of defending a patent or the cost associated with trying to research patents in the vague hope of avoiding infringing any patents.
Given that the other team contained two lawyers, both well versed in debating, this would have been a great point to make - the costs mentioned above being in part due to lawyers.
Anyway, kind of painful to watch.
I went out for dinner afterwards. That was pleasant. It was kind of surprising that a bunch of people who ended up talking about the debate afterwards would decide to go to dinner together. Okay, so I knew a few of them but still, dinner with random people. Very cool.
One of them mentioned the lack of definition to the argument to which she elaborated with a story of her own from when she did debates at university.
The moot was, "The police should be armless". She was on the negative (so speaking second thus having to reframe the affirmative team's definition to suit their argument) so they'd spent a great deal of time trying to figure out potential definitions - given the looseness of the moot. Things like, amputated cops and the like. The affirmative team came up with "The band, the Police, should be amputated." The negative team lost the debate right there. How do you argue that? That every man has a right to arms?
So, if you're doing a debate, define the moot. Make it your own. Figure out how to reframe it to make it fit the argument.