Martin Goetz, First to Patent Software, Dies at 93

Martin Goetz
(Image credit: Madhyamam)

Martin Goetz (image credit: Madhyamam), the man who secured the first U.S. software patent in 1968, has passed away at 93. Goetz was known not only for earning the first U.S. software patent, but also for fighting against industry giants like IBM, helping to shape the modern software industry. His actions led to significant legal and commercial changes, making it easier for smaller software developers to succeed, reports the New York Times.

In 2007, Computerworld recognized Goetz as an overlooked innovator in the computing industry, while honored him with the title "Father of Third-Party Software." Goetz's work helped create an industry where people could come up with new software ideas and have them protected by law. The industry grew massively, earning around $610 billion worldwide in 2022, showing how impactful his contributions were. His idea that software could and should be patented helped to drive this massive growth and innovation.

Martin Goetz's big achievement came in 1968 when he secured a patent for data-sorting mainframe software. Before this, people did not think of software as something that could be patented. The move stopped big companies like IBM from just copying his work, helping to level the playing field for everyone else in the industry.

"He not only got what he wanted," his daughter Karen Jacobs told NYT. "A.D.R. started selling more products and opened the doors to the independent software industry."

Goetz was not afraid to stand up to the big players in the industry. His company, Applied Data Research, sued IBM, accusing them of unfair practices by bundling software with hardware. The lawsuit helped to break this bundling practice, making the industry more accessible for smaller companies and encouraging more competition and innovation.

The fight against IBM was a big deal, and it helped open doors for smaller companies in the software industry. By challenging IBM's practices, Goetz made it possible for other software companies to operate being not dominated by the industry's giants, which led to a diverse software market that we have today. 

Anton Shilov
Contributing Writer

Anton Shilov is a contributing writer at Tom’s Hardware. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • edzieba
    Sadly, the enduring and ongoing legacy of software patents has been suppression of innovation, not encouragement of it. Particularly wielded by large corporations against smaller developers, where the corporations can outspend them in protracted legal battles.