2020 Computer History Museum Prize


Gerardo Con Diaz, Software Rights: How Patent Law Transformed Software Development in America (New Haven: Yale University Press 2019).

Prize Citation:

Gerardo Con Diaz's Software Rights is the definitive account of the history of software patents in the United States. Meticulously researched and engagingly written, the book is notable for its original analysis and empirical novelty. Most contemporary discussions of software patenting treat software as something purely “virtual,” but this book brings the physicality of software to the foreground and shows how that physicality has at times been instrumental to software patents. It also highlights the interpretive flexibility of software (as text, algorithm, and machine) and the ways in which these ambiguities facilitated competing arguments for and against patenting. And it tracks the changing criteria for patenting and the conflicts within the complex legal framework for intellectual property protection. Particularly refreshing was its presentation of the shifting positions of various stakeholders and the genuine disagreements within those groups. The history of software patenting is tremendously complicated, and the judges were impressed with how carefully, clearly, and insightfully Software Rights explains this history. As one judge put it, “If I were to recommend a single book on the history of software patents, this would be it.” Chapeau for this achievement!

About the CHM Prize:

The Computer History Museum Prize is awarded to the author of an outstanding book in the history of computing broadly conceived, published during the prior three years. The prize of $1,000 is awarded by SIGCIS, the Special Interest Group for Computers, Information and Society. SIGCIS is part of the Society for the History of Technology. In 2012 the prize was endowed in perpetuity through a generous bequest from the estate of Paul Baran, a legendary computer innovator and entrepreneur best known for his work to develop and promote the packet switching approach on which modern networks are built. Baran was a longtime supporter of work on the history of information technology and named the prize to celebrate the contributions of the Computer History Museum to that field.