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Software Patents: the Dirt
June 6, 2004
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Dozens of articles have been written under the cliché "patently absurd". As sick as we all may be of this catchy phrase, the two words do seem to belong together these days.

Once upon a time, patents were truly examined for prior art as well as novelty, and things such as "business methods" and mathematical algorithms were not patented. In this golden age, patents were also much cheaper. Then in 1991, the US patent office was cut off from tax support. Essentially, they became a private business, selling patents to monopolists like indulgences. Today, the more patents they sell, the higher their profit. A sign at the patent office now reads "Our Patent Mission- to help our customers get patents."

Since then, hundreds of ridiculous legal battles have been fought over these patents. Perhaps most famous is Amazon.com's "one click" buying feature which forced Barnesandnoble.com to add an extra click. In April, Microsoft gained patent 6,727,830 on a similar idea: controlling programs via pressing buttons for different lengths of time. Ever notice how fonts in Linux are just plain ugly? Programming readable fonts is all but impossible thanks to a TrueType patent -- see excellent article Patent Riots of 2003.

While United States is far gone and is offering thousands of software patents a year, there is still a chance for Europe.

Recently, intense conflict between the European Parliament and the European Council has arisen over this matter. Essentially, the Council is calling for unlimited patent rights despite the democratic decisions of the Parliament to restrict patentability to tangible inventions.

Something to think about in the upcoming European Parliament elections...

Other players in this matter are the EPO (European Patent Office) and the WTO (World Trade Organization). The EPO advocates legalizing software patents and has granted thousands of borderline software patents despite the fact that they were established under the Munich Patent Convention which expressly forbade software patents. Although the WTO position is unclear, article 27.1 of the TRIPS agreement which regulates intellectual property and which is enforced on all World Trade Organization members has been used to justify software patenting.

If there's any hope for ending software patents in the United States, it's in the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). The BBC reports that they are attempting to bring the USPTO to its senses.

Don't hold your breath.

This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
Technology News :: Organizations/Initiatives

FFII

Patently Absurd

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