Monday, June 11, 2007

More on Software Patent Reform

I saw this interesting article today about how the US Patent Office is trying to " encourage citizens to assess the validity of patent applications for themselves, and issue challenges where necessary". (original article here: http://www.betanews.com/article/US_Patent_Office_to_Try_Open_Source_Approach/1181591652)

Now, that certainly sounds interesting, especially with how messed up Software Patents have been in the past few years (i.e., basically the granting of patents for every lame and obvious supposed software and technological breakthrough - like one-click shopping on the web). There are scores of similarly ridiculous patents that have been issued, most under the guise of processes and methodologies (which basically just let companies patent ideas - which is not supposed to be possible). Companies now even end up existing for the sole purpose of acquiring "patent portfolios" of supposed "intellectual property", and making all their money off litigation related what is essentially extorting money from companies that have no idea they are even violating a patent.

Something has to change, and perhaps this new approach by the USPTO will help. They are accepting applications from persons wishing to become a peer-reviewer, in hopes that having the public help discover prior art in a timely fashion will help prevent / reduce the granting of these (insanely obvious and anything but novel) patents. I sure hope it makes a difference.

As a software developer these days, I can't help wondering how many tens or hundreds of patents my own code somehow unknowingly infringes on. Did that latest sorting algorithm I just wrote use the same approach as a patented one? Did I group the items on a report in the same way a patent holder proposed? Is the display of a picture on my website making use of some asinine patented image-display-on-the-web process patent? Yep, that's the kind of things that in all seriousness you have to worry about these days (though, probably not unless you come up with some software that actually is worth something -- so these patent holders have someone with deep pockets, and potential cash, to sue).

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