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Software Patents Are Harmful

Accepted submission by canopic jug at 2018-11-23 05:49:46 from the copyrights-patents-trademarks-and-tradesecrets-oh-my dept.

Cisco VP/CTO Jonathan Rosenberg has written a blog post about how harmful software patents are to industry []. On top of being vague but also transferrable, they can be used offensively by grantees which are not involved in any aspect of making or using the technologies to which the patents apply, an aspect which has caused ongoing, grievous harm to computer-using companies for a long time now. Something needs to change and, so, after outlining the nature of the problem, he closes with two brief solutions.

Friends and relatives who are not in the technology industry always ask me if I’ve ever gotten a patent. For them, a patent has this sheen of accomplishment. They believe it means you invented something, that you are an innovator, that you’ve done something no one has done before. I give a little chuckle, tell them that yes, I have a few patents (I actually have 90 issued U.S. patents), but that it’s not really a big deal, and thank you for asking. In reality, I’m being polite. I don’t want to burst their bubble, nor do I want to launch into a long tirade. Because, the reality is, that patents — and in particular — software patents — are a plague upon the industry. They hamper innovation. They cost companies millions and millions of dollars in frivolous law suits. They waste time and energy from people who just want to build products. They are anathema to the Internet. Software patents are harmful.

Software patents have three key characteristics which have resulted in their harmfulness. They are vague in terms of what is actually invented. They can be passed along as property. You can sue for infringement without making the product to which the patent applies. Lets cover each in turn.

Software remains covered by copyright, as a form of creative expression. Again, while software patents is a problem mostly contained to the US, they are becoming a threat for the EU. Even as the European Patent Convention specifically exempts software from patentability, there remain prolonged efforts to circumvent the law and establish software patents in effect. After all, what do laws matter if companies can be convinved to univerally ignore them?

Original Submission