Monday, June 11, 2007

1998 - When software became patentable in the US

Software is still kind-of non-patentable in the UK and even Europe despite the best efforts of the European patent industry. Since a legal case in 1998, the US is not so lucky:

We've Got Algorithm--Software Patents Boom

The good news is that the UK and Europe can learn. We can see that in the US the only people who win from software idea patents are the people in the patent industry, i.e. the lawyers.

The big software companies now pay vast sums to play this new patent game, with their expensive legal teams building up and maintaining patent portfolios. These legal teams joust with the patent teams from other big companies and with the independent "patent troll"s. (The amazing thing about patent trolls is that they are staffed almost exclusively by patent lawyers and exist purely to exploit current patent law. They create nothing. They gather together a patent pool and wait, very much like a spider on it's web, for a creative individual to actually do something new. And then they strike).

In the US creative individuals are suppressed by these recent patent rule changes. Today, if an individual produces a commercial success they will be descended upon by the patent industry (with the patent trolls in the lead) and will be left with nothing to show for their creative work. In the US it is pretty much impossible to write a substantial software work without infringing on some trivial (but well defended) software idea patent or other.

What do the US public gain from this mess? Nothing. It's worse than useless. Exciting new ideas are held back while the big companies and their expensive legal teams squeeze revenue from their stale old (but patent protected) software ideas. Instead of being an incentive to be creative, patents in the US are now a reason to stand still.

The US is starting to feel sufficient pain from this madness to take a step back and think again (e.g. this article in eeTimes).

I hope that the UK and the rest of Europe are watching and that they can avoid the worst of the pain by making it crystal clear in legislation that software ideas are simply not patentable, as was the case in the US before 1988.

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