04.07.08

On Marriage Patents, Software Patents and Thought Patents

Posted in America, Australia, Europe, Novell, Patents, Samba at 3:52 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

The subject of Free software is closely related to the subject of software patents, which are a great threat to it. In order to illustrate just what sort of mess Novell has committed itself to, we continue to present some examples of the system’s failure and beneath lie some of the very latest.

Business Methods and… Marriage Methods Patents?!?!

This one is really spooky. It’s titled “Method and instrument for proposing marriage to an individual” [via Groklaw] and it had me check the Web browser’s address bar because it’s almost too bizarre to be true (none yet beats “Method of swinging on a swing” though). Alas, it turns out that this one is no forgery and it is actually filed in the USPTO. Here is the abstract:

The purpose of this invention is to provide an improved method of proposing marriage to an individual. The method of proposing to an individual generally comprising the steps of meeting the individual; exchanging names with the individual; dating the individual (not necessary); drafting a government document having a proposal to marry the individual incorporated therein; and showing the government document to the individual. The government document may be a patent application. The patent application may claim the method by which the proposor will make a marriage proposal to the individual. The proposor could then use the method claimed in the patent application to propose to the individual. The patent application could be the actual marriage proposal.

Be careful. And be very afraid of the ‘marriage police’ (see the recent CeBit incident). They could storm into the restaurant and confiscate your golden ring if you ‘dare’ to propose without paying for a licence. Sarcasm aside, business methods in Australia and Europe are not an impossibility either. Digital Majority has just found this paper. From the abstract:

This paper reviews the availability of business method patents in Australia in light of the 2006 decision of the Full Court of the Federal Court in Grant v Commissioner of Patents,5 which confirmed the need in Australia for a ‘useful product’ to issue from the working of a method (business or otherwise) in order for the method to be patentable.

It hardly gets as bad as business and tax patents (how about patents that kill?), but fortunately there might be some reversals in the United States.

Australia Receives Lesson in Software Patents

Tridgell, of Samba fame, has served some ministers justice down there in Australia where decision makers gathered to discuss Free software. Here is a quote-worthy bit from a much larger article.

“The key issue that needs to be solved is independent invention. IP doesn’t cope with the commonly occurring ‘idea whose time has come’ – the patent system considers that a crime,” Tridgell said.

There is a similar situation down in South Africa (down as in “southern hemisphere”, just to be clear). It will be presented in the next post.

Bilski Case Revisited

A reader sent us a headsup with the following press release, adding: “Bilski is a case that is being closely watched by the Patent Bar.”


> http://www.aclu.org/freespeech/gen/34784prs20080404.html
> http://www.aclu.org/pdfs/freespeech/in_re_bilski_aclu_amicus.pdf [PDF]

ACLU Introduces First Amendment Argument In Key Patent Law Case
(4/4/2008)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: (212)549-2666; media@aclu.org

Patenting Abstract Ideas Violates The Constitution, Group Says

WASHINGTON – Introducing a rare argument applying the First Amendment
to patent law, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend of
the court brief today urging a federal court to uphold the denial of a
patent that would, if awarded, violate freedom of speech. In the
brief, the ACLU argues that Bernard L. Bilski is seeking a patent for
an abstract idea, and that abstract ideas are not patentable under the
First Amendment.

“The court must ensure that any test it uses in determining whether to
award a patent is in line with the Constitution,” said Christopher
Hansen, senior staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working
Group, who filed the brief. “If the government had the authority to
grant exclusive rights to an idea, the fundamental purpose of the
First Amendment – to protect an individual’s right to thought and
expression – would be rendered meaningless.”

In 2006, Bilski sought a patent for his idea that the weather risk
involved in buying and selling commodities could be minimized if
sellers had conversations with two buyers instead of one. The U.S.
Patent and Trademark Office denied his request and the Board of Patent
Appeals and Interferences affirmed the denial. Bilski appealed that
decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and the
court has agreed to hear the case in a single joint session in May.

“Patent law prohibits the patenting of abstract ideas, but recently
the courts and the patent office have been granting patents that
consist essentially of speech or thought,” said Hansen. “If the
government continues to allow patents of speech or thought it risks
violating the First Amendment. No one can have a monopoly on an idea
or prohibit speech on a particular subject.”

The ACLU’s brief is available online here:
www.aclu.org/freespeech/gen/34783lgl20080403.html


Pay-to-think schemes, eh? Where does one pay the toll?

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