01.29.09

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The End of Software Patents?

Posted in Europe, Law, Microsoft, Patents at 9:10 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Champagne bottle
No cracking just yet

THE #1 lobbyist for software patents in Europe, namely Philips [1, 2, 3], is falling apart, as is Microsoft [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]. Similarly malicious lobbyists like Nokia [1, 2, 3, 4] take their business to the east as Symbian keeps nosediving and sales decline.

With forces of software patents on a steady downward trend, there are additional signs that the teeth of software patents are long lost. While it would be venturous to declare software patents “dead”, many of them are practically out of potency. They just can’t be compelling enough for the court to tolerate and while this state of uncertainty prevails, not many individuals or companies will be willing to gamble on software patents.

Mike Masnick goes further with his old assertions and contends that In Re Bilski is assassinating software patents already; we’ve given similar examples of this before, so it is likely to be increasingly valid a claim.

Looks Like Bilski Decision Is Leading To Many Software Patent Claim Rejections

When the Bilski decision came out, we said that it would greatly limit software patents, but various patent system defenders (mostly lawyers) insisted that I was wrong and most software was still perfectly patentable. Basically, they said it just meant everyone had to write claims differently, and we’d have just as many software patents as before.

Glyn Moody jubilantly points to this report about a Bilski petition, which he too interprets — like Masnick — as the possible end of software patents (or at least the vast majority of them, as the FSF argued).

In Bilski, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit applied the “machine-or-transformation test” as the only test to be used in determining whether a claimed process is eligible for patenting under § 101. The decision holds that a claimed process either (1) be tied to a particular machine or apparatus or (2) transform a particular article into a different state or thing.

Bilski’s claimed method of hedging the risk of bad weather through commodities trading had been rejected by the USPTO as lacking patentable subject matter. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed – finding that the method failed the machine-or-transformation test.

Over in Denmark, the signs of aging of the patent system is showing. Engineers have better things to pursue than intellectual monopolies, so there is a sharp decline in applications and examiners are laid off massively.

The Danish Patent and Trademark Office has laid off 35 members of staff after seeing a slump in applications, a move indicating that national offices could be hit by the global recession.

“In the fourth quarter of 2008 we saw a reduction in the number of applications,” Jesper Kongstad, director general of the office, told WTR yesterday. “On the basis of that we took the decision to lay off 35 staff from the Danish office.” The country has seen huge economic growth over recent years, especially in the real estate market. But this has now largely collapsed in a similar way to that of the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, practitioners in Denmark reacted to the news from the PTO with surprise. “This is a very drastic approach,” said Jeppe Brogaard Clausen, a partner of MAQS Law Firm. “It’s a very high number and laying people off in the legal market happens so rarely in Denmark.

The next ones to go are patent lawyers. Here’s hoping that there will be more development and less litigation or racketeering.

Last week we resurrected Patent TrollTracker, thanks to Ben.

“According to Software Magazine, last year we were the 92nd largest software company in the US. My perspective on software patents is simple: stop issuing software patents. Software patents should not exist.” —Jerry Fiddler, Wind River Systems

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