Summary: Worrying signs of important establishments being captured by higher interests that promote software patents
THERE is quite a heap of material on software patents and other related issues of intellectual monopolisation. We shall start with a recommendation of this excellent writeup which goes under the heading “What Intellectual Property Law Should Learn from Software.”
There are lots of reasons to doubt that this vision of “creation out of nothing” works very well, even in the arts, the traditional domain of copyright law. But whatever its merits or defects in the arts, it seems completely wrong-headed when it comes to software. Software solutions to practical problems do converge, and programmers definitely draw upon prior lines of code. Worse still, software tends to exhibit “network effects.” Unlike my choice of novel, my choice of word-processing program is strongly influenced, perhaps dominated, by the question of what program other people choose to buy. That means that even if a programmer could find a completely different way to write a word-processing program, this programmer has to be able to make it read the dominant program’s files and mimic its features if the programmer is to attract any customers at all. This hardly sounds like completely divergent creation.
The USPTO has issued a set of interim examination guidelines for determining whether a claim is properly directed to patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. S 101, relevant Supreme Court precedent, and Bilski. The instructions begin with a realization that the area is in flux and that more permanent guidelines will be established once the Supreme Court rules on Bilski v. Kappos. In addition, these are guidelines rather than rules or laws. Thus, an examiner’s failure to follow the guidelines is “neither appealable nor petitionable.”
Kappos is an opponent of the Bilski ‘doctrine’, but then again, Kappos came from IBM, whose stance on the subject has been consistent all along. Kappos is now leading the USPTO, so it’s screaming for “conflict of interests”. Here is the accompanying press release.
As we shall show in a moment, this system is gradually made more friendly towards monopolies (or big businesses) and watch this. They are now getting their own special rules that are more favourable to them, as in “the patent system is fine, as long as it’s working for the big players and adds exclusion to forbid/limit counter-action.”
Technology majors Intel, Apple, Cisco and Microsoft have won an appeals court ruling that limits the amount of patent damages they will have to pay for products shipped outside the US.
This relates nicely to the i4i vs Microsoft case [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11], which now has this extensive resources page. The i4i debacle shows that Microsoft has different and special rules to defend itself from patent lawsuits. This system does not work equally for all. It’s imbalanced against the “small inventor” which it originally purported to defend. Patently-O suggests that even reexamination is underway.
Pending Reexamination: Microsoft has submitted its motion for a stay of injunctive relief pending the outcome of its appeal to the Federal Circuit. Oddly, the first sentence of Microsoft’s introduction begins with a statement that the PTO “already had provisionally rejected upon reexamination as anticipated and obvious.” By ‘provisionally rejected’ Microsoft means that a non-final office action has been mailed out in the ex parte reexamination that it requested in November 2008 (the litigation was filed in March 2007).
“Microsoft tries to use the “too big to fail” defense in the i4i case,” tells us one reader. “Smaller companies get wiped out by bogus patents and defending themselves all the time, but Microsoft gets let off so Dell and HP won’t suffer? Give me a break.”
This leads us to a side issue which is nonetheless important. Law.com has this new report about systemic changes that also involve “life sciences innovations”.
An upcoming en banc rehearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has the potential to reverse a written description requirement for patents that the court imposed a dozen years ago. Owners of broadly written patents such as those covering life sciences innovations are watching closely.
Breast Cancer Gene Patent Challenge:
* The ACLU, PUBPAT, and others continue their fight against patents covering the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 held by Myriad and the University of Utah. The federal lawsuit argues (1) that the genes should not be patentable as “products of nature” and (2) that the patentee’s use of patent rights to limit scientific research on the genes violates constitutional First Amendment protections.
More patents are standing in the way of medical doctors:
Patent examiner Deandra Hughes decided that all 66 claims of the 6,188,988 patent are, indeed, patentable, despite more than 200 pages of evidence submitted by Shafer and his lawyers. Even though doctors had used databases to help choose therapies to treat various ailments for decades before the first relevant patent application at issue was filed in 1998, Hughes said the ’988 patent should be allowed. Her reasoning: the prior art references didn’t distinguish a system with exactly three “knowledge bases.” And that distinction alone—having three “knowledge bases”—is a patentable advance, Hughes decided. See Notice of Intent to Uphold the Claims of the ’786 patent [PDF].
If that’s not bad enough, even food is being patented. This leads to very serious ethical questions.
Members Of Human Rights Expert Committee At UN Question Patents On Food
A group of experts working as a think-tank for the United Nations Human Rights Council raised the issue of patents and food at a meeting this week. Meanwhile, a new report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food expected to be available at the end of August will focus on the intersection between intellectual property and the human right to food.
Moving over to Europe, there are very obvious conflicts of interests.
The committee on economic and monetary affairs (ECON), responsible for regulating the financial sector, will be chaired by British MEP Sharon Bowles. Bowles was previously accused of having a conflict of interests after pushing for software patents while also being partner in a law firm run by her husband representing clients with a direct interest in software patent protection.
There has also been controversy over the newly-elected chair of the Legal Affairs Committee, Klaus Heiner Lehne. During the previousl administration, Lehne was one of the MEPs pushing strongly for software patents. At the same time he was a partner at Taylor Wessing, a law firm with a large patent department advising clients on patenting strategy in the software sector.
It’s probably too much to expect a sudden outburst of common sense among SAP’s management, but at least it’s good to see a pro-software patent company learning the hard way that overall, the costs of litigating and licensing patents from others outweigh any income gained from licensing to third parties. It’s not even a zero-sum gain: the only people who win here are the lawyers.
By mere serendipity we’ve come across a little unfinished document from the FFII, which lobbies against software patents in Europe. But there must be some kind of a colossal mistake in this draft of an amicus brief regarding Bilski (written by Reinier Bakels), which states odd things such as, “In U.S. patent law, there is no basis to prohibit software patenting categorically, or to make any other specific exception for software.”
This can’t be FFII speaking. What is this? It is the very opposite of what FFII is all about. Is the FFII — just like Europe in general — letting its very own Lehnes grab the podium? If the FFII carries its name and message in vain like this, then it can cause more harm than good. This document will hopefully be mended and the message rectified before it’s finalised. █
“The European Patent Office is an executive organisation, it deals especially with patent applicants, as such, its view of the world may be biased. As an executive organisation, its interpretative powers are very limited. The European Patent Convention excludes computer programs, it is outside the EPO’s power to change this.”