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07.20.11

What Next for US Patent Law?

Posted in America, Patents at 1:11 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Steve Jobs with patent
Original photo by Matt Buchanan; edited by Techrights

Summary: Amid controversy and uncertainty around the Bilski case, American professionals express their opinions on the future of software patents in the United States

AS NOTED in a previous post, software patents continue to die sometimes, owing in part to In Re Bilski court decisions. Groklaw comments on developers leaving or not catering for the US market and adds the “Inevitable” observation. Professor Webbink writes:”Unfortunately, patent reform is not going to help change this, either in the short run or long run, because patent reform is not addressing what technologies are patentable. While many of us had hoped the decision in Bilski [PDF] would be a first step, the U.S. Supreme Court clearly placed the determination of patentable subject matter in the lap of the U.S. Congress. Yes, Bilksi may have trimmed around the edges, but clever patent attorneys will still work around it. Moreover, given that the U.S. Congress has taken more than eight years to get a patent reform bill to a vote, it simply is not likely that Congress would vote to remove software from the realm of patents.

“Until these patent holders get a good taste of what they are in for, like losing their precious patents, this sort of thing is not going to stop. And if the patents are put into reexamination or litigated in enough courts, they stand a good chance of losing the critical claims of those patents. Look what has happened in the Bedrock case. The $5 million judgment against Google was vacated [PDF] when Google and Bedrock reached a settlement (undoubtedly for far less), and many of the rest of the cases have since been dismissed with prejudice, meaning Bedrock cannot bring those suits again. In other words, a lot of these “presumed to be valid” patents are, in fact, not valid at all.”

There is a new batch of articles worrying about the fate of ‘clouds’ (Fog Computing) in the face of software patents [1, 2] and the latter example (from a self-professed “practitioner of intellectual property”) says:

Software Patents are commonly a hot topic of debate. Having been a developer, I believe that software patents are a burden on innovation, as are copyrights which are eventually enforced. While there are efforts to control the quality of patents being granted in Europe and the USA, and the debate (specifically against business method patents) is now amplified, one cannot say the same for the Indian context. Being a practitioner of intellectual property, I have come to realise that software patents are a fact of life and they are here to stay. Additionally, given that most of the labour-intensive areas are in India (for software development), the only incentive for real innovation – in terms of fostering product-based companies rather than another services company – would be to really demystify what software patents are being to the table, in terms of a defence card.

This is not true. Software patents may be legal in the US (but only on the verge of reversal given the controversy), so to say “that software patents are a fact of life and they are here to stay” is simply defeatism and misdirection. We also hear this from lobbyists such as Microsoft Florian.

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