07.23.12

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World Wide Web at Risk Due to Software Patents

Posted in Patents at 3:09 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Tim Berners-Lee

Image from Wikimedia

Summary: How patents that are granted to cover mere concepts impede the biggest hub of innovation

THE founder or inventor of the World Wide Web is strongly against software patents. I once exchanged a few words with him, noting that foes such as Apple and Microsoft had been appointed to key positions at the W3C. Apple is particular has been criticised for patenting an essential part of the Web, never promising not to be aggressive with this ammunition. Microsoft too acquired many WWW/Netscape patents (from AOL), which puts it at great odds.

There is a patent troll which notoriously holds WWW-hostile patents and this new report from a patents news expert sheds some light on where this is standing:

A patent-trolling firm called Eolas, working together with the University of California, took a notorious patent to trial in East Texas earlier this year, trying to win close to $1 billion from Internet companies including Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and others. The inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, actually flew down to East Texas to testify for the defense, which ultimately beat Eolas.

Tim B-L’s involvement, which we called for, shows just how serious this is. Linus Torvalds also played a role in a case against Linux, where FAT patents had been used aggressively to extort Linux users.

“The whole point of a programmable computer is precisely that there is no need to make a new machine for every individual program.”
      –PolR
Just how bad can software patents get and still be tolerated by patent examiners? Over at Groklaw. PolR publishes another article which discredits the USPTO. It starts as follows:”If you ask this question you may receive a different answer depending on who you ask. If you ask a patent attorney he will answer that there is well established case law that says programming a computer in effect makes a new machine for purposes of patent law. But if you ask a computer programmer he will say that obviously, programing a computer doesn’t make a new machine. The whole point of a programmable computer is precisely that there is no need to make a new machine for every individual program.”

A computer program, unlike physical parts (hardware) should not be patentable merely because it emulates the function of hardware. This is a fundamental problem that the USPTO is failing to see. Computer programs can simulate just about anything a single-purpose machine can do or achieve except a physical by-product or outcome. To permit monopolies on algorithms is to ban simulation, even in one’s own mind. It stifles free expression.

“The only patent that is valid is one which this Court has not been able to get its hands on.”

Supreme Court Justice Jackson

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