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New Zealand Shows the United States How to Deal With Software Patents

Posted in America, Patents at 9:43 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Czech landscape

Summary: The world is trying to tackle patents on algorithms, whereas the US, which is unique on that matter, mostly focuses on trolls (scale of plaintiff) and not patent scope

In our latest update from NZ (see some recent history) we mentioned the reversal of a move which nearly brought software patents to the island, a former British colony which nowadays seems to be getting its commands from the United States (this includes national policies and surveillance). As the British Pirate Party put it:

Its not often that we see positive reforms of copyright or patent systems, in fact the vast majority of changes that we see are tightening of regulations, a tightening that is too often driven by corporate lobby groups over the objections of innovators, developers and creators. It seems like an ever rising tide of restrictions, covering more and more areas, limiting what any of us can do, reuse or build upon.

Well that tide seems to be on the verge of turning. Not in the UK yet perhaps, but certainly in New Zealand. The long awaited Patents Bill, amending legislation from 1953, has been passed in New Zealand. It is a bill has been a long time coming, first proposed in July 2008, it was met with intense lobbying from multinationals and spurred almost 5 years of debate and controversy.

Meanwhile in the United States, following the GAO’s already-distorted report which calls for the end of software patents we find Red Hat’s lobbyist Mark Bohannon (officially “Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Global Public Policy at Red Hat”) shifting attention to patent trolls:

During the August Congressional recess, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its long-awaited study on Non-Practicing Entities (NPEs), required under the America Invents Act (AIA).

The report paints a rather grim picture of the current patent system. It reinforces the call by key leaders in Congress for legislative reforms that address abusive patent litigation as well as action by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the courts, and the US PTO.

The truly interesting point of this report is the issue of patent scope, not trolls. As Mr. Pogson, a Canadian, put it, this reports represents what he called the “Death-Spiral Of Software Patents”. To quote his short analysis:

The US GAO has studied the matter and software-patents stick out like a sore thumb. They just don’t make any sense in the modern world. They are sand in the gears of progress. They are knee-deep syrup on the race track. Their report does not ensure elimination of software-patents but I expect something clarifying SCOTUS and GAO findings will emerge and bring US R&D back onto a firmer footing.

The continued obsession with patent trolls in the US (this does not happen in Europe and NZ, where focus remains on software patents) will be further tackled in the next post.

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