Bonum Certa Men Certa

US Government Wrestles With Patent Dilemmas

Temple with blue sky



Summary: Patents on life are challenged by the federal government while NASA (mis)uses public money to make and trade software patents

THE Obama government is in a position where it must serve the public and not worry about shareholders of its own (or increase internal levels of work like the USPTO does), so it finally decided to look into the dilemma of gene patents and the outcome was reasonable. "U.S. Says Genes Should Not Be Eligible for Patents," reports the New York Times (a very government-friendly publication):



Reversing a longstanding policy, the federal government said on Friday that human and other genes should not be eligible for patents because they are part of nature. The new position could have a huge impact on medicine and on the biotechnology industry.


Software patents too ought to be brought to the government for more independent scrutiny. They are controversial and very harmful as well (many patent trolls use them). Glyn Moody says that "the software patent rot begins to spread" as he points to this news from London:

As a result of the mixture of 'technical' and 'non-technical' features in the claimed invention, the Board took into account the type of analysis normally carried out for computer-implemented inventions. The applicant argued that the mathematical parts of the claim contributed to the technical effect of the invention, and should therefore be taken into account when assessing inventive step. The opponent, however, argued that the mathematical parts "did not require any further technical considerations" and were to be disregarded in the assessment of inventive step.


So, bioinformatics too are now harmed by software patents. Time for the Obama government to weigh in?

Sadly, the government too is biased. It knows that patents are a tool of power and leverage over other countries. Right now it goes further and does something controversial with NASA (which we occasionally bring up due to its relationship with Microsoft [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]).

“[T]he public paid for these software patents from NASA and now they could go to patent trolls who attack the public.”"NASA to hold auction for automated software development patents," says ZDNet.com (also in ZDNet UK), but the public paid for these software patents from NASA and now they could go to patent trolls who attack the public. This makes no sense. This news got covered in this press release and then mentioned by many news sites [1, 2, 3] including some from IDG [1, 2]. The Sun Herlald says: "NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is auctioning an exclusive license to five patents for automated software development on November 11, 2010. The patents encompass a new method for automatically creating software code which is verifiably equivalent to user requirements specified in natural language, graphic formats, or other formats with a known semantic structure."

Patents are a form of weapon used to protect a monopoly. Has NASA begun producing such weapons at taxpayers' expense? If so, what does that say about the government's priorities? NASA should invent, not patent and sell patents (which is a waste of time and effort, leading to increased market risk). Those Teflon fairy tales won't be enough to guarantee NASA future funding; neither will patent zealotry.

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