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New Evidence Arrives to Support Patent System Overhaul While EFF Pressures Congress



Boston University seal



Summary: A new study from Boston helps show that the patent system is flawed, just as the EFF argues

THE EFF managed to get a discussion about the patent system going. Red Hat's Open Source site summarises some of the key points that the EFF has been passing around the Web:



A new website—defendinnovation.org—neatly summarizes the EFF's position on software patents as well as the organization's proposed changes to the current patent system:

1. A patent covering software should be shorter: no more than five years from the application date. 2. If the patent is invalid or there's no infringement, the trolls should have to pay the legal fees. 3. Patent applications should be required to provide an example of running software code for each claim in the patent. 4. Infringers should avoid liability if they independently arrive at the patented invention. 5. Patents and licenses should be public right away. Patent owners should be required to keep their public records up-to-date. 6. The law should limit damanges so that a patent owner can't collect millions if the patent represented only a tiny fraction of a defendent's product. 7. Congress should commission a study and hold hearings to examine whether software patents actually benefit our economy at all.



Boston University has meanwhile released another one of its studies [1, 2, 3] about the patent system in the US. The BBC covered it:

The direct cost of actions taken by so-called "patent trolls" totalled $29bn (€£18.5bn) in the US in 2011, according to a study by Boston University.

It analysed the effect of intellectual rights claims made by organisations that own and license patents without producing related goods of their own.

Such bodies say they help spur on innovation by ensuring inventors are compensated for their creations.


With more scholarly work in the area we'll be better equipped to change the system for the better, led by influential groups like the EFF. Quoting The H:

Further information about the EFF's new patent reform project and details of each of the proposals can be found on the official Defend Innovation web site. On the site, users can also add their signatures and comments to a white paper that will be taken to the US Congress.


They actually take this up with politicians. This is a productive route. This needs to be done before software patents spread to the EU, like a lot of the policies that the US exports over time to the whole world (e.g. DMCA). Glyn Moody warns:

Once the Unitary Patent comes in, EPO patents will automatically be valid in all countries that have joined the scheme (Italy and Spain haven't.) The question then becomes: so where can the EPO's patents be challenged? In an excellent article on the Unitary Patent, Richard Stallman provides us with the answer:

"A small but crucial detail in the [Unitary Patent] plan is that appeals against the EPO's decisions would be decided based on the EPO's own rules. The EPO could thus tie European business and computer users in knots to its heart's content."

As we've seen, the EPO has already been granting software patents (tens of thousands of them according to Stallman) despite the European Parliament decision not to accept them; currently, those patents can be contested in national courts. But come the Unitary Patent, it won't be possible to do that; instead, the validity of the EPO patents will be decided according to the EPO's rules. It's easy to see that this will lead to a flood of software patents being validated across Europe, bringing with them the insane, destructive lawsuits that are currently tearing the US computer world to pieces. Needless to say, the knock-on effects for open source would be terrible if that happened.


We'll catch up with this next month.

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