Advogato.org: Patents

Free software and patents have had an uneasy co-existence
for a while. The usual response from free software is staunchly
anti-patent. Of course, abolishing all software patents is not
realistic any time soon.
Advogato believes that patents are
not inherently evil, and that an intelligent response to them is
not only possible, but desirable. In particular, developers should
become conversant with the basics of patent law, and learn how to
search patents effectively. This cat also believes that there are
times when filing for a patent is appropriate….”

“There are a number of problems. Perhaps the most important is
that the patent office is just not very good at its job of
examining patents. All patents are supposed to be novel,
nonobvious, and useful. However, a huge volume of patents slip
through which don’t meet these criteria. My experience with
software patents (primarily in image processing, one of the more
troublesome areas) is that perhaps the majority are not novel at
all. In addition, the “obviousness” requirement doesn’t stop very
many bad patents. Some of the examples are ridiculous, such as the
infamous Y2K Windowing Patent. This is not only an obvious
technique, but one that had been published for years before the
patent filing date. The patent office is currently reexamining the
patent, most likely in response to the publicity….”

“In this cat’s opinion, free software developers should be
vigilant against implementing patented standards when patent-free
alternatives exist. The most dramatic example is of course GIF,
which includes the patented LZW compression algorithm. This
algorithm is one of a large family of algorithms including at least
one good patent-free compression algorithm (used in zlib. The GIF
patent issue would likely not have happened had the free software
developers who popularized it had been aware of the patent issue
and boycotted it.”