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PCPlus: Can you really patent an idea?

Aug 18, 2000, 02:03 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Chris Bidmead)

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"Patent rubber-stamping has resumed under the welter of applications. Following new guidelines laid down in 1996 the USPTO is currently ok'ing tens of thousands of applications a year - and that's only the figure for software patents. Why? According to Linux kernel guru Alan Cox it's because of the totally daft way the USPTO is funded, which makes its income dependent on the number of successful applications it pushes through." "The US Patent system has basically collapsed," says Cox. "They allow arbitrary patents on software systems, and because of the sheer number of these, it is now trivial to patent arbitrary pieces of simple mathematics." Good news, though, for carpet-baggers like Wells, St John, Roberts, Gregory & Matkin, Attorneys-at-Law. On their Web page at www.patentsusa.com they crow that following the 1996 guidelines: "...it is clear that software patents are here to stay... Patents provide strong protection in that they prevent against independent invention... Anyone making, using, or selling a patented computer program is an infringer, even though they had no knowledge of the computer program."

"The fact that any program you invest time developing might be snatched away from you because of some obscure 'infringement' is only one of the many inherent contradictions in software patenting. For the rest, see here. It 's a key issue for us right now because the European tradition of regarding software as 'ideas' and therefore unpatentable is being actively eroded. Says German patent specialist Jurgen Siepman: "Under the pressure of patent professionals, the European Patent Office invented its own rules in order to grant more than 10,000 software related patents, more than 75 per cent of which were filed by non-European companies". At present most of these patents are probably unenforcable under European Law. But US influences are attempting to enforce 'rationalisation' of European patent practices along American lines. If you want to know more about this (I hope you do - it affects the future of software for us all) you can pick up the argument at www.freepatents.org."

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