Monday, February 06, 2006

A Call To End Software Patents

Writing in Slate.com Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu characterizes NTP’s patents as "falling through the cracks" at the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. Wu states:

By all accounts, most examiners do their best to try to make sure the legal standards are complied with. Yet, given the workload and other pressures, there is also no question that inventions like the space vehicle or methods of exercising kitty-cats are falling through the cracks.

It was in this environment that David Stout, co-founder of New Technologies Products, a former examiner and experienced patent lawyer, filed for a series of patents premised on wireless e-mail in the early 1990s. Arguably his patents should never have been granted; the idea of "wireless e-mail" is just too obvious to merit patent. The PTO itself now seems to think it made a mistake, as it is currently in the course of invalidating many of NTP's patents in re-examination proceedings (although probably will be too late to help RIM).


In the bigger picture, Wu looks at whether software patents should exist at all. Arguing most companies and programmers cannot tell if they are infringing and therefore must always assume they are, and that most companies get no benefits from software patents, Wu suggests that the application of patents to software should end.

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