Software patents have been all over the news recently both in New Zealand and abroad. Here’s a selection:
Mr. Phillips and Vlingo are among the thousands of executives and companies caught in a software patent system that federal judges, economists, policy makers and technology executives say is so flawed that it often stymies innovation. Alongside the impressive technological advances of the last two decades, they argue, a pall has descended: the marketplace for new ideas has been corrupted by software patents used as destructive weapons.
Advances in software and other industries cost much less, he said, and the companies benefit tremendously from being first in the market with gadgets – a benefit they would still get if there were no software patents. “It’s not clear that we really need patents in most industries,” he said. Also, devices like smartphones have thousands of component features, and they all receive legal protection. “You just have this proliferation of patents,” Posner said. “It’s a problem.”
“Patent wars are a disaster for all of us. Everyone can find prior art for everything. So the new trick is to get judges to block devices country by country. It’s bad for innovation, it’s bad for choices.”
In addition to facing its own lawsuits, Rackspace is increasingly seeing its clients sued as well. Last month, for example, a patent troll sued the source control company Github. The troll also named Rackspace in its lawsuit, apparently believing that merely hosting Github’s servers is sufficient to make Rackspace liable for Github’s alleged infringement. “No company is safe from patent trolls,” Schoenbaum told us.
We can see that cost today as tech companies like Google spend billions on “defensive patents,” which are essentially useless other than as a protection against lawsuits. We see it whenever a cool startup firm is forced to license a bogus patent from a litigious troll. And we see it in the untold dollars spent on legal fees and unnecessary patent filings for ludicrously broad or impractical ideas.
Locally, David Farrar (Kiwiblog) has commented on the Patents Bil:
Personally I think the issue is not just a workable definition, but also whether you want software patentable at all. My view is that amendment by Clare Curran is superior as it clearly says software is not patentable, however protects inventions that have software embedded within them.
National no doubt has to vote in line with the Government decision. However United Future, ACT and the Maori Party do not. I hope they take the time to get to grips with this issue – which is an important one for many NZ technology firms, and that they back the Curran amendment. It is, in my opinion, closest to what the Select Committee unanimously recommended.
Paul Matthews of the IITP has written a nice wrap-up of the current situation, including the poll showing 94% of NZ IT professionals against software patents:
Indeed the view of the kiwi ICT community is fairly clear on this one. The latest example is last week’s Institute of IT Professionals poll where a resounding 94 percent of IT Professionals with a view favoured the Institute continuing to oppose software patents. Yes, 94 percent. And not a small poll either – over 1000 of our members responded.
So why do so many oppose software patents? One reason is that the last few years of software-patenting decisions means it’s now simply not possible to write software today without breaching patents. Many believe software patents represent the biggest threat to our profession since Turing kicked things off at Bletchley Park, as do the patent trolls; lawyers who increasingly make a living out of gaining patents on obvious things and suing successful technologists.