Thursday, June 23, 2005

Patenting the E.U. and the U.S.

In 10 years' time we will only have half the small and medium sized companies that we have now,
- Evelin Lichtenberger on the European Parliment's bill on software patents

Stallman also made some excellent points on the EU's push towards software patents. One important point he made was that politicians are confusing patents with copyrights, which are two entirely different concepts. Again, this goes back to the distinctions made between "opening" creative content versus opening code.

The U.S. is also working on patent reforms that will push small business out and allow large businesses to eat them. The U.S. Patent Reform Act of 2005 is something I'm still trying to digest. While it seems like it might abate "submarine patents" that lie dormant until approval only to spring up as a reason for the owner to start suing for patent infringement, it might offer more problems for those who can't afford to pursue or defend their patents. From the article:

The issue is this: do the big players need more help? If it's harder to sue for patent infringement, and it's easier for big businesses to file for patents than it is for capital-starved little guys, is it fair to the little guy? For example, I can imagine the following scenario: I invent something and write a scholarly paper about it. I can't afford to patent it or it takes me a while to find a lawyer I can afford. So Microsoft reads my paper, runs to the Patent Office, patents what I wrote about, and then sues me for infringement of their patent. I haven't analyzed the bill enough to know if there is a way to block this scenario, but it's something to look for. You don't want the fix to be worse than the problem you are addressing.

One downside to the U.S. revisisions is the first-to-file provision pretty much kicks the little guy in the shorts. However, given how much patenting people do for existing processes/concepts, the post-grant submission of prior art by third parties is welcome.

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