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Oct 5 2009: Red Hat Asks Supreme Court To Nix Software Patents. The range of comments is also interesting.

So What's the Beef ?

To make a long story short, I have seen recent software patents granted on algorithms and coding techniques that I know for a fact have been in common usage for 25 years. Actually, I've been using them for 20 years or more. Where I learned them from, I don't remember. Some old ( 40-ish) and grisly-looking assembler programmer in the early 1980s I would guess.

In my view, the problem is not so much software patents as the U.S. Patent Office, which has been handing them out like candy, especially during the peak year of 2004 when hundreds of silly patents were granted on essential technology that has been around since the dawn of IT. One patent was granted for something that looks very much like a linked list. I suppose the Patent Office figures that the courts will straighten out the mess ( with the world's best health insurance and inflation-linked pensions, why should they worry ).

Some software patents can be regarded as defensive, particularly those filed by IBM, who are renown for filing patents on everything in sight and then not pressing their "rights". In other words, they are patenting ideas ( probably unpatentable ideas ) so someone else doesn't get there first and create a big crisis for everyone in IT. We've had a few of these scares over the years.

In any case, one doesn't enter the software patent minefield without millions of dollars at the ready for long expensive legal battles. So much for all the PR and propaganda about software patents protecting entrepreneurs.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out.


The Gauss Project and Software Patents in Europe

Oct 8 2009: Something croaked at the Gauss site. It gives the "Its Works!" message from the Apache install. Hope they are up again soon.

Sept 9 2008: The Gauss Project

Software patents have been a big issue in Europe for the past several years. The debate hinges on establishing finally and forever what is a "trivial" versus "non-trivial" contribution to some field of knowledge. The European patent authorities have employed a very inclusive definition of "non-trivial" and, in effect, granted patents on common practices and even ideas.

The premise of the argument seems to be that a strong incentive is required for software engineers to publish and use their discoveries; otherwise they will just sit on their ideas and keep the Secrets of the CyberRealm in the dark vaults of their minds ( assuming they can sit upon their minds ). In any case, software patents are supposed to provide the monetary lubricant necessary to grease the creative process and boost European entrepreneurship.

So far, the main beneficiaries have been multi-billion dollar corporations with the finanical resources to fight long, expensive court battles and, of course, a small army of patent lawyers ...

From the home page of the project wiki ( still camelized ):

Welcome to the GaussProject. There is currently much debate in Europe regarding SoftwarePatents in the light of the EU SoftwarePatentDirective and continued pressure to legitimize the EPO software patents dispite strong opposition. Motivated by this debate, we have build a Database of patent documents to document the current practice of granting patents on software in Europe.


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