[Fsfe-ie] New patents proposal from the US

James Heald j.heald at ucl.ac.uk
Fri Apr 30 20:59:49 CEST 2004

Éibhear wrote:
> Hi,
> I'm in foreign lands right now and low on time, so I don't have much time to
> research this fully. However, there seems to be an interesting new proposal
> from the US and some major bodies there for patents. Read the summary at
> Groklaw and follow the links to read the report and its executive summary.
> http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20040428200118940
> Éibhear

The proposals read pretty much like "motherhood and apple pie", at least 
to European eyes.   But I understand they may still be in for quite a 
rough ride from some of the American interests, and the rather 
conservative "don't change a thing" US small inventors lobby.

The problem, I think, is that faced with these proposals the Europeans 
would probably respond "but we do all of this anyway, already" -- and 
yet Europe still has granted vast numbers of really objectionable 
software patents.

The proposal that seems to generate the most hope among American 
supporters of the F.T.C. and now the N.A.S. proposals, is the idea of 
giving all-comers a six-month European-style window to challenge any 
patent application before final grant.

But actually, even in Europe such proceedings haven't made an awful lot 
of difference -- huge numbers of bad software patents have still been 
issued, and even large companies of the scale of say Canon don't feel 
there's any great benefit in trying to do the Patent Office's job for 
it, paying good money to do all the legal work of filing an opposition 
just for the general benefit, unless there is a particular product line 
or development interest they need to protect.

So: no silver bullet.

The key problem isn't an issue of patent quality -- even if some way 
could be devised to objectively assess genuine "inventive height" in the 
discovery of an algorithm, all the evidence is that in almost all cases 
there simply aren't the societal benefits in granting such a patent to 
outweigh the costs of sanctioning a 20-year monopoly on it.

The only line which really works is to say "no patents on the pure 
processing of data" (nor for user interfaces, nor for general "ideas for 

The N.A.S. sees enough problems with the USPTO that it didn't see this 
as yet another sensitive battle it needed to fight.

But in Europe we should be quite clear: Software patents?  No thanks.

All best,


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