Tuesday, February 22, 2005

SOFTWARE PATENTS GETTING MORE PRESS: I've been noticing that over the last two years, many magazines and newspapers have been digging deeper into software patents and their impact on the marketplace. Take, for instance, this article where Real Software, the maker of the Realbasic application development tool, has raised concerns over Microsoft's IsNot operator patent application. The gist of the article is that Real Software is saying that no one should be able to patent fundamental programming operations.

Now, there is nothing inherently earth-shattering about the article (yet another company decrying a competitor's software patenting strategy, right?). Certainly Slashdot is full of programmers that have been howling for time immemorial about the "evil" intentions of companies trying to obtain software patents. But then, why would the news services reprint the article in so many publications? This is only a patent application after all, and not some issued patent that Microsoft is trying to enforce.

My theory is that the attitude towards software patents is becoming more tempered in the mainstream press, and this will have a tendency to affect the overall outlook by government officials and practitioners with respect to software patents. Most practitioners have known about the effects of software patents for a long time (see Paul Vick's blog entry on the Microsoft patent), and have essentially treated them as a necessary evil. However, I think that we may be turning a corner, where the voices of the naysayers are getting elevated over that of the software patent proponents. For those that are following the FTC patent reform efforts, there certainly seems to be a push to tame the lottery-type mentality that is so pervasive among holding companies. Now, I'm not saying that software patents are in jeopardy of falling outside the scope of 35 USC 101 again, but I would be very surprised if there aren't some significant reforms that will take place over the next year.

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