The Patent Punishers

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The Electronic Freedom Foundation announces a plan to

combat the chilling effects bad patents have on public and consumer interests.

"Patents traditionally only targeted large commercial companies," said EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. "Now bad patents are threatening non-profits, small businesses, and even individuals who use software and Internet technology." These threats target non-commercial personal use, such as building a hobbyist website or streaming a wedding video to your friends.

The new EFF initiative seeks to document these threats and fight back against them. EFF has pledged to file "re-examination" requests with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), asking the agency to revoke patents that are having negative effects on Internet innovation and free expression.

As the EFF press release notes, the National Academy of Sciences and the Federal Trade Commission have also wondered recently whether some illegitimate patents are being granted lately, holding up competition and innovation.

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  1. Patents are like traffic signals: tools of big brother’s brainwashing.
    There is no “good” one.

  2. I’m undecided on whether patents should ever be valid in software, but the current system, in which any trivial piece of procedure or presentation can be patented, is dangerously broken.

  3. Wow, it only took 20 years for the FTC to start wondering about software patents?

    One of the patents I had to skirt in my most recent job was on using a computer to display a program schedule in which program cell lengths indicate program lengths. In other words, using a computer to display the schedule format used by every newspaper in the country is a patented invention (owned by TV Guide’s parent company, Gemstar).

  4. I recently did a search on firearm silencer patents and discovered over 50 patents for the firearm silencer, most of which offered no improvements to the original 1909 patent.

    The Patent Office simply does not have the technical manpower to do a reasonable review of a patent application to determine if the applicant really has developed a new technology.

    And then we could talk about process patents…

  5. The patent debate is good and necessary, but the FTC has not place in it. This is an agency that believes force is the proper way to settle any business dispute, preferrably with FTC lawyers making industrial policy for entire country without public or congressional scrutiny.

  6. Wow, it only took 20 years for the FTC to start wondering about software patents?

    Generally when we as a people arrive at an issue, the government is still riding the short bus a few miles back. This is part of the reason why they do naught but fuck up everything they touch: as if the abject stupidity wasn’t bad enough, they show up late with ravenous greed and elephantine grace. Really, I can’t wait to see how many individuals are screwed out of their patents because of a policy “that will make it easier for firms to challenge a patent?s validity at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), without having to raise an expensive and time-consuming federal court challenge”. Oh, you can’t feasibly put this on the market? We’ll give your patent to someone who can, and we’ll resolve the dispute without that pesky having-your-day-in-court thing.

    Great idea.

  7. Patents and copyrights can hold progress as well as help it. I’d prefer there be a “use-it-or-lose-it” stipulation for both legal controls. If someone wants a better mousetrap to be protected, it should be available on the market. Same goes with an artistic product: why does Disney get the control of “Song of the South” if it won’t use it? Same goes for music that is only available illegally, authors whose publishers gave up, etc. Aren’t there any artists getting stiffed?

  8. jon,

    Under traditional patent law, owners of a patent were required either to “work” it in a country, or to license it to a firm in that country. The elimination of compulsory licensing is just another way in which patent law is becoming more oppressive.

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