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Software Patents

How are all the small companies out there dealing with software patents?  It seems to me that pretty much all software written probably infringes on one or more patents.  Of course many of these patents are completely ridiculous, but the patent office can't possibly check for all prior art (and many times it doesn't seem like they even do a basic check).  If everyone checked for patents for all software that was written I imagine software would take several times longer than it already does to develop and much of it wouldn't be written.  Not to mention the additional costs that would probably be involved in legal staff.  How can this system continue?  Does the average small software company get contacted very often about patent infringement?

Anonymous
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

"Does the average small software company get contacted very often about patent infringement?"

Only the ones that can't afford a good lawyer. It's a disgusting practice:

Step 1: Patent something with full knowledge that to contest it will take buckets of cash.

Step 2: Find small companies that have a little bit of money, but not enough to fight you in court. Threaten with litigation until they agree to license.

Step 3: Rinse. Repeat.

Go Linux Go!
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

We don't worry about them. My company is medium sized, and not producing web products, and our only concession to software patents is not to infringe on the obvious ones, like GIF. We've never been contacted by anyone.

Assuming that you really are inventing stuff, the only suggestion I would have is to document your ideas so that you have some evidence to show you thought of it yourself, and what date you did that. Maybe if you were inspired by something you saw, make a note of that too.


Of course the ultimate way not to infringe on a software patent is not to sell your software in the US.

Even More Anonymous
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

When it comes to patents, it makes absolutely zero difference if you thought of something yourself or not.  That's part of what is so horrible about them.  Even if the algorithm being patented is so obvious a freshman CS student might discover it as an answer to a homework question, if it is patented you cannot use that method without a license.  Period.  Ignorance of the patent won't save you.  Having come up with the answer on your own won't save you.

You can try to get the patent voided, but that will cost you a boatload of money and only has a chance in hell of working if you can show concrete evidence that the method was in use by someone else before the patent was granted (prior art).

George McBay
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Actually "Obviousness" make an invention un-patentable so in the case George proposes, the patent could be invalidated without demonstrating that someone had done it before.

Also, many patents are poorly done and easy to work around.  The classic example these days is the one click ordering from Amazon.  It was written in such a way that you get around it by having two clicks.

Erik Lickerman
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

What's really cheesing me off these days is all the ridiculous patents being granted. I just came across one on Fark.com today - Amazon now has a patent on product related discussion boards:

http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=/netahtml/srchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=6,525,747.WKU.&OS=PN/6,525,747&RS=PN/6,525,747

Nick H
Thursday, February 27, 2003

Regarding patents and Amazon, go read http://www.userfriendly.org today. Kinda funny...

Go Linux Go!
Thursday, February 27, 2003

Yes, blackmail over software patents that concern widely known and applied technologies is ongoing. The following article describes a company that is going after smaller companies that sell merchandise over the internet:


http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20021020S0002

Bored Bystander
Thursday, February 27, 2003

Two interesting articles on the costs and benefits (if any) software patents:
http://news.ft.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=FT.com/StoryFT/FullStory&c=StoryFT&cid=1045510979794

Harvey Motulsky
Thursday, February 27, 2003

Hmm.

If the patents on E-commerce hold up, then the logical approach is for everyone to move their E-commerce sites outside the US. I think I might buy some shares in Canadian ISPs.

David Clayworth
Friday, February 28, 2003

I'm sure I've posted this before, but has anyone noticed that one of the organisations that "use graphical and textual information on a video screen for purposes of making a sale" is the US Patent Office!

http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=/netahtml/srchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=%275,576,951%27.WKU.&OS=PN/5,576,951&RS=PN/5,576,951

David Clayworth
Friday, February 28, 2003

The first poster mentioned the cost of checking for patents before writing code. However, one of the real absurdities of American patent law is that it imposes a penalty on companies for doing this. If you violate a patent accidentally you can get sued for damages. But if you *knowingly* violate a patent, you can be sued for treble damages. So how does a company avoid this latter fate? By not checking if there are any patents applicable to what what they're doing. In fact I've heard that the lawyers for some technology companies specifically tell the engineers to avoid looking into patents so that they can't be accused of knowingly violating a patent. They're willing to run the risk of accidentally violating a patent to avoid being accused that they knowingly violated it.

Greg Shoom
Thursday, March 06, 2003

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