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Software patents, UK style


wetelectric
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Online petition:

26 February 2007

We received a petition asking:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to make software patents clearly unenforcible."

Details of petition:

"Software patents are used by convicted monopolists to threaten customers who consider using rival software. As a result, patents stifle innovation. Patents are supposed to increase the rate of innovation by publicising how inventions work. Reading a software patent gives no useful information for creating or improving software. All patents are writen in a sufficiently cryptic language to prevent them from being of any use. Once decoded, the patents turn out to be for something so obvious that programmers find them laughable. It is not funny because the cost of defending against nuicance lawsuites is huge. The UK patent office grants software patents against the letter and the spirit of the law. They do this by pretending that there is a difference between software and 'computer implemented inventions'. Some companies waste money on 'defensive patents'. These have no value against pure litigation companies and do not counter threats made directly to customers."

UK Governments reponse:

The Government remains committed to its policy that no patents should exist for inventions which make advances lying solely in the field of software. Although certain jurisdictions, such as the US, allow more liberal patenting of software-based inventions, these patents cannot be enforced in the UK.

The test used to discern between patentable and non-patentable subject matter in the UK has recently been clarified by the courts, and is applied rigorously by the Patent Office. Under this test, the true nature of the advance being claimed in a patent application must be determined, and if this advance lies solely in the field of software, or another non-technical field such as methods of doing business, the patent will not be granted. If the advance being made by an invention does lie in a technical field, it must also be non-obvious and sufficiently clearly described for the invention to be reproduced before a patent will be granted by the Patent Office.

The recently published Gowers Review of Intellectual Property, an independent review commissioned by the Government, recommended that patent rights should not be extended to cover pure software, business methods and genes. The Government will implement those recommendations for which it is responsible, and will therefore continue to exclude patents from areas where they may hinder innovation: including patents which are too broad, speculative, or obvious, or where the advance they make lies in an excluded area such as software.

The actual report.[PDF] Quite interesting. Especially the bit on genes. If never sit down to read an article posted on news sites...read this.

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Hah, that's funny, they remain commited. Why did they support software patents when the directive to allow them was in front of the European Parliament then? It probably would have gone through if it wasn't for Poland.

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Hm, that's interesting. I'm going to print out that PDF and read it later. I still think parliament says whatever they think people want at that time.

In theory though how is a software patent different to a hardware patent? Isn't the theory, concept and code involved in software able to be just as innovative and need of protection as is hardware?

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In theory though how is a software patent different to a hardware patent? Isn't the theory, concept and code involved in software able to be just as innovative and need of protection as is hardware?

Yes, except when the description of how the software works says some thing as generic as (for example) "The ability to read information from a storage medium and manipulate it to generate a user friendly data representation" then that one patent can be used to stop basically any competitors from making any thing even slightly similar, thus preventing innovation. In this example I was trying to write a generic description for spread sheet software.

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In theory though how is a software patent different to a hardware patent? Isn't the theory, concept and code involved in software able to be just as innovative and need of protection as is hardware?

The implementation itself (i.e. the code) can be copyrighted. Richard Stallman has ualked about a lot of the problems with software patents (or software idea patents as he likes to call them) and you can read on of his speeches on the subject here.

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