Patents and patent review by the scientific community

    Cross post from my technical blog

    For some time now, PeerToPatent ( ) has been trying to initiate a public filtering of patents that private individuals and, of course, primarily corporations are trying to obtain. It's no secret that most patents in the software industry are more likely to slow down innovation than to truly protect the rights of inventors. Well, and many of them often serve as protection against such "brakes", again serving completely different purposes than those for which patent law was created.

    The PeerToPatent project was founded by Tim O'Reilly, well-known among other things as the founder of O'Reilly Publishing House, and his idea is that the scientific and programming community should be able to block the wildest patents, like the double-click patent obtained by British Telecom.

    A recent article in Communications of ACMPeer to Patent Needs Your Expertise, written by Andy Oram, promotes this project and encourages experts in the field to participate in the project. In general, the idea sounds like the right one. Indeed, if large corporations try to patent trivialities and then prevent others from living, including start-ups, then a preview by experts on a voluntary basis should greatly help in preventing such patents.

    True, the same article casually notes: “some opponents of software patents believe that preliminary criticism by the public will legitimize patents ...” Oddly enough, I am ready to agree with this. What if the patent is written in such an intricate language that experts simply do not understand what it is about? Or, what if there is simply no independent expert on a patent? In general, do software patents make sense enough to be legitimate at all, whether they were reviewed by experts or not? In the end, the cryptographic algorithm used in SSL has slowed things down for decades and until recently did not allow creating Open Source implementations of https servers, although it was, as they say, a perfectly valid bona fide patent.

    In general, I do not seem to have to express harsh opinions about software patents, so I'm just talking about the article ... What do you think about this?

    [1] Peer to Patent Needs Your Expertise by Andy Oram - Communications of ACM, February 2008 / Vol. 51, No.2, p. 19-20

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