Joe Barr reported on Friday (June 2, 2006) in NewsForge about three break-out sessions he attended at this year's Red Hat Summit. Of particular interest was his discussion of "Software Patents and Patent Reform." He writes:
Dan Ravicher of the Public Patent Foundation talked about what's wrong with our patent system, and how difficult it will be to ever change it. It seems that at one time, the PTO had their heads screwed on right and rejected purely software patent applications as being "not suitable material" for patents.
Two key things got the PTO off-track and us into this mess. First came the formation of a special court to hear patent cases, created by an act of Congress in 1982. The judges of the new court were not chosen from the ranks of existing judges, but from aides to the Congresscritters who created it, thus guaranteeing that it would always rule on the side of those who had lobbied for its creation and who always want more and stronger patent law.
The second was the State Street decision, which once and for all settled the question of whether pure software patents should be granted. That ruling is responsible for the boom in software patents in the past few years.
According to Ravicher, there are three major blocks to patent reform:
- Pharmaceutical firms
- Patent law makers (PTO, Federal Circuit Court, Congress)
- Patent lawyers
How broken is the patent system? Well, look at it this way. Patents are weapons. If you are hit with a patent infringement suit, it will cost you between 2 and 4 million dollars to defend against it. Even if you win the suit, you're out that cost.
I would be interested in hearing your impressions, if you were able to attend this same session.