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I am anti-software patents. Lest you think I’m simply a reactionary, I’ve been thinking about this since 1987 when I started studying sources of innovation under Eric von Hippel at MIT as my research in a Ph.D. program which I never completed. For the last 20 years, I’ve thought that copyright and trade secrets were adequate IP protection for software.
Fred Wilson’s VC Cliche “patents are like nuclear bombs, you just got to have some” has been my business philosophy – until the nonsense around software patents gets resolved and disarmament begins, the weapons stockpiles will continue to grow unchecked.
Last week The Patent Reform Act of 2007 passed the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Don Dodge from Microsoft has a good summary of the major provisions of the act (primarily market test for damages; new patent review / mediation process; first to file.) While my proposal of simply abolishing software patents is good fantasy, it’s satisfying to see some baby steps being made to address patents.
I’m more fascinated with the Peer-to-Patent experiment that is being done in conjunction with the USPTO. 250 patents are undergoing a peer review process primarily focused on prior art (and the efficient peer submission of it.) After signing up, I got an email that tells me what I get out of it as a reviewer:
- Share your knowledge and expertise with the United States Patent and Trademark Office
- Work with the community, not alone, to research a patent application
- Spend a few minutes evaluating the relevance of research to claims
- Help others to participate by moderating an application
- Network with innovators in your field
- Get noticed for your participation
- Share in the really great feeling that you’ve done something good for science and innovation
While I put a few of these in the cute category, after poking around for a few minutes I encourage anyone that’s interested in patents to create an account and participate in this project. There are eight applications currently under review:
- User selectable management alert format
- Register tracking for speculative prefetching
- Cooperative mechanism for efficient application memory allocation
- Database staging area read-through or forced flush with dirty notification
- Stack tracker
- Method, apparatus and computer program product for providing status of a process
- Off-line economies for digital media
- System and method for migrating databases
While I expect the arguments and struggle over software patents to continue for a long time, it’s fun to imagine a world where this actually works effectively.