Thursday, November 27, 2008

US court rejects patents on business practices, software

This is good news for the Free Software community and for a lot of others. A US court of appeals has decided that a number of patents on software and business practices are invalid. This decision has wiped out much of the patent portfolios of many big companies, though this does not mean that software cannot be patented in future. According to the court decision, "in the future, instead of automatically granting a patent for a business practice, there will be a specific testing procedure to determine how patentable is that process." (see, for example, this page or this page).

There can, of course, be an appeal against the decision. But the general feeling is that they won't go on appeal. This itself was apparently the decision of an appeals court, where the appeal was against the rejection of a business methods patent. The reports generally appreciate the submissions by Red Hat which, apparently, helped a lot in making the decision of the court favourable to the Free Software community. Let us thank Red Hat for its effort.

The decision doesn't seem to have been easy. Three judges have dissented. Would this encourage people to go on appeal? We don't know. Let us hope that does not happen, or, even if it happens, the higher court concurs with this decision.

I found the last few lines (in a dissending note) interesting. He says, "Innovation has moved beyond the brick and mortar world. Even this court’s test, with its caveats and winding explanations seems to recognize this. Today’s software transforms our lives without physical anchors. This court’s test not only risks hobbling these advances, but precluding patent protection for tomorrow’s technologies. “We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us.” Attributed to Albert Einstein. If this court has its way, the Patent Act may not incentivize, but complicate, our search for the vast secrets of nature. When all else fails, consult the statute." I think the quote from Einstein can be used either way, to support (as is used here) or to oppose such patents.

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