June 21, 2012 | By Activism Intern

Voices of the Internet: Technologists, Corporate Leaders, and Academics Speak Out Against Software Patents

by Molly Sauter

Two days ago, EFF launched Defend Innovation, outlining seven proposals to address the egregious abuses of software patents.  Since we launched, we’ve already received an amazing response (the initial traffic overwhelmed our servers) and now we’re watching as more and more people sign the petition and leave comments. This campaign isn’t just about our proposals – it’s also about creating a space for the tech community, inventors, academics, and others to express their concerns and suggestions for dealing with the patent system. The comments we collect will be the basis for a whitepaper we’ll use to educate lawmakers and the public about the problems with the software patent system – and how we can address them.

Here is a sample of what we've seen so far:

Many people are worried about patent trolls, or corporate entities that buy up patents with no intention of ever using them for anything other than collecting rents and settlements.  We've written about the problems patent trolls pose to innovation before.

Steven Baker, a patent owner in Austin, TX, comments:

The real evils start when patents can be bought and sold by companies who have no interest in using the technology - have no intention of ever making a product - and exist only to game the legal system for profit. This kind of behavior is abusive and does absolutely nothing to encourage innovation or to boost the nations bottom-line.

Other people voice their support for our second proposal, which calls for patent trolls to pay the fees and costs of those people they wrongfully sue for infringement.  Nathan Hourt, a software developer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, suggests that such measures should go even further: 

Patent trolls ought not get away with breaking up a target's workflow, intimidating them, wasting their time, and potentially damaging their public image for nothing but some paltry legal fees that didn't stop them from suing in the first place. When the plaintiff's claims in a patent suit are found to be invalid, the plaintiff should be required to pay to the defendant at least triple the damages they were seeking. This would serve to offset the harm done to the defendant, as well as even further reducing the risk of patent trolling. Another benefit is that it would encourage plaintiffs to think twice about whether the damages they seek in a patent suit are reasonable.

Jesse Carlaftes, a senior systems engineer in Tuscon, points out one of the major issues with the software patent process - that those approving the patents often do not have the specialized knowledge needed to make an accurate judgment about the validity of the patent:

Software patents generally cover ideas, and not implementations as currently defined in patent law. Patent Approvers are not well versed enough in Comp Science to determine novelty of an idea. Too many common ideas are patented with the simple modifier 'in software/internet/phone/etc' 

Christopher Perry, a computer programmer in Okemos, Minnesota, draws attention in his comment to the challenges the current software patent regime present for small businesses:

The current patent system makes it nearly impossible for small businesses to take off. In order to mitigate risk, each developer realistically needs a team of patent lawyers in support to let the developer know that the idea that just popped into their head is covered by a patent already. The patent waters are unnavigable for an individual and small business and has created a system where established businesses can crush new competition, not through the act of competing, but by legally prohibiting the competing endeavor to event start….

This kind of feedback is incredibly valuable to EFF on our fact-finding mission to find out how the tech community feels about software patents and what Congress (and others) need to do to address these problems. Please join the conversation.  Visit defendinnovation.org, review the proposals and comments, and add your voice to the growing movement that is seeking real solutions to the problems arising from software patents.


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