patent-lawsuitThe American software patent system is broken. I am no lawyer but I am a software developer and the very fact that patent trolls exist proves that the system is in a bad state. Earlier this year House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) started putting together a bill known as the “‘Innovation Act” which as Goodlatte describes it is a “way to address the issues that businesses of all sizes and industries face from patent troll-type behavior and aims to correct the current asymmetries surrounding abusive patent litigation.”

Patent trolls are companies that buy or license patents from others and then aggressively pursue licensing fees or file infringement lawsuits, as a means of business and not to protect innovation.

Money and greed are the driving forces behind these privateers.

Money and greed are the driving forces behind these privateers that are nothing more than legal highway robbers. The problem is that now Goodlatte has created an amendment for his own bill that removes a provision which allowed those being sued to challenge the patents at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

So, Goodlatte puts together a bill against patent trolls, including software patent trolls, then has a few meetings, a few drinks after work and now suddenly he removes the software patent provision. Was he visited by the ghost of Apple WWDC to come? According to reports, Goodlatte had a change of heart due to “very concerted lobbying effort” from certain parts of the tech industry.

[quote qtext=”Entrepreneurs across the country are telling Congress that it is time for reform. Innovators are frequently roadkill for patent trolls armed with bad patents. ” qperson=”Jon Potter, President of the App Developers Alliance” qsource=”” qposition=”left”]Goodlatte has been under pressure from the likes of Microsoft, IBM and Apple to remove the software patents provision. IBM’s Vice President of Governmental Programs Christopher Padilla recently wrote to Goodlatte and other members of the Judiciary Committee saying that while IBM “very much supports the efforts of Chairman Goodlatte” and desires to see the end to patent litigation abuse, the company would outright oppose the Innovation Act, if the software patent provision was not removed. It looks like they got their way! In a narrow-minded self-congratulatory rant Padilla wrote that the USA’s patent system is “the envy of the world, and its strong protection for software innovation is critical for sustaining software industry leadership.” Which of course is complete nonsense as the European Union has specific legislation that voids software patents and software innovation isn’t suffering there. Also there aren’t any software patent trolls in the EU either!

The problem with software patents is that the applicant is trying to patent a method and not an actual device. Imagine if maths could be patented. Sorry children you can’t learn about calculus today that is a method that has been patented and we aren’t allowed to teach it unless we pay a license fee. The argument that algorithms are just forms of mathematics is fairly strong, but the USA doesn’t seem willing to listen. Interestingly in the USA applicants aren’t allowed to patent business methods, a way of doing business. This then begs the question why can a software method be patented but a business method can’t!

This doesn’t mean that innovators and inventors are left without any protection, there are other laws like copyright that protect their rights. In fact it was copyright law that was used by Apple to successfully sue Samsung over claims that it the latter copied the former’s ideas.

Android and App developers

Open source software and patents is a hot topic and a complex one. Unlike copyright or trademarks, software patents prevent software engineers from implementing a methodology. It doesn’t matter in what programming language or on what system, or even if the programmer has no knowledge of the patent or any system that implements it. The basis of modern computing was built on the concept of the free exchange of ideas. The very protocols that govern the Internet like TCP/IP or SMTP aren’t patented but yet the new ones, especially for things like video codecs or mobile communications are patented. This will ultimately cripple invention. The other problem is that many software patents are for very obvious ideas that just about any engineer would think of, not because they are clever or have special insights, but because is just the most obvious thing to do. But the people at the patent office aren’t engineers so for them to make a judgement call about what is obvious and what isn’t, is very hard.

A couple of years ago the company started suing app developers for patent infringement because their apps have links to other apps!

One of the most obvious cases of a patent troll with a bad patent is Lodsys. A couple of years ago the company started suing app developers for patent infringement because their apps have links to other apps they have written! Since links to apps are everywhere on the Internet including one in your app isn’t a genius idea it is obvious. But yet somehow Lodsys are still able to sue small independent app developers trying to make a living and support their families. Goodlatte’s removal of the software patents provision means that he and his “sponsors” have given legitimacy (once again) to companies like Lodsys.

However all is not lost, there are other US lawmakers who are keen to seeing the current patent laws changed including Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) who is putting together a bill that includes provisions about software patents. But the machinery of government grinds slowly, so we shouldn’t expect any changes very soon!

Gary Sims
Gary has been a tech writer for over a decade and specializes in open source systems. He has a Bachelor's degree in Business Information Systems. He has many years of experience in system design and development as well as system administration, system security and networking protocols. He also knows several programming languages, as he was previously a software engineer for 10 years.
  • trok

    The biggest patent troll is Apple!!!

    • iamtravis182

      Apple needs to be able to exploit the minutia of patents in order to continue going “nuclear” on Android. Horrible, just horrible.

    • Alan Schamber

      Not at all… Microsoft and Nokia.

  • coopere

    Thats why I won’t buy any of their products

  • iamtravis182

    I am glad that slowly (and god willing, SURELY), the government is at least trying to address this issue.

    In the meantime, pay close attention to Adam Carolla, and his fight against patent trolls. He is currently being sued by “Personal Audio” for “violating” a patent, along with several other podcasters, but they aren’t settling. He’s going to begin crowd sourcing a legal fund, along with other podcasters, to try and win the case and set a precedent for all the podcasts out there.

    When the crowd funding starts (supposedly early in 2014) be sure to check it out and donate. I know I will.

  • Shark Bait

    the american system is crap!

  • MasterMuffin

    Aaand meanwhile the Chinese are laughing at the patent system :D

  • jbox

    Patent trolls need protection from other patent trolls ?
    Would be easier to let them fight between themselves.. It’s their own karma

  • TechGuy

    The USA should follow Europe and most sensible countries who recognise that all software patents do is stifle competition and enrich the legal profession.


    There ya go Microsoft and Apple are the biggest patent trolls on the planet..

  • excellence

    imitation is the highest form of flattery

  • Mayoo

    Meanwhile in the Android world, we managed to actually improve our OS many times (more than 1 row of icons)

    Apple = jealous of Android
    Samsung = jealous of Apple’s jealousy of Android

    • sfasljkas

      this doesnt make sense at all

      • Mayoo

        I rephrased everything. I wrote something without giving the context. Hard for you to know what I think!

        • sfasljkas

          the samsung is jealous part is what confused me lol

    • mustbepbs

      “Apple haven’t improved much since a while.”

      Wow you engrish so good.

      As much as I hate Apple, iOS7 looks really nice and is a big improvement.

      • NeedName

        yeah, ios7 improved by copying WebOS, Android, and WP. . . sad, really sad.

      • Aron Tripp

        Yeah, it looks like Web oS, ICS and Win Phone 8 had a baby and runs features found in Gingerbread. 2010 called and wants you to actually innovate, Apple.

        And there’s no need to pick on someone for speaking poor english. It’s in bad taste.

        • adrian strozier

          Hey they call it innovation haha

  • sfasljkas

    its no wonder, rockstar anyone?

  • Roberto Tomás

    This is an interesting and passionate article. There were some parts that gave me pause, but on the whole I enjoyed reading it.

    Patent trolls ” are nothing more than legal highway robbers.” — I feel for the author as this applies specifically to software patents. But I think the case could be made that all patent rights are effectively nothing more than means to legalize some equivalent of highway robbery. At least from the prospective of domestic law. A country’s international perspective may be different.

    “The problem with software patents is that the applicant is trying to patent a method and not an actual device.” — if I’m not mistaken, this is the reason why India has completely stuffed software as being a patent-able thing. Still, doesn’t this leave open the approach of combining the software with the device? A decryption algorithm is not patent-able, maybe, but the use of it in a mobile phone might be. The problem with attacking this from the perspective of software is that it doesn’t stop patent trolls, it just invites them to build their strategy a bit differently.

    “In fact it was copyright law that was used by Apple to successfully sue Samsung over claims that it the latter copied the former’s ideas.” — this is something I didn’t know, or so thoroughly forgot that it is like discovering it anew.. now I have to go look that up! :)

    With that second point I wonder if there is really anything that could be done. With the first point, I wonder if anything should be done: patents already arbitrarily draw a line through the people and our collective and individual rights.

  • barf

    OJ Simpson 4 Prez!

    • Gator352

      Great! Cause he will kill every ex-wife!!

  • NeedName

    These are the same companies that pushed software patents through in the first place. Is anyone surprised that they don’t want them gone?

    And let’s not forget that these are the same companies that ripped off anyone and everyone’s software throughout the 80’s .

    Proving once again that the US government is owned by big business.

  • Gator352

    Apple and Microsoft need to shut the fuck up, get a bottle, and go-to-bed. They’re whiney…..