Whether it’s Apple trying to block Samsung and HTC devices from the market with their software patents, or Microsoft trying to collect money on licensing software “inventions” that those companies will never even give a second look after they license them, or all the shell companies trying to extort money from start-ups and even large companies, it’s pretty clear that software patents have gotten out of hand.
Not only have they led to many ridiculous lawsuits, but they’ve also pushed their value way up, with companies paying up to $800,000 “per patent” when they buy them from other companies, regardless of the actual value of each “invention”. All that matters is if they can use them against competitors in a lawsuit or not, or if they can use them to extort money from others without even getting into a lawsuit (which seems to be the preferred tactic of Microsoft and patent trolls in general). Get a few small players on board first, who pay a reasonably small license fee, and then show that list of companies who paid up to other larger companies as “proof” that their patents are dangerous and they should pay up rather than take them to Court. It’s not that different from a protection racket create by the mob, if you think about it.
But as I said, these companies won’t even use the inventions described in those patents after they license them, because they are all but useless. No software developer is going to take a look at a software patent and be able to replicate the invention from the patent alone. That’s because the software patents are way too vague in most cases, in other cases they don’t even make sense, while in others it’s something so obvious it could be built in hours or days, and it’s definitely not worth $800,000.
One of my favorite sites, Hacker News, had a poll about a year ago started by one of the members, asking if software patents should be abolished. This community is formed mostly out of developers and entrepreneurs, so you’d think their opinion would have value regarding this issue, because they are the ones the software patents are supposed to protect, and yet the vast majority of them voted to abolish all software patents. If look look though the comments there, you’ll see why they think software patents don’t make sense, and they are holding innovation down, instead of creating more innovation.
About 2 days ago, someone created an anti-software patents petition on the WhiteHouse.Gov’s new petition system, which seems much more official, and probably carries more weight than other petitions out there.
The petition was created on September 23rd and needed just 5000 signatures within a month, and it got that many in less than a day. Now there are over 6700 signatures, but if you think about it it’s still a pretty low amount, even if it’s as popular as the one about legalizing marijuana or the one about separating the Church from state.
[Update September 25th, 1230AM PST] 9541 signatures and it’s gaining momentum!
So if you believe the Patent Office should stop issuing software patents and invalidate all previous software patents, then go ahead an sign this petition: