Last week, it was announced by the US Patent and Trademark Office that an individual has filed patents on “the eight basic plots” of fiction. You know, “boy meets girl” etc. How could this be? Is the USPTO that nuts?
Well, maybe. The USPTO having issued patents on “business processes” is now in the position of attempting to define what the difference is between a recipe for making Acme Patent Hand Lotion, and the script for Julius Caesar.
How does this affect the process automation end-user?
Oh, greatly. Just remember that the years-long battle to “tax” the use of PLCs in control systems has just ended, finally, after bleeding mucho dinero from at least 15 companies, and enriching a set of patent trolls. Exactly what do you suppose Rockwell Automation could have done with the money they needed to spend to protect their existence from Solaia and its attack attorneys? Make better PLCs? Hire more savvy system integrator channel managers? Who knows? The point is, it would all have been good…good for Rockwell, and good for us end-users.
Here are some comments from The Cutter Business Technology Council
Arlington, Massachusetts – 8 November 2005 – Patents on software have
been granted in the US since the early 1980s. Prior to that, such patents
were technically possible but rare. In a recent decision, the European
Union (EU) ruled that no EU patents would be granted on software. According
to The Cutter Business Technology Council, “the divergence of the US
and EU on this matter could have important consequences on the relative
ability of the two great powers to compete.”
Two recent events have made software patents suddenly relevant. First,
there has been a flurry of injunctive relief requests to stop companies
from making use of software to do nominally uncreative things like run
their call centers. And second, Microsoft has announced its intention
to file for more than 3,000 software patents this year alone, presenting
the worrisome specter of one very large and combative wielder of the
injunctive relief tool.
Tom DeMarco: “The US software patent scheme is badly broken. It is a
manifestation of something that we’ve all seen before: a system that
was reasonably designed but then botched in the implementation. Since
any attempt to improve it is likely to be overturned by the courts…”
Lou Mazzucchelli: “The US system is moving to ‘patent anything made by
man under the sun.’ Taken to its limit, this becomes everything made
by man under the sun (subject to the 20-year patent clock — but who
is to say that the same people who have allowed effectively infinite
copyright extension will not try to play the same games with patents?).
If the patent system in the US does not change, future generations of
innovators will be found only in large US corporations or outside the
US. Is this the system we (non-lawyers) really want?”
Rob Austin: “The only real cure for this problem is to eliminate the
ownership uncertainty, and in a way that balances the interests of innovators
and customers. This will be hard work. Because of the level of specialized
technical knowledge required to sort out the details that surround many
claims on intangible assets, I’m not sure it’s even possible. If it is,
it will have to occur, in the US at least, in an environment where various
interests are accustomed to buying political influence. Efforts to harmonize
IP laws worldwide mean that if the balance turns out badly, the resulting
malaise could spread across the globe. The next hundred years of business
value creation lie in the balance. Let us hope that our policy makers
can summon the courage to sort it out effectively.”
Lynne Ellyn: “The potential havoc that will be visited on US business
if this insanity is allowed to continue cannot be overestimated. The
past 20 years of US prosperity has been fueled by software technology.
America is losing this edge to Asia and Europe. The greedy and unscrupulous
lawyers who have lobbied and applied for software and business process
patents are driving up the cost of software and crippling innovation
at a time when the US needs more innovation. Europe and Asia are laughing
at our stupidity; they will not honor our ridiculous, pretentious, and
arrogant software patents.”
Ken Orr: “These are times when legal systems are greatly taxed: technological,
business, and international changes are evolving at an enormous rate.
Only the US, Japan, and Singapore are totally on board with the American
software patent approach. Europeans have opted out based on strong opposition
from countries like Poland. In the next decade, the IP regimes for the
21st century are apt to be set. We should not be bystanders to that process.”
Tim Lister: “It’s not a software patent mess; it is US software patent
lunacy! Thankfully, it appears that the rest of the world, at least the
civilized part, has decided not to play along with the US penchant for
finding ways to spend valuable resources in de-motivating and costly
I think this is scary and dangerous, both for automation vendors and for end-users. What do YOU think?