Monday, May 31, 2010

Bilski, Software Patents, and Patent Reform

In the last month, I've been hearing more about software patents. I've always thought software patents were stupid since I first discovered that someone had managed to get a patent on "backing store", the notion that windowing systems could save a copy of the pixels that have been obscured by a graphical window in order to display them back more quickly once the window was moved away again. Anyway, it turns out that the Supreme Court is about to rule on In re Bernard L. Bilski and Rand A. Warsaw, which stands to be a landmark ruling of the SCOTUS. The patent claim has been rejected by the court of appeals, and it's expected that sometime in the month of June, the Supreme Court will rule on the Bilski patent application.

It's largely expected that the Supreme Court will uphold the decision of the lower court, and it's possible that the Supreme Court will decide that business methods cannot be patented. Since business methods are very similar to software algorithms, it seems possible that the Court will decide that software is also not patentable, but however hopeful I am that this may happen, that seems unlikely.

So, I'm continuing my self-education about software patents. It seems that there is plenty of innovation in software, and that patents are not necessary to promote innovation. The software industry moves so fast that even a 1-year head start can be a huge boon for a company, so maybe that's a reform to consider: reduce the patent lifetime for a software patent down to 1 year. That would be a step in the right direction!

For a great summary of how software patents got to the state they're in today, watch the Patent Absurdity video. There's also a lot going on over at End Software Patents, and I also found out where you can donate to the FSF's Fund to End Software Patents. Are you involved in software patent reform? Have some good resources? Post them here!