A recent change in U.S. patent law allows third parties to discuss a patent’s merits and submit evidence of prior art. This provides a new method for challenging some of the utterly moronic patents the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has let slip by.[Side rant: since the original two parties were the person filing the patent and the government, and the government is The People (remember that bit?) it seems to me that any U.S. citizen was already a part of the deal, but if legislation is required to clarify that, so be it.]
Now the USPTO, Google, and Stack Exchange have teamed up to make it easier to challenge software patents. The new sub-site, patents.stackexchange.com, allows users to submit patents they think are bogus. The site provides a mechanism for the direct submission of prior art to the USPTO. Google is integrating StackExchange discussions into its patent search results.
I’ve always been pretty blunt when it comes to software patents: I think they suck. All of them. Copyright protection should be sufficient. Period. Patents in general but software patents in particular are barriers to innovation and fodder for patent trolls. The number of patents that could be summed up as “Stuff We’ve Been Doing for Decades, but on a Mobile Device” is ludicrous.
There’s still an easy way to fix this: shorten the term of software patents to four years. Patent life cycles were originally set when the pace of development was a heck of a lot slower. Now four years is a lifetime, and more than enough time to have a strategic advantage. If you’re not on your next big innovation inside four years, you’re probably on life support anyway. [Case in point, Research in Motion. Enough said.]
Personally I think this new site should be required morning reading for software developers. Cup of coffee, kill some stupid patents, news, off to work.