Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Patent Reform: “One man’s meat is another man’s poison”

Tomorrow a hearing is set in the House to consider Rep. Lamar Smith’s (Republican, Texas) patent reform legislation (Patent Reform Act of 2005). There is a 50/50 chance that it will be brought up for a vote. It has a little something for everyone and everyone will be a little disappointed. A similar bill is being considered in the Senate sponsored Orrin Hatch (Republican, Utah). The two proposals will have to go to conference committee to reconcile the differences as a next step.

One controversial provision of the Smith bill will grant a patent on a “first to submit basis” – a standard that's common outside the United States.

Open-source advocates, such as the FSF, claim the Smith bill will do nothing to stem the rising tide of software patents being issued by the US PTO. The PTO itself, these advocates assert, need the most radical reformation. Technology companies hope this bill will the stem the tide of expensive litigation, while independent inventors complain that large companies with deep patent lawyer teams will be able to win the patent filing race. (“"The companies who are complaining about the system are bad players, crooks who took great liberties with others' inventions," Ronald Riley, President, Professional Inventors Alliance.)

Rep. Smith is trying to drive this bill through the House by year's end. If it does not fly, it won’t be considered until after the '08 presidential election. While the technology super-powers (Microsoft, Apple Computer, Intel, Oracle and Hewlett-Packard) are pushing for this reform, they are offset by pharmaceutical companies who are pushing against this reform.

It is interesting to watch players who typically do not work well together coordinating on this issue. It is equally interesting to see the FSF/GNU community not supporting these generally positive reforms.

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