Software patents under attack

EFF goes after ten most wanted

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has assembled a crack team of software and legal experts to challenge what it sees as ten of the most dangerous software patents ever awarded. It is seeking nothing less than the overturn of all ten.

The group says that these patents, including Ideaflood's infamous "System apparatus and method for hosting and assigning domain names on a wide area network", are too broad, and pose a threat to innovation, and possibly to freedom of expression online.

To qualify for inclusion in the list, the patent holders also had to make attempts to enforce their IP. The EFF says in a statement:

Every single one of the targeted patents is held by an entity that has threatened or brought lawsuits against small businesses, individuals, or nonprofits.

Others that made the list are Clear Channel's patent which covers production of post-concert live recordings on digital media; Acceris' patent covering phone calls routed over the Net and Nintendo's patent covering a software emulator for handheld video game platforms.

As part of its challenge to the patents, the EFF is launching a mammoth search for prior art. However, it acknowledges that finding it may be difficult. In an interview with The New York Times, one of the lawyers involved, Jason Schultz, said that finding the documentation to support a prior art claim is often difficult: "A lot of code is done, dumped and never documented."

One of those named in the list, Test.com, has been in touch with the EFF since the launch of the campaign. Chief exec, James Posch, said that his company had no intention of pursuing non-profit organisations for license fees, and would work with the EFF to develop a formal restriction that would exempt such users from its patent, NY Times reports.

The company holds a patent for an Internet test taking method, and according to EFF, has been in contact with various universities, including Regis University and University of Tulsa. It has also told the media it would consider selling the patent to a larger organisation that would be more able to extract license fees from groups carrying out online testing, the EFF says.

In separate news, the Dutch Parliament has directed Minister Brinkhorst and Secretary of State van Gennip, to withdraw Dutch support of the current text of the directive on computer implemented inventions.

Minister Brinkhorst had told the Dutch Parliament that the text approved by the Council of Ministers was a compromise with the European Parliament. However, according to the FFII (Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure), van Gennip "was forced to admit that this was incorrect information, and attributed it to 'an error in the word processor'."

The Dutch Parliament was not impressed by this explanation, and instructed the ministers to withdraw their support of the directive and convert it to an abstention.

Dieter Van Uytvanck, spokesman for the FFII in the Netherlands, said that a historic precedent has now been set, and called on other European nations whose parliaments have doubts about the directive to do the same.

He said: "Let this be a lesson to the lawmakers in Brussels: the European citizen watches you closely. It is much better to take this into account from the beginning than to get into trouble later." ®

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