U.S. Congress looking at possible patent reform

This article in the Washington Post tells us about the plans to reform the U.S. patent system, because it is now felt that the system is suffering from too many patents awarded, and too few are not being awarded.

There are those who want Europe to go the way of the United States in software patents, for example, an online patent commentator recently expressed that Europe should adopt American -style software patents because “software patents help small companies, and better quality software patents sends the innovation information signals needed to improve industry economics and progress.” However, anybody who looks at the American system in an unbiased manner, will have to admit that the system is broken (I recommend again the excellent book “Innovation and it’s discontents“). But don’t take my word for it, look at these patent beauties: IBM’s patent 6,585,776 for “displaying hypertext documents with internal hypertext link definitions”, which in my view, is a patent on styling HTML HREF tags; or Google’s patent 6,839,702, a patent that protects a system which “highlights search terms in documents distributed over a network“, in other words, a patent for putting search results in bold. Or as the article in the Washington Post points out:

“Even Bruce R. Chizen, chief executive of Adobe Systems Inc. and chairman of the Business Software Alliance, which is leading the charge for the technology industry, acknowledges that allowing software patents in the 1980s was a bad idea. But Chizen argues that it’s too late to turn back now.”

Interestingly, Europe may actually be listening. I have finally managed to read the document by MEP Michel Rocard presented to the Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI), entitled “Working Document on the patentability of computer-generated inventions“. It is an excellently argued document, measured and intelligent. It actually does away with the patentability of software per se, and offers a very strict definition of what can be patentable and what is meant as “technical effect”. We will see if this view prevails when the vote finally takes place.

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