Is it obvious? Is it novel?

Patents: do they encourage or discourage innovation? Dare Obasanjo offers a low-level perspective: you might as well file, since “there is a lot of incentive to file patents for software innovations if you work for a company that can afford to do so. However the measure of degree of innovation is in the eye of the beholder [and up to prior art searches].”

The problem with patenting software in my mind, is that most of the stuff that’s been patented is fairly obvious. Of course, “obvious” is a subjective term – something that seems to go without saying to one person can be considered ingenious to another. Typically, as the folks in Law attest, the inventor is often too close to his/her invention to subjectively gauge how “obvious” their innovation is.

Software patents especially vex the free software community, because to them they’re seeing common public algorithms being snatched up by private individuals or organizations. It goes against the open source philosophy of commoditizing software.

Call it “patent squatting.” The worst kind of patent owners are the kind who patent everything in sight then start charging people for what was originally free, and then sue those who don’t pay up. It happens more often than you think. Lawyers and patent agents are not always proper barriers; they may lack the technical saavy to smell a rat.

After the whole “eBay patenting the one-click buying method” debacle a few years back, Jeff Bezos presented an open letter call for patent reforms to limit the amount of time to file and keep a patent.

Some changes are now underway, although naturally some entrepreneurs are objecting to certain reforms.

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