Brad Feld

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Patent Holders Against Software Patents

Dec 28, 2007
Category Technology

As my Quixotic adventure for abolishing software patents continues, I’m starting to come across essays, examples, and suggestions from software engineers that support and confirm my point of view.

Terry Gold of Gold Systems pointed me to an article from Art Reisman, the CEO / CTO at APConnections.  Terry is on Art’s advisory board.

Let’s start with Art’s recommendation

Patents should be allowed for:

  • 1) devices with mechanical components
  • 2) physical compounds that can be weighed on a scale.

Patents should never be awarded to:

  • 1) Ideas
  • 2) processes, recipes, software programs

I believe that these already have other appropriate means of protection (trade secrets, copyrights).

Perfect.  I strongly agree.  Art’s article in ExtremeTech is titled Analysis: Confessions of a Patent Holder starts with his fundamental problems with the Verizon patent that has caused Vonage so much difficulty.

The problem with this patent, like many others in a misguided flood of new filings, is that it describes an obvious process to solve a naturally occurring problem. Translating a phone number into an IP address must be accomplished by any provider offering Voice Over IP. Not only is it a common problem, it is a relatively simple problem to solve with multiple natural solutions — not that that was apparently made clear to the jury. So simple, a first-year computer science student could do it as a weekend homework assignment.

Art is also transparent about the "bigco patent manufacturing machine" problem.

In my time at major telco providers, all of the patents I was privy to were taken out for something that occurred in the natural course of finding a solution to a larger problem. I was never comfortable with being a part of this game, but a previous employer of mine provided an eager legal team to help in the process, and paid $1,000 to any engineer who won a patent. I had colleagues that were virtual patent mills. Patents sound impressive on a resume, so why not?

Art warms my heart with a nice punchline: "It’s like hate and war: nothing productive can come of it."

The Vonage decision is the ultimate example of a small player eating into the revenues of a larger player, and the underhanded techniques that the larger player can impose with an unchecked patent library. Vonage was brash, bold and constantly in the face of the big players trying to get market share. Although I give them little chance of competing in the long run, I hope that everyone at Verizon who was involved in winning this case realizes that their tactics undermine our ability to compete as a society and may backfire against them someday. It’s like hate and war: nothing productive can come of it.