Are Software Patents Strangling the Software Industry? : Part 1 – Introduction

14 May 2015, by James Hearon in Developer

This is part 1 of a series on software patents.  Software patents are a huge deal right now, and there are constantly new developments in the law regarding them and their effect on the software industry, specifically tech start-ups such as BDC.

Software patents began on April 23, 1968, when U.S. Patent No. 3,380,029 was issued to Martin A. Goetz. Between 1968 and 1994, the United States Patent & Trademark Office was “generally reluctant to issue patents that covered software”. Then, in 1994, the Federal Circuit held that a general-purpose computer algorithm could be patented. This opened the floodgates, and since then, hundreds of thousands of software-related patents have been issued.

Claims in software-related patents are often vague and overbroad, which has created an environment where opportunistic patent assertion entities can dominate the courtroom. In fact, in 2012, over 60% of patent lawsuits were brought by patent-assertion entities, rather than by innovators who actually contribute to the industry. The harmful effects of software patents do not end with patent assertion entities. The infamous battle between Apple and Samsung has caused a major halt in their innovation. These two companies, arguably two of the world’s greatest producers of innovative technology, have been spending more money on patent litigation and purchases than they do on the development of new products.

When patent assertion entities can stifle innovation by startups and the established giants are spending more of their resources battling each other than producing innovative technology, it is clear that software patents have gotten out of control. There have been many proposed solutions, including, most radically, nullifying software patents altogether. I believe that software patents should be allowed, but we need to raise the standard and retroactively apply it to all existing software-related patents. My proposal entails accomplishing this through legislature.