More mischief from the EFF

Having completely struck-out in their attempts to undermine copyrights and to weaken America’s national security by attacking the PATRIOT Act, the mischievous little elves at the EFF want to attack one of the major foundations of the technology business, the patent system. They claim widespread abuse of the patent system has had a “chilling effect” on free expression:

More and more people are using software and Internet technology to express themselves online. Website and blogging tools are increasingly popular. Video and audio streaming technology is ubiquitous. E-mail and Instant Messaging have reached users of all ages. Yet because patents can be anywhere and everywhere in these technologies, the average user has no way of knowing whether his or her tools are subject to legal threats. Patent owners who claim control over these means of community discourse can threaten anyone who uses them, even for personal non-commercial purposes. We lose much if we allow overreaching patent claims to reduce the tremendous benefits that software and technology bring to freedom of expression.

There probably are a few more patents issued than should be, and there’s a system of checks and balances in place allowing patents to be challenged and re-examined, as many of the illegitimate patents issued to Proxim regarding 802.11 were. In fact, it’s this very system that the elves are using to press their cause, and it works because of the legitimate players who use it.

Now that the EFF is jumping aboard, will other grandstanders and dilettantes follow, and if they do, which will be the greater danger – illegitimate patents or illegitimate challenges?

One thought on “More mischief from the EFF”

  1. I must disagree, at least in the field of software. It is possible to patent virtually any sort of software — even at a vague, high level — and use your lawyers to sue everyone in sight. For example, from today’s Slashdot:

    “Compression Labs has initiated a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Texas against 31 major companies for infringement of its 4,698,672 patent. The patent, filed in 1986, includes 46 claims for various embodiments of digital signal compression technology and reportedly covers JPEG compression. From the dates on the face of the patent, it appears that it will expire in October 2004. This looming date may have prompted the suit. Compression Labs will certainly have a fight on its hands. A major question will be why the patentee waited so long to stake its claim.

    In my current employers’ industry (training administration), a company was formed for the purpose of litigating its e-learning patents. All they did was to patent trivial ideas for implementing learning administration software, but they did filed patents first and so they have sued the five major players in the field. Three of them paid up, because it’s cheaper to submit to this kind of harrassment than to fight it.

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